Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Pixar

April 16th, 2016 by

The Daily Dialogue theme for next week: Pixar!

As longtime GITS readers will know, I am pretty obsessed with Pixar. After all, it is the most successful movie studio in the history of the business in this regard: 16 of their 17 releases have opened at #1 at the box office. This reflects the fact they are master storytellers which is what really fuels my interest in them.

Therefore this week, we honor the men, women, and characters who make their creative home up in Emeryville, California. Let’s pick out 7 choice moments of memorable dialogue from Pixar movies.

The usual drill:

* Copy/paste dialogue from IMDb Quotes or some other transcript source.

* Copy/paste the URL of an accompanying video from YouTube or some other video source.

I’d also ask you to think about why the dialogue is notable. Is there anything about the dialogue which provides some takeaway related to the craft of writing? If so, feel free to lay that wisdom on us.

Consecutive days of Daily Dialogue posts: 2,893.

Be a part of the proud Daily Dialogue tradition, make a suggestion, and have your name emblazoned on a blog post which will forever hold a hallowed spot in the Go Into The Story archives!

Upcoming schedule of themes:

April 26-May 1: War
May 2-May 8: Brothers
May 9-May 15: Vixen
May 16-May 22: Celebration
May 23-May 29: Coen Brothers
May 30-June 5: Teacher
June 6-June 12: Dog
June 13-June 19: Stoned
June 20-June 26: First Date
June 27-July 3: Rant
July 4-July 10: Apology

Be sure to post your ideas for this week’s theme: Pixar.

Thanks to all you loyal Daily Dialoguers! You rock!

Video: “John Lasseter Looks Back on 30 Years of Pixar”

February 7th, 2016 by

Last week to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of Pixar, the company put out this short video featuring John Lasseter, Walt Disney Animation and Pixar Studios Chief Creative Officer, and his reflections on why the studio has become so successful as a movie company:

An excerpt of Lasseter’s comments:

What makes a Pixar movie a Pixar movie. First its roots are based in the work of Walt Disney. Story is king. Story is the most important thing. You want it to really resonate with the audience… You want the movies to touch people. And that really is kind of a hallmark of Walt, make them funny, make them beautiful, make them scary, but in the end you want that heart of the movie to be so strong.

Story. Resonate. Touch people. Heart. It’s interesting. I have conversations with people who work in the movie and TV business all the time. They all want scripts with a strong story concept. Solid structure. Memorable scenes. And all the rest. However at the end of the day, perhaps the most important thing they’re looking for is this: They want to feel something.

So perhaps that’s a big reason why Pixar has been so successful. Guided by their own philosophy, they make movies with resonate with people and connect with them on an emotional level.

Something for writers to remember.

Video via the Walt Disney Company.

Video: “Pixar’s Tribute to Cinema”

January 10th, 2016 by

Arguably the most successful movie studio of all time, Pixar finds its storytelling inspiration from many sources… including cinema itself.

Via Jorge Luengo Ruiz.

That reminds me my popular 1 week Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling class returns starting Monday, January 25! Learn key storytelling themes and dynamics common to Pixar movies, and how we can use those to elevate our writing. I’m updating my lectures to include Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur. Lots and lots of new background articles and videos, along with my exclusive interview with Mary Coleman, head of the Pixar story department.

So if you’re a Pixar fan or just want to get better as a writer, you should check out my class. To find out more, go here.

“What makes every Pixar movie tick, in one chart”

November 26th, 2015 by

As loyal GITS readers know, I have an obsession with all things Pixar as they have proven themselves to be master storytellers. So I thought this infographic put together by some folks at Vox was worth highlighting:

PIXAR THEMES GRID

There are some insights to be gleaned here, but it’s a pretty surface level take on what Pixar does. Given the fact that every single Pixar movie has opened at #1, an unparalleled achievement, I’ve always contended writers should really study their approach to storytelling.

What would be ideal is if there were an 1-week online course which analyzed every single Pixar movie, digging into themes, characters, and story structures.

A class which featured interviews with members of the Pixar ‘braintrust’ and an exclusive Q&A with the head of the studio’s story department.

Lectures coming at the subject matter specifically from a writer’s perspective, identifying dynamics common to Pixar movies, as well as storytelling tips.

A class with a title like… Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling.

Hey, wait. I already created that class! And it’s proved to be hugely popular! What’s more, I will be offering it again in January 2016, updated to include this year’s Inside Out and The Good Dinosaur.

So yes, the chart above is helpful. But if you really want to immerse yourself in the Pixar mindset, join me in January for the next session of Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling.

