Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pixar's secret to story

This is long, but completely worth reading. A couple of excerpts:

The process of writing a story is messy. It's something you have to play with and explore. The first draft is a kickoff and, more often than not, always bad. You have to feel safe and be willing to make mistakes -- then take the time to fix them. Good writing is rewriting. As [Andrew] Stanton says, "Be wrong as fast as you can." Get your ideas onto the page. The real gold is mined later. This advice is similar to that of Chuck Jones on drawing -- make your mistakes early and fast, so you can get them out of the way. Refine your efforts until you get to the good stuff. "Genius" looks effortless only because there are 100,000 bad drawings (so-called failures) already behind you.

. . .

  • They make movies that they would like to see. They are moviegoers first and filmmakers second. They like being able to take their whole family to the same show.
  • They shy away from story formulas. If one appears, they abandon it.
  • Animation is a medium, not a genre. Be original. Dare to be stupid. When discovering your story, you have to be in a creatively safe environment.
  • They do not pretend to be better than others in their ability. They band together to fix their mistakes. Their intent is to "just make good movies." In crafting their films, the regard is always what is best for the movie -- not the individual, not the studio.
  • They try to cultivate the cheerful reaction that Walt Disney inspired through his animated films, to appeal to the sense of wonder in people's minds, stimulated by imagination.

  • . . .
  • Empathize with your main character, even if you don't like all of his/her motivations or qualities. (For example, Woody in Toy Story initially masked his selfish desires as being selfless.)
  • Unity of opposites. Each character must have clear goals that oppose each other.
  • You should have something to say. Not a message, per se, but some perspective, some experiential truth.
  • Have a key image, almost like a visual logline, to encapsulate the essence of the story; that represents the emotional core on which everything hangs. (For example, Marlin in Finding Nemo, looking over the last remaining fish egg in the nest.)
  • Know your world and the rules of it. (Such as in Monsters, Inc.)
  • The crux of the story should be on inner, not outer, conflicts.
  • Developing the story is like an archeological dig. Pick a site where you think the story is buried, and keep digging to find it.
  • "Just say no" to flashbacks. Only tell what's vital, and tell it linearly.

Good stuff. A question, though: Where are the women and people of color at Pixar?


Paul Schmid said...

This is great, and nice timing for me as I'm still making changes (improvements) to my book and the deadline for art is a month away!

Mistakes are rarely obvious either. It sometimes seems as if I'm wandering around the planet just to find the house next-door. Duh.

100,000 bad drawings? Ha! I'm way past that.

Martha Brockenbrough said...

Paul, I have a hard time imagining ONE bad drawing emerging from your pen. More like 100,000 great ones, with an assortment of genius sprinkled in. Can't wait to see your book. Loved your latest blog post, too.

Richard Jesse Watson said...

Thank you for good medicine, Doc. This encapsulates a lot of what ails the creative struggler. It is good to remember that nobody churns out excellence, it is crafted and wrestled with.