We have all seen the classic movie Jurassic Park, the 1993 Steven Spielberg film about an island inhabited by dinosaurs (if you haven’t seen it, go watch it, now). While I enjoyed the film, I would never call myself a huge fan. I could not quote the movie line for line, I have not seen it hundreds of times, and I definitely could not write an entire book analyzing the movie and its storytelling qualities. Ben Johnson can (and did) all of those things, though.
This past week had the chance to meet Ben, an Aggie Alumnus that recently published a book about all things screenwriting, storytelling, and of course Jurassic Park. Ben is a 2011 graduate of A&M, a former Cadet and now a self-published author. While his day job is doing network administrative work and general desktop support in San Antonio, writing is a passion he has pursued for as long as he can remember, and something he plans to do for the rest of his life. In 2015 he published his first book Hold On To Your Butts: How Jurassic Park Can Teach you Everything you Need to Know About Storytelling, an expert analysis from self-proclaimed fanatic.
As a hopeful screenwriter myself, I found Ben’s book to be insightful, funny and real. It is a short read, and it tackles all the key elements of storytelling: Plot, character development and visual storytelling, through a thorough look at a classic film. When asked about the inspiration to write a book, Ben replied that “Hold On To Your Butts came out of the combination of two factors: a ten-minute session I did for SWAMP which was basically the book’s highlights in PowerPoint form, and the fact that I can’t shut up about that movie in general. I needed a break from some of my other projects that were mired in problems with structure and character development, and the process of just gushing about this movie pages for at a time helped me to focus in on how best to improve my work moving forward.” SWAMP (which stands for Screenwriting, Acting and Movie Production) is a student organization at A&M that allows students to focus on different aspects of film production, in which Ben was a member in the 2010-2011 school year.
There are many books out there on storytelling and screenwriting, but what sets Hold On To Your Butts apart is that it is not bogged down with technical jargon or analysis from industry experts. It is a straight-cut look at a famous movie, from someone that knows it better than most, including so-called “film experts.” Ben hopes that “people gain confidence from Hold On To Your Butts,” and emphasizes that, “good storytellers need not be hampered by a blank résumé. You can – and should – learn from the best filmmakers and storytellers merely by watching and dissecting their films or reading and analyzing their printed works as often as you can stomach.” A philosophy that he lives by and put into practice when writing his book.
He ends with one last piece of advice for anyone struggling storytellers out there: “don’t get hung up on getting it right the first time, let the story tell itself. Sometimes you have a section, a scene, a paragraph, a sentence, that comes out wrong no matter how many times you go back and retool it. Let it be, keep moving the story forward. Something down the line – a few paragraphs, pages, publications later – will click into place and retroactively untie that knot.”
So get out there and write all you storytellers!