Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What Really Happened To the Dinosaurs?

This is from one of the first children's books I wrote, in 2009.  It's called "What Really Happened To The Dinosaurs?"  It's about an imaginative boy named Owen and his struggling paleontologist father.  Owen spouts colorful theories about what really made dinosaurs extinct while his Dad tries to rein him in.  It's a bit rough since it's one of my earliest attempts at a children's book.  There are several things I would do differently today.  But in the interest of showing the creative process, I've posted it here.

I had the pleasure of working with the talented Austin Madison on this project.  He's a multi-hyphenate, as in: story artist-animator-artist-illustrator-actor-improviser-teacher and probably seven other things.  I contacted Austin because I needed an illustrator for this project and knew he loved dinosaurs.  I met him while taking an acting class at Pixar.  It was a blast to work with him, as he's a bundle of ideas and energy and always coming up with new things.  Usually he harnesses this power for good, as on his always entertaining blog: Austin Translation

The cover, which illustrates one of Owen's theories that dinosaurs left Earth for a distant planet:

A two-page spread showing one of Owen's theories: a cooties epidemic wiped out all the dinos.

Here's the story.  Note: Anything in parentheses is a description of what the eventual images would be.

1. (A camp site in Wyoming.  Owen (8) eats breakfast with respected paleontologists in a mess tent.  Owen's young Dad bursts in with a fossil.)
Dad: "I've got it!  I found something!  You know how everyone thinks an asteroid wiped out all the dinosaurs?  This fossil shows dinosaur bones after the ash layer.  That means some dinosaurs survived."
Bald Digger: "Your fossil's upside down.  And you call yourself a paleontologist.  "
Gray-bearded Digger: "Yeah, a real dinosaur scientist would come up with a new theory."

2.  (Dad paces on the outskirts of the campsite, picks up fossils and discards them.)
Dad: "I have to find my theory."
Owen: "Don't worry, Dad.  You can borrow one of my ideas."
Dad: "Thanks, Owen, but..."
Owen: "That ash layer's not from an asteroid, it's from a..."

3.  Owen: "Dinosaur Chili Cook-off!  The dinosaurs ate so much chili they started breathing fire."

4.  Owen: "Then the knights thought they were dragons and killed them all off to impress yucky girls."

5.  Dad: "But dinosaurs couldn't breathe fire."
Owen: "Ooh, this fossil looks like an icicle.  I have an Ice Age theory.

6.  Owen: "It was freezing cold and the dinosaurs were having so much fun playing in the snow that they forgot to put their winter coats on."

7.  Dad: "I've been digging fossils since before you were born - there's no record of dinosaurs wearing coats."
Owen: "Don't be ridiculous.  Like their parents would let them go outside without one.  Hmm, I bet all that ice melted and there was tons of water around.  And then something caused a flood:  Brokyo... Brakkyo..."
Dad: "Brachiosaurus?"

8.  Owen: "Brachiosaurus Belly Flop!"

9.  Owen: "And all they found were their swim trunks."

10.  Dad: "Owen!  Dinosaurs are just like any other animal - they don't wear clothes.  If anything, it's more likely they were wiped out by disease."
Owen: "Ooh, I know of a deadly disease.  It can claim seventy-five percent of a population within fifteen days.  It has no known cure..."

11.  Owen: "Cooties.  Malia Robinson must have gotten her grubby mitts on a time machine."

12-13.  Owen: "Those poor dinos were right in the hot zone..."

14.  Owen: "Ooh, this fossil looks like a spaceship, maybe aliens..."
Dad: "Cooties aren't a real disease!  These are ridiculous theories."

15.  Owen: "I'm just trying to help."
Dad: "I'm sorry.  Please tell me about your spaceship theory.  No?  Okay, I'll do it.  A spaceship flew in and blasted away all the dinosaurs."
Owen: "You watch too much T.V.  Everyone knows that the main weakness of dinosaurs is their walnut-size brains.  And that makes them very poor spellers."

16.  Owen: "The aliens obviously came to Earth to challenge the dinosaurs to an intergalactic spelling bee.  They flew the dinos back to their planet and made them try to spell some really tough alien words, like: borkintrite and zeebleflozz and glamorous."

17.  Owen: "The poor dinosaurs are still there, trying to spell the words.  They couldn't fly back because they don't know how to drive a spaceship."

18.  Dad: "Interesting.  So you're saying maybe the dinosaurs couldn't migrate - they were trapped and that's why they went extinct?"

19.  Owen: "Yeah, Dinosaurs were trapped in school and turned to stone from boredom."
Dad: "Why do you think they couldn't migrate?  The digs indicate..."
Owen: "Right, they tried to dig all the way to China and accidentally buried themselves."

