I was writing scripts where everybody got killed and nobody wants to see that stuff. People don’t go to the movies to get depressed. I really feel happy endings are underrated because they are usually done badly and they are not earned.
People say I really put my characters through hell in Little Miss Sunshine. But I really feel that’s important. It’s not like they are all happy at the end and they’re all going to get along with each other. But they have gone through a real life-changing experience. Not in a way they have swerved 180 degrees but I really feel you do want your character to turn like 10 degrees and take one step forward. And that’s enough of a change for your characters to go through.
Little Miss Sunshine is the first script I wrote where the characters came first. That was a real lesson for me. One of the earlier mistakes I made was that I was doing plots that were too complicated and it doesn’t leave you a lot of room for character development. With Little Miss Sunshine, I decided earlier on I was going to do the simplest plot in the world and I mean it’s embarrassing how simple the story is and it is such traditional storytelling that it kinda makes me cringe but it leaves open a lot of space for character development and that’s where you get emotional identification with your characters.
So I think: don’t overcomplicate your stories. Simplify, simplify. Nietzsche has a quote: “it’s easy to make things that are big, noisy and complicated and it’s hard to make things that are small, simple and quiet.” So if you can, keep things simple.
I’m a big believer in outlines. I outline until I know what every scene in the movie is.