[Video] Filmmaker Andrew Stanton Breaks Down Storytelling

Oscar-winning writer Andrew Stanton, who’s credit list includes WALL-E, Toy Story, and Finding Nemo among others, was featured in a recent TEDTalks Video sharing his insights onto storytelling, and what it takes to make them compelling enough to captivate an audience. There is a ton of great information here, and it really does go to show that content is king… You can have the biggest camera and tons of talent, but if your story is lame, no one will watch your stuff! Language in the video is NSFW.

Here is a list of the items he discusses. [via The Digital Naturalist]

1. STORYTELLING IS JOKE TELLING. It's knowing your punchline, your ending, knowing that everything you're saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understandings of who we are as human beings.

2. WE ALL LOVE STORIES. We're born for them.

3. STORIES AFFIRM WHO WE ARE. We all want affirmations that our lives have meaning. And nothing does a greater affirmation than when we connect through stories.

4. STORIES CAN CROSS THE BARRIERS OF TIME, past, present and future, and allow us to experience the simularities between ourselves and through others, real and imagined.

5. "FRANKLY, THERE ISN'T ANYONE YOU COULDN'T LEARN TO LOVE ONCE YOU'VE HEARD THEIR STORY." -a quote Mr. Rogers always kept in his wallet

6. GREATEST STORY COMMANDMENT: MAKE ME CARE. Emotionally, intellectually, aesthetically - just make me care.

7. AT THE BEGINNING, ALL GOOD STORIES SHOULD MAKE A PROMISE TO THE VIEWER THAT THIS STORY WLL LEAD SOMEWHERE THAT'S WORTH THEIR TIME. A well told promise is like a pebble being pulled back in a slingshot and propels you forward through the story to the end.

8. START A STORY LIKE YOU'RE TELLING IT TO SOMEONE AT A BAR: "Here, let me tell you a story. It didn't happen to me, it happened to somebody else, but it's going to be worth your time..."

9. STORYTELLING WITHOUT DIALOGUE IS THE PUREST FORM OF CINEMATIC STORYTELLING. It's the most inclusive approach you can take.

10. WE'RE BORN PROBLEM SOLVERS. We're compelled to deduce and to deduct, because that's what we do in real life. It's this well-organized absence of information that draws us in.

11. THE AUDIENCE ACTUALLY WANTS TO WORK FOR THEIR MEAL. They just don't want to know that they're doing that. Your job as a storyteller is to hide the fact that you're making them work for their meal.

12. THERE'S A REASON THAT WE'RE ALL ATTRACTED TO AN INFANT OR A PUPPY. It's not just that they're damn cute; it's because they can't completely express what they're thinking and what their intentions are. And it's like a magnet. We can't stop ourselves from wanting to complete the sentence and fill it in.

13. THE UNIFYING THEORY OF TWO PLUS TWO. Make the audience put things together. Don't give them four, give them two plus two. The elements you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience.

14. STORYTELLING IS NOT AN EXACT SCIENCE. That's what's so special about stories, they're not a widget, they aren't exact.

15. STORIES ARE INEVITABLE, IF THEY'RE GOOD. But they're not predictable.

16. ALL WELL-DRAWN CHARACTERS HAVE A SPINE. The character has an inner motor, a dominant, unconscious goal that they're striving for, an itch that they can't scratch.

17. CHANGE IS FUNDAMENTAL IN STORY. If things go static, stories die, because life is never static.

18. "DRAMA IS ANTICIPATION MINGLED WITH UNCERTAINTY." -William Archer, British playwright

19. WHEN YOU'RE TELLING A STORY, HAVE YOU CONSTRUCTED ANTICIPATION? In the short-term, have you made me want to know what will happen next? More importantly, have you made me want to know how it will all conclude in the long-term? Have you constructed honest conflicts with truth that creates doubt in what the outcome might be?

20. A STRONG THEME IS ALWAYS RUNNING THROUGH A WELL-TOLD STORY.

21. WHEN CREATING A NARRATIVE, USE WHAT YOU KNOW. Draw from your past. It doesn't always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experience, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core.

22. STORYTELLING HAS GUIDELINES, not hard, fast rules.

23. INVOKING WONDER IS THE MAGIC INGREDIENT, THE SECRET SAUCE. Wonder is honest, it's completely innocent. It can't be artificially evoked. When it's tapped, the affirmation of being alive, it reaches you almost to a cellular level. There's no greater ability than the gift of another human being giving you that feeling-- to hold them still just for a brief moment in their day and have them surrender to wonder.

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5 Comments

Great video and great post! Appreciate the notes included.

gei's picture

Number 24 would be "how to destroy all of the above" with his latest film: John Carter

Benicio Murray's picture

Very unfortunate he used the woeful failure of a movie John Carter as an example

Nicholas's picture

Incredibly moving lesson. And about that "woeful failure of a movie" that was brought up. Absolutely, there are badly made films out there. That said, Directors, Screenwriters, even Actors, have a polarizing view of what is a successful movie than, say, the producers or financiers. A successful movie, in a creative's eyes, is a movie that GOT made. Can we say that yet or ever? I hope so, and should it happen I'd be the last one to call yours a  woeful failure. 

Martin Beebee's picture

Brilliant talk, and nice summary -- think I'll print it out and post it next to my computer.