For the Vox article, go here.

Andrew Stanton, Part 10: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

September 11th, 2015 by

Last week, I brought up the Andrew Stanton TED Talk from 2012 in the context of a discussion about storytelling. It reminded of how great his presentation was. So great, when I went into the archives to check the series I ran at the time, I had actually taken the time to transcribe the entire 19-minute talk. So for the next two weeks, I will reprise that series from one of the principal figures in the phenomenon which is Pixar Animation Studios.

A few weeks back our featured video interview was a TED Talk given by Andrew Stanton, one of the key members of Pixar’s ‘brain trust’ whose screenwriting credits include Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E and the current live action movie John Carter which he also directed [along with A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Wall-E].

The subject of the TED Talk: “The Clues to a Great Story.” Given the success of Pixar and Stanton’s participation in it, I decided to produce a transcription of the entire 19-minute presentation. I will be posting it segment by segment for the next week or so because Stanton packed a lot of big ideas into his short talk.

Today: Part 10.

When I was 4 years old, I have a vivid memory of finding two pinpoint scars on my ankle and asking my dad what they were, and I had a matching pair on my head, but I couldn’t see them because of my hair. He explained when I was born, I was born premature, that I came out much too early, and I wasn’t fully baked. I was very, very sick. And when the doctor took a look at this yellow kid with black teeth, he looked straight at my mom and said, “He’s not gonna live.”

I was in the hospital for months. And many blood transfusions later, I lived. And that made me special.

I don’t know if I really believe that. I don’t know if my parents really believe that. But I didn’t want to prove them wrong.

Whatever I ended up being good at, I would strive to be worthy of the second chance I was given.

[Scene from Finding Nemo where the shark has eaten Marlin’s wife and all the eggs… but he discovers one: “I promise I will never let anything happen to you… Nemo.”]

That’s the first story lesson I ever learned. Use what you know. Draw from it. Doesn’t always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core.

And that’s what ultimately led me to speaking you here at TED talk today.

One thing:

* “That’s the first story lesson I ever learned. Use what you know. Draw from it. Doesn’t always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core”: Per Stanton’s own life-story, how as a child he barely survived, the power of that experience infused the basic premise and overall plot of Finding Nemo. Above and beyond how tremendous the movie’s plot and characters are, perhaps no dynamic helps to elevate the story in the hearts of viewers than this point of emotional resonance: We want to protect those whom we love. But life is uncertain. Overprotectiveness does not facilitate living, it suffocates opportunities. We need to embrace the possibilities life brings, both positive and negative. For we can only find our true humanity [and fishhood] through confronting risks.

I love TED Talks. Sometimes, however, I discover that after watching a video, I can barely remember anything of substance. That’s why I took the time to transcribe Stanton’s words, to give us all a chance to reflect on the many big ideas Stanton laid out in his talk.

For Part 1 of Stanton’s TED Talk, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

For Part 5, go here.

For Part 6, go here.

For Part 7, go here.

For Part 8, go here.

For Part 9, go here.

I hope you have enjoyed this series.

Andrew Stanton, Part 9: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

September 10th, 2015 by

Last week, I brought up the Andrew Stanton TED Talk from 2012 in the context of a discussion about storytelling. It reminded of how great his presentation was. So great, when I went into the archives to check the series I ran at the time, I had actually taken the time to transcribe the entire 19-minute talk. So for the next two weeks, I will reprise that series from one of the principal figures in the phenomenon which is Pixar Animation Studios.

A few weeks back our featured video interview was a TED Talk given by Andrew Stanton, one of the key members of Pixar’s ‘brain trust’ whose screenwriting credits include Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E and the current live action movie John Carter which he also directed [along with A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Wall-E].

The subject of the TED Talk: “The Clues to a Great Story.” Given the success of Pixar and Stanton’s participation in it, I decided to produce a transcription of the entire 19-minute presentation. I will be posting it segment by segment for the next week or so because Stanton packed a lot of big ideas into his short talk.

Today: Part 9.

When I was 5, I was introduced to possibly the most major ingredient that I feel a story should have, but is rarely invoked. This is what my mother took me to when I was 5:

[Scene from Bambi where she and Thumper are on the ice for Bambi’s first time]

I walked out of there wide-eyed with wonder. That’s what I think the magic ingredient is, the secret sauce: Can you invoke wonder? Wonder is honest, it’s completely innocent, it can’t be artificially evoked. For me, there’s no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling. To hold them still for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder.

