Pixar continues to make a laughingstock out of the competition with its storytelling skillz.

Genre: Animation Drama/Comedy
Premise: We follow the physical embodiment of an 11 year-old girl’s emotions as her family makes the move from Minnesota to San Francisco.
About: Inside Out may not have taken down Chris Pratt and his dino-pals this weekend, but the animated feature did score a 91 million dollar take, making it the highest grossing original idea… EVER.
Writers: Meg LeFauve & Josh Cooley and Pete Docter (story by Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen)
Details: 94 minutes


One of the reasons Pixar is so successful is that they take chances. Unlike Disney or Dreamworks or Fox Animation, their first thought when coming up with an idea isn’t, “How many toys will it sell?” It’s “How can we write a great story that’s going to move people?” We’re talking about the company that brought the world an 80 year-old protagonist whose wife just died here.

Pixar also puts a ton of stock into feedback. They don’t follow the traditional model of “auteur Russian roulette” which offers a big ego-centric director carte blanche over their movie and whatever he comes up with, he comes up with.

Each draft of a Pixar screenplay is heavily scrutinized by the Pixar brain trust. If something’s not working, they’re going to tell you. And it’s one of the reasons the company has such a good track record. Their screenplays have been put through the ringer.

Inside Out is easily the most ambitious idea Pixar has ever had. Instead of featuring the go-to character groups of humans or animals, Pixar’s replaced them with things that don’t even exist. The movie doesn’t even take place in a realistic environment. It takes place inside someone’s mind, requiring the writers to create an entire new world with a new set of rules.

You’ve never seen anything like it and, outside of its impending sequels, will never see anything like it again. Nobody else would’ve had the balls to make this movie, and that alone is reason to take a closer look.

Inside Out is about an 11 year-old girl, Riley. Well, sorta. That’s another thing about Inside Out. Its main character isn’t really its main character. Its true main character is Joy, the feeling at the center of Riley’s brain. Joy isn’t the only feeling in this control center. There’s Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. This 5-thing group are in charge of making Riley go.


That group meets its most difficult challenge yet when the family unexpectedly moves from the quaint confines of rural Minnesota to the urban closet of San Francisco. Riley loses all her friends and her dearest love, hockey, and it’s up to Joy to keep the group together. For Joy has one goal and one goal only, to keep Riley as happy as possible.

This is where we’re introduced to the biggest risk of all in Inside Out, its mega-complex inner brain workings. There’s a lot going on here but the basic breakdown is that whenever Riley records a memory, it rolls into her “file system” in the form of a sphere that is color-coded based on the emotion associated with it. Joy is yellow, so happy memories come in yellow. Sadness is blue, so sad memories come in blue. Etc., etc.

Riley also has a series of “personality islands” inside her brain, each represented by a physical island we can see. There’s Goofball Island, Hockey Island, Family Island. When Riley acts like a monkey for no reason, for example, Goofball Island lights up excitedly.

Inside Out is about what happens when Riley’s core memories (another rule-set within the mind – basically the most important memories) start turning blue, which has never happened before. When Joy tries to fix this, her and Sadness accidentally get sucked into Riley’s long-term memory (think a never-ending stack of spheres), and must find a way back to the control center.

In the meantime, with only anger, disgust, and fear to guide her, Riley decides that she hates San Francisco and wants to go back to Minnesota. So she secretly buys a bus ticket and sneaks away to the bus station. It’ll be up to Joy (and Sadness) to get back to the control center in time to stop Riley from getting on that bus. The question is, how far will Joy go to save Riley? Will she ditch Sadness? And is eliminating sadness a good thing?


I went into a more detailed breakdown of today’s plot for a reason. This was a HUGE risk taken by Pete Docter and the crew at Pixar. While breaking storytelling rules often hurts a screenplay, it’s how you break the rules that makes your script unique, that differentiates it from everything else. So for that reason, rule-breaking empowers you.

