“Hannah Montana: The Movie,” “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie,” “The Cheetah Girls: One World,” “Cinderella 3: A Twist in Time.” With a resume featuring dozens of such credits, Dan Berendsen could be the most influential screenwriter reaching kids today.
“I’m a product of that late-’70s to early-’80s time where you had ‘The Brady Bunch’ on TV and Steven Spielberg making movies like ‘E.T.’ and there was this kind of idealized suburban America where it was great to be a kid,” Berendsen says. “So, when I’m writing, I’m coming from that background.”
After more than 10 years of creating TV shows and films for kids, Berendsen believes constructing stories and characters for this younger audience means remembering what his own feelings were like when he was a teenager — that every experience feels like the first time because it is.
The writer also has a solid respect for his viewers and knows that if he doesn’t hit the mark with them, they’ll head to the lobby for some popcorn.
“The reason these shows and these movies are so popular right now is that they’ve stepped up and they’re speaking directly to the audience (instead of) talking down to them,” says Berendsen. “Kids know what they’re watching and when someone is trying to fool them.”
Still, Berendsen is quick to point out he’s different from his high-profile characters.
“If I were cast in one of my movies, I would be ‘High School Student No. 12’ who stands left of the star,” he says. “I never got to be the lead, so maybe in writing these stories there’s some wish fulfillment.”
Impact: The top screenwriter for tweens, he wrote “Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie” and “Hannah Montana: The Movie.”
Next: Working on an adult-targeted pilot for ABC and “High School Musical 4: East Meets West.”
Causes: GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network).