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Posts Tagged ‘Pixar’

This is a repost from a 2010 post:

“I’m considered the most cynical of the group here at Pixar. I’m the first one to say when something is getting too corny or too sappy. Yet, I’d say I’m probably the biggest sucker romantic in the group, if the emotion is truthful.”
Andrew Stanton
Co-writer/co-director, Finding Nemo

“We always pride ourselves at Pixar on matching the subject matter of our movies with the medium. I really did know when (Stanton) said ‘fish’ and ‘underwater’ that this film was going to be great.”
John Lasseter
Executive Producer, Finding Nemo

When Finding Nemo screenwriter and director Andrew Stanton was a child back in Rockport, Massachusetts his dentist had a fish tank that made trips to the dentist’s office more enjoyable. A seed of an idea was planted and proved to be humble beginnings for a film that would go on to earn close to a billion dollars at the world-wide box office.

The 2003 film Finding Nemo also won an Oscar for Best Animated Picture and is the second best-selling DVD/Blu-ray of all time.

“When my son was five, I remember taking him to the park. I had been working long hours and felt guilty about not spending enough time with him. As we were walking, I was experiencing all this pent up emotion and thinking ‘I-miss-you, I-miss-you,’ but I spent the whole walk going, ‘Don’t touch that. Don’t do that. You’re gonna fall in there.’ And there was this third-party voice in my head saying ‘You’re completely wasting the entire moment that you’ve got with your son right now.’ I became obsessed with this premise that fear can deny a good father from being one. With that revelation, all the pieces fell into place and we ended up with our story.“
Andrew Stanton
Finding Nemo, story/co-writer/co-director
CG Society, The Making of  Finding Nemo

(Bob Peterson and David Reynolds also are credited on writing the Finding Nemo screenplay, and Lee Unkrich as the other co-director.)

Stanton graduated with a degree in character animation from CalArts and also was a writer on Monsters, Inc, Toy Story 2, WALL-E,  A Bug’s Life, and Toy Story 3.

P.S. Just saw this this on Twitter (what a run):

Screen Shot 2019-02-15 at 8.54.50 PM.png

Scott W. Smith

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Upon hearing Emily Zulauf  on Scriptnotes (Episode 387) use the phrase “smart with heart” in relation to Pixar movies, I thought this would be a fitting time to repost one of the most read posts on this blog. (And it’s even better with the Michale Arndt video link at the bottom of the post.)  This was originally written in 2011 under the title Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2):

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 YouTube.

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.”

And here are three more Pixar-related videos that were done since I first wrote this post.

MUST WATCH!!! Endings, The Good, The Bad, and the Insanely Great by Michael Arndt

Related posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 1)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) 
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 3)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 4)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (part 5) 

Scott W. Smith

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“My top ten tips for tilting your film. 1. The shorter the better…”
Chris Jones (Co-author of The Guerilla Filmmakers Handbook)
Top Ten Tips For tilting Your Movie

“A good title should be like a good metaphor: It should intrigue without being too baffling or two obvious.”
Novelist/essayist Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)

Gravity-1

There’s no “rule” that says movie titles have to be short, but it’s a pretty good proven principle to follow.

I noticed this year’s Best Picture Oscar nominees followed a trend I began to see clearly back in 1998 with the release of AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies list. The vast majority of great movies titles are three words or less.

The original AFI list sits right about 75% with titles with three words or less. (Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Godfather set the tone right out of the gate.) Best Picture nominees this year have only one of the nine pictures with more than three words in it. And 66% have two or less words including four with only a single word; Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena.

Historically, going all the way back to very first Academy Award ceremony (1929), more than 60% Best Picture winners have titles with three words or less, but ever since Rocky won Best Picture in 1977, only three winners (out of 37) had titles of more than three words.  (And each of those three was a novel first.)

That’s a pretty good case for picking short titles. One reason is it’s easier to recommend  Gladiator or Platoon than it is The Bridge on the River Kwai or All Quiet on the Western Front. Hitchcock’s best films had short titles including Vertigo, Psycho, and Notorious. Even a list of breakthrough indie films (filmmakers who seek to be unconventional from the Hollywood norm) has its share of short titles: Memento, Clerks, Reservoir Dogs, Before Sunset, El Mariachi, Slacker, Metropolitan, Rushmore.

Shakespeare at his best? Hamlet, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Henry V, and Macbeth. 

Woody Allen’s most referenced films these days? Annie Hall, Manhattan, Crimes and Misdemeanors,  Midnight in Paris, and Blue Jasmine. 

