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Posts Tagged ‘Toy Story 3’

“One of my favorite films is LATE SPRING by Yasujiro Ozu. To me, it represents film as art.”
Michael Arndt
Interview with Writer Michael Arndt (Toy Story 3)

Related post: Screenwriting from Japan

Scott W. Smith

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“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 

Related Post:

Commitment in the Face of Failure

How to Be a Successful Screenwriter (Tip #41) Michael Arndt’s personal journey

Scott W. Smith

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“I would say 99% of your effort should go to writing a good script.”
Michael Arndt

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 than Diablo Cody took in Minneapolis (blogging & non-fiction author) and different than John Logan took in Chicago (playwriting)— but the one thing they all have 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.

Related 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

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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“Over and over again we have tried to find a peaceful way out of the differences between ourselves and those who are now our enemies.”
King George VI (Colin Firth)
The King’s Speech, Oscar winner; Best Film, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Screenwriter

That above quote is the kind of the history of the world in just 25 words.

Suggestion: For the 2012 Oscars, Anne Hathaway and Steve Martin. Or Billy Crystal and Anne Hathaway. Seasoned entertainer and an attractive, youthful, spunky newcomer. Old and young. Think about it. (One 30-something friend posted on Facebook this morning, “no more ‘yang and hip’, can we have old and funny.”)

Personally I felt like I got a little closer to the Oscars last night.  I once produced a TV show with a group in Chicago and the editor of one Communicator Award-winning programs we worked on once dated now Oscar-winner Trent Reznor in his pre-Nine Inch Nails days in high school in Pennsylvania. (That’s like two degrees of separation. Every step counts. I can practically see it on the shelf next to the Addy Awards I won last week.)

I enjoyed the Oscars last night and watched the entire program for the first time in more than a decade. And while it’s common for people to focus on what they didn’t like about the Oscars, I thought the montage using the closing speech from The King’s Speech was just one of several incredibly well done segments.  The year 2010 goes down in my book as a fine year for movies.

In fact, watching the Oscars last night I came up with a top ten list of life lessons I learned from the movies last year and the Oscars this year.

1)   Don’t fear change.

2)   You can overcome staggering challenges in your life.

3)   Good friends are good to have.

4)   Don’t screw over your good friends.

5)   If you do screw over your friends, you’ll be friendless.

6)   It can take decades to win an Oscar.

7)   You can win an Oscar on your second film.

8)   Artistic perfection can kill you.

9)   Meth is bad and screws up families and communities.

10) Don’t go rock climbing alone.

And for all the screenwriters out there over 40-years-old, the grey-haired, 73-year old screenwriter David Seidler won the Oscar for writing The King’s Speech (which also won best picture) proving that sometimes it takes a little time.  And even if you broke into the business back in 1965 translating Gozzila scripts and your previous credits include the TV movie, Come on, Get Happy: The Partridge Family Story (as were both the case for Seidler) that doesn’t mean that one day you won’t write something that leaves people speechless.

Congrats to all the winners last night.

Related Posts:

Writing “The King’s Speech”

Writing “The Social Network”

Screenwriting the Pixar Way (Toy Story 3)

“Winter’s Bone” (Daniel Woodrell)

Winter’s Bone” (Debra Granik)

Scott W. Smith

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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 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.

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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“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.”
Peter Travers
Rolling Stone

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.

Photo by Dorothea Lange

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.

Scott W. Smith

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