Latter-day Saint screenwriters talk about their movie careers, 'Despicable Me 2'

Published: Thursday, June 27 2013 9:50 a.m. MDT

Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio pose with a "Despicable Me 2" minion as Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment present the American premiere of "Despicable Me 2" at Universal CityWalk and Gibson Amphitheatre in Universal City on Saturday June 22, 2013 in Los Angeles

Alex J. Berliner, AP

Cinco Paul and Ken Daurio are screenwriting partners, but they prefer to work independently.

They divide up scenes before coming together to read pages to each other.

“The goal is to make the other guy laugh,” Daurio said.

For them, the arrangement works.

Their resume includes such films as “Bubble Boy” (2001), “The Santa Clause 2” (2002), “Where is Fred?” (2006), “Horton Hears a Who!” (2008), “College Road Trip” (2008), “Hop” (2011) and "The Lorax" (2012). Most notably, the duo wrote “Despicable Me” (2010) and its forthcoming sequel, “Despicable Me 2,” which hits theaters July 3.

Paul and Daurio, both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recently shared the story behind the Despicable Me series, the opportunity to work with celebrity voices, and other insights regarding their Hollywood careers in an email interview.

Coming together

Cinco Paul received his name after being born on Cinco de Mayo.

After graduating from Yale University, Paul won a short-film competition and received a fellowship at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Art.

Daurio began making films with a Super 8 camera at age 9. Right out of high school, he began directing music videos.

The two met when Paul wrote a musical for his LDS stake’s celebration of the sesquicentennial of the pioneers’ arrival in Utah, and Daurio had one of the leads.

Within a year they sold their first script. A year later, their second script was made into a movie.

The screenwriters said their LDS faith has played a significant role in their careers.

“Our beliefs have definitely had an impact on our careers, most obviously in the types of projects we’ve chosen to work on,” Paul and Daurio agreed. “We want to write movies that are uplifting, optimistic and for everybody.”

Singing pitches

In an effort to get noticed early on, the screenwriting duo used to sing story pitches to movie producers, according to a 2010 University of Southern California article.

The strategy hasn't worked every time, but it's worked often enough to open a few doors of opportunity, including “Bubble Boy,” a romantic comedy starring Jake Gyllenhaal, and the comedy “College Road Trip” with Raven-Symone.

‘Despicable Me’

In 2007, Chris Meledandri founded a film production company called Illumination Entertainment.

Daurio and Paul had written “Horton Hears a Who!” for Meledandri when he was at Fox, and when he started Illumination, they went with him.

“At our first meeting he pitched the idea of a villain adopting three little girls, and we were immediately hooked,” the writers said. “We wrote the first draft in about three months, but it was mercilessly rewritten for the next three years.”

One challenge was creating a villain in Gru, the main character voiced by Steve Carell, for whom the audience would root. The writers said they used flashbacks to show how he’d become a villain. They tried to never show him doing anything overtly evil — “just the deliciously evil things all of us wish we could do, like freezing other people in order to avoid long lines,” the writers said.

The main challenge, they said, was coming up with three distinct personalities for the girls. They wanted to portray them as honestly as possible so they felt like real kids, “not movie kids."

“We each have three kids, so they were a huge inspiration,” they said.

The biggest frustration with “Despicable Me” was that it came out the summer after “Toy Story 3.” When comparing the two, many film critics cast “Despicable Me” in an unfavorable light.

Despite the negative reviews, there was a highly positive public response to “Despicable Me.”

“Sitting in a theater surrounded by people laughing, then crying, then laughing,” the writers said. “There’s nothing better than that. … That’s when you feel you’ve actually succeeded.”

‘Despicable Me 2’

Daurio and Paul felt the first film told a complete story, so a sequel seemed unlikely.

But the 2010 film was a smashing commercial success, earning $543 million worldwide, according to boxofficemojo.com, and Universal Pictures wanted another.

“Once we figured out a way to continue the story and take characters to new places, we were onboard,” the writers said.

The sequel, which opens July 3, returns Carell as Gru, who has forsaken a life of crime to raise Margo, Agnes and Edith. But now he must figure out how to provide for his new family. In the process, Gru is recruited by an organization dedicated to fighting evil called the Anti-Villain League to help capture a new bad guy.

The screenwriters said their goal was to not disappoint fans of the first movie.

“And you also don’t want to just repeat everything that worked before,” Paul said.

In addition to Carell, the cast of stars includes Ken Jeong, Russell Brand, Kristen Wiig and Miranda Cosgrove. One of the perks of writing animation is being present at all of the recording sessions, Daurio and Paul said, “to watch these amazing people at work.”

They described working with Carell as “a complete joy."

“He’s a dad, so he totally gets what we’re doing with the character of Gru.”

During one session for “Despicable Me,” the writers said Carell told them how much his son loved the minions and asked if he could possibly come in and record some minion lines just for fun.

“So the next session he was there, proud father, with his son. It was priceless,” the writers said. “We’ve also enjoyed working with comic geniuses like Kristen Wiig and Ed Helms, as well as legends like Carol Burnett and Julie Andrews. There are some pretty amazing perks to this job.”

Formulas and patience

When asked to share their formula for creating family-friendly movies that convey a value or lesson, the writers said they primarily write for themselves. If they find the story to be entertaining and compelling, there is a good chance the audience will be engaged as well, they said.

“We always want the movies to be about something, but we never want them to be preachy,” the writers said. “We also never write them for anyone but ourselves. We just try to make each other laugh or feel something, and that may be one of the reasons our movies have had some success. Once you try to write something just for kids or families, you’re in trouble.”

If there is one lesson that Daurio and Paul have learned while writing in the filmmaking industry, it’s patience.

“These movies take three years to make, so we’ve definitely learned patience,” they said.

Email: ttoone@desnews.com Twitter: tbtoone

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