Pixar Studios, maker of such classic films as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Up, have had phenomenal success turning out one hit movie after another. In his book, Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar, outlines many of the principles behind the studio’s success.
From the Writers’ Studio perspective, it is gratifying that just about every principle Catmull articulates matches the approach we passionately follow when conducting writing courses at the Writers’ Studio.
Here are four of their guiding principles:
1. Story is king
In other words, they follow the principles of classic story structure where the action of the story, the character arc or journey and theme are inexorably linked.
2. Trust the process
The Pixar writers and directors don’t expect to come up with fully formed story ideas when they start a project. They follow a process that enables them to develop and discover the hidden depths of a story that will deliver a profound and meaningful experience to their audiences. This takes a number of drafts.
Ed Catmull, the founder of Pixar said, “All the Pixar writers no matter how smart, talented and well organised they are become lost somewhere along the way. Often the story is clear in the writer’s head, but they don’t realise it isn’t working on the page in a way that will work for an audience.
“We believe in the power of embracing candid feedback and the iterative process of re-working, re-working, re-working and re-working … The story steadily improves with each step of the process. In my experience, creative people discover and realise their vision over time.”
3. The power of group feedback
All Pixar stories are subjected to what they call the Brain’s Trust. The members of which give candid, constructive feedback that enables the writers to see their work through fresh eyes and helps them realise their story’s potential.
One of the writers, Academy Award winner Michael Arndt, said, “To create a great story, the artist must pivot at some point from creating the story for themselves to making it for others.”
And as Catmull says, “Every note we give is in the service of a common goal: supporting and helping each other as we try and make better stories.”
4. Allow yourself to make mistakes
Pixar’s creative team are not only prepared to make mistakes, they expect to make mistakes and embrace them, because they realise that that they part of the creative process.
As Catmull says, ”Mistakes are an inevitable consequence of doing something new and should be seen as valuable because without them we’d have no originality.“