Related post: Screenwriting from Japan
Posts Tagged ‘Toy Story 3’
“Hopefully you enjoy what you’re doing [writing screenplays]. I’d written nine scripts and nothing had happened with them. I’m sitting down to write my tenth script—and I’ll confess it’s a silent slapstick comedy—and I’m like, ‘Why the hell am I doing this? This is completely insane to do this.’ But it’s just like— ‘Well, the story is in my head and I want to write it.’ You have to be doing it just for the pleasure of doing it. And in terms of any sort of perceived payoff just be realistic that probably the best case scenario is a 80 to 90 percent failure rate. And that’s the best case scenario. And then you can be happy because you’re not expecting every script that you write to be produced. That’s just not realistic.”
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books
How to Be a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) Michael Arndt’s personal journey
If you look at the last decade of screenwriter Michael Arndt’s career it’s rather amazing. He won an Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, then he wrote Toy Story 3 which was not only a brilliant screenplay but became a great movie that made over a billion dollars at the box office, he wrote the script for Hunger Games: Chasing Fire which comes out this year, and a few months ago it was announced that he would be writing Star Wars Episode VII. But it’s important to look at the decade before he had an agent and before he sold a single script and see if there are any clues that prepared him for the career he is currently having.
“The question is ‘How do you meet an agent?’ or get your script to an agent—It’s a mystery to me. Everyone sort of is able to find a different path, and usually it just comes to referrals. You can submit your script to contests, blah, blah, blah crap like that. For the real top-tier agents they just don’t care about contests or anything like that. I would recommend just working in the industry. Just by virtue of working in the industry you make contacts with people. If you keep talking to people you’ll find a way to get your script on the right desk. I was a [script] reader and I read at least a thousand scripts, and I’d say that out of those thousand scripts maybe twenty got made into movies, and maybe three or four were good movies. So it’s much easier to get your script read and it’s much easier even to get your script made into a movie then it is to write a really good script. So I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script. And my story is a testament to that. I spent a whole year—10 years—teaching myself how to write. It went to one [agent's] desk basically and once it hit that desk though it was like the doors were flying open. They were going to send it to Spielberg, and to Robert Zemeckis, and Steven Soderbergh—once they find something they think they can do something with it’ll just go straight up. So as a writer you can only control what’s on the page. You can’t control what happens to your script after it gets out the door, so just try and focus on making the script as good as possible.”
Screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine, Toy Story 3)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books (at the 35:53 mark of the FORA.tv video)
It’s also important to know that Arndt’s career path is different that Diablo Cody took in Minneapolis (blogging & non-fiction author) and different than John Logan took in Chicago (playwriting)— but the one thing they all had in common is they focused (99%?) on writing a solid script that made the doors fly open. And both Cody and Logan also had one cheerleader in Hollywood that became aware of their work while the writers still lived in the Midwest.
P.S. So the Screenwriting from Iowa…and Other Unlikely Places Facebook page is live and less than 24 hours old. Thanks to those who’ve already jumped on board. Like those on the email list it helps inspire me while searching for quotes and insights that will help you in your writing and career. Plus there will be some things different on the Facebook than on the daily blog posts.
The Secrets to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) —John Logan’s foucs and journey
Screenwriitng Outside L.A. 101 —Touches on Chris Sparling’s focus before Buried was produced and picked up at Sundance
Screenwriting Quote #10 (Nick Schenk) Schenk’s focus in Minneapolis before Gran Torino was produced
Self-Study Screenwriting—The focus of Frank Darbont and Sheldon Turner before they became Oscar-nominated screenwriters
Though it’s now 2013, this blog continues to get many hits on posts I’ve written about Toy Story 3 which was released in 2010. I’m not one to stop that momentum, so here’s my first Toy Story 3 post of the year:
“Andrew Stanton’s rule of thumb is that it takes 10 man-years of labor to make a good screenplay. Either two writers working five years or 10 guys working one year. For Toy Story 3, it was even more than that—probably the equivalent of 10 people each working two or three years. To me, this is what separates Pixar from everyone else. They realize how hard it is to come up with a great screenplay.”