I have no doubt that 99% of the executives outside of Inside Out would’ve told Docter that his screenplay contained too much exposition. It was like the anti-Mad Max: Fury Road (TLDR – George Miller avoids exposition at all costs). There are different emotions, multi-colored sphere memories, core memories, “islands” inside the brain.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that your average contest-reader would’ve laughed Inside Out out of the contest. The first 20 minutes of the movie are dedicated to our characters explaining how the brain works.

So why doesn’t this sink Inside Out? There are a couple of reasons. Those who have read my book may remember my rule for exposition in regards to The Matrix. The Matrix’s huge exposition centric sequence works because the thing that our characters expose is fascinating. The world we’re learning about is cool. And audiences are more open to accepting exposition when they’re rewarded with cool stuff.

Riley’s inner workings aren’t as cool as the secret of the Matrix. But they are pretty fascinating in their own right. I found myself curious how all this memory storage worked and while there was definitely a lot to keep track of, most of it was pretty neat. Where exposition kills your script is when it’s boring. When it’s not fascinating but rather feels like a test – like you’re being asked to remember a set of facts for later.

The second thing is that Inside Out has an “exposition friendly” character explaining how everything works. Exposition-friendly characters are characters who dole out information naturally. It all feels very obvious that this character would be explaining this stuff to us. Joy, who’s been working Riley’s controls for 11 years now, feels like the perfect guide in this scenario. Her telling us what’s going on makes sense.

This wouldn’t have worked as well had you added, say, an invisible narrator – someone whose sole purpose was to dole out exposition. This is the kind of thing that angered moviegoers in films like Blade Runner. Sure, our narrator was our hero, but conveying facts so people knew what he was doing didn’t sound like something that particular character would do. It felt unnatural.

Or, had Docter introduced, say, a therapist for Riley and tried to have the therapist be our window into how the mind worked. Can you imagine trying to fit all the relevant Inside Out exposition into a few therapy scenes? (“So you see, Riley, you have all these different emotions when you live your day-to-day life. There’s ‘Anger,’ there’s ‘Joy,’ there’s, ‘Sadness.’”) .

The point is, readers/viewers sense when you’re struggling to come up with a way to push exposition on them. If you can find an “exposition friendly” character to do that work for you (Ferris Bueller, for example), the exposition will come off invisibly as opposed to obviously. Exposition-heavy movies like Inside Out practically require you to come up with an exposition-friendly character.

One of the mantras I find myself offering more and more to writers when I give them notes is Pixar’s golden screenplay rule: “Simple story, complex characters.” 5 of the last 6 scripts I gave notes on fell into the “Complex story, complex characters” department. For whatever reason, new writers feel that it’s imperative they make their story as complex as possible.

A cursory glance at Inside Out might lead you to the conclusion that this story is complex as well. Like I pointed out, the thing has all these darn rules. In addition to having the control room, you have these islands in Riley’s head, long-term memory, abstract thought, daydreams and nightmares, the fact that we’re cutting between Riley’s brain and Riley’s life all the time.


But I want you to take a step back to see just how simple the story behind Inside Out is. The entire movie takes place in under 72 hours (it might be a little longer, but 72 hours is a good guess). Riley gets to San Francisco Day 1, hates school Day 2, and decides to go back to Minnesota on Day 3.

Then, inside Riley’s brain, we have a very simple GSU model pushing the story forward. The GOAL is for Joy to get back to the control center. The STAKES are the dangers of Riley heading out into the world on her own. And the URGENCY is that the bus leaves in a few hours. If Joy (and Sadness) don’t get to the control center quickly, Riley will be off to Minnesota.

I can’t stress the importance of this choice enough. Docter and the Pixar Crew realized that they were already asking a ton from their audience to sit through this very complex explanation of how the brain works. They knew if they then came up with some super complex storyline that lasted six months or something, it would’ve been too much for the audience to handle.

And I commend them for that because one viewing of Inside Out and you can tell they wanted this to be a lot bigger. This was originally meant to be a film about a girl entering puberty and all the complex emotions that come along with it and how do you deal with those emotions. But it looks like the Pixar Brain trust made Docter aware that if he went down that road, he was going to be biting off more than he could chew.

