Everything I Needed to Know I Learned from Pixar

creativity animated

creativity animated

My father is my personal Pinterest of old fashioned newsprint and glossy pages. He’s always finding the best tidbits of life wisdom, geeky news, educational insights and a plethora of other blips to keep me reading in those moments I catch between work, caring for my little princess and the business of doing life. Sometimes he strikes gold and I find a piece of writing so inspiring it stays tucked beside my bed or in my pile o’ stuff (okay I really have lots of those, but the one for bits of reading I want to save), like the one I found today: “Creativity Inc.,”a feature in Fast Company about Pixar’s behind the scenes leader Ed Catmull and his business philosophy.

Pixar is an inspirational organization. When the movie industry became a proud peddler of mediocre, if not appalling scripts, along came this humble animation company that reinvented the precedent for storytelling on the big screen. One example: the first 39 dialog-free minutes of Wall-E tell more story and give deeper character development than the entire franchise of Transformers. Still not convinced? Toy Story 3 grossed $1.06 billion. Adults cried. I saw it three times in theaters.

The article reminded me that Pixar originated as a part of the Lucasfilm animation department, so it’s no surprise that groundbreaking is in their nature. What I didn’t know was that Pixar counts failure as a part of their creative process and relies on a system that embraces candid reworking of an idea until it’s as right as it can be. They don’t tie anyone to a project unless they were a part of its inception and they don’t let one person’s creative process overwhelm the entire venture. What a concept.

If I remembered this when I get single-minded in my pursuit of a writing career, my forest-for-the-trees storytelling would be strengthened. “You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when challenged,” Catmull says.

If we applied this to education, the pundits demanding higher-level thinking would be sated. “There is this notion that fewer screw-ups is always better, so the tendency is to say that zero is the optimal number of defects. But in most industries, that is completely false. The notion of zero errors in our industry is completely false. Zero errors in educating a child is not meaningful,” Catmull tells in his interview.

If more companies allowed failure and think-tank sessions, perhaps the human capital would be worth more dollars in the long-run instead of tight-fisted budgets that eke out a profit. Imagine if creativity ruled more of the adult world. I love the way Pixar embraces creativity –with unique passion. They succeeded at being creatively different to the point where the Disney giant stooped to beg their forgiveness when they realized that animation without story doesn’t work (Walt would surely have shouted that from the rooftops). But story doesn’t come from a machine or some perpetually rehashed franchise, it comes from people; and good stories come from people who are given the freedom to think and rethink.

I believe creativity is innate in everybody. Somewhere along the way we form inhibitions that wall in or choke our creative processes. Sometimes this comes from management, sometimes it comes from ourselves. In either case, creativity is too often stifled before it can bloom and so the same old, comfortable routine becomes the norm.

Ultimately, those who long to be creative will. However, this is a monumental task. Life gets in the way. It’s easier to sit on the couch and suck in entertainment than to sit at a computer and tell stories through the keys. Adults have too much to worry about right? Clean the house or write a blog? I get to feeling like I’ve let my adult-self down if two hours have passed and I’ve done nothing but rewrite a few paragraphs or look up craft ideas online. “We can’t spend time doodling about projects,” our programmed conscious tells us. Strangely enough, Pixar’s next movie addresses just that-the inevitability of growing up but still retaining a child-like spark in our minds. Inside Out tells the story of Riley’s emotions and how they help her cope with a move to San Francisco from their position at “headquarters.” Ticket fees are a small price to pay for inspiration.

An Ode to the Video Store or Why the Death of Blockbuster Has Left Me Nostalgic

Video Tape DeathWhen I think about my childhood, I can’t help but remember frequent trips to the video rental store.  Browsing through wire racks of thick plastic display cases, I would make my way to my favorite tape and grab it like the warm hand of an old friend.  The newest releases only took up a small portion of the shelves, and the classics stood sentinel in their rows, familiar in their positions from week to week.  Movies traveled at a glacial pace from the theater to the store.  Disney still made hand drawn films and Don Bluth animation was better than anything DreamWorks ever dreamt up.

I’m saddened when I think that my daughter will never know that movie rentals come from anywhere other than an outdoor kiosk or a computer system.  Can you even get movies through the mail anymore?  She will never have the pleasure of browsing the local rental shop with friends before a sleepover or spending a happy summer hour contemplating the kids section for the oldie but goody she’s rented five times or the one she’s only rented four.  Redbox doesn’t stock classics.  If it’s not new, it’s gone.  Netflix won’t offer the same homey setup every time you view it or the chatter of the in-house TV showing The Land Before Time again.

Yes, with the end of Blockbuster comes the end of an era.  Video rental stores have gone the way of full-service gas stations and the five and dime.  They will be a sad piece of nostalgia we carry from our collective past, we children of the eighties and nineties and our parents.  I think of making those trips in search of entertainment with my daughter.  What will be our bi-weekly outings?  Certainly driving to Walgreens to find the Redbox won’t hold the same romance.  Trips to the Target five dollar DVD section?  Maybe.  Heck, I can’t even take her to Borders and say “old mom used to work here.” Now that is a whole other nostalgic-angst blog post waiting to happen.  I’d better quit while I’m ahead.  Oh, and I just want to give a shout out to Barb’s Video.  Yeah.  Those were the good old days.

