BPS 228: The Art of World Building – Immersive Screenwriting with Margaret Kerrison

Born in Indonesia and raised in Singapore, Margaret Kerrison received my Master of Fine Arts degree in Screenwriting from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. Her career spans television, film, digital media, games, brand storytelling, location-based entertainment, and immersive experiences.

Margaret worked as a Story Lead, Story Consultant, and Writer for multiple projects around the world, including Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Star Wars: Launch Bay, Hyperspace Mountain, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, Avengers Campus, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, National Geographic HQ, NASA Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex’s Journey to Mars: Explorers Wanted, Heineken Experience, StoryGarden by AMOREPACIFIC, and the Information and Communications Pavilion (Expo 2010 Shanghai).

Margaret was the writer for five projects that received Themed Entertainment Association (THEA) Awards. She appeared in the Disney+ series Behind the Attraction, the Freeform television special Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Adventure Awaits, and the online educational program Imagineering in a Box. Margaret has been invited to speak at prestigious conferences and universities including SXSW, Star Wars Celebration, D23, IAAPA Expo, FMX Conference, University of Southern California, and Johns Hopkins University. Her projects have been featured around the world in The New York Times, Good Morning America, The Los Angeles Times, Entertainment Weekly, Wired magazine, and the official site for Star Wars. Margaret Kerrison was a Disney Imagineer from 2014-2021 and was recently featured in a blooloop article.

Margaret is currently a Senior Experiential Creative Lead in Airbnb’s Experiential Creative Product team.

Enjoy my conversation with Margaret Kerrison.

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Margaret Kerrison 0:00
But an immersive storytelling. We're seeing a lot of this really popping up all over the world right? Where you can go into a place and suspend your disbelief meaning that you for that moment feel like you're in that world in that place that the Creator has created you know for you.

Alex Ferrari 0:19
This episode is brought to you by Bulletproof Script Coverage, where screenwriters go to get their scripts read by Top Hollywood Professionals. Learn more at covermyscreenplay.com I'd like to welcome to the show, Margaret Kerrison. How you doin, Margaret?

Margaret Kerrison 0:34
Hi, how are you Alex, thanks for having me on your show.

Alex Ferrari 0:38
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm like I was telling you earlier. I'm excited to talk to you. I've never spoken to an imagineer before a former imaginary imaginary Imagineer. But you worked with with Disney as an imagineer for so long. And there's so much myth and mystery behind that. That's that kind of position that Walt, you know, created all those years ago. So we'll talk a little bit about that, and about your new book, The immersive, immersive storytelling and all of that. So first, first question, how did you get into this business?

Margaret Kerrison 1:10
Oh, wow. That's a it's such a huge question. But I think I always want to start it with the fact that, you know, I always wrote all my life, I always created things. I've always loved to tell stories in every kind of medium, like, I was that kid, who was making like finger puppets and like casting my family and friends into my own, like skits on my, like, huge camcorder at home and everything. And I never really thought about it, writing, but is and storytelling as a professional career. Because I didn't see that many role models growing up, who were who were in that creative field. And, you know, I was born in Indonesia, and I grew up in Singapore. And at the time, like, the creative field wasn't really that flourishing or anything like that, especially in Singapore. And when I moved to the United States for college, I was exposed to a lot more, you know, writing classes and creative classes, and just movies and TV in general, which I have always loved. So I had one, I did a screenwriting certificate course at Emerson College. And there was a professor there who encouraged me to apply to film school. And he had gone to USC and he, you know, spoke all really great things about it. And he's like, You should really think about applying to film school, not specifically to USC. But I did apply to USC, I got weightless that the first year, but got accepted the following year. And from there, you know, I was taking mostly writing courses for film and TV. And I didn't know about this whole world of themed attainment. I didn't even know about the word Imagineering until in my like, early 20s, you know, and I went to Disneyland, all of that stuff. But I just didn't know that there were these magicians, these people behind the curtains, doing this kind of work. And so it was really my thesis professor at the time. You know, she was talking to us about like, you writers need to think about different industries to get into not just film and TV, they need writers for games, they need writers for roller coasters, and she was going on and on. But I remember just pausing being like, they need writers for roller coasters. Like who does that? That sounds awesome. That sounds like something I totally want to do. And that night, you know, I was just searching on the web, like all kinds of information about like, what does that mean creating writing for themed entertainment and everything. And I was basically just sending emails to people to companies based in LA, and introducing myself and trying to get into the my foot into the door. And so one of those companies got back to me, and that's BRC imagination arts in Burbank, and I met with the founder, Bob Rogers, as well as a handful of other people. And they were really, really receptive and open to having someone like me come in. And especially, they're very, very, you know, they love having writers and working with writers and everything. So it was that was really my first professional job into this world. It was a lot of museum design. I worked on like, experience centers for like Heineken, and cosmetic company name Amaury Pacific, but it opened up my world to this possibility of telling stories, using all of your senses. You know, it's not just looking at watching a story unfold on screen. It was really experiencing it and feeling it and being immersed in that story of a place.

Alex Ferrari 4:54
It's really interesting because as you're telling this story, I mean, I mean, obviously I've been to Disney World a million times I've been at Disney And, and universal and all these kinds of stuff. And when you're in these kinds of rides, as a writer, someone had to sit down and go, Okay, when the ride gets to this point where when the audience gets to this point, this, maybe the smell comes up, maybe this, this water comes up, the heat pops up over here, a light pops up over there. So it's a lot, there's, there's a lot more thought. It seems more complicated than just writing a narrative, screenplay, which is as difficult as you can get in the writing, art.

Margaret Kerrison 5:30
Ohh definitely, definitely.

