Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling

16 movies produced. 15 movies #1 at the box office. Worldwide B.O. gross over $9 billion. Average B.O. per film: $600M+ by far the highest average per film of any studio in Hollywood history.

It’s not just dollars and cents, it’s also quality storytelling. 26 Academy Awards, 7 Golden Globes, 3 Grammys. Indeed 8 of Pixar’s 16 films are in the IMDB Top 250 Movies of all time.

No disrespect to Disney, but I think the real Magic Kingdom lies 397.8 miles north of Anaheim in a city called Emeryville, California where you’ll find this:

Longtime GITS readers know of my obsession fascination with Pixar having blogged about them dozens of times. Due to having two sons who quite literally have grown up in what someday is likely to be called the Pixar Era, I have seen every one of the company’s movies, most of them several times.

In my estimation, the filmmakers at Pixar are master storytellers.

But how do they successfully wrangle magic time after time in their films? Are there lessons we can learn from Pixar to inspire and upgrade our own writing?

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Those are two key questions I undertook in creating the online course Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling which begins Monday, January 25. My answer: An emphatic yes!

First off, there are the practices Pixar uses in developing, breaking, writing and rewriting a script. In our 1-week class, we go through that process step by step, then see how we can adapt that approach to our own writing.

Then there are several narrative principles evident in Pixar movies, six of them we focus in our online class: Small Story / Substantial Saga, Special Subculture, Strange Sojourners, Separation, Sentimentality, and Surprise. Going through every Pixar movie, we explore how these dynamics work in the context of each narrative and their overall applicability to storytelling.

There are 7 lectures, each of which I wrote, the content buttressed by a lengthy interview I conducted with Mary Coleman, Senior Development Executive at Pixar since the days of Toy Story 2, so we get a real inside look the outfit’s creative process.

The class also has a Logline Workshop where you can post a story idea and revise per peer feedback. And two teleconferences to accommodate peoples’ schedules where participants get a chance to dig into the course content with me as well as discuss anything related to writing, screenwriting, and movies.

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Here are some nice comments from folks who’ve taken the class:

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A few words about the format: I’ve been teaching online since 2002, worked with over 1000 writers in that context, and honestly believe it is superior to the onsite class environment in many ways:

* You can do virtually everything on your own time: Download lectures, read forum conversations, add your own comments, upload writing exercises and assignments. In your pajamas. In bed. Drinking coffee. However you want to access online course content, you can do it.

* As opposed to listening to a teacher present lectures verbally, you get to download lectures and read them. Again at your leisure, but even more importantly, instead of feverishly trying to jot down notes from a verbal presentation, here you get everything laid out for you. I take great pride in my lectures, as they not only provide great content, they also have a narrative flow to them. Yes, they tell a little story.

* Feedback and conversations online tend to be much more thoughtful and therefore beneficial than onsite settings. Why? Because instead of off-the-cuff, random comments, participants online tend to spend more time and reflection in composing posts for online.

Finally I’m constantly amazed at how much of a community emerges in online class environments. Writers from all around the world and somehow we bind together into remarkably vibrant learning communities, time and time again.

So if you’ve never tried an online screenwriting class, come on in! The virtual water’s fine!

For more information on Pixar and the Craft of Storytelling which begins January 25, go here. And if you really want to treat yourself well, consider The Craft Package for a nearly 50% savings on Craft classes.

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With yesterday’s Academy Award announcements, Inside Out continues Pixar’s winning ways, garnering two nominations: Best Animated Feature and Best Original Screenplay. I am busy updating my lectures to include both this movie and The Good Dinosaur as part of our analysis and discussion.

I look forward to the opportunity to work with you! Or to put it another way…


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