Monday, October 23, 2006

Pixar Storyteller Lectures

My animation student/puppetologist friend Melissa told me about a Screenwriting Expo event this past Saturday, featuring uber-genius folks from Pixar describing how it is they make consistently insanely great animated features.

I really did not know what to expect. So often lectures like this are generic, offering platitudes we know already (i.e. "Story is King") without divulging useful techniques on how to accompish them. But two lectures in particular, from Finding Nemo director Andrew Stanton, and Little Miss Sunshine director Mike Arndt, blew my head off with useful and inspiring techniques for making better screenplays.

The Animation Guild Blog has posted part I of notes from Andrew's speech. Soon I will type up what I jotted down from Mike's speech, which broke down and analyzed the structure of three films with "Insanely Great" endings, Star Wars, The Graduate, and his own Little Miss Sunshine.

The gist though:

Stories are about Conflict of values and situation, of which there are three types: Internal, External, and Philisophical. At the end of Act I, our character or characters must reveal what it is that they want, and we should also know what is stopping them. Good stories have an Act II reversal, where our characters reach some part of their goal, but in doing so, some obstacle presents itself or a core value is undermined. In Act III, situations should descend to the point of a Moment of Peril, where all desired values are overturned, but through a surprising Decisive Act, the Order of the Univere is turned upside down.

With these components of good storytelling, I can already see flaws in Open Season (which I was involved with for a year-and-a-half). Though some of the pieces were there, there were few compelling values at stake, and the Decisive Act in question was not surprising enough.

Anyway, I can see why Pixar hired Mike to help with an upcoming project. Never have I seen such a complete description of how and why Star Wars was such a great film. (I still get goosebumps during the last 22 seconds of the climax)

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posted by Brian at 12:57 PM

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