Inside Pixar by Danny Munso
Creative Screenwriting, May/June 2010
Heck, I may be writing about Toy Story 3 ten years from now. (Just for the record Andrew Stanton has won two Oscars; Finding Nemo and Wall-E.) And speaking of ten years, here is another quote from that same article which may encourage/discourage you:
“You have to remember, I spent ten years sitting alone in Brooklyn working on my scripts and getting dribs and drabs of feedback every couple of weeks. and suddenly, it’s like your crawling through the desert and one day you drill down and hit a geyser. Sitting on those [Pixar] Brain Trust meetings have been some of the most exhilarating moments of my creative life. I remember the first time I sat in on a Brain Trust meeting. As soon as people started talking it was like the Harlem Globetrotters in your living room.”
So keep that in mind as you wander through your own writing desert. Before Pixar brought him on board to help write Toy Story 3, and before he won and Academy Award (Little Miss Sunshine) Arndt was “sitting alone in Brooklyn working on scripts.” He worked as an assistant in the film business and as a freelance script reader to pay the bills. (one of his employers said he didn’t even know Arndt was a “closet screenwriter.”) I believe it was about 15 years after graduating from NYU film school when he finally saw a feature he wrote get produced.
P.S. Next Christmas I’m going to ask for a one-day pass to sit in on a Pixar Brain Trust meeting.
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Toy Story 3′s Ohio Connection
Screenwriting Quote #135 (Michael Arndt)
Writing “Finding Nemo”
The Dark Side of Pixar & Disney
Beatles, King, Cody & 10,000 Hours (Diablo Cody proves they can be woman-years as well.)
“Toy Story 3 is about change. It’s about embracing change. It’s about people being faced with change and how they deal with it.”
Director, Toy Story 3
“All the Toy Story films have been about mortality. It’s all about ‘Who am I? Am I going to be replaced?’”
Darla K. Anderson
Producer, Toy Story 3
It’s debatable whether Toy Story 3 was the best film of 2010, but from a filmmaking perspective it’s hard to top the 4-Disc Blu-ray/DVD combo that Pixar created for Toy Story 3. It shows how meticulous the Pixar team ( of “hundred and hundreds of people”) is in creating such wonderful movies. The team discusses how they took four years to create Toy Story 3, first creating a full length anamatic story reel (sort of a rough, moving storyboard).
You’ll also learn quirky things in the behind the scene footage like how director Lee Unkrich loves steamed broccoli.
But since this is a blog on screenwriting…on the second disc you’ll find an excellent 8-minute recap by Toy Story 3 screenwriter Michael Arndt on how he came at the story. He explains how he studied other Pixar films Finding Nemo, Toy Story, and The Incredibles to see how they set up their worlds, characters and stories. Here’s a recap of his recap:
—Usually a script is about 100 pages with three acts with the first act about 25 pages long, the second act about 50 pages long, and the third act 25 pages.
—Introduce your main character and the world they live in.
—Introduce character doing the thing they love most. It’s the center of their whole universe.
—Expose hidden character flaw. In Toy Story, Woody takes pride in being Andy’s favorite toy.
—Storm clouds on the horizon. In Toy Story it’s Andy’s birthday party and all the toys being worried about being replaced.
—Baboom! Something comes in and turns your character’s life upside down. The thing that was their grand passion gets taken away from them. Woody gets displaced by Buzz.
—Add insult to injury. Something that makes the whole world seem unfair. Woody doesn’t just get replaced, he gets replaced by a total dofuss.
—Character comes to a fork in the road and a choice must be made. Take the high road (the healthy responsible choice) or the low road (unhealthy, irresponsible choice). If the character chooses the right thing you really don’t have a story.
—In Toy Story, Woody could make the right choice and say—”I had my day in the sun.” We identify with his pain. But he makes the unhealthy choice which leads to Buzz being pushed out the window which leads to other unhealthy choices. Woody then is forced by the other toys to find Buzz and bring him back—that’s your first act break.
—The character sets out on a journey where they have to get back what they lost and hopefully fix that little flaw they had when we first met them.
That sound you heard a while back was the cash register as Toy Story 3 ticket sales crossed the billion dollar mark.
Toy Story 3 is that rare film that not only was well received by critics and is winning awards, but at the box office it became the top moneymaker in 2010, the top animated film in history and is currently listed at #5 on the all-time world-wide box office list. All it took was four years, a few hundred talented people, and a little steamed broccoli.
I don’t know if Pixar is as an enjoyable place to work as it looks on the behind the scene footage, but I’d sure like to spend a week there sweeping the floors just to soak in the culture.
