-Toy Story 3 copyright Pixar Studios
“The greatest story commandment is: make me care” -Andrew Stanton, most likely
Something I’ve had on my mind lately is good storytelling. Partly because my son watches Pixar movies 24/7 and, if he isn’t watching on TV, he’s looking up scenes from the films on his iPad (he’s two btw) (I know I’m a horrible Dad). One thing I can’t get over is how every Pixar movie, at least for me, a twenty-nine-year-old man, seems to always be able to tug at your heartstrings, no matter how silly the subject matter. I feel bad for fish, I root for grumpy old men, and I need a tissue because toys are holding hands in a furnace. What’s wrong with me? (allot but that's another blog post)
I began to look at Filmmakers like Andrew Stanton, Michael Arndt, and Brad Bird, all of whom have wonderful storytelling videos on YouTube, and they all had one thing in common: they wanted to make the audience care. They accomplish this by giving these silly characters REAL problems, relatable, that hit home for everyone that has the ability to feel empathy. The Iron Giant, for example, was built on the premise ”what if a gun didn't want to be a gun anymore.” That seems silly but think about it: We’ve all be in positions that we didn't want to be in because it just wasn't for you. Now apply those feelings to a giant weapon of mass destruction and you have a cult classic, apparently.
In my research, I discovered the name, Brian McDonald. Brian is a screenwriter, director, teacher who teaches classes at Pixar after Andrew Stanton had supposedly read his book “Invisible Ink” in one sitting. The book was said to have helped Stanton finish WALL-E (one of my favorite Pixar’s). So I picked up Invisible Ink and gave it a read. I was fascinated! The book reveals another side of writing the viewer never see’s. In other words, a story's moral, heart, or inspiring message is the Invisible Ink behind the movie or ” armature” as the book explains. It’s the single most important part of the story. This was exactly what Pixar had been doing and without anyone even knowing it.
Invinisble Ink by Brian McDonald available on iBooks and Amazon
Frankl;y, this is missing from most movies that hit theaters today. Why? It seems Hollywood is more interested in the CGI spectacle rather than a movie that can inspire a whole new batch of filmmakers. You hear/read stuff like ”Chinese box office” and ”mass appeal” or ”high concept”. Which is just code for ”money, please”. I'm not against making money, I'm actually very pro-making-money, but I believe movies with Invisible Ink actually make more money than soulless blockbusters.
Let's look at a similar, sister studio, under the same umbrella as Pixar: MARVEL. According to Wikipedia Marvel’s total box office to date is $13.511 billion after 18 films. This is fantastic. Not to mention the fact that they brought to life the first comic book universe like we had only previously seen in the books, where the story of one character would cross with another and eventually to lead to a huge event. (cannot wait for Infinity War) Most studios would have shuttered at the thought of doing something risky like that. I bet some actually said, ”how did they get away with that?” That answer is INVISIBLE INK.
Now let’s look at another huge library of heroes that, in my humble opinion, is the Pixar of the comics world: DC Comics. Who else could make a man dressed as a Bat or an alien from a faraway planet seem relatable? In fact, Brad Bird even draws from Superman in The Iron Giant. Why is it then that the attempted DC movie universe has essentially failed? No invisible ink. They rushed it, stuffed it with spectacle, and packaged it for maximum profit. They saw Avengers BO numbers and cut their nose off to spite their face, disregarding what made the source material so special.
So, as I continue to write and create my own films, I'm inspired to apply invisible ink, to make the audience care, and to speak truth into all my stories. For faith-based filmmakers like myself, I believe this subject is ten times more important. Our invisible ink should come from the truths and lessons of God’s word. How Jesus died for each and every person so that they would not perish but have eternal life. Why do you think Jesus taught using parables? They were also full of invisible ink.
Written by James Burns
Subjects to google: