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  • A tourist is backpacking

  • through the highlands of Scotland,

  • and he stops at a pub to get a drink.

  • And the only people in there is a bartender

  • and an old man nursing a beer.

  • And he orders a pint, and they sit in silence for a while.

  • And suddenly the old man turns to him and goes,

  • "You see this bar?

  • I built this bar with my bare hands

  • from the finest wood in the county.

  • Gave it more love and care than my own child.

  • But do they call me MacGregor the bar builder? No."

  • Points out the window.

  • "You see that stone wall out there?

  • I built that stone wall with my bare hands.

  • Found every stone, placed them just so through the rain and the cold.

  • But do they call me MacGregor the stone wall builder? No."

  • Points out the window.

  • "You see that pier on the lake out there?

  • I built that pier with my bare hands.

  • Drove the pilings against the tide of the sand, plank by plank.

  • But do they call me MacGregor the pier builder? No.

  • But you fuck one goat ... "

  • (Laughter)

  • Storytelling --

  • (Laughter)

  • is joke telling.

  • It's knowing your punchline,

  • your ending,

  • knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last,

  • is leading to a singular goal,

  • and ideally confirming some truth

  • that deepens our understandings

  • of who we are as human beings.

  • We all love stories.

  • We're born for them.

  • Stories affirm who we are.

  • We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning.

  • And nothing does a greater affirmation

  • than when we connect through stories.

  • It can cross the barriers of time,

  • past, present and future,

  • and allow us to experience

  • the similarities between ourselves

  • and through others, real and imagined.

  • The children's television host Mr. Rogers

  • always carried in his wallet

  • a quote from a social worker

  • that said, "Frankly, there isn't anyone you couldn't learn to love

  • once you've heard their story."

  • And the way I like to interpret that

  • is probably the greatest story commandment,

  • which is "Make me care" --

  • please, emotionally,

  • intellectually, aesthetically,

  • just make me care.

  • We all know what it's like to not care.

  • You've gone through hundreds of TV channels,

  • just switching channel after channel,

  • and then suddenly you actually stop on one.

  • It's already halfway over,

  • but something's caught you and you're drawn in and you care.

  • That's not by chance,

  • that's by design.

  • So it got me thinking, what if I told you my history was story,

  • how I was born for it,

  • how I learned along the way this subject matter?

  • And to make it more interesting,

  • we'll start from the ending

  • and we'll go to the beginning.

  • And so if I were going to give you the ending of this story,

  • it would go something like this:

  • And that's what ultimately led me

  • to speaking to you here at TED

  • about story.

  • And the most current story lesson that I've had

  • was completing the film I've just done

  • this year in 2012.

  • The film is "John Carter." It's based on a book called "The Princess of Mars,"

  • which was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

  • And Edgar Rice Burroughs actually put himself

  • as a character inside this movie, and as the narrator.

  • And he's summoned by his rich uncle, John Carter, to his mansion

  • with a telegram saying, "See me at once."

  • But once he gets there,

  • he's found out that his uncle has mysteriously passed away

  • and been entombed in a mausoleum on the property.

  • (Video) Butler: You won't find a keyhole.

  • Thing only opens from the inside.

  • He insisted,

  • no embalming, no open coffin,

  • no funeral.

  • You don't acquire the kind of wealth your uncle commanded

  • by being like the rest of us, huh?

  • Come, let's go inside.

  • AS: What this scene is doing, and it did in the book,

  • is it's fundamentally making a promise.

  • It's making a promise to you

  • that this story will lead somewhere that's worth your time.

  • And that's what all good stories should do at the beginning, is they should give you a promise.

  • You could do it an infinite amount of ways.

  • Sometimes it's as simple as "Once upon a time ... "

  • These Carter books always had Edgar Rice Burroughs as a narrator in it.

  • And I always thought it was such a fantastic device.

  • It's like a guy inviting you around the campfire,

  • or somebody in a bar saying, "Here, let me tell you a story.

  • It didn't happen to me, it happened to somebody else,

  • but it's going to be worth your time."

  • A well told promise

  • is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshot

  • and propels you forward through the story

  • to the end.

  • In 2008,

  • I pushed all the theories that I had on story at the time

  • to the limits of my understanding on this project.

  • (Video) (Mechanical Sounds)

  • And that is all

  • that love's about

  • And we'll recall

  • when time runs out

  • That it only

  • (Laughter)

  • AS: Storytelling without dialogue.

  • It's the purest form of cinematic storytelling.

  • It's the most inclusive approach you can take.

  • It confirmed something I really had a hunch on,

  • is that the audience

  • actually wants to work for their meal.

