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  • Hi, I'm Michael.

  • This is Lessons from the Screenplay.

  • A popular piece of advice for writers is towrite what you know.”

  • While I do think a story's emotional authenticity comes from the storyteller's own experience,

  • I don't like the stagnation this phrase encourages.

  • Instead, I prefer: “write what you want to know.”

  • Because, in many ways, a story is as much a journey for the person writing it as

  • it is for the characters in it.

  • Such was the case for Pixar's "Inside Out."

  • It took their team a lot of introspection to arrive at the emotional truth that is the

  • core of their story.

  • So today I want to look at the process of writing this film.

  • To examine how creating some of its most powerful moments

  • required the writers to explore vulnerable places within their own psychology.

  • And show how trying to answer a simple question can lead to the discovery of a creative premise

  • and an emotionally honest theme.

  • Let's take a look at "Inside Out."

  • In my previous video I talked about how character arc should be an expression of the story's theme.

  • But as a writer, how do you find the theme you want to explore?

  • Often, it can help to think about it in the form of a question you want answered.

  • For example, the question that led to "Inside Out" came when the film's director,

  • Pete Docter, noticed something about his daughter.

  • According to Meg LeFauve, who wrote "Inside Out" with Pete Docter:

  • "The director, he had a daughter."

  • "And she was so happy all the time, and was so joyful."

  • "And then she turned eleven."

  • "And suddenly she was quiet and she wasn't smiling..."

  • "And he sat at breakfast and he wondered, 'What happened to joy?'"

  • "And then he thought: I'm going to make a move about that."

  • From this question, he came up with the idea of the story taking place in the mind of a young girl

  • and having her emotions being characters in the film.

  • But asking the question is only the beginning.

  • The theme is expressed when you answer it.

  • To answer the question "What happened to joy?"

  • they needed to figure out the protagonists's character arc,

  • which required asking even more questions.

  • "We always want to answer the same questions for any movie that we start."

  • "What does the character want?"

  • "What does the character need?"

  • They quickly decided that Joy's want is for Riley to be happy.

  • But figuring out her need proved more difficult.

  • The writers realized that pairing her up with someone would help express her need, so they

  • partnered Joy with Fear.

  • Joy: "Stop!"

  • "You have caused enough trouble."

  • But the lessons she learned while on the journey with Fear didn't seem to answer the question.

  • "Pete Docter, the director, says that when he was an adolescent he was mostly afraid."

  • "So he wanted to explore fear."

  • "But his problem was that when they got back up to headquarters,

  • he didn't know what he wanted to say about fear."

  • This is one of the many reasons the writing process is so difficult.

  • This question came from Pete Docter's personal life,

  • so I'm sure it seemed logical to try to answer it based on his own experience

  • growing up with fear.

  • But sometimes the right answer requires uncomfortable self-reflection.

  • "Hi. Pete here.

  • I'm out walking in the woods because I'm stressed."

  • Realizing that the film wasn't working, Pete Docter took a walk in the woods,

  • allowed himself to be vulnerable,

  • and started asking himself some questions.

  • "I started thinking, 'Ok, what if I lost everything.

  • What would mean something to me?'"

  • "And like most of us, I think, the answer is relationships."

  • "The people that really mean something deeply are those that I have cried with,

  • that I've been pissed off at, that I've experienced fear with."

  • "It's all the aspects of emotions that bond us together."

  • And only then was he able to finally figure out the answer to his original question.

  • "So that gives me this idea."

  • "That maybe joy, as much as we all want it in our lives, is not the answer."

  • "The answer is actually sadness."

  • And now that he had the answer, Joy had a character arc and the film had a theme.

  • As much as Joy wants everything to be happy all the time, to have healthy relationships

  • she needs to embrace sadness.

  • So how do you bring the audience along on this journey?

  • The first step is to bring them into Joy's point of view.

  • In order for the audience to discover Sadness the same way that Joy does,

  • they have to be able to empathize with Joy's beliefs in the beginning to the story.

  • But there were two obstacles in the way of that.

  • The first was that Joy was a jerk.

  • JOY: "So weak."

  • "No way we're going to that!"

  • FEAR: "Joy."

  • JOY: "We should spit in that girl's face."

  • OTHERS: "Whoa!"

  • They originally made Joy angry and entitled, hoping that by giving her this flaw there

  • would be opportunities for humor.

  • But she pretty much just came off as unlikeable.

  • JOY: "Francis.

  • That rat-faced creep."

  • JOY: "We ought to break his legs."

  • OTHERS: "Whoa! Yikes!"

  • But even after they toned that down,

  • they realized the audience might not immediately identify with Joy and her aversion to Sadness.

  • To solve this, they made Sadness as annoying as possible.

  • "Sadness!

  • You nearly touched a core memory.

  • And when you touch them, we can't change them back!"

  • "I keep making mistakes like that.

  • I'm awful…"

  • "Nooo, you're not."

  • "…and annoying."

  • "Welluh

  • "You know what? you can't focus on what's going wrong."

  • "There's always a way to turn things around, to find the fun!"

  • And Joy's need to fix things was a solution to another obstacle they ran into,

  • which is that incessantly happy characters are annoying.

  • "You have to make it very clear that Joy's chipperness is her solution to her vulnerability."

  • "If you don't have the vulnerability behind the 'ha-ha-ha'

  • you're just annoyed at her."

  • The writers included several moments where we see Joy deal with doubt and worry

  • by forcing happiness back into the situation.

  • FEAR: "Dad just left us."

