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.