I have no doubt the subsequent drafts kept simplifying the storyline, cutting the timeline down again and again until it was only a few days long. And this led to the only real “knock” against Inside Out, which is that the physical character of Riley doesn’t go through all that much.

Since we only have a couple of days with her, her emotional breakdown is bare-bones. She kind of pouts and then decides to go back to Minnesota. But this was the right choice and it’s one of the hardest things about writing screenplays – is recognizing when your story is too ambitious for the medium and that you have to dial it back to make it work.

And that’s the reason Pixar is so good at what they do. They recognize these things and make the relevant changes so that the story works.

[ ] what the hell did I just watch?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[ ] worth the price of admission
[x] Arclight prices impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: For a new writer, this has to be confusing. You read about Mad Max: Fury Road, and the celebration behind its minimalist exposition. Then you hear about Inside Out, which has more exposition in it than all of the Harry Potter films combined. Which one is right? Neither. Every story has its own exposition requirements. It’s something that should be taken into consideration before every movie you write. “Is this going to be an exposition challenge?” If you come up with an idea that requires a ton of exposition, then you better have a plan for how to include that exposition that doesn’t grind your screenplay to a halt. However, once you commit to an idea, commit to its exposition. If something requires a lot of exposition and you try to pull a George Miller: Fury Road (boil 15 pages of exposition into 1), you’re going to have a lot of confused readers because you’ve excluded a ton of information required to understand the story. A script’s exposition requirements are a script’s exposition requirements. Minimize as much as you can, but make sure to include every piece of info the audience needs to understand the story. You can see the value of that approach here in Inside Out.

  • Poe_Serling

    Thanks for the review, Carson.

    [x] Arclight prices impressive… that is quite the recommendation considering how much that particular theater charges for admission.

    • Scott Crawford

      I paid £11.54 to see JURASSIC WORLD at my local cinema (just outside London). That’s $18.25 at today’s prices.

      I’ve paid up to $27 at the Odeon in London’s Leicester Square.

    • jw

      Sorry, but Arclight takes the cake when it comes to theaters in So Cal, and trust me, I’ve been to them all. Sometimes a film won’t be playing at a time I can see it at Arclight and I end up walking out of another theater wondering why the hell I even tried — over-run by kids and screaming babies during the film, step on to the escalator only to realize it’s chalked with sticky spilled soda and popcorn, look at the line to get in and it’s 40 deep, with only 3 people standing in front of the electronic ticketing machines (what is with that?), and the size of the screens vary so much it can be fairly ridiculous. Arclight gets my money from here on out.

      • Poe_Serling

        That’s funny… I’m the direct opposite. I avoid the Arclight because I feel it’s totally overpriced and I don’t like the vibe of the crowd that usually attends the showings there.

        But that’s just me.

        • jw

          I don’t know where you live, but if you get a chance to go to Arclight Beach Cities, to me I haven’t found one better! Of course, that’s my stomping ground, so proximity has a bit to do with it! But, I also have about 3 theaters within 10 minutes of me, so there’s still a bit of choice there.

          • Poe_Serling

            El Segundo, CA… yeah, that would be a 40 minute drive for me. The one I was talking about is on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.

          • jw

            Aha! I can imagine that being an ‘interesting’ experience. I was just up there the other night for the Defiance soundtrack party, for which a friend is one of the main singers, and it was hilarious watching the people go by and stare through the window like everyone inside was wall art. Also interesting was the homeless man who slipped through security and started eating the pastries! ahahah It’s definitely a place you could sit for hours and just collect characters!

        • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

          I go to the cheapest theatres I can find lol which just happens to be $7.25 matinee in North Hills… $10 after 4. And I only live 2 miles away.

          Universal also has an 8 dollar matinee. I won’t go to the movies during peak times, unless it’s with a group of people. Most movies aren’t worth 15, 16 bucks.

          As long as the people are quiet, the place clean, and price within reason… that’s all I care about.

          And there was a huge line for Inside Out. That’s one you need to watch a week or two later so you’re not trying to see over people’s heads.

          • Poe_Serling

            I’m quite familiar with the theaters up in that neck of the woods, especially the Century 8.