  • SADNESS: "Oh, he doesn't love us anymore."

  • "That's sad."

  • "I should drive, right?"

  • "Joy?"

  • "What are you doing?"

  • "Uh, just uh, gimme one second…"

  • "You know what I've realized?"

  • "Riley hasn't had lunch!"

  • By showing that Joy's incessant happiness was a defense mechanism,

  • and by making Sadness as annoying as possible,

  • the Pixar writers allowed the audience to empathize with Joy

  • and see things from her point of view.

  • With this connection made, the story could finally begin to explore

  • the importance of sadness.

  • "So you've set the belief system, and then act two is literally psychologically saying

  • to them, 'Is that true?'"

  • "You're trying to break their psychology, you're trying to bring something to consciousness."

  • Act one clearly establishes that Joy believes being happy all the time

  • is the right way to live.

  • So in act two the writers start to poke holes in that belief system.

  • One of the clearest examples is when they're trying to get to the train station,

  • but Bing Bong's rocket is pushed into the memory dump.

  • "Riley can't be done with me."

  • Here, both Sadness and Joy have the same objective.

  • They want Bing Bong to lead them to the train station.

  • But by having them use different tactics,

  • the story demonstrates to the audience and the characters

  • the lesson that needs to be learned.

  • Joy impatiently tries to make Bing Bong feel better the only way she knows how

  • by forcing him to be happy.

  • "Hey, who's ticklish, huh?

  • Here comes the tickle monster…"

  • No response.

  • "Hey! Bing Bong, look at this!

  • Dohoioih!"

  • She makes a silly face.

  • Nothing.

  • "Oh, here's a fun game!

  • You point to the train station and we all go there!"

  • "Won't that be fun?

  • Come on, let's go to the train station."

  • When this tactic doesn't work, Sadness sits next to Bing Bong

  • and patiently empathizes with him.

  • "I'm sorry they took your rocket."

  • "They took something that you loved."

  • "It's gone, forever."

  • "Sadness, don't make him feel worse."

  • "Sorry."

  • "It's all I had left of Riley."

  • "I bet you and Riley had great adventures."

  • "We were best friends."

  • "Yeah."

  • "It's sad."

  • Bing Bong puts his head on Sadness' shoulder and CRIES.

  • Sadness keeps her arm around him until he's done.

  • "I'm okay now."

  • "C'mon, the train station is this way."

  • This shows Joy that she might be looking at life the wrong way

  • that happiness isn't always the answer.

  • This idea is pretty unconventional, especially for a kid's movie.

  • As a culture we tend to constantly seek happiness and joy,

  • and look at sadness as something to be avoided at all costs.

  • But this moment rings very true to me,

  • and I think it's because it's actually based on experiences from Meg LeFauve's life.

  • "My son went to what's called an attachment preschool,

  • where they're not teaching ABCs, 123s, they're teaching emotional intelligence."

  • "Let your kid have whatever emotion they're having right now.

  • And just meet them where they are."

  • "And then you would just keep narrating it, and they would talk, and you'd narrate it."

  • "And then they'd pass through and toddle off and be happy

  • or angry whatever next emotion is coming up."

  • But Joy doesn't fully learn the lesson here,

  • as later in the film she chooses to leave Sadness behind

  • when she finds a way back to headquarters.

  • "I'm sorry."

  • "Riley needs to be happy."

  • "Joy?"

  • She's still refusing to let go of her old beliefs,

  • and this selfish choice is met with catastrophe.

  • "Ah!"

  • "Joy!"

  • Joy realizes that despite her best intentions, she's found herself at her lowest point yet.

  • It's the same point that Pete Docter found himself in

  • when he realized the film wasn't working.

  • He thought wanted to talk about fear, but it wasn't what he needed to talk about.

  • And for both he and the character of Joy,

  • it took arriving at this dark, painful place for them to realize the truth.

  • "Mom and Dad…"

  • "The team…"

  • "They came to help because of Sadness."

  • "Joy, as much as we all want it in our lives, is not the answer."

  • "The answer is actually sadness."

  • Joy's character arc mimics Pete Docter's.

  • And her realization is powerful and authentic largely because it was inspired by the director's

  • own discovery of the importance of sadness.

  • "The mysterious thing about telling stories is that it ends up changing you."

  • "As a storyteller, the research that you do,

  • the almost meditation-like focus on a theme

  • that you're dealing with."

  • "It ends up seeping into your own system and changing the way you look at the world."

  • Knowing the mechanics of storytelling is important.

  • But it's also important to remember that the ultimate goal of telling a story

  • is to share something.

  • And I believe the way to ensure that your story is generous and not simply a vanity project

  • is to for it to be emotionally authenticwhich is rarely an easy thing to do.

  • As Meg LeFauve says...

  • "There should probably be, as a writernow, I'm just talking about myself, personally..."

  • "A point in the process when you're writing that to write this scene..."

  • "You feel like you're going to throw up because it's so emotional.

  • It's so digging into something in your psychology."

  • "In other words, you're asking the audience to have a cathartic experience...

  • odds are you probably need to have one when you're writing."

  • This is something the team at Pixar fully embraced,

  • and the result is a film that deeply resonated with many people, both kids and adults.

  • The writers allowed themselves to be vulnerable, went on a journey into their minds,

  • and returned with an emotional truth to share with us.

  • The power of the film didn't come from a clinical, outside-in approach,

  • but rather, from the inside-out.

  • Hey guys, Michael here.

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Hi, I'm Michael.