If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Advice on film grammar

Grow your storytelling skills through advice from Pixar experts! To build experience, consider analyzing movie shots and listening to director commentaries. As you develop your own stories, focus on sketching key scenes, collaborating with others, and of course, learning from your mistakes!

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

- Take the most important part of your scene and draw one image to it and then have that be pinned up on a board or that's your bullet point of that scene and then go onto the next one. That does a couple of things. It gets you to move quickly and I think that's important so you don't get in the weeds of focusing on one scene. You can do that one drawing that to you explains what it's about. Don't worry about pitching it yet or that that drawing conveys to five other people what it thinks. It has to convey to you what you like about that scene, then forget it, move onto the next one. Do that for say five scenes or whatever and then take a step back and look at it. And then get your friends to see it or whatever. And then I'm always interested after doing that to see whether somebody looking at just that single drawing for each scene, what do they think the story's about and ask 'em, what is this about? You'll learn what you conveyed through that single image. - So I encourage you to on your first viewing of a movie, just enjoy it. But then go back and watch it and analyze it and break each scene up by its shots. Figure out what the shots are and if you have the ability, then grab those film files and cut them up, literally cut them up and try to rearrange the shots. See what that does to the scene and put it back together and figure out why the filmmaker put the film together the way they did. - I mean back when I was in film school before there were DVDs then we had these giant LaserDiscs and those were the very first opportunities that people had to listen to the director talk about the film that they had made. And luckily, that's a convention that's stuck around all these years later on DVDs and Blu-rays and I just think it's a wonderful way to get inside the filmmaker's head and hear them talk about the challenges they faced making a movie, the ideas that they had, what they were trying to express, where they might have failed. A lot of directors will talk about misgivings they had or regrets that they had about that perfect shot they just weren't able to get. And that's all fodder for learning about film grammar and learning about the politics of running a film set or working with a film crew 'cause that's all important stuff. It's not just about knowing film grammar and knowing how to make a film, but often times it's knowing how to best work with the crew that you're working with and how to kind of bring out the best in the people that you're collaborating with. - When I first got to Pixar, there was that feeling like this is the best place for storytellers, and it is the best place for storytellers. But I feel even to this very day that I shouldn't be here (laughing). I always feel like I'm not by myself I'm not at that level but the trick is, no one here is. Everyone is helping each other to tell those stories and that's the part they don't tell you in the beginning. You have to know your craft, you have to know those tools that you're developing and you're constantly developing and honing those tools but everyone here is supporting each other to tell those stories. - I've been at this for almost 25 years now at Pixar and any time I start a new project, it's just as difficult as the first one way back when. We've been telling stories in our culture for a very long time for at least a couple of thousand years and that storytelling never gets any easier. You can take seminars, you can learn about screenwriting, you can learn about story structure. But typically the people teaching those classes aren't actually making anything themselves. Sometimes it just takes getting down into the trenches and making lots and lots of mistakes and doing things wrong before you can start to do things right. It can be enormously frustrating but it's also enormously rewarding when it all goes well. - And a shout-out to all you female filmmakers out there. Keep on goin', we need more girls in the field.