            Also, if I feel a bit adventurous, I drive up here ( only 20-25 minutes from LA depending on where you live) and catch a couple of movies for three bucks and some change:


            A great place to see those ‘I’m a bit interested in’ films. For me, things like Poltergeist, Unfriended, etc.

          • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1888937/ Rick McGovern

            I used to be able to get into Century 8 for free with my SAG card. But now every other entertainment union but mine can get in for free lol but that was a couple years ago, so they might not allow any Union to go now. Maybe when I get my WGA card ;)

            There seems to be enough LA writers here on SS… we should do a SS get together for those who live out here.

      • Randy Williams

        There’s a magic for me, to going to the movies in Los Angeles. It’s like going to an auto showroom in Detroit, buying butter in Wisconsin. You know it’s homegrown. Those around you churned it.

        • Scott Crawford

          Nicely put, Randy.

  • Randy Williams

    There’s been several TV commercials down through the years that have employed this characters in our head device. I often think creative minds in advertising are always one step ahead of us.

  • GoIrish

    Conceptually, it reminds me of the Fox sitcom Herman’s Head (featuring Hank Azaria and Yeardley Smith).

  • Scott Crawford

    Jurassic World – Fastest movie to $400 million.
    Inside Out – Second-highest Pixar opening.
    Dope – $3,000 per screen average – barely above the “Mendoza Line” ($2,000 per).
    Entourage – What happened? I thought this was going to be, like, HUGE!

  • jw

    I only met Meg once, but let me be extra clear here that you only need to meet her once to understand her brilliance. Would love to be surprised by success touching her hands, but really I’m not. Spent a solid majority of her entertainment career sitting next to Jodie Foster, and I’d have to imagine that is a dream-and-a-half. Pixar’s success is amazing.
    I have to say I’m honestly surprised though that Carson didn’t take on the new season of True Detective, or as I have renamed it, True Cliché. I’ll leave it up to you guys to tell me how horrible the remaining episodes are because I won’t watch it again. What a joke.

  • Scott Crawford

    Something I don’t think that’s been mentioned is that INSIDE OUT is (at least in part) based on the original idea Pete Doctor had before he did MONSTERS, INC. about a man and the voices in his head (which would be represented as different characters).

    Speaking to Jeff Goldsmith after a screening of UP, Doctor explained that the rest of the Pixar team didn’t really get the idea… though as he explained it to Goldsmith, he admitted he still thought it was a good idea.

    Reminds me of George Meyer pitching The Simpsons staff in an early season a story about Homer having Carlos Castaneda-like hallucinations after eating a really-hot chili. The idea was rejected – then – but picked up for season 8.


    Some ideas may need to wait…

    • Scott Strybos

      I listened to the same podcast with Jeff Goldsmith and Pete Docter. I don’t know if we are talking about the same story idea, same part of the interview, but what I liked was not an idea he had before Monsters Inc., but the original ptch for Monsters Inc.

      a 30-year-old man dealing with monsters that he drew in a book as a child coming back to bother him as an adult. Each monster represented a fear he had, and conquering those fears caused the monsters eventually to disappear

      He then describes how bittersweet it was to see the monsters go because he became friends with them.

      Even the idea’s PIXAR throws away are gold.

      • Scott Crawford

        Yes, I think that was the original idea… not EXACTLY the same as IO, but near-as-a-toucher. Point is, sometimes you need to let an idea stew until you have a better take on it.

    • Buddy

      one of my favorite episodes !

  • IgorWasTaken

    Here’s the logline from Feb 2011 when

  • S_P_1


    I have not seen this movie YET.

    Minus the review and the famous Pixar storytelling rules. Honestly what are the chances of a CGI animated kids movie not doing well?

    You have appealing commercialized caricatures, common place story, and a deficit of family friendly features that’s routinely filled by animations or live animal adventures. This movie seems very similar to Mr. Peabody & Sherman.

    Honestly CGI animated movies are in the same category as low budget horror you have a 90% chance to double your ROI.

    This is a list of the top ten animated failures. Out of those ten only three were actually CGI animation. I don’t consider CGI assisted scenes with traditional cel-shading a CGI film.

