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Posts Tagged ‘Lee Unkrich’

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.”
Lee Unkrich
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 animatic 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 doofus.

—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.

Update 7/1/14: This video is now on You Tube.

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 announced 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. PopEater  quoted producer Darla K. Anderson 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.”

Oscar Update: Here’s a video of Lee Unkrich receiving the Best Animated Feature Film of the Year Oscar for Toy Story 3 :

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.”

Related posts:
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

Scott W. Smith

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“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 NemoMonsters, 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 to win two Best Actor  Academy Awards as well as be in 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.”
Tom Hanks

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’sfascinating film Stranger Than Paradise was released in 1984—the same year that basketball’s “King James,” LeBron James, was born in Akron.

Scott W. Smith

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