Friday, February 22, 2008

Dreamworks Guest Lecture

Dreamworks came tonight and gave a lecture on Story and also discussed their story trainee program(only offered to graduating students). So to start things off Dave Pimentel was at CalArts in the early nineties, went onto Disney as an animator(up until Home on the Range), and is now at Dreamworks where he's worked on several of their features, but switched to story instead of animation. He's now the Head of Story on an upcoming project called "How to Train your Dragon" and he's very excited about how it's coming. He structured the lecture around what he called, "The 5 Points of Great Storytelling":

1) Great Character: Every great character has flaws and is very relateable. The audience wants to like them and watch their story. And on a side note, not always under serious circumstances. You need to draw your audience in.
In order to achieve a great character you need to ask yourself the following questions constantly:
-What is the character doing?
-Who is around them? Secondary characters always have some kind of impact on the main character.
-What kind of attitude does the main character have?
-Why are they in their situation?
-How do they feel about it?
-Is there a twist as to who's who or what your character is?
-How do you lead the audience into your story?
He then showed us several examples from various films that showed how they answered all of these questions. Films included-Full Metal Jacket, Some like it Hot, Cast Away, and Happy Gilmore.

2) Great Setups: What's going to happen to the character. Don't just give your story away, allow your audience to guess and put the facts togethers. Every story has a great setup and these bits of information lead the audience down the path of the character's life. They're like sign posts telling the character and audience to watch out or to get ready. Character arcs can be introduced through these setups. The film clip he showed was from Iron Giant when Hogarth is sharing various comic books with the Giant while they're both inside the barn. The setup here is the "Superman" identity and the phrase, "You are who you chose to be."

Next up,
These were together because they go hand in hand. Both drive the story. One cannot exist without the other. Conflict is opposing forces against a character. Tension is the strain or result of the conflict. Story moves through conflict. Thrusts the story forward-a quick example he describe was from Star Wars how Vader kidnaps the princess--if these events hadn't taken place than Luke and co. would have never gone anywhere, everything would have come to a standstill-certainly no conflict or tension. Tension keeps the story interesting and keeps the audience guessing "What's next?" Often times this brings up the scenario where the character might be ahead of the audience(Momento for example) or where the audience is ahead of the main character. Dave Pimentel then shared the clip from The Incredibles when Helen is approaching the island in her jet. That entire sequence is a great example of this. The sequence is chalk full of conflict and tension--even tiny moments, like when Helen is debating about changing into her super-suit holds some kind of conflict. Overall, this sequence was setup by everyone involved to not be easy. Helen just doesn't arrive peacefully onto the island, instead she discovers her kids snuck aboard and later, missals attack the plane while Mr. Incredible helplessly listens to the radio in Syndrome's 'prison'! Basically bringing up the concept that an action, etc. that's too easy=boring to viewers. The other film clip he showed was from The Apartment where the main character is heading up to the boss thinking he's getting a promotion, after facing the boss he realizes that he's in trouble, but in the end there's a twist when the boss offers the trade---Theater tickets for the main character's apartment keys.

And, finally:
5) Payoffs: Every story has them. They can come in positive and negative forms and within the story as well as in the ending. The audience is always expecting a payoff during the movie. They want justice! If you don't, the movie will fizzle and your audience will burn you alive! The film example he shared was again from the Iron Giant, at the end when the army is basically attacking the Giant and then the Giant sacrificing himself for the town..."Superman" choice over "Atomo." The other example he showed was the ending tension in Se7en between the two detectives and the criminal after Morgan Freeman opens the package.

That was the lecture pretty much. It was a good reminder of the lecture Mark Andrews gave at the beginning of the school year and it was cool fitting my film into these questions and points. Anyways, the second talk afterwards was really applied towards the students that were graduating this year and honestly I am impressed. At least for the story trainee program(they didn't talk about the animation department) it sounded like a lot of fun. You get to work on projects they give you from a "vault" that holds the companies rejected ideas. You get this script, re-work a couple sequences, and then pitch your sequences to all of the Directors, Producers, Heads of Story, etc. of Dreamworks at the end of your 24-week job-among other duties like helping on an actual production. Dreamworks also hosts lots of workshops for the artists and everyone who came sounded very enthusiastic about the future projects at Dreamworks(they're really aiming to re-focus the company and work on stronger films that are not that 'Shrek-like' formula-even though they are doing more Shrek sequels.) Well, I'm off to go thumbnail out a scene or two for my film since I get to start animating the second half of my film tomorrow!

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