Alex Ferrari 5:32
Screenwriting is the toughest thing you could do. This is another level, even harder, almost.

Margaret Kerrison 5:38
Yeah, it is challenging, because, you know, you really have to work as a team, I think a lot of writing, at least in my experience screenwriting because I had, you know, helped to write feature film scripts for independent directors, and also for children's animation and all of this, it's really a very solitary craft, for the most part, I'm sitting with my laptop I'm writing, I occasionally get notes occasionally have meetings. But writing for immersive storytelling, and for themed entertainment. In general experiential design, there's so many different names for it. And that you really, you have to work together with all the various disciplines, to figure out how you're able to tell that story and share that story in all of these different disciplines. You know, everything from graphics, to media, to architecture, to what you're eating in the experience, what you're hearing, what you're smelling, what you're sensing who the characters, you're meeting all of that, right, you have to work hand in hand, with a talented group of people who are experts in the various fields that they're working on. And being able to be the story champion, to really kind of rally everyone together to make sure they're building the same world, the same thing, the same story, the same context, to all of these to whatever story you're working on. That's the challenge. And it's tough, because, you know, as artists, as creatives, we all have our different interpretations of what that story can be. And so being this, you know, world builder, storyteller, you really have to ensure that everyone is aligned to that creative intent, and making sure that you're all building the same place. So that's really the challenge of it is really how do you work as a team to move forward together? And to really think about, you know, what is that heart and soul of a place? And how does that manifest into design into music, into words into graphics into moving media, all of these things? It's, it's one big orchestra, you know, for lack of a better analogy, it's how do you how do you have all these different instruments come together to make this beautiful symphony?

Alex Ferrari 8:09
Is it is it kind of like working in a writers room, because at the writers room has very similar ideas to that, like, everyone's gonna be together, there's one person who's leading the charge the showrunner, and everyone's there to service that show or that vision. And kind of working is a kind of like that.

Margaret Kerrison 8:25
It's so different. It's so different, because in a writers room, it's mostly writers, or people who are have a very strong understanding of story. And sometimes you're going to work with people who don't have a good or strong understanding of story. Right? So I think that, you know, in a writers room, you typically do have a showrunner with a ton of writers who are, you know, throwing out ideas and all of that stuff, it's never that it's never that simple. You know, it's, it's, there's a lot of trying to, you know, gather people or meet with people individually, trying to socialize an idea by, you know, there's no one process or anything like that, in that is like a tried and trued method. And I think like in writing my book, even I try to, you know, simplify as much as possible, what would go on in that process. But ultimately, every project is different. Every team is different, depending on the scope of your project to if you're working on a smaller museum versus a 16 acre land, you know, that's going to be that's going to be very different, right? So I think that ultimately, you have to have this open communication in order to make that plan, set up that strategy and involves a lot of people coming together, you know, holding hands and marching together towards towards the finish. line.

Alex Ferrari 10:00
So So then how did you get involved with Disney and becoming an Imagineer? And first of all, what is the definition of an imagined Disney Imagineer?

Margaret Kerrison 10:12
A Disney Imagineer is you know, Walt Disney had created this word of imagination and engineering and put it together to make up this new word of Imagineer. Because really, it's a combination of art, science and technology, innovation, always pushing the boundaries, and always trying to find new magical ways to surprise and delight people. And there was no greater master storyteller than Walt Disney himself. I mean, he was such a visionary. He really thought about, you know, the different ways that people can feel like they're immersed, or participate in a story without merely watching, right? Like the story of him sitting in the park bench watching his daughter ride the carousel in Griffith Park, and how he was thinking about how do I take part in that? Why am I just sitting here? Why can't I be involved in that too? And why can't I participate and engage in play with my children? You know, so I think that Imagineering and Imagineers, in general, they are really they come from all kinds of disciplines. So you have people, you know, architects to, you know, audio engineers, to writers, to creative directors, producers, everyone that meets all of the various products and experiences for the Disney parks, resorts, cruise lines, all the wonderful things that you experience in any of the parks and resorts and cruise lines. So it's a really cool job. It's a, you know, I spent seven years at Imagineering and met some of the best most talented people ever in the industry. And it was really, you know, in seven years, I felt like it was a masterclass in everything in environmental storytelling, and how to work as a team in really working with some of the greatest IP on Earth, and trying to, you know, adapt that that into a story world in which other people can experience it. So it was a very, very magical journey for me, you know, for lack of a better word, and I think that it's something that I can see, you know, a lot of people having ideas of like, what Imagineering is, you know, before they come in to experience what that's really like, but ultimately, it's a lot of work. You know, it's a lot of work. And there's a lot of fun and play in it, too. But we take that play very seriously.

Alex Ferrari 12:49
Without question which I have to have to ask you being a massive Star Wars fan. You got to play and you got to play. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. In that in that playground?

Margaret Kerrison 13:01
Oh, yeah. Honor. Oh my gosh,

Alex Ferrari 13:04
I've worked on Galaxy's edge, which I haven't had a chance to go to Galaxy's edge, because of the pandemic and all that stuff. I haven't gotten there yet. But many of my friends have and I've seen obviously videos and images of it. What was your story consultant on that right?

