MasterClass Monday: Pixar’s Pete Docter Tells Us How To Write An Oscar-Winning Story


I was cheering last night when Inside Out won the Oscar for Best Animated Picture, as I’m sure a lot of you were doing, as well. That movie had it all, and so hilariously, beautifully and poignantly captured growing up and teen emotions in a way that resonated right off the screen.

The story was written by Pixar’s amazing Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera. Pete is also known for writing the equally poignant Up, as well as directing and animating other great works like Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Wall-E.

Pete has some great insight into making a good story (and animating it), and when discussing Inside Out, he laid out this little bit of insight that I found particularly interesting:

Originally, we had paired Joy with Fear. Mainly, because looking back at our own lives — and I know this was true for me — in junior high a large percentage of my decisions were made out of fear. So we thought, OK, this is going to be entertaining. We can put these guys together and really see some fun. And hopefully it’ll resonate with people. As it turned out, we got to the third act — and this is like three years into making the film — and I was realizing I didn’t know what Joy is now at the end of the movie. She has gone through this whole journey, she has learned something? I don’t know. That’s where I realized, I’m screwed. I’ve failed to find the core of this movie.

I loved this! Not only is it a potent reminder of a writing must: find the core of your story, but it’s so great to know that no matter how successful you are at what you do, sometimes you still have to trash your story and take it back to square one if it’s just not working.

I’m going to leave you with what I consider to be one of the finest assembled lists of writing tips ever: Pixar’s 22 Rules To Phenomenal Storytelling. This list has been invaluable to me, and has helped me dig out of many a story hole and find a new direction. I’m sure you’ll find it just as useful!


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