    The HUGE house advantage animated studios have is for the most part everything is in house development. Animators can basically storyboard a number of scenes and set designs and have a writer adlib in the dialogue.

    The only TRUE risk takers are foreign animation studios. The diversity of characters, themes, and story tend to be more mature versus more commercial. No Pixar movie to date has been a risk to their bottom line or otherwise. Pixar also stays in the black by routine layoff’s or downsizing of it’s animation staff.

    I’m sure this movie is entertaining, but for the most part I see it as predictable.

    • gregthegreg

      Okay. What?

      Just go see the movie. It has great characters, great moments, and a great story. Plus very very original visual representations of what goes on in the human brain.

      Go see the movie and then we can have a conversation about it being predictable.

      • wlubake

        I think he means the box office success is predictable.

        That said, I wondered about this one. And certainly feel it is limited on the merchandise side.

        To me the biggest surprise from the movie is that Pixar is releasing another movie this year (The Good Dinosaur). Two original properties in 1 year is a first for them. Hope they don’t get watered down, though Inside Out doesn’t show signs of that.

        • Scott Crawford

          Finding Dory got delayed to next year, so… no Pixar film last year but two this year? It’s confusing.

  • IgorWasTaken

    Here’s the logline from 2011 when Michael Arndt was listed as the writer –


    As Riley moves from the Midwest to San Francisco the personified emotions headquartered in her brain–Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust–struggle to cope with the changes. But when Joy and Sadness get lost deep in Riley’s mind, the other three emotions lose control of the situation.

  • S_P_1

    I not sure how original the concept for this movie is. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychonauts

    • wlubake
    • http://soundcloud.com/the-colonel-mc The Colonel

      Who cares? This movie is revelation inside a triumph wrapped in a warm flour tortilla and served with a side of ecstasy.

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    Carson, your review FAILED to address the ONE concern I have about this movie: is it fit for young children to watch, or is it too sophisitcated for kids and is really an adult cartoon in desguise?

    My 7-year-old nephew wants me to take him to see this movie. I haven’t seen it yet and wasn’t planning on seeing it, but Obo (my nic-name for my 7-year-old nephew–as that was the first world I ever heard him speak as a baby) has expressed the desire to see this movie–and he wants me to be the one who takes him!

    Anywho, I just wanted your opinion and those of Scriptshaddow nation who have seen this movie, to comment whether or not they think it’s a suitable movie for LITTLE KIDS to watch.


    E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

    • IgorWasTaken

      Just keep in mind that some “sophisticated” movies for adults still work for kids, just on a different level. For example, consider the opening sequence of “Up”.

    • wlubake

      I took my 5 year old and my 3 year old for father’s day. This movie works for kids in that it has adventure elements (Joy trying to get back) and comedic elements (mostly the motley crew of emotions – particularly when we jump heads to see mom and dad’s emotions). My kids had a blast.

      My son (the 5 year old) picked up on some of the emotional stuff. He reacted to sad moments, but only about 25% of them. These are sad moments common to kid’s movies (SEMI SPOILER – like when a character sacrifices him/herself).

      There is a whole other emotional level that will likely just affect adults. This is the sadness of seeing a child grow up and lose some of her innocence. There is this canyon where memories go to be forgotten. I’ll admit I got a little choked up watching things that define my kids today go into that canyon for an 11-year old. It certainly reminds you as a parent how temporary certain things are about your kids. This stuff was completely lost on my kids. It felt like a much heavier movie to my wife and I than it did to them.

      For comparison – my kids love Big Hero 6. It is scarier, but also has some heavy emotional elements too (SEMI SPOILER – people die in Big Hero 6). That weighed heavier on my son than did Inside Out.

      Hope this rambling helps!

      • Randy Williams

        Interesting about the memory canyon. As someone who always surprises people with my memory, it bothers me a great deal that there is a portion of my life where I don’t remember anything.

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Helps a lot, wlubake! Thanks for taking the time to respond to me post.