Margaret Kerrison 13:20
No, I was I was working full time at Imagineering. So I was the story lead for Star Wars Galaxies edge. And I was I worked on a whole everything Star Wars for in my time there. So my first project was Star Wars launch bay, which was in both Disneyland and Disney Hollywood studios, worked on Hyperspace Mountain, worked on Star Wars Galaxies edge worked on Star Wars, galactic starcruiser, all the Star Wars activations on all the cruise lines as well. So I pretty much had a, you know, the privilege of a lifetime working with Luke, our Lucasfilm partners, who are amazing. I mean, they really set the bar really, really high for us. And we did not take that lightly at all. You know, when I remember one of the very first meetings for Star Wars Galaxies edge, and we had, you know, turn to the Lucasfilm Story Group and asked, you know, what kind of stories are they expecting from us and all of this and I remember, Pablo Hidalgo who's one of the executives on the storage group was saying, you know, what, we haven't told all the stories in Star Wars. So we'd like to hear from you what you think the stories should be. And that was really empowering to hear that, you know, and I think that, that that's really the magic of being a Star Wars fan is that you know, you have this like, great you know, Power, our responsibility to carry that torch and try to really figure out a way to understand like, what made Star Wars Star Wars, you know what made people over the decades? You know, come back to it time and time again and George Lucas, you know, you can't talk about Star Wars without talking about George Lucas and what a powerful story he had created and touch so many lives, generations of people, you know, I was an 80s kid. So, you know, I grew up with the original trilogy and all of that stuff and the power and the magnitude and the cultural phenomenon that is Star Wars and how that is integrated into everything in our lives. You know, 40 plus years later, people are still seeing me the force with be with you and everything like that, right? Like it is part of our society. Like you don't know, Star Wars. I don't know where you've been living. You know, your whole point.

Alex Ferrari 16:00
Even if you haven't seen the movies, you've heard of Star Wars. You know what the force is, you might know what Yoda is, you probably know who baby Yoda is, even though it's grown girl. Yeah, but you know what? That must have been so much fun working in that world was amazing. In a it's in a different scope than a John favor, or Dave alone or any of these other creators are doing because you're, you get to actually build the universe that people get to walk in and, and things that we've seen on screen for so many years, you get to walk into a cantina. Yeah, you get to see the Millennium Falcon you get. So it must have been as immersive. You must have been geeking out for years.

Margaret Kerrison 16:43
Oh, yeah, it was amazing. I mean, you know, we started off talking about that bucket list of all the things that we wanted to do as Star Wars fans. And the amazing part was in our team, there were like the people who really knew very little about Star Wars, they don't know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. And then you have the people on the other end of the spectrum who read, you know, Arabic. And they were already basically our resident Star Wars expert, right? And everyone in between. So I think that it was so neat to work as a team to talk about, well, what is the bucket list for all the things that you want to do in Star Wars, the cantina was way high up, right? Like, we want to go to the cantina. We want to, you know, not only ride the Millennium Falcon, but pilot it, we want to be in an epic battle between the, you know, the light side and dark side at the time, we didn't even know about first order or any of that stuff, right? We didn't know about Kylo Ren, when we were starting this process, you have to remember that, like, there was no The Force Awakens. And it was very top secret, you know, and so we only got little tidbits of what was coming. But we always knew like, Okay, if we don't have the details of what the Force Awakens was going to be about, what do we know about Star Wars, that will always be true, there's going to be droids, there's going to be awesome ships, there's going to be species, aliens, you know, walking around, there's going to be the light side, the dark side, Jedi, you know, Sith, all of that, right, the light side, dark side, the force, everything. So that was it, we had a lot to work with. But we didn't have like specific details until, you know, pretty, like maybe a few months a year into the project as we're building it. And from there, we have to be flexible enough to say, okay, it has to be this era, you know, it has to be these characters, all of that stuff, right. Like, we had to work closely with Lucasfilm to do that, because we couldn't just do whatever we wanted. I mean, we have to make sure that everything was in canon, everything was going to be, you know, in evolve the stories and the, you know, the brand, the franchise all of these things. So we had a really, really huge responsibility. That was a great honor and privilege, but boy, was that a lot of pressure on us.

Alex Ferrari 19:11
By the way, did you ever get to meet George?

Margaret Kerrison 19:14
No, I didn't know. But you know what, it's funny because I had I had seen him before when I was an intern a long time ago. But I'd never got to see George because he wasn't you know, involved in the creation of the land or anything like that for sure. By then he had you know, sold Lucasfilm for billions of dollars, all of that stuff. So he did come to visit when we opened the land and everything but now he wasn't part of the process in a direct way.

Alex Ferrari 19:44
Yeah. Oh my god. I got to I got to meet him once. Oh, did you and you know what it was and he was next door to me in Burbank having lunch? No. Why is he in Burbank it was ready for the sale before anyone knew about the sale. So he was he was he He was meeting at Disney and he just having lunch next door and I had had just happen to have a star which lunchbox I got autographed.

Margaret Kerrison 20:08
To autograph your lunchbox.

Alex Ferrari 20:10
I actually didn't have the I didn't have the components to do it. So I had the receptionist, the older receptionist, walk up to him and ask him to make it out to me.

Margaret Kerrison 20:20
It's amazing

Alex Ferrari 20:23
I knew he wouldn't see he'd see me coming a mile away. But he wouldn't see her coming.

Margaret Kerrison 20:28
Ah, that was smart.

Alex Ferrari 20:32
This obviously this woman's not going to bother me. And then Mr. Lucas, my friend over there, he has a launch party, which you just sign it? Oh, wow. And it was his daughter. He's like that sign it. And I couldn't make it up to me because I'm never selling it. That's my quick George Lucas story. But yeah,

Margaret Kerrison 20:50
Women save the day for you, the receptionist, the daughter,

Alex Ferrari 20:53
Absolutely. I've been Surrounded by women my entire life I've noticed dosterone in my house at all. All I have is women everywhere. My daughters and my wife and I love it.

Margaret Kerrison 21:05
Love it!