When it’s tapped, the affirmation of being alive almost reaches you to a cellular level. And when an artist does that to another artist, it’s like you’re compelled to pass that on. It’s like a dormant command that’s suddenly activated in you like a call to Devils’ Tower, do unto others what’s been done to you.

The best stories infuse wonder.

One thing:

* “The best stories infuse wonder”: When I experience a truly great story, I am in wonder. Of the events in the story itself. Of the characters. But also of the mastery with which the writers and filmmakers did their job. Watching a great movie redefines the word ‘wonderful’: Our experience is full of wonder.

For Part 1 of Stanton’s TED Talk, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

For Part 5, go here.

For Part 6, go here.

For Part 7, go here.

For Part 8, go here.

Tomorrow the last excerpt, Part 10.

Andrew Stanton, Part 8: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

September 9th, 2015 by

Last week, I brought up the Andrew Stanton TED Talk from 2012 in the context of a discussion about storytelling. It reminded of how great his presentation was. So great, when I went into the archives to check the series I ran at the time, I had actually taken the time to transcribe the entire 19-minute talk. So for the next two weeks, I will reprise that series from one of the principal figures in the phenomenon which is Pixar Animation Studios.

A few weeks back our featured video interview was a TED Talk given by Andrew Stanton, one of the key members of Pixar’s ‘brain trust’ whose screenwriting credits include Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E and the current live action movie John Carter which he also directed [along with A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Wall-E].

The subject of the TED Talk: “The Clues to a Great Story.” Given the success of Pixar and Stanton’s participation in it, I decided to produce a transcription of the entire 19-minute presentation. I will be posting it segment by segment for the next week or so because Stanton packed a lot of big ideas into his short talk.

Today: Part 8.

Before I decided to make storytelling my career, I can now see key things that happened in my youth that opened my eyes to certain things about story.

In 1986 I truly understood the notion of story having a theme. That was the year they restored and re-released Lawrence of Arabia. I saw that thing seven times in one month. I couldn’t get enough of it. I could just tell there was a grand design under it – in every shot, every scene, ever line. Yet on the surface, it just seemed to be depicting his historical lineage of what went on. Yet there was something more being said, what exactly was it. It wasn’t until one of my later viewings when the veil was lifted. It was in a scene where he walked across the Sinai desert and he’s reached the Suez Canal, and I suddenly got it.

[Scene from Lawrence of Arabia where a driver from across the Suez Canal calls out to Lawrence twice: “Who are you?”]

That was the theme: “Who are you?” Here were all these seemingly disparate events and dialogue that were just chronologically telling the history of him, but underneath it was a constant, a guideline, a road map. Everything Lawrence did in that movie was an attempt to figure out his place in the world.

A strong theme is always running through a well-told story.

A few things:

* “I saw that thing seven times in one month”: You want to be a successful screenwriter? That is the kind of passion you need for the craft, to see a movie seven times in thirty days.

* “That was the theme: ‘Who are you?'”: Literally dozens of memorable scenes in Lawrence of Arabia and I don’t even remember this one. Yet Stanton is right: There’s the central question of the movie, tied to the Protagonist’s issue of self-identity, torn between two worlds. Two points here: (1) Keep your eyes peeled because you never know where you might find something of enormous meaning and potential value to you as a storyteller. (2) I think it’s fair to say that most movies have as a key dynamic the question of a major character’s identity, their attempt to discover who they are.

* “A strong theme is always running through a well-told story”: Absolutely. But then again… what does he mean by ‘theme’? What does anybody mean when they use that word? In my years of learning and practicing this craft, I have found that theme is perhaps the single most confused and confusing aspects of what we do. SHAMELESS PLUG: That’s why you should take my upcoming Core VII: Theme class which covers the subject in a way I’ve never seen before, actually makes sense, and provides you with a set of tools to discern and use themes to enhance your stories.

For Part 1 of Stanton’s TED Talk, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

For Part 5, go here.

For Part 6, go here.

For Part 7, go here.

Tomorrow: Part 9

Andrew Stanton, Part 7: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

September 8th, 2015 by

Last week, I brought up the Andrew Stanton TED Talk from 2012 in the context of a discussion about storytelling. It reminded of how great his presentation was. So great, when I went into the archives to check the series I ran at the time, I had actually taken the time to transcribe the entire 19-minute talk. So for the next two weeks, I will reprise that series from one of the principal figures in the phenomenon which is Pixar Animation Studios.

A few weeks back our featured video interview was a TED Talk given by Andrew Stanton, one of the key members of Pixar’s ‘brain trust’ whose screenwriting credits include Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, Wall-E and the current live action movie John Carter which he also directed [along with A Bug’s Life, Finding Nemo and Wall-E].

