What Our Members Do: Brian Comer, Story Analyst

Brian Comer, story analyst. PHOTO: Courtesy Brian Comer.

Where are you currently employed?

Walt Disney/Fox.

Current Project?

The new Taika Waititi comedy for Searchlight.

Describe Your Job.

Agents, managers, and attorneys submit screenplays, manuscripts, books, videos, etc. to studio executives or producers on the lot. That intellectual property is sent to the story department where it is logged in as an official submission and assigned to a story analyst to be “covered.” Story Analysts read or view the intellectual property, then synopsize, evaluate, and write critiques. The resulting work product, called “coverage,” helps the studio determine whether to develop or acquire a property that could become content for distribution as a movie or for some other platform, such as the new Disney+ streaming service. Story analysts also evaluate writing samples, do legal comparisons, perform writer credit analysis, and more – sometimes in foreign languages.

How did you first become interested in this line of work?

I know it sounds incredibly clichéd, but I had life-changing experiences when I saw two movies: “Jaws” and “Star Wars.” My English teacher told me that if you figure out what you love to do and then find somebody to pay you to do it, you’ll never work a day in your life. I thought that was not only wise but brilliant! Screenplays are blueprints for movies, so analyzing scripts is a bit like being paid to watch movies. I love my work.

Who gave you your first break?

David Madden, who was the story editor at Fox, right after I graduated from USC film school. When I interviewed with him, I made the mistake of bashing a recent Fox release. I think he was impressed by my honesty and he supervised me on my first union job.

What credits or projects are you proudest of, and why?

Working on “Rogue One” was the most exciting opportunity I have ever had. Based on my years of working at Disney, an executive there referred me to Lucasfilm. To have been a kid inspired by the “Star Wars” franchise and then to have participated in the project was a dream come true.

What was your biggest challenge in your job (or on a particular project) and how did you overcome/solve it?

There were a lot of security protocols and confidential information for “Rogue One,” so I just had to keep my big mouth shut about what I was doing. Plus, the folks at Lucasfilm said they would send a Wookie to rip off my arms if I leaked anything.

What was the most fun you’ve had at work?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, working for Lucasfilm was a blast, even though I did not visit the Skywalker facility.

Jobwise, what do you hope to be doing five years from now?

I hope to transition to working full-time as a writer. I have a family comedy screenplay in development.

What are your outside activities, hobbies, passions?

I golf, kayak, and go sailing. I would love to have a Hemingway-style retirement: write and live on a boat where I can go marlin fishing and shoot sharks with a machine gun. (Just kidding!)

Favorite movie(s)? Why?

I really don’t like the idea of “top ten” lists or favorites. I think every creative effort should stand on its own merits. “Casablanca,” “Citizen Kane,” and “The Godfather” have been lauded as among the greatest movies ever made, but I can also appreciate the sheer lunacy and silliness of The Three Stooges. “Norbit” starring Eddie Murphy is probably one of the worst movies ever made (no offense intended), but I appreciate that movie because it achieves the goal of every comedy. It’s so ridiculous that it makes people laugh. It’s impossible for me to compare movies from different genres side by side. Action, Romance, Horror, Musical, Science Fiction — each genre has its own benchmarks. I believe that filmed entertainment works whenever it captures a simple human truth.

Favorite TV program(s)? Why?

I avoid picking favorite TV shows for the same reason I dislike “top ten” movie lists. Right now, I am bingeing on the Amazon Prime series “The Expanse.”  It’s terrific hard science fiction and looks like it could happen in our future. And of course, who doesn’t love Baby Yoda on the Disney Plus series “Mandalorian”? 

Do you have an industry mentor?

No, not a specific person. I rely on advice from various producers and executives I have known in my career.

What advice would you offer to someone interested in pursuing your line of work?

Read a lot about movies so that you understand production, genre conceits, and screenplay mechanics. Watch a lot of movies from different periods and filmmakers so that you understand the art and history of cinema. Pay closer attention to movies that fail because of poor screenplay mechanics. Read a lot of scripts. And finally, have real life experiences outside of the film industry so you can tell whether the writer knows what they’re talking about.

Was there ever a circumstance when you had to rely on the Guild for help or assistance?

I have had some training sessions with Dieter Rozek, the Guild’s training coordinator, and that is an incredible resource for members.

Is there anything you’d like to say to your fellow Guild members, some words of encouragement?

The current covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down quite fast, but I believe things will turn right-side up even faster. Production will resume around town, and there will be so much pent-up social undistancing that soon you won’t be able to get a table at a restaurant.