Alex Ferrari 21:05
So you have this new book about immersive storytelling? What is immersive storytelling? And how can it be used in the screenwriting and television work? Because that many, not many people are gonna have the opportunity to tell the kind of stories you were telling with Star Wars and that kind of stuff. But what lessons can you pull out of that to apply to television and feature films?

Margaret Kerrison 21:25
Yeah, you know, immersive storytelling is such a broad term, to encompass this idea that you want to be able to tell a story in a medium that you can experience. And that meaning that you're you, as a visitor, as an audience member are part of that story. Because in a lot of the traditional media, which I love, by the way, you know, reading books, and watching film, and TV and all of that stuff, you don't have a part to play in that story, you're pretty much a passive observer viewer of those stories. But an immersive storytelling, we're seeing a lot of this really popping up all over the world, right? Where you can go into a place and suspend your disbelief, meaning that you for that moment feel like you're in that world in that place that the Creator has created for you. And this creator storyteller is using different tools and techniques in order to make you believe that you're in that place that you are present. And in that moment. And I think some of the most powerful, immersive storytelling are the ones that transport you into that world. And so there's so many different examples of that, right? There's really, you know, tiny museums or galleries or even stores, retail stores that does that. When you walk in, you're like, holy moly, what is this place? Right? Immediately, you're transported into a different dimension. And then there's some that you go into, you know, that are places for you to explore and to discover. And so I use a lot of different examples, in my book, everything from the museum's to the really, you know, epic theme park lands and attraction sort of thing. And everything in between. Because I think that there isn't any one true model, per se, of like, this is what immersive storytelling should be. Because I think once we can define the optimal, or, you know, the peak of that experience, I think we, we would have failed, I think we always need to continually develop and evolve what that means. And I think that now with a lot of various organizations and companies trying to figure out like, how do we blur you know, the real versus the virtual and digital and all of this stuff, I think there's going to be an even bigger, broader meaning of what immersive storytelling is. But ultimately, it is a place for you to physically be present, and to feel transported into a whole other world. And to be able to use all of your senses as a human being, to understand what is real to you, because what is real besides your own. You building your perception of reality, right? Everything from VR to AR to real life experiences where there's nothing virtual or digital, anything virtual or digital about it. So, you know, even when I'm thinking about like, talking about real and imagined worlds, sometimes they're one in the same I feel. So I think that it's a really great opportunity for future storytellers and the next generation of storytellers to think about how they can really push that. Because Can you imagine, even a few decades ago, a couple of decades ago, we can't even imagine being able to do something like this, right? Like you and I talking, you know, in real time and being able to see each other can see and hear each other in real time in such a way. And who knows, five years, 10 years from now, what could that mean, you know, to be able to do something that is, you know, being present with someone else, something that social, something that is emotional as well? How do you think about telling stories in an immersive way that touches upon all of those things?

Alex Ferrari 25:31
So what are the different kinds of immersive storytelling?

Margaret Kerrison 25:34
Oh, my goodness, I mean,

Alex Ferrari 25:39
Just a couple

Margaret Kerrison 25:40
I mean, everything from you know, it's funny, because like, people would argue that reading a book is immersive. If you're a very, if you're really into a book, right, you can fully immerse yourself in it, you can forget about, you know, time goes by, right. So I think that there, it just really depends on how you define it. But I think that, you know, everything from really cool museums, like I think about, one of the examples that I brought up in my book was the, the National Museum of African American History in Washington, DC, and going through that experience, and feeling completely immersed in that starting from the bowels of a slave ship, and rising up and just going from Florida, Florida floor, and climbing up to that, to experience that entire history, and ultimately realizing that American history is African American history. So going through something like that was extremely, you know, immersive for someone like me. And I think it's very, you know, subjective for a lot of people, right? Some people might feel differently about what's immersive and what's not. So museums, to me are extremely immersive. I mean, there's examples that we're seeing with places like Meow Wolf, you know, where they have a whole bunch. It's an artist collective, where they're creating a place where you can play and engage and go down slides, there's the first one was house of eternal return. In Santa Fe, New Mexico. There's another one in Vegas, and another one in Denver, Colorado, and one coming out in I believe, Austin, Texas. And it's a playground for all ages, basically, right? You can let loose, you can interact with things, you can go explore these really bizarre rooms that at first sight may not have any meaning. But then as you go through and do the little games and interactives you uncover and discover all of these things that are just kind of a layer underneath what you thought was, you know, your perception of the world. And then you uncover that there's something hidden all along, right.

Alex Ferrari 27:51
What's really interesting about what you're talking about is that for so many people listening, you know, they think that screenwriting a movie, you know, writing a movie or writing a television and television are the only two ways that you can write in entertainment. Many, you know, while ago, I had a video game writer on which was a fascinating conversation, how that. I mean, I'm like, how big is descriptive? Like, it's six feet tall, six feet tall. It was literally the six feet from the ground all the way up of papers. And that's the script. It's like, I'm like, what? And so there are other ways to do it. And I'd have to imagine that there is less competition in this space than there is in the screenwriting television space, but probably less opportunities as well. Is that a fair statement?

