Bobette Buster has a job a million people would kill for. A part-time screenwriter, creative development producer and lecturer, she works as a story consultant for 20th Century Fox, Disney and Sony Studio. To be frank, Buster works in the most important aspect of the filmmaking process – story development.
“Development in Hollywood industry terms is technically research and development. A million dollars a year is spent on development expenses in the industry and that’s just the executive alone,” says Buster. “Some companies, like Spielberg’s company or Brad Pitt’s company Plan B or George Clooney’s company Smokehouse or Dreamworks, have multiple layers of executive in development.”
Born into a loving family in Kentucky, Buster gives credit to her family in fostering a love and understanding of storytelling. “All my elders were just phenomenal storytellers. My parents and grandparents were all great storytellers. And luckily I was able to grow up with this around me. It’s like growing up in a place with great musicians like New Orleans. I was fortunate to grow up in a region that really valued storytelling.”
Studying performance and film studies, Buster claims her extensive understanding of what goes on in front of the camera helps everything that happens behind it. “Acting was phenomenal training for story development because you really need to understand the characters’ motivation and their fears. Storytelling itself is orchestrating emotion in a complex chord.”
After studying at Northwestern University in Chicago and working in TV news and documentaries, Buster moved from Kentucky to Los Angeles and was initially daunted by the “closed system” Hollywood appears to have. However, she won a place at University of Southern California in creative producing. “What we learnt was how to find any story and develop it all the way into a feature film that can then be marketed and distributed in the marketplace.”
In a class of 20, with three other women, Buster also got an internship working in marketing at Warner Bros. Studios but refused to stop there. “I really wanted to be in the story side of film. I naturally gravitated to development and I began to see that there were issues that weren’t being taught. I created a program while I was working for Tony Scott as his creative executive and got exposure to the A-level of the business. Pixar soon discovered me because I created a way for all the departments to access a way of storytelling and could relate to. And once they heard about me, I became known through the grapevine of Sony and Disney.”
Though almost single handedly being responsible for creations that end up on our cinema screens, Buster isn’t one to take full responsibility. “This is an ongoing development with stories between writers, agents and talent. There’s an analytical set of skills to develop and learn in order to work in the industry like asking: What’s a good story? What can be adapted into cinema? What is the marketplace interested in now? In five years from now? Who should be cast in it? Who is the next hot thing? There is this huge set of analysis that you are doing at all times to figure out what the next big creative idea [is] that you can adapt into a motion picture.”
But Buster’s job doesn’t end on the page. “While I consult with people on how to write great stories as screenplays, I also consult when they are in production. I help bring them to their best possible light.” Her recent work on Pixar’s Frozen earned a lot of praise, primarily for changing gender identities and breaking down stereotypes in children’s films.
A professor of screenwriting at University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Buster has lectured on cinematic language and the importance of story development. “What I teach is the essence of cinematic storytelling which is actually an art and a craft to be learned. I began to create a program on the different facets of the business and my students were immediately successful and selling their scripts for six digits. And soon I began sharing these ideas all around the world. I wanted to help people discover their own voice and create a universal story that could be accessed by audiences all over the world.”
Originally published on Hijacked, April 23, 2014.