Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling


27 Responses to “Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling”

  1. The 60 columns at Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio’s Wordplayer.com is a good place to go for more of these

  2. trentboyett says:

    I went to a talk given by one of the early Pixar programmers. 

    He said that they won’t even storyboard a movie unless the writer is able to tell the plot as if it were a long joke and make it interesting.   He then showed footage of Andrew Stanton doing exactly that for the first 15 minutes of Finding Nemo and it was unbelievably awesome.

  3. bill_mcgonigle says:

    Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?

    This is good advice.  I think the highest praise I ever got on short piece of fiction was when the 2nd Matrix movie came out (I realize there is no 2nd Matrix movie, but bear with me) and I re-worked one of the scenes to be consistent with the first movie – same initial and end conditions, but very different path to get there.  Several people told me I should go into sci-fi writing because, I think, they were similarly frustrated that the actual writers didn’t bother.

  4. Marko Raos says:

    …and that’s why i don’t watch pixar movies anymore…

      • Marko Raos says:

        Oh, dreamworks really is beyond the pale, i can’t remember sitting through a whole movie of theirs like ever. While Pixar does have more original stories (particularly liked Ratatuille) you can sense that one and the same script-machine has worked over each one of them. Design-by-committee is a common geriatric disease in entertainment industry; sadly it’s usually fatal and not many companies manage to survive it – Disney in the 90′s is a notable exception, for example.

        • And here’s me thinking that 90′s Disney movies were genuinely uninteresting but every single Pixar movie must be watched because they are all brilliant…

          Could it be that we are talking not about well-made stories but matters of taste?
          As far as I can tell, Pixar has one of the best strategies ever to make sure that their writers never go the boring, safe route that would result in making the same movie over and over again, and they do it very consciously.

  5. joe blough says:

    pixar’s gonna need a lot of cheatsheets like this. their recent output indicates to me that disney got into their brain and they are now incapable of the kind of incredible stories featured in Up or Wall*E.

    • toyg says:

      The seeds of their demise were planted a long time ago; the first Cars was one of the rare movies when I just thought “this is for children, I can’t be bothered”… but they still cranked out UP later on (and WallE got great reviews, even though I personally didn’t like it that much). So this might just be another creative slump, which is par for the course for any artist under commercial pressure, let’s face it.

  6. Mike Dunlap says:

    I want to know what the heck happened with “Brave”. Was pretty good for the first third of the movie, then got derailed with the effects of her choice. First Pixar flick I’d seen since “Toy Story 2″ that I was disappointed by.

  7. There was a 23rd item on the list :

    #23: Be aware of the conventions and assumptions that go with your genre. Acknowledge them, then subvert them ; don’t ignore them.

  8. orwell says:

    #24: be sure you can market the hell out of the characters, tie-ins are everything…  think happy meal toys, halloween masks, tooth brushes and any other short-lived plastic concoction suitable for future landfill occupation…

  9. Gerald Mander says:

    …and this explains why their movies have become formulaic instead of innovative. They have an extensive set of rules now, and have become the very thing they formed to combat.

  10. Thea says:

    Both Emma Coates and Pixar have requested that these no longer be called “Pixar’s Rules,” because they never were to begin with – they were Emma’s own personal tips that she learned while working there. She actually is no longer at Pixar.

  11. Dan Hibiki says:

    #24: who cares? If we get in financial trouble we can just a hobble together another Cars movie. 

  12. Kenmrph says:

    23. Profit.

  13. Shava Nerad says:

    Love this.  Everyone should know this. 

    To make a credible “news” story, obliterate every element here and add appeal to confirmation bias and prurience.  Then, you have the perfect formula for news on a station like Fox or paper like the Boston _Herald_ or MS-NBC in their dark moments, because it will never sound like fiction.
    No “roadbumps” to make the intended audience go “nah, they made that up.”

  14. Jérôme Étévé says:

    That’s the reason why the movies they produce all taste the same: they just follow the same recipe.

  15. Ejival Enrique says:

    23. Always include a fast chase or “roller coaster ride” type of scene where your characters go like “whooooaaaaaa, weeeeeeeeeeeh, ahhhhhhhhhh”.

  16. Barry Kort says:

    See the The Bardic Arts for further meditations on this topic.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Please stop making one-line comments with links to marginally related posts on other sites.

  17. JudeJackson says:

    Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind is rule #12 actually. Is that just an error or was this list even numbered to begin with?

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