Margaret Kerrison 28:37
Hmm. I don't know if there's less competition, I think there's, you know, there's always a, it's a very small world, this whole industry. And I think there's always this healthy competition, of wanting, you know, whatever the competitive company or theme park, whatever it is, right. Like, we never had any ill feelings towards someone who would open an experience that's truly immersive because that that challenges us to be better. And for people who are really interested in this kind of immersive storytelling industry, I think that that healthy competition is very good. Oftentimes, these companies collaborate with each other too. So I don't think it's, it's this fierce, you know, Doggy Dog like competition or anything like that. I think that, you know, when I was an imagineer and went to Harry Potter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter for the first time, I was so impressed. And I even mentioned it in my book as one of the examples of really excellent, immersive storytelling. So for me, as a fan of immersive experiences, I want more and more and more of it, and not only that, I want a variety of it to from the really small experiences to the really epic ones. So for me, I think that I'm Oh, yes, it is there is a healthy competition between all of these between all the companies that work in this field. But I also think that there are opportunities, but it's probably not as mainstream as like thinking about like, oh, try going for the writing job in gaming, or film or TV, because oftentimes, these listings, or these job postings aren't posted. And it's a lot of word of mouth. And it's all a lot about relationships and networking, and working with the smaller companies first or a consultant, you know, and then moving yourself up from there. So it's not as easy I would say, to get into that door, but that's changing, because there's a lot of colleges and universities now that are offering programs in themed entertainment. And so there is this understanding or appreciation for the fact that our kind of work is very nuanced and very, you know, it's, it's, it's different in that you have to think about storytelling in a holistic, multi sensory type of perspective, rather than writing words on a page and handing it off to someone who will do who knows what with it. Right. So I think that it's a lot more of a collaborative industry that you're looking into.

Alex Ferrari 31:20
So what tips do you have for writers trying to create worlds in their stories, regardless of the story? Are there any tips or ideas or things that you can tell them about? How to move from just telling a story to creating worlds I mean, George Lucas was the master of that Walt Disney was a master of that. Because when you create a world, it's it just goes on, and it started being genre Gene Roddenberry was was, you know, famous for that, obviously, as well. So how do you have any advice for screenwriters?

Margaret Kerrison 31:50
You know, I think that my main thing is always the question of, Why are you telling the story? And why are you the best person to tell the story? And, you know, with all of the other things aside of like, of course, you want it to be fun, and like you want it to be engaging, and all of that stuff, I think those are the two important questions that I always ask whenever I go into any project, is why should I care? You know, because, like me, the creator, storyteller, if I don't care, and I'm writing this or creating, helping to create this, then no one's gonna care. Because, you know, as human beings, we empathize with any sort of universal human truths. And George Lucas knew that well, when he was creating Star Wars, right? He knew about, you know, there's, it's very Shakespearean, you know, like Star Wars about how Oh, my gosh, the villain this whole time was my dad, like, it's sort of Shakespeare, you know? Mad Sorry, sorry to spoil it for you. You know, but it's that sort of thing that like, it's always these universal themes. And these universal human truths are, that's now like, you know, only in the past few years, do I really understand when people say, write what you know, and all the feelings, all the emotions, the stories that have happened to you, like, how do you take all of that, and bring it into the stories that you're helping to create, right? Because if you're just, you know, taking a template of something else, or you know, you watch something, or you experience something, oh, yeah, let's do that. And let's do it our way sort of thing. It doesn't feel true, it doesn't feel genuine. And so that's kind of my advice to screenwriters is whenever you write your story, or script, like, ask that question of like, why are you telling this story? Why should you care? Because that's going to, you know, influence why other people should care? And what's that universal truth or a theme that everyone can resonate with, that doesn't feel like it's superficial, that doesn't feel like it's, you know, something you've seen or heard of before? You know, you want to be as unique and as personal as possible. You know, I like when I talk to, or read sometimes writing samples from writers and it's very, it you can tell that there's a lot of influences from other movies or, you know, scripts and things like that, right? It's just the same thing over and over again. And I think there's a lot of fear and insecurity as a writer, to want to expose that deeper side of you. And a lot of the times I think about it, I'm like, you know, what, I think as a, as a writer, you have to write about your traumas, you have to write about the things that, you know, killed you inside. That disturbed you that really bothered you that really hurt you, you know, and, in addition to the trauma As you also write about your triumphs, right, you write about the things that like, you started really low, and you work yourself up to being able to succeed in the end. So what are those cases or situations or scenarios in your life? Where you went from that trauma to triumph, right? And that's a character arc. That's a story arc, how do people transform and change in your story, because no one wants to cheer for someone who has it all, in the beginning of the story, right? Unless the story is about a person who has it all and then loses everything in the end. But what is that arc when you're thinking about it? And so I think that really drawing upon your own personal experiences, and really going there, you know, all the really uncomfortable places, the places that you think that no one would understand, believe me, people will understand, especially if it's more specific and more personal to you. I think that there's going to be, you'll be surprised to find out that there's going to be a lot of people who feel like holy cow, like, I totally resonate with that, you know, I know what it's like to, you know, be a parent in that situation, or a child in that situation or friend or whatever it is, right. So, yeah,

Alex Ferrari 36:18
Even started even Star Wars had George Lucas's was, it's about his father. Yeah, exactly. It was about his relationship with his father. Right. So it's a certain way, you know, after speaking to so many different successful writers and directors, I realized that years ago that I realized that the thing that makes them all successful is that they are able to tap into their own unique uniqueness, their own secret sauce, as I call it, that nobody else has. I mean, Tarantino is a secret sauces you get, there's nobody else on the planet. He's not trying to write like somebody else. Many other people are trying to write like him, right?

Margaret Kerrison 36:54
I remember. Yeah. No, let's see. Who is Chris? Chris? Oh, gosh, you're you're mentioning all my heroes.

Alex Ferrari 37:02
Right, like Chris Nolan. Nobody else on the planet, really? Maybe his brother, because they write together. But there's, there's such a unique perspective. Yeah, that comes from them. And that goes for directors as well as writers. Oh, definitely.