P.S. Here’s a repost of a movie review that may ease our sufferings.  If nothing else, you can read the intro and see how attached I am to my video store memories.

Ghostbusters Jack Black

Be Kind Rewind

Or

Ghostbusters Will Never be the Same

A Film Review by Christie Hudon

Remember the golden age of mom and pop video rental stores?  Before the Blockbuster explosion I used to rent my tapes from Barb’s Video.  I loved walking into the familiar racks of the kids section and picking up one of my favorites-always in the same spot near the big white plastic Disney cases.  Sorry for digressing, but after seeing a video store featured on the big screen I’m kind of sentimental.  Be Kind Rewind, the latest from quirky filmmaker Michel Gondry is a nostalgia piece with an independent flair and a delightfully straightforward story.

Afterwards, I chatted with a fellow moviegoer who called the film an “off-beat comedy.”   I thought this was a perfect description. Be Kind Rewind is at times slapstick and other times sophisticated.  One moment you shake your head at the obvious plot device and the next you ponder the ambiguous ending.  It seemed crystal clear to me though that this was Gondry’s treatise on moviemaking.  You don’t need a budget worthy of a congressional bill, you need ingenuity.  We go to the movies to see creativity and heart and we appreciate those films.  I read between the lines and see the idea that the majority of what Hollywood has to offer has failed because they’ve forgotten this.

Be Kind Rewind is the story of Mr. Fletcher’s video store in Passaic, New York.  When Fletcher (played by Danny Glover) leaves town for the week and entrusts his store to his adopted son Mike (Mos Def) a disaster happens.  Mike’s bizarre friend Jerry (Jack Black) becomes magnetized (don’t ask, just watch) and erases all the tapes in Fletcher’s store.  In a desperate attempt to keep the customers happy, Mike decides to re-shoot the movies with the help of Jerry and a very old video camera.  What follows is a store full of strangely delighted customers and abridged homemade classics like The Lion King done with life-size paper cutouts and safari bed sheets.

One of several interesting aspects about Be Kind Rewind is the way the audience becomes involved in the making of the movie.  We see the remakes come to life with bad camera tricks, no sets or effects and minimal professional resources.  When we watch the creative process, the film becomes something more; a work that is compelling because of the efforts of those involved.

Along with all the camera gags, we also get a feel good story; in the middle of a poor neighborhood, people work together to make these films and save the store from being condemned and demolished.  Be Kind is a refreshingly enjoyable movie.  It makes you feel as if you could go out and shoot a film in your own garage and I think that’s just what Gondry intended. Be Kind Rewind Poster

The Geek Singularity

Revel my geeky friends, revel.  We may never live in an age as uniquely geek as this.  It’s as if all the sweet spots of comic book, fantasy and sci-fi culture have hit their apex in pop culture, spawning movies, television shows and merchandising of nebulaic proportions.  There may never again be a time when Comic Con features nearly the entire cast of Marvel’s Avengers and X-Men: Days of Future Past, strutting movie icons like Hugh Jackman and Samuel L Jackson; Peter Jackson wooing Tolkien devotees with Hobbit footage and Doctor Who panels visited by The Doctor himself.  In true Sheldon Cooper theory, I christen this golden age The Geek Singularity.

Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

If the coming soon to theaters list is any indication, The Singularity should last at least into 2016.  Comic Con is on my bucket list but not even on the radar for at least six or seven years so I need this phenomenon to last.  According to their panel, Marvel has movies projected to 2021 so the longevity of the current comic book/ sci-fi/fantasy zeitgeist is a probability at least in the Disney universe.  What with a new Star Wars trilogy on the way, The Singularity may well last another couple of decades.  And who cares if pop culture hangs on.  Being geek has never meant being mainstream-until now.

The Winter Soldier

The Winter Soldier

Here’s a look at the future of The Singularity…

2013

50th Anniversary of Doctor Who

Ender’s Game

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Agents of Shield (Television gold? I hope so.)

Thor: The Dark World

2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

The Spectacular Spider-Man

Games of Thrones Season 4

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Thank God they’re mutant once again, not alien.)

X Men: Days of Future Past

Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel’s obscure but cloying gamble that I would see just for Karen Gillan as a bald villain.  I love you Amy Pond!)

2015

Pirates of the Caribbean 5

The Fantastic Four (Didn’t they just do this?)

Avengers: The Age of Ultron (Salivating for this one.)

Justice League (Please come back Christian Bale!)

Superman Sequel (featuring Batman; please come back Christian Bale!)

Ant-Man (Um, well okay, for the sake of The Singularity.)

Star Wars Episode 7 (J.J. Abrams has his work cut out for him-I want my daughter raised on good Star Wars.)

Future Projects

Deadpool (You’re welcome fanboys.)