20.  Owen: "Or the Organization of Woodland Mammals were sick of being food and rose up to overthrow their reptile overlords!  Raargh!"
Owen: "No, I've got it.  A Dinosaur Mad Scientist created robots to make life easier.  But of course the evil robots turned on their masters..."

21.  Dad: "Why couldn't they migrate?  Maybe there's a real theory there..."
Owen: "Yeah, they migrated to a..."

22.  Owen: "Slumber party at a velociraptor's house.  It was the most awesome slumber party ever: no bedtime, all the sticky treats you could eat..."
Dad: "Oh, yes, maybe some dinosaurs migrated.  Which means...  some survived."

23.  Owen: "Everything was cool until the trouble-making Triceratops tossed that first pillow..."
Dad: "But where did they migrate to?"

24.  Owen: "Feathers flew everywhere - you couldn't even tell they were dinosaurs..."
Dad: "They didn't migrate to a place... maybe to a new species..."

25.  Dad: "But what species?"
Owen: "And that's how the dinosaurs turned into..."

26-27.  Owen and Dad together: "Birds."

28.  Dad: "That's it!  That's our new theory!"
Owen: "Yeah, the asteroid took out some of the dinosaurs, but most survived and turned into birds.  That's what really happened to the dinosaurs.  I knew it all along."

29.  (Still life with image of Owen and Dad's hats on a hat rack next to a Golden Fossil trophy for "Best New Theory.")

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


This is my Venice moment.  Like when my wife was fine on our week-long trip to Italy till the last day when we were on a water taxi and she saw a baby rocking in his stroller and broke down crying out of nowhere, missing our two-year-old back home.  I had no words but could only hold her hand.  Now I am having the same moment, flying back from Austin to Oakland after a long weekend away.  There's a girl in the seat in front of me, kitty corner, with a lilac blossom woven into her hair.  And the tight lid I've been keeping on missing my daughters has slipped.  It's hard to even talk to them on the phone when I'm away because the sound of their little voices sets my heart to breaking.  But I push through it and they don't hear the waver in my voice because they're little and have no concept of such things.

The girl with the lilac blossom swings her little legs on the edge of her seat but I can only see part of her head through the crack between the headrests.  Like with my daughters, I can only see part of their beauty at once, sideways, because the full thing is too overwhelming.  Tiny dimples on their knuckles, a pigtail sprout too tiny to even be called a pigtail, pink tutus spinning to invisible music.  The way my 8-year-old Branna runs and tackles me when I get home - throws herself full force into my love with no reserve - confident that her Daddy will catch her but I'm not sure I can hold it, not all that love.  But she trusts me, so I try.   Try not to let any of it spill out but it does.  It blazes out with a radiance.   But some of it goes in a secret chamber in my heart, where I store it up like a squirrel gathering nuts for winter - the winter of her teenage years.  The years I dread because I don't think I can handle it.  No more "Daddy!"   No more launching herself into the air.  My sweet flying girl, this missile of love aimed right at my heart - my most vulnerable part.  I'm afraid I can't contain it - that she'll pierce me straight through and we'll both fall to the ground.

I think of her now, my Branna.  She looks up from her book with her hound dog eyes.  Loyal like a great dog, loving like all dogs. "Hazel buddies," we say.   These are the first of things we share - our eye color.  Reading buddies, soccer buddies, dimple buddies.  There will be none of this in the coming winter.   There will be slammed doors and shouting.  No more super snuggles, no more sloth hugs, no more horsey back rides, no more leg bugs.  Just the empty space between us.  I hope that isn't true but I know it is.  Because it's the same space I gave my parents in my winter.  I thought I hated them (I was wrong.)  Or would have thought that if I thought of anything besides myself in that time.  And I know that we never really got back to that place - to that unreserved, unabashed love when I was the missile.  But the love sneaks out in quiet, unexpected moments, like when someone accidentally brushes against a wound you forgot.  My Mom used to do that to me.   But she's Mom now, not Mommy.  And I know the same is coming for me.   But right now, I just got home and I'm still "Daddy! " and my girl is in the air - she's flying to me and my arms are wide open and I'm ready to be pierced.  And I'm storing more nuts for winter.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Super Geeky Episode IV: A New Dope

I love writing screenplays, but it takes a long time with a full-time job and three kids.  I only get about an hour a night to write.  After three years and eight or nine drafts, I consider a screenplay "finished."  It's such a long cycle to get feedback and see if it works or not.  As a way to stay creative and do something with a really short cycle time, I started making these Super Geeky videos with my family.  The freeing thing is the speed.  It takes me a couple of hours to write the script, half a day to shoot on a FlipCam, and about a week of editing.  Then I can post it online for people to see and get immediate feedback.

The Super Geeky videos are a Jeopardy parody where my 3-year-old daughter Nora (she's now 4) competes against us in a trivia contest.  For this one, we went with a Star Wars theme.  It still makes me happy that Nora walks around the house humming The Imperial March.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Poor Pluto

I wrote this short story in wonderful Lissa Rovetch's class at Pixar.  It's a story about Pluto getting kicked out of the planets club for being too small.  He decides to start his own club and has to deal with some unexpected results.  This story was inspired by two things:
1) I grew up with Pluto as a planet and am sad to see him demoted from being an "official" planet.  That must suck.
2)  I heard a story in one of my storytelling classes about a younger brother being excluded from his older brother's friends' club and it stuck with me.  I'm the oldest bro but I've seen the pain on my younger brothers' faces from being excluded from my awesome karate dojo for being "too undisciplined."

The artwork was done unbelievably fast by the super-talented Pixar sketch artist Dan Holland.  One of the many benefits of working at Pixar is that you're surrounded by great artists.  Every night we had class, Dan was constantly sketching.  I don't think he can turn it off, which is how I feel about writing.  He did a couple of two-page interior spreads to communicate the look and feel of the images.

Dan's artwork:
Jupiter playing cometball with Pluto:
Pluto wandering the solar system after being kicked out of the Planet Club:

Poor Pluto
by Mike Sundy

              1  - Deep in the Milky Way, a planet named Pluto loved to
               play cometball.  He never got to play with the other planets
               because he was so small.

               2 - But today was different.  Three planets were out and you
               need six to play, which meant--
               "Aww, we have to let Pluto play," said giant Jupiter.

               3 - Jupiter hurled the huge comet toward Pluto.  VISHHHH--
               Flames crackled out from its tail - KRKK-POP!

               4 - Pluto caught it in his orbit.  But he couldn't hold it -
               ZANG!  It broke free and zapped into--

               5 - A black hole.  "PLUTO!" shouted Jupiter.  "That was my
               favorite comet!  You ruined our game, Stupid."

               6 - Jupiter called the other planets together - they whispered
               and glared at Pluto.

               7 - Jupiter towered over Pluto.  "You're kicked out of the
               Planet Club."

               8 - "But-- you can't do that!  I've always been a planet,"
               said Pluto.
               "We have new rules for being a planet," piped Earth.  "One:
               no funny orbits.  And two: you must be big enough."

               9-10 - Pluto knew the angry planets would never accept him.
               He drifted through the asteroid belt--
               Past the ecliptic plane--
               Beyond the scattered disc.

               11 - He drifted so far the Sun grew dim and cold.  He curled
               up at the edge of an icy rock belt.

               12 - "What's wrong?" said a voice.  Pluto turned around.  It
               was someone a little smaller than him named Eris.

               13 - "I'm not big enough to play cometball," said Pluto.
               "What's that?  Sounds fun," said Eris.

               14 - "It is fun.  But you need a comet to play, and they're
               hard to find--" said Pluto.
               Eris zipped away and back-- with four small comets!

               15 - So Pluto showed Eris how to pick up a comet - SHUCK.
               He showed her how to spin - ZUUU-ZUUU.  He showed her how to
               throw - VOOOM.

               16 - Pluto found he was great with the smaller comets - they
               were just right for his orbit. Some Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs)
               came to watch them.

               17 - A tiny KBO approached Pluto. "Do you think I could play?"
               "Sure.  Anyone can play," said Pluto.

               18-19 - Pluto looked at the dozens of KBO's now gathered.
               "What if you have a wobbly orbit?" said a lumpy KBO.
               "Anyone can play," said Pluto.
               "What if you have strange colors?" said a purply-green KBO.
               "Anyone can play."
               "What if you don't have any moons?" said a moonless KBO.
               "Anyone can play."

               20 - "Yes, anyone can join the Plutoid Club," said Eris.
               "I want to be a Plutoid.  Me too!"  said the KBO's.

               21-22 - Soon the club had thousands of players.  FHWOOSH!
               ZHOOMP!  WUH-RRANG!

               23 - A bumpy KBO fumbled a comet near the Belt's edge.
               When Pluto went to get the comet, he was surprised to see
               Jupiter hiding in a nebula.

               24 - "What are you doing here?"  said Pluto.
               "Tell him to spin more before he releases," said Jupiter.
               "Tell him yourself," said Pluto.

               25 - "You'd let me play with you?" said Jupiter.
               "I thought you had your special Planet Club," said Pluto.
               "We kicked out a couple more planets.  But then there weren't
               enough for cometball," said Jupiter.

               26 - By this time, several KBO's had gathered around.
               "Can I play with you?" asked Jupiter.

               27 - "Anyone can play," said Pluto.

               28 - "Hooray!" said the Plutoids.  Jupiter was good with the
               small comets, but Pluto was the best.  They lit up the sky
               with their fun.  ZING!  ZANG!  KA-ZOOM!

                                         THE END

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Bad Mormon

I wrote this comic short film BAD MORMON and shot it with two of my brothers on a Flipcam during a family vacation in St. Louis.  I wrote it without dialogue as I wanted to see if I could tell a story purely through images.

Caveats: This video is only intended for laughs, not any sort of religious or political commentary.

Good Mormon wants to enjoy his favorite activities: studying scripture, appreciating fine music, and petting his beloved bird. Bad Mormon has other ideas.

Writer/Director/Editor - Mike Sundy

Modern Family TV spec

Recently I've been more interested in writing for TV. I love mockumentaries and have since watching the early Christopher Guest movies. My buddy Toby and I got a copy of the British Office when it was just airing in the UK and it blew us away. The first TV spec I wrote was an Office spec. The second one I wrote was this Modern Family one. It's called Neighborhood Watch.

Logline: Phil and Claire form a neighborhood watch in a misguided attempt to catch non-existent hoodlums. Cam and Mitchell undergo hazing to join an exclusive playgroup. Jay and Gloria teach Manny how to deal with a school bully.

Awards: 2012 Austin Film Festival Second Rounder (top 10% of over 6000 scripts)


CARDBOARD CASTLE is my most personal script. It's also won the most awards of any script I've written. Coincidence? It's a family fantasy with a little darkness to it, inspired by my own relationship with my father and also my relationship with my beloved daughters.

Logline: A stoic Air Force captain journeys into the whimsical mind of his comatose daughter and races to save her from a fearsome beast.

2011 Scriptapalooza Semi-finalist
2012 CineStory Quarterfinalist
2012 PAGE Awards Quarterfinalist
2010/2011/2012 Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival (top 10% of 6000+ scripts)
2011 BlueCat Quarterfinalist


I'm going to be detailing some of my previously written projects. Then I'll start posting new writing (some of which may be incomplete). I hope to use this blog as a way to showcase my writing and share the journey of an aspiring screenwriter. If only I could get Blogger to stop embedding crazy HTML tags and jacking up my font. I'll bend you to my will, Blogger, mark my words. You'll rue the day.

SANTAGATE is an AFF Finalist!

SANTAGATE is a family comedy script I wrote over the course of a couple years.  I started it in the amazing Tim Albaugh's UCLA Online workshop.  After I wrote the rough draft, I pitched it at my first Austin Film Festival in 2010.  Not being the best pitcher, I was shocked to tie for third in the Pitch Finals.  Two years and seven drafts later, it makes the AFF comedy screenplay finals. http://www.austinfilmfestival.com/news/2012-screenplay-teleplay-finalists/  Many thanks to my fellow writers in the UCLA Online Workshop and Pixar Screenwriters' group for all the great notes.

Logline: A kid reporter obsessed with the truth struggles to uncover the greatest grown-up conspiracy of all time: the secret of Santa.

2012 Austin Film Festival Finalist in the comedy screenplay category (top 5 scripts out of 2000)
2012 Austin Film Festival Semi-Finalist for Enderby Entertainment Award
2011 BlueCat Quarterfinalist (older draft)

Writing Goals

I want to be a full-time professional writer of family films and comedies.  I started off being a screenwriter but have been doing more TV writing lately and am enjoying that.  In a perfect world, I'd write on staff for a TV series and also write feature specs and TV pilots.  And write children's books on the side.

Writing Bio

I read voraciously as a kid.  Grew up to write crappy poetry as a teenager.  Don't laugh, it got me a couple of girlfriends who were out of my league.  I stopped writing poetry when I got married since all the angst was gone.  After getting laid off from yet another dotcom startup where I was sure to be a millionaire "any day now", I realized I wasn't fulfilled doing computer work all day.  So I took a test at the Johnson O'Connor Institute to measure my aptitudes.  The test told me to consider a career as a playwright.  Instead, I chose to pursue screenwriting since I didn't want to starve.  Figuring this would take a week or two tops, I signed up for the UCLA Professional Program in Screenwriting.  Ten years later, I'm finally a little less crappy of a writer than when I started.  Now I spend my time with the Pixar screenwriters' group and the Pixar children's book writing group.