Monday, March 11, 2013

PIXAR's 22 Rules of Storytelling

These rules were originally tweeted by Emma Coates, a Pixar Story Artist. Incredible insight into the inner workings of the story juggernaut that is Pixar!  Good stuff and well worth your attention.
  1. You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.
  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 very different.
  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.
  4. Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.
  5. Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.
  6. What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?
  7. Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get yours working up front.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  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.
  12. Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.
  13. Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it’s poison to the audience.
  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.
  15. If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.
  16. What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they don’t succeed? Stack the odds against.
  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.
  18. You have to know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.
  19. Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.
  20. Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How d’you rearrange them into what you DO like?
  21. You gotta identify with your situation/characters, can’t just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?
  22. What’s the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Muppet Show - Jim Henson's Pre-Production Designs

I've recently come across Jim Henson's original Pre-Production sketches, designs and photos for THE MUPPET SHOW.  They provide and amazing insight into the man's thoughts and work methods.  The now-legendary Muppet Show was not an easy sale.  Puppets were for the most part, considered children's entertainment and certainly not primetime fare.

Created by Jim Henson for the first, pilot episode of the ''Muppets'' TV show, this fantastic collection includes Henson's hand-drawn ''Muppets'' illustrations, handwritten story ideas, and the very first introduction of several new characters, including ''Piggy Lee,'' who would make her cinematic debut as ''Miss Piggy'' in the episode -- which aired on 13 October 1974 as the ''Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass.'' These nine illustrations were sent to ATV in London, to be used at a pitch meeting for the show.

The collection includes: 

(1) ''The Pigs'', with two Polaroids of them, described by Henson as ''Life size -- Piggy Lee and Hamilton Pigg. She is delicate and lovely. He is cigar smoking -- epitome of grossness.'' Piggy Lee would of course become Miss Piggy, who appeared for the first time on this special. The Polaroids that Henson includes of Miss Piggy are an exact likeness of her, although she is perhaps depicted here as a little more demure.

 (2) ''Puppet Comedy Piece / 'Give Me Five Minutes More''' shows a Polaroid of Gonzo, who made his first television appearance outside of a cigar box in this special. Henson handwrites, ''In which a big ugly female monster pursues a meek little guy trying to hug & kiss him, and singing to him, 'Give me five minutes more' etc. At tag - she runs into H. Alpert at band & chases him off. Done against cyc - no set or foreground.''

(3) Henson describes another character ''The Guru [also known as ''Brewster''] / life sized - speaks with slight Indian accent - known to fall asleep while talking.''

(4) A character sketch of ''The Musician / Life size - slightly inebriated - could be part of band'' (Seen here with Muppeteer RICHARD HUNT).

(5-9) Five different sketches, with detailed illustrations by Henson, of ''Muppet Dance Pieces''. In Dance Piece #1, Henson describes, ''Snerf dance - (5 Snerfs) 'In a Little Spanish Town'. Piece starts with one - then 2, 3, 4 & 5 - then Dwight uses technical effect and we get 10 then twenty for big finish.'' Henson continues with staging instructions, ''Can be done on our 6' wall by using risers for puppeteers / puppeteers (5) in black hoods against black background...'' Two Polaroids of Henson with one of the Snerfs are affixed to the story board.

 In Dance Piece #2, Henson writes, ''GAZELLES 'Solace'...Two Gazelles do graceful flirtation - male & female around H. Alpert as he plays solo - do a series of runs and leaps in air...Puppeteers all in black with black hoods / Puppeteers will show - but not very clearly''. Henson sketches the entire scene and also shows himself in 2 photos maneuvering the Gazelle puppets. 

  In Dance Piece #3 called ''Whipped Cream'', Henson draws elaborate color sketches of a ''Cool Cat'' and then ''Cool Cat Freaking Out'', alongside ''Slinky the Vamp'' and a green Groucho looking character called ''Heap''. He writes, ''Three new characters do dance - start with Cool Cat - enter Slinky the Vamp - finally Heap - There is a stand-off between Cool Cat and Heap - Slinky gets them both. Would be done at Muppet 6' wall - actually 6'1'' high. Background could be cyc - any color''. 

 Finally, in Dance Piece #4, starring ''Boss Men'' in ''Love Potion #9'', Henson describes ''Two gigantic feather guys each about 14' tall - work in front of band with H. Alpert. Same kind of set-up as Gazelles - dark background & floor - Puppeteers show, but in silhouette only.'' The two ''gigantic feather guys'' are sketched by Henson, shown towering over the Puppeteers in fuzzy, crazy costumes.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Hey - We Need Your Help!!!

Hey Guys!

Sorry. It's been a while since I last posted.  I've been busy.  In the meantime - I need your help here.
Some good friends (and talented filmmakers) in London are currently busy making their web series 'n00bs'

They recently took part in a 48 hour animation competition (and used it as a chance to see if they could make a n00bs ep in that time) and now there is a chance they could win a nice, shiny award to make their Momma's proud! 