The subject of the TED Talk: “The Clues to a Great Story.” Given the success of Pixar and Stanton’s participation in it, I decided to produce a transcription of the entire 19-minute presentation. I will be posting it segment by segment for the next week or so because Stanton packed a lot of big ideas into his short talk.

Today: Part 7.

Another fundamental thing we learned was about liking your main character. We had naively thought that Woody in Toy Story had to become selfless in the end and you have to start from some place, so let’s make him selfish and this is what you get:

[Video of early Woody voiced by Tom Hanks in which he is mean-spirited]

How do you make a selfish character likeable? We realized you can make him kind, generous, funny, considerate as long as one condition is met for him, and that is he stays the top toy. And that’s really what it is. We all live life conditionally. We all play by the rules and follow things along, as long as certain conditions are met. After that, all bets are off.

A few things:

* “Another fundamental thing we learned was about liking your main character”: For almost all mainstream Hollywood movies, the Protagonist has to have personal qualities and/or backstory elements that create some sort of emotional resonance with a script reader. Likability is often a requisite, but even if the character is hard to like, they and their life circumstance to be explored in the story have to be compelling.

* “We all play by the rules and follow things along, as long as certain conditions are met”: That’s a really interesting insight into characters and an intriguing way to look at what generally transpires with the Protagonist in Act One, where some events happen that propel them out of their Old World into the New World of Adventure, and in Act Two where the Protagonist must face a new reality where their previous conditions are not met. That is another way of looking at the Deconstruction dynamic which usually comes into play in the first part of the Protagonist’s shift into the New World.

For Part 1 of Stanton’s TED Talk, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

For Part 5, go here.

For Part 6, go here.

Tomorrow: Part 8.

Andrew Stanton, Part 6: “The Clues to a Great Story” (TED Talk)

September 7th, 2015 by

Last week, I brought up the Andrew Stanton TED Talk from 2012 in the context of a discussion about storytelling. It reminded of how great his presentation was. So great, when I went into the archives to check the series I ran at the time, I had actually taken the time to transcribe the entire 19-minute talk. So for the next two weeks, I will reprise that series from one of the principal figures in the phenomenon which is Pixar Animation Studios.

The subject of the TED Talk: “The Clues to a Great Story.” Given the success of Pixar and Stanton’s participation in it, I decided to produce a transcription of the entire 19-minute presentation. I will be posting it segment by segment for the next week or so because Stanton packed a lot of big ideas into his short talk.

Today: Part 6.

In the early days of Pixar, before we truly understood the invisible workings of story, we were simply a group of guys going on our gut, going on our instincts. And it’s interesting to see how that led us places that are actually pretty good. You have to understand that at this time in 1993, what was considered a successful animated picture Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Lion King. So when we pitched Toy Story to Tom Hanks for the first time, he walked in and said, “You don’t want me to sing, do you?” And I thought that epitomized perfectly what everybody thought animation had to be at the time.

But we really wanted to prove you could tell completely different stories in animation. We didn’t have any influence then, so we had a little secret list of rules that we kept to ourselves. They were:

  • No songs
  • No “I want” moment
  • No happy village
  • No love story
  • No villain

The irony is in the first year, our story was not working at all and Disney was panicking. So they privately got advice from a famous lyricist – who I won’t name – and he faxed them some suggestions. And we got a hold of that fax. And the fax said:

  • There should be songs
  • There should be an “I want” song
  • There should be a happy village song
  • There should be a love story
  • And there should be a villain

And thank goodness we were just too young, rebellious and contrairian at the time. That just gave us more determination to prove you could build a better story. A year after that, we did conquer it. And it just goes to prove storytelling has guidelines, not hard, fast rules.

A few points:

* “We were simply a group of guys going on our gut, going on our instincts”: So much of the story-crafting process is about this. We learn what we learn, as we should, always pushing ourselves to read more, watch more, analyze more. At the end of the day, when you are writing a story, it’s just your those characters, that universe… and your instincts. Even and perhaps especially when you made big decisions like which story to write, what tone to pick, which ending to choose, you would be smart to be thoughtful about it, but always be mindful of what your gut says. In my view, that’s generally what is closest to your Creativity.

