ACTING for ANIMATORS
ED'S MONTHLY NEWSLETTER:
GABRIELLE KENT IS ANIMEX'S NEW FESTIVAL DIRECTOR
Long time Animex leader, Chris Williams, has moved to Bournemouth University and now has the words "Assistant Dean" in front of his name. Gabrielle Kent, a Teesside University graduate, was previously the Director of the Computer Games branch of Animex which has skyrocketed in popularity under her leadership. Gabrielle ("Gabby" to her friends) is exactly the right person to take the Festival reins. She also is a lot easier on the eyes than Chris, and I mean that in a good way. This is terrific news for all of us who care about Animex. Go, Gabby!
ED HOOKS HAS RELOCATED TO LOS ANGELES
My new home is in Culver City, a few blocks from Sony Studios. I gave my snow shovel to my next door neighbor in Chicago. It is good to be back in La La Land.
ACTING FOR ANIMATORS WORKSHOP SCHEDULE
These four lectures have been arranged through DeTao Masters Academy.
Oct 16th: Shanghai Theatre Academy
Oct 17th: SIVA (Shanghai Institute of Visual Arts)
Oct 18th: Tsinghua University
Oct 19th: Peking University
November 19-22 Irish School of Animation Dublin, Ireland
My spin on "The 22 Rules of Storytelling,
According to Pixar"
Emma Coats, one of Pixar's multi-talented artists, has been rewarded with a mile of favorable press and a new career on the lecture circuit after her article "The 22 Rules of Storytelling, According to Pixar" was published and went viral. The list is predictably clever, useful and intentionally glib. What bothers me is that a generation of new animators might figure that, since this apparently bears an official Pixar endorsement, it must be a solid blueprint. Follow these 22 rules, and you too can write the next "Finding Nemo". With that concern in mind, I would like to share with you my own quick take on the rules.
#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
A character that is not doing something theatrically will bore the audience. “Trying” is another word for what actors know as “playing an action”. The rest of the equation is: “Play an action in pursuit of an (provable) objective while overcoming an obstacle.”
#2: You gotta keep in mind what’s interesting to you as an audience, not what’s fun to do as a writer. They can be v. different.
Storytelling is all about communicating with the audience. The audience is an essential participant, not an optional one. An actor requires an audience in order to act. Acting is not something you do by yourself at home, right?
#3: Trying for theme is important, but you won’t see what the story is actually about til you’re at the end of it. Now rewrite.
“Trying” for theme? Theme should be the reason you tell a story in the first place. A story without a point to it is just weird. Theme is not something you discover at the end, after which you rewrite the script to support it. Your theme comes first. The story supports the theme, not the other way around.
#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
This is an extremely clever formulation. Filling in the blanks is the tough part though.
#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
Truly great artists in every field habitually practice simplicity. It is in fact a hallmark of artistic maturity.
#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
This is a roundabout way of saying that there should be conflict (obstacle) for a character. Ms. Coats makes it sound like a game of some sort, but it is actually essential. A scene is a negotiation. If you write a scene that does not contain a negotiation, it cannot be fixed. Tear it up and start over.
#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
The ending is the point of the story, don’t you think? If you don’t know how your story ends, then you don't have a theme, and you don’t have a story to write.
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
I read somewhere that Sylvester Stallone set out to write x-number of scripts, good bad or godawful. The goal was simply to complete them, from Fade In to Fade Out. “Rocky” was completed-script number thirteen.
#9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.
When you are stuck, a more effective strategy would be to go for a walk, get an ice cream cone, play catch with your kid. Creativity is not something you ignite with force, as in writing lists of what would “not” happen next in a story. That strikes me as an unproductive waste of time.
#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in them is a part of you; you’ve got to recognize it before you can use it.
I've got an even better idea: Watch “The Iron Giant”. If you don’t like that story and understand why you like it, you may very possibly be in the wrong racket. (Hint: like "Monsters Incorporated", "The Iron Giant" is extremely shamanistic.)
#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.
Yup. Ever read a book entitled “Writing Down the Bones”? Good stuff. Keep your fingers moving.
#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
It is always a great temptation to lazily follow the road most traveled or copy the formula that worked in the previous movie. Stories and characters that are predictable are a big bore. Here is a good tip: Listen to your character, collaborate with him. You lead for a while, and then let him lead for a while, and the journey will be much more exciting.
#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
Nobody wants to pay to watch a movie featuring bland characters that behave blandly, regardless of how cleverly they might be designed. Cute is insufficient, even for Pixar.
#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.
This should be rule #1, and it is the rule most violated by the major animation studios these days. The quest for mega-ton box office grosses is a cynical motivation for storytelling.
#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
Stanislavsky called this "the magic if". Really, all it means is that you need to empathize with the character you are creating.
#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
The wonderful thing about Shakespeare’s plays is the high stakes. If the boy doesn’t get the girl, France will fall! A story worth telling is inherently going to have Shakespearean stakes.
#17: No work is ever wasted. If it’s not working, let go and move on – it’ll come back around to be useful later.
As was the case with rule #9, if it’s not working, take a break. Make love with your partner; go outside and prune the rose bushes, take a swim. Creativity works like that. It cannot be forced. It must be allowed.
#18: You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
"No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man." (Heraclitus) Knowing yourself is a process, not a goal that can ever be completed.
#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
Coincidence is, for any story purpose, cheap currency. The most talented writers do not rely on coincidence after the first couple of pages.
#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
I wonder how this would apply to “Mars Needs Moms” or “The Bee Movie”, projects that arguably should never have been green-lighted in the first place. In general, I think more can be learned by analyzing bad movies than admiring good ones.
#21: You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
If a writer cannot personally identify with his characters, it is inevitable that he will create stereotypes of zero complexity.
#22: What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.
Why is this rule 22? Along with rule 14, it belongs at the top of the list, not the bottom.
Until next month ...
"Actors and Animators are Shamans!"
Copyright © 2012-2016 Ed Hooks