Chapin? City Lights, Modern Times, The Great Dictator, and The Gold Rush.

And if I haven’t made the case for picking a short title clear enough consider Pixar’s titles; Toy Story, Cars, Up, Wall-E, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, A Bug’s Life, Brave, Monsters, Inc., and Trains. In fact, Pixar has never had a feature film title with more than three words.

up_

That doesn’t mean bland and slightly long title (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)—or even a bland short title (The Shawshank Redemption)— can’t find an audience. Or that Up in the Air isn’t the perfect metaphor for George Clooney’s character. (A character whose only real purpose appears to be collecting frequent flyer miles—everything else is up in the air.) Or even that it’s unheard of to have a very long title like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension. (Although, when that last film came out in 1984 I remember people referred to it as Buckaroo Banzai.)

The point is short titles rule. Why fight an uphill battle?

Movie titles are important. How do you pick a good one?

Some writers talk about starting with a title and going from there, and others talk about struggling to land on a title even after they’ve finished their book or screenplay.

But the most common titles seem to focus a main character or being, place or thing, or an event. Of the non-sequel films (or non-comic based films) at the top of the all-time box office include Avatar, Titanic, Skyfall, and Jurassic Park. (And audiences tend to abbreviate sequels/comic-based movies around the water cooler calling them Batman, Star Wars, Pirates, Spider-Man, Twilight, Iron Man and Harry Potter.)

CHARACTER(S) OR BEING:
Citizen Kane
Lincoln
E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial
King Kong
Rocky
Alien
Erin Brockovich
Patton
Forrest Gump
Spartacus
Bonnie and Clyde
The Godfather
Tootsie
Norma Rae
Jaws
Psycho
Raging Bull
Bridesmaids
The Artist
Annie Hall

A PLACE OR THING:
Titanic
The African Queen
Bridge on the River Kwai
Treasure of the Sierra Madre
On the Waterfront
Chinatown
Sunset Blvd.
The Bridges of Madison County
Pearl Harbor
The Maltese Falcon
The Apartment
Casablanca
Fargo
Oklahoma
Wall St.
Philadelphia

AN EVENT:
12 Years a Slave
High Noon
Apocalypse Now
Star Wars
3:10 to Yuma
Flight
2001: A Space Odyssey
This is 40
Saving Private Ryan
Bringing Up Baby
Sophie’s Choice
Mutiny on the Bounty
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

(Or a person, place, & event: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.)

Up in the Air falls into that minority category of a title that’s a little more obtuse, in line with The Last Picture Show, A Streetcar Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Silence of the Lambs, or Gone with the Wind. (Again all were books or plays first which tend to favor a more intellectual audience, and gives them the advantage of a built-in audience when the movies hit theaters.If you go with a metaphor, it doesn’t hurt if the title is a common phrase like “up in the air.” Even still, I heard people called Up in the Air,  “The new George Clooney movie.” (More words than the actual title but easier to explain to a friend when picking a movie.)

What are some of your favorite titles (even if they aren’t one of your favorite films)? What are some of your favorite bad titles?

Some of my favorite titles are the lesser remembered movies Them! (1954) and  Zulu (1964).  And I like titles such as Psycho, Black Hawk Down, Meet the Parents, Witness, The Hunt for Red October, Collateral and The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly because they all have built-in conflict, mystery and intrigue. They hit you at a gut level.

When I think of bad movie titles it tends to be because I think the movies are bad. But I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the movies listed at The 100 Worst Movie Title are longish; The Assassination of Jesse James by Coward Robert Ford, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

I should add in closing that just because you have a short title doesn’t guarantee success as Ishtar and Gigli prove. But even in an internet driven age where viral reviews may trump movie titles, short titles still seem to work best because word counts are as important as ever.

P.S.  One blogger wrote a post called Top 10 Worst Movie Titles Ever and put Surf Nazis Must Die at #10. That film was written and directed by Peter George who I happened to go to film school with. (I was always a little upset I didn’t get a small role in the film.) If anyone knows where Mr. George is these days tell him I want my watch back. The one that I left at his Hollywood apartment after I crashed on his sofa one night back in the day.

P.P.S. My own longest and worst title for a script I’ve written—When the Cold Winds Blows. More novel-friendly, but I should really be forced to write an apology letter to James Taylor for sampling the lyrics from his classic Fire and Rain. And in case you think I’m kidding—here’s the tattered title page from over a decade ago.

photo-2

Updated from the post: Movie Titles (tip #32) published in 2010.