* “And it just goes to prove storytelling has guidelines, not hard, fast rules”: Ironic that Stanton uses the word “rules” to describe the original Pixar list of “no’s” — no songs, no villains, etc. The language can get a little confusing. Here’s my take: If by “rule,” we mean something akin to a law which we, as writers, can not break, then I absolutely agree: There are no rules. There are, as Stanton suggests, guidelines. There are, as McKee asserts, principles. There is conventional wisdom, common practices, formulas, patterns, paradigms, and all the rest. What all of that represents is the human endeavor to understand and wrangle an organic entity: story. To the degree any of them help us go into the story and find its essence, its peculiar shape, it’s unique characters, tone, feel, atmosphere, and so on, great. I don’t care what you call them as long as they help you write a great story. But all too often writers are taught to abide by these so-called rules when the fact is nothing… NOTHING trumps the story. For more of my thoughts on this matter, go here.

For Part 1 of Stanton’s TED Talk, go here.

For Part 2, go here.

For Part 3, go here.

For Part 4, go here.

For Part 5, go here.

Tomorrow: Part 7.

“Effective Feedback: The Little Known Secret To Pixar’s Creative Success”

July 2nd, 2015 by

Ed Catmull, one of Pixar’s founders, came out with a book last year called “Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration”. I’ve got it and have it in my To Read stack. In the meantime, here is an overview via Digital Tonto of one section of the book focusing on feedback. Catmull makes four points on the subject:

Every Idea Starts Out As An Ugly Baby

People tend to think that great works are born out of sublime inspiration.  There may be some truth to that, but it’s only a small part of the story.  Catmull calls Pixar’s initial ideas “ugly babies,” because they start out, “awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” Not everyone can see what those ugly babies can grow into.

—-

Feedback Requires Candor, Trust And Empathy

While rushing to judgment can stop the creative process in its tracks, excessive positivity can be just as bad.  The only way an ugly baby idea can get better is through honest feedback. You have to identify problems before you can solve them and the sooner that happens, the better.  Every creator has to face hard truths.

However, that requires trust.  An idea is never just an idea, but also a part of the person who puts it forward.

—-

Keeping The Cooks Out Of The Kitchen

One of the key principles of creativity is that you want to take ideas from everywhere.  Truly original ideas never come from any one place, but from synthesizing disparate domains and applying them to a new context.  However, while casting a wide net is great for generating ideas, it’s often fatal for developing them

—-

At Pixar, there is a group called the “braintrust,” made up of a small group of the company’s top directors and producers that is charged with giving feedback to films in development. Importantly, everyone on the braintrust is a filmmaker and is capable of putting themselves in a director’s shoes.

—-

The Purpose Of Feedback Is To Move The Project Forward

One of the most interesting things that Catmull had to say was that, although he had met an extraordinary amount of creative geniuses—and I would assume he included Steve Jobs in that group—he had never met “a single one who could articulate what it was that they were striving for when they started.”

Not a single one.

Often, feedback sessions are seen as a chance for people to give their input.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The purpose of creative feedback is to move the project forward. Anything that does not fulfill that purpose—not matter who it comes from—has no place in a feedback session.

Every single one of these points is directly relevant to the story-crafting process of a screenwriter, TV writer, novelist, any storyteller.

* We have to accept the fact that our stories are imperfect, sometimes significantly so. We ought not look at this as a reason to quit the story, rather we should call it what it is: A starting point.

* We have to be willing and able to receive honest feedback, no matter how tough it is to hear. That said, we have to trust the creative instincts of the people providing the critique.

* Feedback from too many sources can be ruinous as disparate takes on the material can lead to nothing but confusion, so we should seek out reactions from a small group of readers we trust or a respected evaluator of scripted content.

* We need to suss out the intention of the people critiquing our stories because believe it or not, there are a lot of a-holes out there who get their kicks by deriding scripts and degrading writers. Seek out people who will be honest, who we can trust, and who we know are offering feedback in the spirit of advancing our project toward a better draft.

One approach: Become part of a writers group. Not your friends, family, or inexperienced writers, but people who know Story, and qualify per Catmull’s advice.

If you can’t source a writers group, I can recommend the workshops and classes at Screenwriting Master Class. Our philosophy of constructive critique exemplifies the four points noted above. Moreover you not only get peer feedback, but also comprehensive comments from Tom Benedek or myself.

Then the bonus: Many of our workshop writers go on to create writers groups. It’s something Tom and I actively encourage. There are writers who took online classes with me over a decade ago who still have ongoing writers groups.

Writing is rewriting and feedback is one of the crucial aspects of that process. Ed Catmull has articulated the spirit of the Pixar approach and it’s one we, as writers, ought to try to emulate as part of our own feedback system.

For the rest of the Digital Tonto post, go here.

HT to Deborah Salter Kawaguchi for a link to the article.