The Pixar Pitch

Most people start writing their screenplay without clearly defining their story. As a result, they wind up writing a lot of words that don’t work together or lead anywhere. This results in endless drafts that don’t always fix the problem if the screenwriter doesn’t know what he or she is trying to do in the first place. To help condense your story into a single paragraph,┬áDaniel Pink, the author of “To Sell Is Human” suggests using what he calls the Pixar Pitch.

The basic formula that Daniel Pink describes looks like this:

  • Once upon a time _________.
  • Every day, ___________.
  • One day ___________.
  • Because of that, _________.
  • Because of that, _________.
  • Until finally ___________.

Using this format, Daniel Pink outlines the plot for “Finding Nemo” like this:

  • Once upon a time there was a widowed fish named Marlin who was extremely protective of his only son, Nemo.
  • Every day, Marlin warned Nemo of the ocean’s dangers and implored him not to swim far away.
  • One day in an act of defiance, Nemo ignores his father’s warnings and swims into the open water.
  • Because of that, he is captured by a diver and ends up as a pet in the fish tank of a dentist in Sydney.
  • Because of that, Marlin sets off on a journey to recover Nemo, enlisting the help of other sea creatures along the way.
  • Until finally Marlin and Nemo find each other, reunite, and learn that love depends on trust.

If you can condense your story to fit into this Pixar Pitch format, you can get a clearer idea of what your story is about. Don’t worry about the details of your story. Just focus on the big picture and the broad details. Later you can worry about the specifics.

Once you define your story within this Pixar Pitch format, you can gradually go into more and more detail. Remember, it’s always easier to change and modify your story by rewriting or deleting a sentence or two rather than multiple pages of an already written screenplay. Writing your screenplay should be put off as long as possible until your story feels so detailed and defined that you’re literally bursting with the chance to convert your ideas into actual description, dialogue, and action in the screenplay format.

As you write, you’ll actually find details changing but the overall structure of your story should still be sound. You’ll likely never completely outline every detail of your story, so don’t bother. You mainly want to define your story and any subplots so they all make sense and work together. Writing your screenplay is like building a house. You don’t start building a house until you design it first. Likewise, design your story first using guidelines like the Pixar Pitch, and then flesh out the details when it’s time to write your actual screenplay.

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