Margaret Kerrison 37:17
You have to be brave enough to be you have to be brave. And, you know, that's a lot of the times. You know, I remember watching Pulp Fiction for the first time when I was in high school. And I was floored. I didn't know what was going on. And what is this? Like, you know, I know, this is a movie. But what is this, like this format is nonlinear storytelling. And there have been nonlinear storytelling before, you know, Citizen Kane, all of that, right. But there was such a fresh, unique perspective to it. And the characters that he wrote that are so unique and so interesting, right? At the end of the day, there are interesting people with interesting problems. And you're rooting for them as despicable as some of those characters are you your, your, you can't help but kind of explore what that is, you know, not everyone's just, you know, it isn't just black and white, a person, right, there's a gray area there. And what is that gray area? And how do you really explore and really reveal that in a movie in a story in a script that makes it interesting for people and, you know, he was a is a master of that. So I completely agree with that. It's like, you know, what is that thing that, you know, makes you feel kind of uncomfortable. You should look into that, as a writer, you know, go go into that go deep into that, and really uncover. And you know, if anything, it's some kind of self therapy to as a story. Writer, absolutely.

Alex Ferrari 38:49
My first my first book was a complete therapy session. story. It was just like, you did go deep into things. And you, I would skip chapters, because I knew where I had to go visually. I had to go emotionally to go there. Yeah, because I was like, I don't want to go there. It was like a dark corner with a door and like, I don't want to open that door. Yeah, but then like, when you go in there, just like, Oh, God, I'm in here again. And but that's where, but that's where that's where you mind the best stuff. If you look at any of the if you look at any successful writer, especially when they're starting out, that's where they start coming out with these kinds of things. And maybe later on, you know, after years, where they have such a mastery of the craft, they can apply it to any story and kind of still put their taste and flavor on it. But doesn't have to be as personal but when you're starting out personnel, I mean, the personal story is where the personal connection I mean, like we just said with Star Wars, George Lucas, I mean, Darth Vader and Luke were him and his father. Now wrapped in insane Well, yeah,

Margaret Kerrison 39:53

Alex Ferrari 39:54
But there was a chord there that we all can relate to, like, Oh, our parents don't understand us.

Margaret Kerrison 40:00
Do we just want love and acceptance. You know,

Alex Ferrari 40:04
That's for you to kill me with the force, you know.

Margaret Kerrison 40:07
Exactly, exactly. You know, it's it's so universal, like anyone can understand that, right? And I think that like, a lot of people are like, Oh yeah, I don't watch like, you know, those fantasy films like, you know, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, because it's just too out there. And it's like, if you look at all of those stories, they are bathed, feel more real, you know, to our ordinary lives, more so than, you know, some of the other stories out there that try to be set, you know, the tracks that are set in the real world, you know, and I think that that's something that, as storytellers and writers, you just go back to, again, and again, it's like, a lot of these themes are recurring. And we want and especially like, during these times, right, when there is so much uncertainty in the world, we want and need storytellers to help us navigate through this crazy, crazy rollout. process and make us feel and feel less alone. Because when you tell those stories, and people resonate with it, you have done, you know, great work in terms of being able to open up people's minds and eyes. And every time they read your book, or watch your movie, or play or TV show or experience, and walk out with new eyes and see a better world a more hopeful world that they want to live in, then you've done your job. Well, you have helped to transform people's minds and open their minds and eyes into what's possible. And that's exactly what we need to do as storytellers.

Alex Ferrari 41:48
And isn't it interesting, though, as you're talking, the thing that came into my mind was when you see these big movies that create these massive worlds, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter star wars, the reason that those films are successful is not only because they built these beautiful, insane, wonderful worlds, but but the characters are so universal. The themes are so universal, you know, Avatar, and what, what Jim is doing with? I think he's doing five more.

Margaret Kerrison 42:21
I think so. Five or three or five? I don't know. Ambitious? Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 42:27
It's five more he's like, I'm gonna I think I heard a quote, he said, I'm gonna die on Pandora. Because this is it. This is he's in the avatar baking business. He said for the rest of his life. He's

Margaret Kerrison 42:37
Pandora or bust. Yeah,

Alex Ferrari 42:39
I mean, that this is basically the way it's gonna go.

Margaret Kerrison 42:39
And come on, we have to mention the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I mean, oh, my gosh,

Alex Ferrari 42:47
Oh, that's been immersive. But that's been immersive storytelling when Stanley created that kind of world back in the comic books, and that's what comic books are. It is very, I mean, it's world building. I mean, comic books, ceiling. That's all they do. But and we've never really seen it done in cinema before. Yeah. And yeah, and what they've been able to do, whether you like them, or you don't like them? It is it's world building. And I'll use another example of a more contemporary film Top Gun.

Margaret Kerrison 43:14
Oh, my gosh. Oh, I have. I've watched that so far. Twice in the theater. Oh, my God, oh, good. One in a, you know, just the whatever normal theater AMC and one in IMAX. And I have to say when I was one, it was 35 years ago, that I went to watch it. I was eight years old. And I brought my eight year old son at the time he was a last year, you know, whenever it came out, and I brought my eight year old son to watch the sequel. And it was amazing. The sequel was way better, you know?

Alex Ferrari 43:50
So, but, but do you want to talk about immersive storytelling in a cinematic experience? There's a reason why it's now number six of all time, which is insane for a sequel, which is the longest time it's ever taken to do a sequel in the history of cinema. 36 years, 36 years for it to do its whole round. And when I was watching it, it's just like you are in that world. But you also are you also care about the characters. And there's also a little nostalgia that dabbled in for all us older folk. But my kids saw it and they didn't know the first one. I was trying to explain to them the first one they're like, who's goose? And then like, what happened to goose? I'm like, well legit, and then they see it in the movie like Oh, okay. Is but that's such a really interesting way to look at story. What they did.