    • Elizabeth Barilleaux

      I went to see this with my 10 year-old daughter; my 7 year-old son is going to see it today with his dad. It is a fantastic movie and entirely appropriate for children. It’s already sparked a lot of conversation in our house about emotions, which (in my part of the world) don’t get discussed nearly enough. Human beings – kid and adult – hold a lot in (with the exception of internet chat rooms) out of fear of rejection or ridicule. In particular we repress our sadness, which leads to depression. This movie breaks that idea wide open – that it is absolutely necessary to acknowledge sadness and live with it a bit before we can move on. Hope you and Obo have a good time and lots of good conversation!

      • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

        Thanks for the reply, Elizabeth. Great review, you’re a real sweetheart.

  • carsonreeves1

    It’s a little dark. That’s the only thing I’d worry about. Although I’m not an expert in these matters. :)

  • Scott Crawford

  • harveywilkinson

    This review should have started with paragraph six. The first five paragraphs are full of a bunch of nonsense, pseudo-industry insider speculation that the writer doesn’t and/or cannot know and/or just gets wrong.

    PIXAR doesn’t care about merchandising? Umm have you seen CARS 2? Yes, the sequel to CARS, which did something like 6 billion in merchandising sales. THE INCREDIBLES and the whole TOY STORY and CARS franchising are merchandising bonanzas.

    It’s rampart speculation to assert that no one at Pixar cared about merchandising while developing those projects, just as it is rampant speculation to assume that the other major animation studios START their creative process by discussing merchandising. I don’t see any clear merchandizing motivation driving for instance THE CROODS or PENGUINS OF MADAGASCAR, just glancing at a few titles — I doubt a few money-hungry executives greenlit these movies because they were excited about marketing penguin or cave people merchandise to kids.

    20th Century Fox Animation and DreamWorks Animation both want to create rich characters and tell amazing stories, and Pixar wants to sell billions of dollars of toys and lunch boxes. They’re all basically trying to do the same thing. I don’t see the point of speculating about movies based on the end product.

    And Pixar doesn’t play “auteur Russian roulette?” Umm, which major animation studio does? None of them do. Cite the giant animation flops from the major animation studios that were auteur-driven. None of them were. The nature of animation itself somewhat precludes the thriving of auteurs. Perhaps the closest thing to an auteur in American animation is Brad Bird, who incidentally makes Pixar movies.

    And Dreamworks Animation scripts aren’t “put through the ringer?” Of course they are. All scripts from the major animation studios are put through the ringer and then some. Pixar may be better at intensive story development than the other animation studios but it’s not because the others aren’t doing it.

    And INSIDE OUT is”easily” the most ambitious idea from Pixar? More ambitious than a surrealist art film about a robotic trash collector that has virtually no dialogue?

    Sorry don’t mean to be a grumpy cat, I just don’t get the point of this pseudo industry-insider commentary that’s not really insider and not really accurate. The review could have started on paragraph six and been the stronger for it.

    • Scott Crawford

      Some interesting points.

      1). Merchandising: Can’t disagree with you there. It’s a bit all over the place, some films merchandise, some don’t:


      CARS and FROZEN I would say are rare. But then, what kid doesn’t like cars or princesses?

      2). Auteurs: Ron Clements and John Musker… after three big hits, Treasure Planet – one of the biggest flops of all time.

      Henry Selick – Critically-lauded and then… Monkeybone, huge flop.

      John Lasseter threw away an early version of Toy Story 2 because it wasn’t good enough, got Disney to do the same with Rapunzel (Tangled as it became). Pixar know when something isn’t good enough.

      3). Idea not as ambitious as Wall-E? Well, that’s just a conflict of opinions.

    • martin_basrawy

      This. A 100x this.
      I understand that Carson, like most everyone with an internet connection, has opinions on what happens in Hollywood. But it’s just unnecessary on a screenwriting blog. Keep it to twitter or start a separate blog specifically to discuss box office and studio happenings, etc. It’s the same thing when Carson started doing the “who’s hot this month and who’s not” (exact title?) feature in the newsletter. It’s like, what is the point of that? Other than a lot of “amirite” type speculation? Like, “this guy’s movie tanked this weekend, the studio will now back away from him, amirite?”
      I greatly enjoy SS, but a stricter focus on screenwriting rather than behind-the-scenes stuff (which most of us already know about from other sources on the internet) would be better.
      Just my 2 cents.

