The Singing Screenwriters

By Allison Engel

The writers of Despicable Me (and other ’toons) have a tuneful way of selling scripts.

Ken Daurio, left, and Cinco Paul. Photo by Dietmar QuistorfKen Daurio, left, and Cinco Paul. Photo by Dietmar Quistorf

In the struggle to get noticed in Hollywood, the screenwriting duo of Cinco Paul MFA ’93 and Ken Daurio has come up with a winning formula for their story pitches: They sing them.

It doesn’t always work. One stone-faced producer, they recall, witheringly commented: “Well, that was loud.” But the strategy works often enough that the two have churned out a string of produced work, including Bubble Boy (2001), an unlikely romantic comedy about an immune-deficient man, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Swoosie Kurtz; and the 2008 Raven-Symoné comedy, College Road Trip.

Lately, they have specialized in animated films for major studios, such as the feature adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who! (2008), starring Jim Carrey. The two were personally chosen for the job by Audrey Geisel, the widow of Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss.

Their latest effort, Despicable Me, opened July 9. It stars Steve Carell as an arch-villain who may have met his match in three orphan girls looking for a potential dad. It is the twosome’s first 3-D movie.

Last spring, Paul, who was given his unusual first name by dint of being born on Cinco de Mayo, returned to campus with Daurio to talk about their film careers on the student-run television program CU@USC.

Following graduation from Yale University, Paul received a fellowship at the USC School of Cinematic Arts after winning a short-film competition. He remembers his years here fondly, citing screenwriting professors David Howard and the late Frank Daniel as especially helpful. Paul also found his agent here: Frank Wuliger, who taught a class on the business side of Hollywood.

“I loved it,” Paul says. “I came to USC with no connections and after two years, I learned everything I needed to know.”

Daurio, who began making films with a Super 8 camera at the age of 9, started directing music videos straight out of high school. More than 100 videos later, he teamed up with Paul. Within a year, they had sold their first script. A year later, their second script was made into a movie.

The two prefer to work independently, divvying up scenes and coming together to read pages to each other. “The goal is to make the other guy laugh,” Daurio says.

Next up – on the heels of their success with Horton Hears a Who! – the duo will write and direct an adaptation of another Dr. Seuss classic: The Lorax.