July 27, 2012

Pixar's Brave Writer/Director Mark Andrews Illustrates Studio's Story Process

Pixar's relentless success at the box office with truly original tales has convinced screenwriters the world over that the animation studio holds the secret to amazing storytelling. In all honesty, hyperbole aside, Pixar does hold the secret to amazing storytelling, but they are more than willing to share it with the rest of us. Pixar's Brave writer/director Mark Andrews took a moment to describe the studio's story process in a phone interview podcast with ScreenwritingU's Jenna Milly.

What Andrews reveals during the interview about Pixar's story process may surprise you because it's not all that revolutionary:

I call the story process alchemy because we’re trying to turn lead into gold, and when we do, we don’t know exactly how we did it because it’s going to be different every time....

At the end of the day, it’s just trial and error. We go into it intellectually, but we come out of it using our guts, to feel that it’s right, to feel that we’re moved, to laugh and cry as if we were an audience. And that’s pretty much the trick, just a lot of trying it over and over and over again until it feels right.

I know what you're thinking: "Great. What am I supposed to do with that?" First, take a breath, and just calm down, and let's look at this rationally, like two adults.

Pixar's story process isn't the same each time they tackle a new project. As aspiring screenwriters, we may have tried several tools and techniques to help us craft our stories, and even found specific methods that work for us repeatedly, but every story is different, so the process naturally has to change to tell each unique story. Like Pixar, we may not even know exactly how we crafted our latest story, which is why we struggle every time we write a new story.

More importantly (to me at least, maybe not to you, I can't read your mind) is the second point: it's just trial and error to find a way to move an audience. That is such a simple phrase with two key concepts. As writers, we have to be willing to explore so many choices for our characters every step of the way to go beyond the obvious path, to stay ahead of the audience. At the same time, we have to move the audience emotionally as well as move them along with the story as it unravels.

Check out Jenna Milly's complete interview with Mark Andrews at ScreenwritingU. A quick note: the interview was conducted over the phone, so bear with the audio when it begins (pun intended). Your ear will adjust, and are you really going to complain when you get to listen to a Pixar storyteller?

How do you use trial and error in your screenwriting craft? Do you have resources to help you gut-check your story ideas? Let us know in the Comments.

And for those of you emerging from hybernation for the past year, here's the trailer for Brave.

Link: ScreenwritingU - Interview: Brave's Mark Andrews Reveals the Secret to Writing a Pixar Movie

Your Comment

7 Comments

Unfortunately of all the Pixar films, how they achieved the storytelling of Brave is one I am the least interested in. Was disappointed by this film.

July 27, 2012

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Lliam Worthington

Exactly what I thought on this one. I'm a huge Pixar fan, and pretty much fall in love with anything they do, but I found myself oddly aloof as I watched this one. The animation was absolutely fantastic as usual, and the story really seemed like it had potential... but I think it just went in too many directions and stopped focusing on the characters.

Pixar does character studies better than anyone, but soon as they focus too much on story, they get away from what they do best. I really wanted to like this film, but it just didn't hook me. This is certainly Pixars weakest film, but I'm definitely excited to see whatever they've got coming next. They've earned a lot of good will from creating the best animated movies I've ever had the pleasure of viewing.

July 27, 2012

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James

My thoughts exactly. I zoned out of the story and just enjoyed the visuals on this one.

July 27, 2012

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I would imagine that a fair amount of people who frequent this site aspire to work within the film industry as some level or another. I would also imagine that listening to someone speak who works in said industry speak about the creative and story telling process, is someone worth at least listening to. No? I read this site, and it's comments regularly, but rarely contribute to the conversation. But this is good stuff here. As a filmmaker myself I listen to whoever I can for advice on the industry. I take from their experience whatever I can to improve on my own experience. From writing to post production.

I'm finishing up a 45(ish) minute short I'm hoping to share here, mistakes and all, in the hope that people like it, but also as a thank you. A thank you for everything I've learned from this site to the daily contributors here, and the audience that reads it. We all learn from each other right? I would encourage everyone to at least listen to anyone they can. You never know what you might learn.

July 27, 2012

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Matt

Matt, I agree with you. Though I think you presume a little on my reasoning. This is not a case of "not" being willing to listen or learn. It's simply that time is finite and there is so much to study, work on and learn from, that you must also make decisions about the investment of your time. I have many issues with the storytelling in Brave. I also agree with the other posters that it is Pixars weakest offering. And I also agree with Pixar, that "At the end of the day, it’s just trial and error."

July 28, 2012

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Lliam Worthington

I don't really use trial and error as such. Of course when you get an idea, you check if it would work with your story. If not, you put it away for other use later. Is that trial and error?

Of course you have a certain amount of structure and craft that you can lean upon to make sure you don't miss obvious things. Of all the many good pieces of advice and opinions of other more experienced storytellers, it is for me really a question of how many balls (rules/advice/etc.) can you juggle at one time in your head, before it starts affecting your natural spontaneity and fluidity.

I have put 11 points down in writing here:

http://marquepierre.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/story-learning-so-far.html

Plus a continuation of those 11 points, where I go through how I practically use them myself on my current project:

http://marquepierre.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/story-learning-so-far-part-2-...

Enjoy, and feel free to comment!

July 28, 2012

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Pixar movies were great. Then Cars 2 and Brave happened so yeah, it does go to show there is no magic formula -or at least that a good story can't be forced. A unique story and compelling characters don't just come out of thin air...or...maybe it's that they kind of do.
Sometimes when I write I feel like it's already a story, I'm just putting it down on paper but really it writes itself. I think that is when you know you have something special -but that doesn't always happen. The key thing he said was that you are the audience. A filmmaker knows when his film is flawed. They don't always admit it but they know. Like anything in life It takes guts to admit it and learn from it. I find it encouraging that a great studio like Pixar has a few blemishes here and there. It doesn't make this guy any less knowledgeable about writing but I think obsessing over a special formula is pointless, a good story is a good story. Why? Because it is a good story.

July 28, 2012

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Filmpunk