  • carsonreeves1

    Yeah, the imaginary friend wagon scene was a true tear-jerker.

    • LostAndConfused

      That scene had me crying so much. Haven’t been that emotionally moved in a movie in a while.

  • Scott Crawford

    Yeah, erm, I think that’s about the eighth time you’ve said that. We get it, you didn’t like the most successful of the year. We get it.

  • http://insideechenrysbrain.typepad.com/inside_the_brain_of_ec_he/ E.C. Henry

    Carson is THE MAN. He never fails me. Disappoints me… yes. But fails me, never.

  • Scott Crawford
  • S D

    I like the “simple story, complex characters” advice. I wonder, though, how one reconciles that guiding principle with the need to generate a high-concept premise to stand out. I guess perhaps the story/plot engine can remain simple while the world building is complex and the concept is big. So, in Inside Out, you have a simple plot engine about getting back to a location (a road movie in effect), set in the (high concept) world of the mind, wherein there is a lot of fun world building (islands of personality, imagination land, etc.).

    Applying that same analysis to Jurassic Park, you have a simple plot engine of surviving when monsters attacks, but the concept is high because the monsters are dinosaurs, and the world building is complex because you have interesting exposition about dino DNA from mosquitoes in amber, cloning, an amusement park with complex security, etc.

    So, perhaps the mantra should instead be “simple plot engine, complex characters in high-concept arena.”

  • fragglewriter

    I love cartoons but after I watched the trailer, I didn’t think Inside Out was funny, but based on your review, it seems that the trailer didn’t want to give away too much of the story, which is tough.

  • Levres de Sang

    Thanks for a great review today, Carson!

    I’m still poking around with old VHS tapes so at current big-ticket prices I’m unlikely to see INSIDE OUT anytime soon, but that’s not the point: from the importance of taking chances to the secrets of exposition and GSU models, today’s article provides us with some wonderful scriptwriting advice. And my favourite: “… one of the hardest things about writing screenplays — is recognizing when your story is too ambitious for the medium…” I suspect most of us fall so deeply into the whirlpool of our own projects that such out-of-body recognition becomes a near impossibility.

    Either way, if Carson can get all this from just ONE film (albeit Pixar) then it serves as a reminder that WATCHING zillions of them is the best screenwriting education you can give yourself — alongside SS, of course! ;)

    • Poe_Serling

      “I’m still poking around with old VHS tapes…”

      How many VHS tapes do you have in your collection? Are there certain ones that you watch time and again?

      • Levres de Sang

        I’ve never owned that many VHS titles, but after a lot of years of not watching them at all (and, like yourself, replacing favourites with DVD editions) I’ve been rediscovering one or two of late — or realising that I’ve actually still got stuff like Spirit of the Beehive that we mentioned over the weekend.

        I’d say my VHS collection is split between bought titles (which tends to be European auteur stuff issued in the original aspect ratio); and recordings made directly from the TV. The former contains one or two titles still unavailable on DVD, while the latter feels quite nostalgic because they really do represent some of my very favourite films: the Val Lewton pictures, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Shanghai Express and the original theatrical version of Picnic at Hanging Rock (the version that was always shown before Peter Weir’s travesty of a director’s cut!)

        Not sure there’s anything I watch “time and again”, but the opening sequence to Argento’s Suspiria is a real favourite of mine! (That particular VHS is quite rare I believe and I probably wouldn’t part with it even if I did upgrade to blu-ray at some point in the near future.)

        • Poe_Serling

          Picnic at Hanging Rock is a must-see in my book. I own the Criterion version that states it is the “DIRECTOR-APPROVED EDITION.” So, I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the original theatrical version.

          My favorite description of Weir’s film was buried in an film essay by Vincent Canby:

          ” Horror need not always be a long-fanged gentleman in evening
          clothes or a dismembered corpse or a doctor who keeps a brain in his gold fish bowl. It may be a warm sunny day, the innocence of girlhood and hints of unexplored sexuality that combine to produce a euphoria so intense it becomes transporting, a state beyond life or death. Such horror is unspeakable not because it is gruesome but because it remains outside the realm of things that can be easily defined or explained in conventional ways.”