Aquaman (The comments about this movie on IMDB read like an episode of The Big Bang Theory: “Aquaman sucks!” “Dude, 75% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water so he controls almost every sea creature and can easily sink almost all the world.”)

Death Note

BLEACH (Anime getting some geek movie love? Beautiful. Can I get some Americanized live action Sailor Moon? Wait, no, just no.)

The Phantom

Wonder Woman

X-Men 4 and 5 (Let’s hope they’re as good as the prequel sort of reboot.)

Nick Fury

The Flash

"Two of You? Oh the mind races" -River Song

“Two of You? Oh the mind races” -River Song

A Super Remake: Man of Steel Movie Review

There are two things you need to know before you read this review from my perspective.  1. I am a Jesus lover. 2. I am not a huge Superman fan.  I’m not sure which one will offend some people more but there it is.  These were the lenses through which I watched a preview of Man of Steel this past Monday night.  The film surprised me in both perspectives.

Big budget geek movies are a hot ticket this summer.  After not visiting my local cinema for months, I’ve already chalked up three in a span of weeks thanks to a comic book and sci-fi smorgasbord.  But Superman?  The man in the red cape and matching tighty redies was never my thing.  Perhaps this is because it seemed too easy-a flawless, god-like alien who can do anything and especially enjoys flashing his abs and catching falling damsels.  What makes Man of Steel so compelling is that it brings out the weakness and humanity of Superman.  This is also what set my Jesus senses tingling.  In this weakness we see just how strong he is.

In the beginning, Man of Steel expends a lot of its script fleshing out the world of Krypton.  We see the race of “supermen” as they wreak havoc on each other and their planet.  Comic fans probably have mixed emotions about the portrayal of their world, but as an outsider, I appreciated the back story.   Flash forward and we’re following the life of Clark Kent (Henry Cavill) as he tries to lose himself and mask his abilities in the modern world.  Then we flash back to Clark’s childhood and witness his struggle of fitting in and hiding his powers with the help of his loving earthly parents.  The script superbly balances the flash back and real time storytelling so that viewers aren’t lost.  Man of Steel does what comic adaptations of late have mostly handled well-it tells a subtle story of a plausible superhero in our modern society.  David S. Goyer of Batman fame wrote the script along with some story help from Christopher Nolan, so it’s no wonder the plot and dialog were tighter than Superman’s…boots.

Next, we meet Lois Lane (Amy Adams), a cheeky reporter who has a soft spot for covert military correspondence.  This is when the story really picks up and the cape goes on.  Watching Superman learn to fly was a cinematic treat.  Special effects and sound mixing are often the stars of this film.  Certain prolonged fights tend to get achy on the ear drums but as my hubby pointed out, make the viewer experience a sort of Superman sensibility as we hear clearer and see with pinpoint accuracy how many panes of glass shatter in Metropolis.

As with the story, the acting is more subtle in this film adaptation.  We see more human moments thanks to Cavill’s introspection and Adams’s stable yet vulnerable Lois Lane.  Other headliners like Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Laurence Fishburne and Diane Lane crowd the screen like a well-cast Shakespeare production.  Michael Shannon is a standout as the unrelenting villain General Zod.

Christ-imagery has always been a reference in the Superman mythos and this aspect is undeniable in the spiritual theming throughout the film.  How this film handles this side of the Man of Steel is laudable.  Clark never sees himself as a god but instead asks why God gave him his abilities.  When he weighs the responsibility of using his powers he has a Gethsemane moment, asking if he must indeed drink the cup that has been handed to him.  His Kryptonian father repeatedly tells him that he was born to bridge two worlds.  Superman isn’t Jesus, but his savior archetype helps us draw parallels between the spiritual and the human in a film world that isn’t always friendly to the Man of the Cross.

As a geeky summer movie season explodes, make this remake a priority.  Thanks to Zach Snyder’s crafty direction, a sophisticated script and just plain fun special effects, I’m a fan of Man of Steel.

"On my world, it stands for hope."

“On my world, it stands for hope.”

Top 10 Ways to Win an Oscar

Oscar the DominatorIn the spirit of David Lettermen, I present to you my snarky commentary on how I feel about the Oscars.

10.  Release your film in November or December in select cities.

9. Don’t mention Jesus unless it’s in a derogatory way.  Remember who runs Hollywood you shmuck.

8. If your movie has no dialogue or color that’s fine.

7.  Add 1 cup political and or social controversy and a healthy sprinkling of social justice agenda.

6. If you plan on making something big budget, it had better be historical.

5. Never cast Johnny Depp or Leonardo DiCaprio.

4. Make sure the movie only partially makes sense in a lot of scenes.

3. Give it a title that is obscure and tells nothing about the movie.

2. For the love of all things, never make a fantasy, sci-fi, or comic book movie unless it’s a trilogy with some clout and then on the last one they might throw you a bone or then again they might snub your behind like Batman, unless you’re foreign, then it’s okay.

And the number one way to win an Oscar for your movie is…

1. Have Stephen Spielberg direct it.

(cue band music from Paul Shaffer)