Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Writing of Pixar

I wanted to talk about Pixar for a moment because it's a perfect example of how writing (and how effective said writing is) will make or break a movie.

Movies work differently than novels. Visuals are a big part of what people are going to a movie for, especially a "3-D" computer animated feature such as Toy Story 3. Now a lot of people are going to bring their kids to a family-targeted feature film regardless of whether they think it's actually going to be good or not, based solely on the fact that they know the kids will enjoy it. Nowadays going to a movie in the theatre costs about the same as a small paperback (we're talking one person here, remember), and that's not counting concessions. Taking a whole family,'s expensive, isn't it? Plus it's not like you're buying a DVD. You get to see the movie on the big screen once, and all you have are the memories. Movies with bad writing are easily forgotten. Popcorn entertainment. Movies with good writing stay with you, just like a good book. You're more likely to buy the DVD release, so that you can cherish those memories.

It's like a trip to the library. A so-so book will be borrowed and returned. An amazing book might be purchased at a later date so that you can enjoy it anytime you like. I certainly bought a lot of Dan Simmons novels after borrowing one of them. A good writer will make you want more, in both films and books. I have seen every Pixar movie because I know that I will be consistently satisfied with the product, especially the writing. Will I go see Transformers 3? No. Because I know the writing will be shit, just like the first two. The screenwriters lost me because they don't know how to tell a story.

The Transformers franchise is a good example of how to sell a movie. The general public wants visuals, explosions and action. They want comedy and dramatic situations that are easy to understand. Avatar would be another good example of this.

People who buy novels want something a little deeper. Now I'm certainly generalizing, but it takes a lot more effort to read a novel than to watch a movie (and a lot more time) so those willing to put the time into a book expect something more out of it, and print alone must accomplish this feat.

Alright, I'm digressing here. Toy Story 3, and Pixar in general are the topic of discussion. This isn't a movie review, mind you. It's about good writing and how good movie writing relates to good authorship.

Pixar will consistently take its viewers on an emotional journey. I am not ashamed to admit that I cried in "Up". This is what Damian Gray (Key Publications - The Boss Man) means when he talks about showing the audience rather than telling them. When you understand how a situation in a movie or book relates to your own life, it evokes your empathy and thus you are concerned for the characters who are involved in the situation before you. You can take that journey with them because you actually care what happens to them.

When you just throw a bunch of crap on screen and go "holy crap a lot of stuff is happening really quick please care about these characters because there is a lot of crap happening oh my god all this stuff all at once and they can't control the situation because it's too big for them whoooooaaaa" then you don't really care because you know that the character's fate is already sealed. There's no tension. It's like if a novel started by telling you that the character will succeed in the end.

Ok, so happy ending right? Well big deal. There was no struggle to get there. I don't care if this dude succeeded. It's the same as when you write a character who always succeeds and is good at everything, etc. You don't care about them because humans don't work that way. Humans fail and have hubris. They have to struggle to get somewhere in life, and everyone can relate to that. Sure, everyone wants to succeed all the time and sometimes that works for escapist fiction, but not if you want to put a person on the edge of their seat and make them laugh and cry.

Ok, this is getting long. Back on track. Toy Story 3 is about toys. But really, it's about people. It's about letting go and moving on and dealing with change. In short, it's about things we all deal with in real life. What makes it even better, what every writer should pay attention to is that it works on more than one level. Andy is going off to College. He as a character is going through a change in his life and dealing with having to put certain things behind him, like his childhood and his toys. At the same time, the toys have to move on, different ways. As Andy's family is moving away from each other and entering new phases of their lives, so are the toys. Woody might be staying with Andy. The other toys might be left behind. Anyway, not trying to tell you the whole movie. The point is that when you have a theme you're trying to portray in a movie, a very effective method is to have the things going on in the bigger world mirror what is going on with each character.

So that's all I really wanted to say. If you ever need inspiration in your writing, take a look at the way Pixar structures a story. It's complex and multi-layered. It's filled with emotional tension. It is funny and happy and sad all at the same time, and it transcends any kind of age barrier.

And yes, I cried a little bit in Toy Story 3. If a story can make you truly feel an emotion in regards to fictional things...making you empathize with them and see how it relates to your own life, then it has done precisely what a good story should do.

That, to me, is what writing is all about. It makes you think and feel, and it changes you.

Don`t we all want to change something, someone sometimes? I know I do. If I could make just one person feel something with a piece of my writing, I think I would consider myself successful.

-James Funfer

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