If they get the most online votes, it could tip the judges decision in their favor… It'll take 30 seconds max, please, please vote for it here:

You actually want to see the film? Ha! Well, they called it THE ORIGIN OF DUBSTEP on YouTube and you can watch it here:

Thanks guys!  I promise to post more, shortly!!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Even MORE From The Mailbag...

Sorry for not posting items for the past few months - I've been busily writing on a new project.  But that doesn't stop the cards and letters from pouring in...

Why, just the other month, I got a very nice note from a reader in Australia...(Text is edited.)

Hi Steve,

I've been following your blog for a while and have to give you a big thanks for the tips you've shared; I think it's played no small part to getting my TV series where it is now. 

(edited... edited... edited...) 

A little background on me: I'm 21 and developed this project while attending AFTRS in Sydney, Australia. 

 (edited... edited... edited...) 

Please keep up the great work on your blog; it is an invaluable source of info for people like myself. Also I LOVED Freaky Stories as a kid; I used to come home from school and watch it on ABC. I still maintain that cartoon shows in the 90s are better than ones we have now.

Have a great day, etc... etc..

Sometimes it's almost worth getting up in the morning.  It's nice to help people get their start in the business.  Best of all, she's promised to send me my very own Kangaroo!    I shall name him George...

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Importance of MUSIC

Music makes up 50% of any film/TV/video production. People tend to not believe this, but it's true. Music sets the tone and atmosphere for a film.

Good music can save a bad production.
Likewise, bad music can sink even the best production. So choose wisely.

But what happens when someone uses GREAT music - but the WRONG great music in their film?

Here's what I'm talking about.

Take a few minutes and watch "ADDRESS IS APPROXIMATE" - a brilliant short film by UK filmmaker Tom Jenkins of Theory Films. I love this movie and I hope that you will, too. Enjoy.

Address Is Approximate from The Theory on Vimeo.

Okay. Here's another film that just popped up on my radar. It's called "We Stopped Dreaming" by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I believe in and agree with every point that he makes in his film. Great stuff. Have a look...

What's that? It's the same frickin' music!

(Music by the wonderfull Cinematic Orchestra ( and the track is Arrival of the Birds - please buy the fantastic album:

By "frickin'" - I'm saying that it's such a wonderful, MEMORABLE track - that you can't use it without inviting comparisons to the other, EARLIER film. And when that EARLIER film has had 2.3 million online views - it's a pretty popular film. The net effect is that the music track took me out of "We Stopped Dreaming" and sent me looking for "Address is Approximate".

So what's the lesson? Find a great music track - but make sure that it's an original music track. Not one that's been heard 2.3 million times.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Three-Act Paradigm in Action

Okay. This as we know, is a diagram of the famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Three Act Story Paradigm.

I've taken a story that I wrote, entitled "Rule of Thumb" and indicated using subtitles where the story points appear in the episode. Don't worry. It's only about 4 minutes long.

First, the story follows the paradigm like buzzards following a hearse. The story elements are spot on, in terms of timing and placement.

Second - I wrote and produced this story, long before I'd ever heard of the Three-Act Paradigm. Interesting, huh? The Three Act Paradigm is hard wired into our consciousness.

Story structure is a natural part of the storytelling process. The paradigm is most useful when trying to analyse whats gone wrong with your story. In my experience, if the story isn't working well - it's because I've deviated from the Three Act Paradigm Structure.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


At the same time that we were producing FREAKY STORIES, the studio was producing a huge budget puppet/CG show, BRATS OF THE LOST NEBULA. How huge was it? It was a co-production between The Hensons and Warner Bros.

It was huge.

To give you an idea of the scale, our FREAKY STORIES puppets cost between $5,000 and $15,000 each to create. The BRATS puppets cost $65,000 each - created by The Henson Creature Shop - and they were gorgeous. It was an amazing set, huge, lavish. They had monsters. They had spaceships...

We had a cockroach, a maggot and a giant toaster. There was no comparison.

There were tons of BRATS scripts lying around the production office, so naturally - I checked them out. That's when I saw a problem. Here it is, in the finished clip:

"Uh... Houston? I think we have a problem..."

The kids' parents get killed in the first act of the first episode.

That's not good. That's a downer. Anyone who has kids - or works with kids - knows that one of their primal fears is being abandoned. Yeah, yeah, yeah - they do it in every Disney flick - but this is TV. As soon as the action stops, the kids at home will realize that the characters onscreen are orphans and...

So I pointed out the problem to the BRATS production staff. I suggested that they have the parents taken prisoners - so the kids are fighting for something positive.... to be reunited with their families....

But no. They shot it as is. They made 13 episodes. Warner Bros. pulled the series from The WB after only 3 episodes had aired. The audience didn't like the show.

The point is - WE as show creators are not our audience. We have to be careful not to alienate the very people that we want watching our shows.