Update 1/25/11: Just annonuced this morning, Toy Story 3 earned a total of 5 Academy Award nominations including not only Best Adapted Screenplay (Script by Michael Arndt/ Story by John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton, and Lee Unkrich) and Best Animated Film, but for the big daddy itself, Best Picture. Producer Darla K. Anderson was quoted by PopEater as saying, ”We did take a lot of risks on this film — we had some moments of loss and poignancy. We risked Andy giving the toys away… And I wasn’t sure how people would respond to the film — but I knew we told the story we wanted to tell.”
P.S. One of my favorite lines from Toy Story 3 is when the Piggy Bank says: “Let’s go see how much we’re going for on eBay.”
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 1)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 3)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 4)
Writing “Finding Nemo”
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
Toy Story 3′s Ohio Connection
Posted in filmmaking, Movies, tagged Anne Rosellini, Bob Seger, Daniel Woodrell, Dorothea Lange, John Hawkes, Michael McDonough, Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, Shelby Lee Adams, Sundance Film Festival, Toy Story 3, Walker Evans on November 16, 2010 | 2 Comments »
“She could sense blood driven by heartbeats pulsing from the torn places beneath her skin.”
From the novel Winter’s Bone written by Daniel Woodrell
Seventeen year old Ree Dolly has a simple goal in the movie Winter’s Bone—to find her father. But it proves to not be an easy task. I’m sure the same could be said for writer/director Debra Granik as she sought to find a way to turn Daniel Woodrell’s novel into a movie.
Granik certainly didn’t take the easy road in making her second feature film and she was rewarded for her efforts when earlier this year the film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Granik and co-screenwriter Anne Rosellini also won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance. Glowing reviews followed.
“Every once in a rare while a movie gets inside your head and heart, rubbing your emotions raw. The remarkable Winter’s Bone is just such a movie.”
No one is going to confuse Winter’s Bone with Toy Story 3, but if you want a sign that American cinema is alive and well in 2010 then those two films would be a good starting point. And as different as those two are, they have themes that intersect. To borrow Bob Segers’ phrase, both films have characters “seeking shelter against the wind.”
On one level Winter’s Bone is not an enjoyable to watch. But on another level it’s like watching Tender Mercies in that you are being exposed to characters and a world foreign to our largely suburban culture. And as harsh as the realities are there are moments of grace.
On a filmmaking level Winter’s Bone is a pure delight. The casting is rock solid. Jennifer Lawrence carries the lead beautifully and the entire cast of not so familiar faces made me think Granik had somehow discovered an acting troupe in the Ozarks. While she did, in fact, find some of the actors involved in an acting group in I believe Arkansas, she found others from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama—those with Southern backgrounds that served the film well. Granik also used local people for smaller roles.
And while John Hawkes, who plays the character Teardrop with amazing presence, is not from the south, he was born and raised in rural Minnesota and started his career in theater in Austin, Texas.
The actors give the film an authentic texture as does the location in rural southern Missouri where they shot the movie. On the DVD commentary Granik and cinematographer Michael McDonough talk about being influenced by the photographs of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Shelby Lee Adams.
McDonough who shot the film in 24 1/2 days using the Red camera says,”I think one of the things you’ll notice with a lot of the interiors in the film is we deliberately lit from the exterior which is what daylight naturally does. So our film lights are outside—there may be some lamps inside, but—the main lighting is coming from the outside and it lets us work really freely with the actors inside. There’s not all the trappings of filmmaking. You can look at multiple angles without seeing film equipment and it lets you work fairly quickly and more importantly naturalistically.”
Granik, who won the best director award at Sundance in 2004 for her first film Down to the Bone, said in an interview with Ruthie Stein;
“I really think you don’t have to spend that kind of money ($20-30 million) to make a good film. It helps lighten the load (to have less money). You want to make a film with a fleet-footed and agile crew that doesn’t leave a footprint. You don’t want to mow down things in its wake. I like to work small and take a gentler approach to actually trying to capture something.”
A common question I found myself asking over the years as I’ve traveled around this country and overseas is, “What do these people do?” What is their everyday life like? Films offer a chance to explore some of those questions.
Granik said in an interview with Sam Adams, “What keeps me going is that life has lots of bonbons, a lot of treats. You have your mundane life, and then you go into another neighborhood, another zip code, and you’re all delirious again. You’re all delirious and caught up, and then you want to make stories about it.”