Margaret Kerrison 44:44
Exactly, and you know, and that's kind of the going back to this idea of immersing yourself and transporting you into that world. And wanting to be with those characters and wanting the story to never end Right. And that's the most important thing about immersive storytelling is that once that movie is over, or the TV show is over, there is a hunger and a need and that desire for people to fulfill their deepest wishes of carrying out, you know, in their heroes footsteps, and, you know, whatever they felt like being able to fly, like, you know, Tom Cruise like Maverick, right? Being able to be up in the sky and doing all those crazy the dog fight all of those things, right? Like, how can you as an immersive storyteller, extend that story? And continue it so that people can always go back to it? Way after that movie ends? Or way after the TV show? Or whatever it is? Right? How do you think about Leto doing making games for it? I mean, I remember after watching Top Gun on IMAX, my husband who's a huge Top Gun fan, as well started, you know, wanting to play with the microphone, Microsoft simulator? Because he back yeah, oh, no, no, no, yeah, yeah, exactly. They have a Top Gun version. I think it's Microsoft semula has a Top Gun version, but one of them has a top conversion. And so it's being able to, you know, continue that like, going on that journey again. And again and again, right?

Alex Ferrari 46:23
It's so interesting, because when I saw avatar for the first time, and I only seen avatar in 3d on the theaters, I don't like 3d movies. But when Jim does it, it's done. Right. So I remember getting I went bought the game, because I wanted to live, I want to go back to Pandora. I wanted to just kind of walk around it. And I wanted to be in it. And yeah, all of that. And I know there's a Pandora experience at Disney as well, I gotta go to but it was just it was one of those times when I just he built such a beautiful world that I want it to kind of just go in and live in and yeah, knows, in 1015 20 years, what kind of entertainment will be based off of Star Wars and, and Harry Potter and this kind of stuff. And we'll we're going to be able to go with all of that. It's pretty remarkable as storytellers what we can do.

Margaret Kerrison 47:11
There are no limits, right? There are no limits, right.

Alex Ferrari 47:14
And that's the thing that I think a lot of writers need to understand is, I've also seen movies that try to build worlds. The movies fail. Yeah, because the story didn't work, or the characters didn't work. They got too busy building up the environment. But they forgot what was really important about the environment. It's a Star Wars, you can throw that in feudal Japan, and it works. Yeah, yeah. But in the wild, wild west, and it works. Right. Mandalorian is basically the wild wild west and space. I mean, that's basically what meant,

Margaret Kerrison 47:45
Yeah. And it's a lot of it is like, you know, understanding what the character archetypes that people really gravitate towards, but also in that, you know, the journey. In fact, like, if you think about the more difficult or challenging the journey is for the character, the more compelling it is for us, because we want to know, it's like, are they going to make it you know, especially if you've fallen in love with those characters. I mean, my I, I keep bringing up this example, because I rewatched it all over again recently with squid gain, and having all of the characters every single one of them, you know, all the main characters, again, some despicable some likable, you know, most of them despicable, and being able to go on that journey with them. They're very, very unique journey. I mean, that movie is so stellar in so many ways, just in terms of the like Sinha visually sort of cinematography, but the writing and the acting and the directing, was just that completely immersed me into that world, right? To the point where after I had my second run of watching all of the, you know, the first season again, I felt like okay, I want to go out I want to I want to experience these games, you know not to die, but then like,

Alex Ferrari 49:03
Do you want to do red light green light? Do you want to go red? Like you and me Alex, we're gonna go to the playground and play red light and green light. Because I remember watching it too, and you want to talk about it, you know? And that was a beauty. The beauty about that story is that it's a world that I particularly didn't want to go into that world. It wasn't I didn't feel like I wanted to go in there. Personally. It's a pretty jacked up world. I don't want to go to Blade Runner world. Yeah, Star Wars. I got a bunch of other players but that's But you knew that everybody was going to die except one. The one that was going to make it and you just really didn't know. Yeah, every episode got closer and closer. It was just a brutal beauty. Yeah, watching that, that thing. And to use another contemporary show that I consider this consider the writer one of the best writers in Hollywood right now. Taylor Sheridan?

Margaret Kerrison 50:01
Oh, yes.

Alex Ferrari 50:05
And as I watch Yellowstone, I'm like, do I want to buy a ranch? And my horses now? Is that what I want to do? Like because he makes it he writes it so beautifully and romantically and, and either with warts and all. I mean, it's a pretty brutal show. But it just, you're just like, Man, I think I want to I think I need a horse. I think I need to buy 10,000 acres and just roam free.

Margaret Kerrison 50:33
But it's, it's inspiring you to want to do something to want to be someone else, right. And I think a lot of immersive storytelling is that aspirational quality is that, you know, not only does it inspire you, but you aspire to be like that character or live in that world or live that story, whatever it is. And that's what stories should be like, right? Like they should have that feeling of, I want to I want to experience that I want to I want to walk in someone else's footsteps for a while, I want to experience a place that I've never been to before. And what does that what does that mean to me, you know, and I think being able to think like that is only going to do good in our society be having that curiosity, and having that desire to want to expose yourself to different worlds and people and situations. And all this can only make us grow as, as people. So I think that that's so important. And everyone again, like everyone has their own preferences to what that world is to, you know what kind of environment or people they want to be around all the time. But it's having that idea that you can live differently, that you can aspire to something better or greater or more like yourself, because let's not forget the people who are actually living their lives and not feeling very good in their own skin. And having those worlds or stories expose them to who they truly are. So I think that that's also extremely interesting for people, you know, if they design an avatar for themselves, and they're like, that's, that is what I want to look like, you know,

Alex Ferrari 52:21
And that's the basis of cosplay. I mean, that's where you go to a comic book convention. And I remember taking my wife to my first comic book convention deck a decade ago, and she was fascinated by grown adults, superheroes, and she would stop them. And I'm like, what do you do for a living because I'm an attorney. I'm a doctor. And like, we just do this on the weekends because we love it. But it's a way to feel like you're in that story. You're trying their that's their attempt to be part of the story that means so much to them. Story is such a powerful thing we as human beings can't live without story. It is part of its, I want to say is as important as water and food. But after water, food and shelter and the other key thing or Yeah, out story. We don't function. I mean, even if it's if you've been asked to tell you, Hey, John just died around the corner because there was a tiger there. That's a story that helps us survive.