  • They just don't want to know that they're doing that.

  • That's your job as a storyteller,

  • is to hide the fact

  • that you're making them work for their meal.

  • We're born problem solvers.

  • We're compelled to deduce

  • and to deduct,

  • because that's what we do in real life.

  • It's this well-organized absence of information

  • that draws us in.

  • There's a reason that we're all attracted to an infant or a puppy.

  • It's not just that they're damn cute;

  • it's because they can't completely express

  • what they're thinking and what their intentions are.

  • And it's like a magnet.

  • We can't stop ourselves

  • from wanting to complete the sentence and fill it in.

  • I first started

  • really understanding this storytelling device

  • when I was writing with Bob Peterson on "Finding Nemo."

  • And we would call this the unifying theory of two plus two.

  • Make the audience put things together.

  • Don't give them four,

  • give them two plus two.

  • The elements you provide and the order you place them in

  • is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience.

  • Editors and screenwriters have known this all along.

  • It's the invisible application

  • that holds our attention to story.

  • I don't mean to make it sound

  • like this is an actual exact science, it's not.

  • That's what's so special about stories,

  • they're not a widget, they aren't exact.

  • Stories are inevitable, if they're good,

  • but they're not predictable.

  • I took a seminar in this year

  • with an acting teacher named Judith Weston.

  • And I learned a key insight to character.

  • She believed that all well-drawn characters

  • have a spine.

  • And the idea is that the character has an inner motor,

  • a dominant, unconscious goal that they're striving for,

  • an itch that they can't scratch.

  • She gave a wonderful example of Michael Corleone,

  • Al Pacino's character in "The Godfather,"

  • and that probably his spine

  • was to please his father.

  • And it's something that always drove all his choices.

  • Even after his father died,

  • he was still trying to scratch that itch.

  • I took to this like a duck to water.

  • Wall-E's was to find the beauty.

  • Marlin's, the father in "Finding Nemo,"

  • was to prevent harm.

  • And Woody's was to do what was best for his child.

  • And these spines don't always drive you to make the best choices.

  • Sometimes you can make some horrible choices with them.

  • I'm really blessed to be a parent,

  • and watching my children grow, I really firmly believe

  • that you're born with a temperament and you're wired a certain way,

  • and you don't have any say about it,

  • and there's no changing it.

  • All you can do is learn to recognize it

  • and own it.

  • And some of us are born with temperaments that are positive,

  • some are negative.

  • But a major threshold is passed

  • when you mature enough

  • to acknowledge what drives you

  • and to take the wheel and steer it.

  • As parents, you're always learning who your children are.

  • They're learning who they are.

  • And you're still learning who you are.

  • So we're all learning all the time.

  • And that's why change is fundamental in story.

  • If things go static, stories die,

  • because life is never static.

  • In 1998,

  • I had finished writing "Toy Story" and "A Bug's Life"

  • and I was completely hooked on screenwriting.

  • So I wanted to become much better at it and learn anything I could.

  • So I researched everything I possibly could.

  • And I finally came across this fantastic quote

  • by a British playwright, William Archer:

  • "Drama is anticipation

  • mingled with uncertainty."

  • It's an incredibly insightful definition.

  • When you're telling a story,

  • have you constructed anticipation?

  • In the short-term, have you made me want to know

  • what will happen next?

  • But more importantly,

  • have you made me want to know

  • how it will all conclude in the long-term?

  • Have you constructed honest conflicts

  • with truth that creates doubt

  • in what the outcome might be?

  • An example would be in "Finding Nemo,"

  • in the short tension, you were always worried,

  • would Dory's short-term memory

  • make her forget whatever she was being told by Marlin.

  • But under that was this global tension

  • of will we ever find Nemo

  • in this huge, vast ocean?

  • In our earliest days at Pixar,

  • before we truly understood the invisible workings of story,

  • we were simply a group of guys just going on our gut, going on our instincts.

  • And it's interesting to see

  • how that led us places

  • that were actually pretty good.

  • You've got to remember that in this time of year,

  • 1993,

  • what was considered a successful animated picture

  • was "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast,"

  • "Aladdin," "Lion King."

  • So when we pitched "Toy Story" to Tom Hanks for the first time,

  • he walked in and he said,

  • "You don't want me to sing, do you?"

  • And I thought that epitomized perfectly

  • what everybody thought animation had to be at the time.

  • But we really wanted to prove

  • that you could tell stories completely different in animation.

  • We didn't have any influence then,

  • so we had a little secret list of rules

  • that we kept to ourselves.

  • And they