Related posts:
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (part 2)
Irony in Movies (Tip #79)
Average Length of Movie Scenes (#21)
Choosing a Title for Your Script  “A good title could get your script moved up from the bottom of the stack of to-read scripts to the top — and change your life.”—Terry Rossio (Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek)

Related links from others:

Choosing a Great Title “Will the title look good on a poster and will it intrigue passersby?”—Julie Gray
Screenplay Tip #6: Title  “Sometimes dramas will have a lengthy title like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, but this seems less now and I certainly can’t remember the last time I saw such a long title for a drama in the spec pile.”—Lucy V. Hay
Reader mail—titles “You know what does stick with me? The clever titles, the unique ones.”—The Bitter Script Reader
The Ultimate Guild To Screenwriting Titles

Scott W. Smith

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“In many ways, though, my life has remained much as it was in 2000. I still rent the same one-bedroom walk-up in Brooklyn, and I still spend my days sitting in a chair and staring at a computer (though the chair is more comfortable and the computer is nicer). The main difference is I don’t worry about having to get a day job. (Not yet, anyway).”
Screenwriter Michael Ardnt
(Writing in 2006 soon after the release of Little Miss Sunshine)

Chaplin, Charlie (Modern Times

“I live in New York, I still rent an apartment in New York, and I taught myself to write living in New York. There is a tiny, tiny little industry there where I can be reading scripts there, but the idea of going to Los Angeles and being a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles—I just couldn’t do it. It was just too much for me to take. And in a way, I don’t think I would have written Little Miss Sunshine if I’d been living in Los Angeles, just because it’s such a factory town, you know. I hesitated for a long time to write this movie just because I knew it’s such an odd and idiosyncratic movie—and so low budget, and so small scale—that it didn’t seem like anybody was going to be interested in making it. And I think you just internalize the values of that environment. I’m going to move back to New York after I finish with Pixar [writing Toy Story 3] and I hope I stay there. 
Oscar-winning screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine)
2007 talk at Cody’s Books (Before he won his Oscar and before Toy Story 3 was released)

Related Post:

Hollywood Hacks & Shipwrecks
The Outsider Advantage
One Benefit of Being Outside of Hollywood
Why You Shouldn’t Move to L.A.
What’s it Like to Be a Struggling Writer in L.A.

Scott W. Smith

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“I was working on The Simpsons as a consultant, and I was trying to get movie ideas off the ground. I could always get on the runway—I could always get a project backed, and I could develop it—but I was never getting cleared for takeoff. And I wasn’t getting cleared for really dull reasons—because my guy would get fired and then the new guy wouldn’t want anything that the old guy had, or some other movie was vaguely related would tank at the box office, so they’d say, ‘Naturally, yours will fail too.’ So I was frustrated, and at the same time I was starting a new family. So it was the twin anxieties of trying to find meaningful work and being a good father that fed into this story. At the time, I just thought I was making a funny idea about an over-the-hill superhero. It didn’t occur to me that it was life feeding into it. But I think the reason I was so taken by the idea was because on some level I related to all the characters in the story.”
 Writer/director Brad Bird on The Incredibles (Oscar-winner for Best Animated Feature Film)
Interview with Peter N. Chumo II
creative screenwriting November/December 2004

Related Post: Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2) 

Scott W. Smith

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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.”
Michael Arndt
Inside Pixar by Danny Munso
Creative Screenwriting, May/June 2010
Page 179

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.”
Michael Arndt

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.

Related Posts:
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.)

Scott W. Smith

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“In 1998, I had finished writing ‘Toy Story’ and ‘A Bug’s Life’ and I was completely hooked on screenwriting. So I wanted to become much better at it and learn anything I could. So I researched everything I possibly could. And I finally came across this fantastic quote by a British playwright, William Archer: ‘Drama is anticipation mingled with uncertainty.’ It’s an incredibly insightful definition.

When you’re telling a story, have you constructed anticipation? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? But more importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term? Have you constructed honest conflicts with truth that creates doubt in what the outcome might be? An example would be in ‘Finding Nemo,’ in the short tension, you were always worried, would Dory’s short-term memory make her forget whatever she was being told by Marlin. But under that was this global tension of will we ever find Nemo in this huge, vast ocean?”
Two-time Oscar winner Andrew Stanton  (Wall-E, Toy Story)
TED talk: The Clues to a Great Story
(Also has interactive link of Stanton’s talk.)

H/T to Scott Myers at Go Into The Story for pointing the way to Stanton’s TED talk.

Related links:

Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 1)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 2)
Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Part 3)
The Dark Side of Pixar & Disney
Writing “Finding Nemo”

Scott W. Smith

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