If you ever get writer’s block, just look out your window at your neighbors or take a drive in the next town over. There are stories everywhere waiting to be told.
Posted in screenwriting, tagged Bambi, Buzz Lightyear, Finding Nemo, Hansel and Gretel, John Lasseter, Pixar, Roger Ebert, Silence of the Lambs., Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Up, Walt Disney, Woody on June 19, 2010 | 4 Comments »
“We make the kind of movies we want to see, we love to laugh, but I also believe what Walt Disney said, ‘for every laugh there should be a tear.”
Pixar director of Toy Story, Cars, and A Bug’s Life
“Come in! Come in, you’ve nothing to fear!”
The old lady in Hansel and Gretel
Several reviews of Toy Story 3 talk of the darker nature of the movie. The film just opened yesterday and I haven’t seen it yet, but I wonder if many have just forgotten the darker corners that Pixar has treaded in the past (and Walt Disney before them).
One of the whole themes of Toy Story and Toy Story 2 is the fear of outliving your purposefulness and being replaced. Of ending up in the broken toy bin, or even worse— being sold for 25 cents in a yard sale. That’s pretty dark stuff. And it’s set up early in the first film when Buzz Lightyear arrives and Woody fears literally being put up on the shelf.
Here are some of the lines from those first two films:
“No one is getting replaced.”
“Yes sir, we’re next month’s garage sale fonder for sure.”
“Toys don’t last forever.”
“You’re broken, I don’t want to play with you anymore.”
“I hate yard sales.”
Facing your own demise is pretty dark stuff. And don’t forget in Toy Story there is the bad boy next door, Sid, who likes to dismantle and destroy toys and dolls. In Toy Story 2 there is a kidnapping and a threat of Woody being sold and shipped to a collector in Japan. Dark stuff.
Remember conflict is the life blood of movies and the gang at Pixar understand this very well. (Maybe I shouldn’t use “blood” and “gang” in the same sentence when talking about family friendly Pixar, but in the spirit of this post I think it’s okay.)
Being old, forgotten, and left behind is addressed in Cars. (“I’m in this little town called Radiator Springs. You know Route 66? It’s still here!”) Roger Ebert wrote of Cars, “It tells a bright and cheery story, and then has a little something profound lurking around the edges. In this case, it’s a sense of loss.” Cars is all the more poignant since it was the great Paul Newman’s last film. (Cars also happens to be Newman’s highest grossing film.)
And how gut wrenching is that montage of Carl & Ellie’s life in Pixar’s Up? They meet and have hopes and dreams of a life adventure together. But their savings are depleted time and time again as life problems intrude—a car repair here, a house repair there. Finally, later in their life Carl buys tickets for a trip to South America, but before he can surprise Ellie she gets sick and dies. Dark stuff.
In the opening scene of Pixar’s Finding Nemo, Marlin’s wife and large family are killed by a barracuda. And soon afterwards his only son, Nemo, is captured by a scuba diver. Dark Stuff.
Fortunately the gang at Pixar also know how to balance some of their darker, somber themes by cloaking them with humor. They understand stand that life is a mixture of sadness and humor. They simply understand human emotions—even if their creations aren’t always human.
Certainly part of the magic of Walt Disney was not shying away from harsh and dark conflict. Think of Bambi’s mother being shot (“Mother we made it. Mother…”) or of Cruella De Vil who abducts puppies with the hopes of making a dalmatian coat. We’re talking Silence of the Lambs creepy.
Of course, Disney was just tapping into the tradition of fairy tales before him. Stories of a big, bad wolf who has eaten grandma, a witch who desires to put Hansel and Gretel in an oven, and a giant who yells to a poor, fatherless boy;
I smell the blood of an Englishman?
Be he ‘live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.
In real life we may be scared to go into the woods, but as writers (even writers of children and family stories) into the woods we must go.
But don’t forget to pack a flashlight.
Post tenebras lux.
Update 6/21/10: I was one of the people who helped make Toy Story 3 a record Father’s Day weekend. It continued the same theme of the fear of being discarded, of outliving your usefulness. Overall it is a super film with the best ending of the three movies. Had a little water in my eyes at the end and it wasn’t from wearing those 3-D glasses for an hour and a half.