Margaret Kerrison 53:16
Exactly. And this was, yeah, it was a survival mechanism. It was a way for us to communicate, don't go to that part of the woods or wherever, right? It's a wager. It was cautionary tales. A lot of the children's fairy tales started off as cautionary, but then it became inspirational, aspirational and entertaining, and all of these things. But stories serve so much so many different purposes. But ultimately, it's really a reflection of ourselves. And you know, wanting to experience different worlds and stories that help us to understand who we are and why we're here.

Alex Ferrari 53:54
Amen, sister. Amen. preach, preach. I'm gonna ask you, Mark, I'm gonna ask you a few questions. Ask all my guests. What advice would you give a screenwriter trying to break into the business today?

Margaret Kerrison 54:05
Keep writing. I know that a lot of writers are waiting for the magical phone call. But that magical phone call does not happen unless you work for it. So writers you got to write. And even if you're not getting paid for it, you got to write, you know, your whatever it is like if you're going to write a book or a play or script for feature film or TV, write something you're super passionate about. Don't worry about who's going to buy this or read this or any of that write the story. If there's only one story that you got to tell before you die, write that story. That's my advice, so that when someone does come knocking on your door, and you want to share that story, then that's the perfect time to do it. And you gotta you gotta write. I think that that's something you know, I need a lot of young people who are like I'm gonna be a writer one day. And I'm like, What are you writing now? And they're like, Oh, I haven't written anything for a while. Writers, right? You gotta write?

Alex Ferrari 55:11
Absolutely. Now, what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film industry or in life?

Margaret Kerrison 55:17
Oh, boy, wow, that's a good one. That's a good one. You know, one of the best lessons that I keep learning again and again, and one that I, you know, yeah, I didn't learn until like, maybe into my 30s or something, that as you rise up, you got to bring people up with you. And I think that that's so true. And I have had a lot of mentors in my life. And I see how they do that. And I'm starting to realize that how important that is, that when you do find success in whatever you do, you got to bring people with you, the people, the people that you like, the people that you trust, you know, and I think that you got to give back, you got to give back what you got. And that's something that I think a lot of, you know, when you're first starting out, it's, you often think about, you know, me, me, me, and how do I get ahead all of that stuff? And how do I get to the top by stomping on people or whatever it is, you know, I think that that's, that's not how the world works. You know, be kind, be gracious, be generous. And be generous with what you know. And you know, who you know. And I think that that's something that I always remind myself of, you know, every day, no matter you know what I'm doing, I think that you got to treat people. You got to treat people, right.

Alex Ferrari 56:48
And three of your favorite films of all time. Oh, no, don't ask me. Oh, my God, three have to take that come to mind today. You won't be on your gravestone. Don't worry.

Margaret Kerrison 57:00
Wow. Oh, I mean, I there's so many movies that I go back to again and again. I mean, recently, I've been, you know, I was I rewatched. This I mean, Mad Max Fury. Fury Road. Wow, Mike. So good. So it's all good. And black and white version? Oh, no, I didn't have to watch. Oh. Okay, okay. But I read the book on the making of the movie and everything. I was just like, holy moly. Like, all the various things that have to happen for this movie to even exist was a miracle in itself. And I had it's just craziness. And that is it was a I felt like it was creativity, unbridled creativity. You know, there was just the costuming and like, the makeup and just some of the words that people were saying. It's like, what is this right? Beautiful, chaotic mess. Like, it wasn't a mess at all. It was beautiful.

Alex Ferrari 58:08
The thing I love about that is like, from the director of Happy Feet. The Oscar winning director of Happy Feet gum. Road. What?

Margaret Kerrison 58:23
So true. So true. Oh my gosh. But Charlize throne is amazing in it. And like I mean, she can play anything, but she was really great in it. Oh, two more do I have to say two more? Oh, my gosh, there's so many. You know, I like one of the movies that I rewatched over and over again when I was in high school in college, I think was Chungking Express by Ben Hur. Why? And it was such it was so beautiful and quiet. But I love the character development. I love just just how it was such. There's simple stories about everyday characters, you know. And that also reminds me of lost in translation to like that I can watch over and over again as well. So, so many, I mean, are

Alex Ferrari 59:14
I won't I won't talk to you anymore. Margaret, where can people find your new book?

Margaret Kerrison 59:21
So as of yesterday, my book is available everywhere Amazon target in your local bookstores. I think that I'll definitely available online, in your local bookstores. So really anywhere and hopefully anywhere. So immersive storytelling for real and imagined worlds are writers guide. And I'm actually having a book signing if you're in Pasadena, California, on September 9 at 7pm in the Romans bookstore in Pasadena too, so it'd be really great to see some people there as well.

Alex Ferrari 1:00:00
It has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much for coming on the show and thank you for building these worlds that we're walking in and experiencing and and inspiring future storytellers of the future. So I appreciate you my dear, thank you so much.

Margaret Kerrison 1:00:12
Oh, thank you so much, Alex for having me. It was really fun talking to you.

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