I can’t help wonder how hard it is for people who are unemployed to watch that film with their kids as they face uncertainty of work in the future. Just read an article where 40 is considered old at Google. I could help but think of Woody, Buzz and the gang when I read the following rely in the comments section of the post:
My husband has been coding since 1980 and was plucked from college his junior year by IBM because of a shortage of programmers. He can code rings around most newbies who weren’t born when he wrote his first lines of PL1 and cobalt. The main problem as I see it, is that he doesn’t look shiny and new while he does it and that turns off a lot of employers.
Posted in Screenwriting Road Trips, tagged Bob Peterson, Bosom Buddies, Buzz Lightyear, Chagrin Falls, Chagrin Falls High School, Cleveland Play House, Clint O'Connor, Great Lakes Theater Festival, Inc, Joe Eszterhas, Lee Unkrich, Nick Chordas, Ohio, s Finding Nemo; Monsters, The Columbus Dispatch, The Plain Dealer, Tim Allen, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, twitter, Vincent Dowling, Western Michigan University, Wooster on June 18, 2010 | 2 Comments »
“I think the moment you try to make something for kids, you are making something really cruddy that even kids don’t want to watch most of the time.”
Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 director
Chagrin Falls, Ohio has actually popped up a few times on my posts. Mostly because that’s the area where screenwriter Joe Eszterhas moved to in part because he believed it was a better place than Malibu to raise his family.
I’ve been to Chagrin Falls a couple of times and the Cleveland suburb appears to be an idyllic place to grow up. Newsweek has named Chagrin Falls High School several times as one of the top 100 high schools in the country. And grow up in Chagrin Falls and graduate from Chagrin Falls High School is exactly what Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich did.
Long before Unkrich co-directed the Pixar films Finding Nemo; Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2, he joined the Cleveland Play House as an 11-year-old and spent four years working on children’s shows.Unkrich told Clint O’Connor of The Plain Dealer of his four years of performing children’s plays and musicals in Cleveland, ”I loved it. We got to put on our shows on the big sets and on the big stages.”
An interesting (and Toy Story-connected) side note is since Lee Unkrich was born in 1967 and began doing theater in Cleveland when he was 11, that means he started in 1978. In 1978-79 there was a young actor in Cleveland cutting his chops performing Shakespeare (and moving sets) with the Great Lakes Theater Festival, where artistic director Vincent Dowling had lured the student away from California.
That student was Tom Hanks who would go on two win two Best Actor Academy Awards as well as be a a few other films, including providing the voice for Woody in the Toy Story movies. That’s right, before he starred in the TV show Bosom Buddies in 1980, Hanks was performing Hamlet night after night in Cleveland, Ohio.
“[I have] an artistic bent, almost a philosophy, which I learned for the first time onstage in Cleveland.”
Unkrich graduated from high school in 1985 and headed to USC to attend film school where he graduated in 1990. He won some awards for his short films, edited some TV programs, and eventually joined Pixar in 1994.
In an article in The Columbus Dispatch Unkrich was interviewed by Nick Chordas:
Chordas: Does it feel as if you’ve come a long way from Chagrin Falls?
Unkrich: It does. I headed off from Chagrin Falls with dreams of making movies, although I don’t think I really understood what that meant then. But, yes, I do have to pinch myself that I’m here doing this now.
My mom still lives in Chagrin Falls, and she’ll be at the premiere on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m sure it will be a thrill for both of us.
You can follow Unkrich on Twitter @leeunkrich .
P.S. Pixar’s Bob Peterson (who directed Up) is from Wooster, Ohio. And next door in Michigan, they can claim the voice of Buzz Lightyear provided by Tim Allen. Allen went to high school in Birmingham, Michigan, earned a degree in TV from Western Michigan University, and started his stand up comedy routine in Detroit.
Some of the “Screenwriting from Iowa” related posts on Ohio:
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
First Screenplay=9 Oscar Nominations
Youngstown’s Hollywood Connection
Screenwriting Quote #116 (Chris Colunbus)
William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #72 (Michael Eisner)
Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd.
And though I haven’t written about him yet, writer/director Jim Jarmusch is from the Akron, Ohio area. For what it’s worth, Jarmusch’s fascinating film Stranger Than Paradise was released in 1984—the same year that basketball’s “King James,” LeBron James, was born in Akron.