          • Levres de Sang

            Yes, that quote really captures the atmosphere of it all. I also once saw it likened to “a modern-day Val Lewton film”.

            I don’t own the Criterion edition, but do know it’s meant to look amazing. Anyway, please accept my apologies if I’ve put any doubt in your mind as to the different versions out there. Just that for many years it was my Number 1 film… and so I was genuinely devastated upon realising that Weir had actually SHORTENED the running time.

            For me, this shorter version feels like it’s become “Sarah’s Story” (the girl who doesn’t go on the picnic) — whereas in the longer version she’s less prominent and the languid second half is more about Michael and Irma. Even the actress who plays Miranda (on the R2 edition I own) says Weir was wrong to do it; that she knew of so many people who were disappointed to find their favourite scenes had gone.

            It just goes to show how powerfully film can interact with memory…

          • Poe_Serling

            “Anyway, please accept my apologies if I’ve put any doubt in your mind as to the different versions out there.”

            I’m not really a stickler for that kind of stuff; in fact, I’ve even enjoyed all 92 versions of Blade Runner that have surfaced over the years since its initial release. ;-)

          • pmlove

            Have either of you seen the recent British film The Falling? It’s supposed to be of a similar ilk to Picnic (I haven’t seen either).

          • Poe_Serling

            The Falling

            “It’s 1969 at a strict English girls’ school where charismatic Abbie and
            intense and troubled Lydia are best friends. After a tragedy occurs at
            the school, a mysterious fainting epidemic breaks out threatening the
            stability of all involved.”

            This one really slipped under my radar. Thanks for pointing it out. I definitely put it on my to-watch list.

            And you’re right – it does sound like it’s in the same vein as Picnic at Hanging Rock.

          • pmlove

            I hope it’s good! Picnic has been on my to do list for a while.

          • Levres de Sang

            No… And I’d never even heard of it until you mentioned it. Many thanks for doing so as it does sound intriguing from the synopsis Poe has posted below.

        • brenkilco

          Criterion should get on the stick and put out a bluray of Shanghai Express.

          • Levres de Sang

            You’re right. Lee Garmes’ cinematography is just made for the format.

      • Eddie Panta

        I had a ridiculous vhs collection in the late 90’s, lost count, over a thousand, mostly big box horror titles, some extremely rare. The video labels that are collectible are Monterey, Continental, Wizard Video, Unicorn, Thriller video, Mogul Comm. Prism. Horror tapes that are still new/sealed go for a lot.
        A good condition Rental tape of Demon Queen goes from over $500.00.
        I sold all of my collection to Mr,Skin in Chicago. He’s got the craziest movie collection in the world. When he first started, it was all VHS!

        • Poe_Serling

          When I was younger, I had a couple of friends that worked in a video store and they had hundreds of VHS tapes in their respective collections – most of them were screeners that companies would send out in advance to drum up business for their pre-order sales.

          I sorta remember that Prism was king of the erotic thrillers from that particular era.

  • Scott Crawford

    OT: Check Out These 10 Parody Movie Posters From ‘Me And Earl And The Dying Girl’


  • Scott Crawford

    I’ll keep counting! (Glad to hear you loved Inside Out).

  • Midnight Luck

    Looks great, can’t wait to see it tomorrow.
    Loved WALL-E and UP, and this is in that kind of realm, so I think it will be fun and amazing.

  • Mahoney

    So much screenwriting porn in this movie…

  • charliesb


    It seems I’m always going off topic these days, but since I know Carson isn’t going to watch it or review it I needed to carve out a little space to talk about the first bit of last night’s premiere. SPOILERS OBVIOUSLY – though they are mostly character spoilers.

    So the first scene is Colin Ferrell (Ray) sitting in a car in front of a school with a chubby red haired kid. We learn that the kid is Ray’s son Chad and that he’s a little anxious to go to school. We also figure out that they don’t get to spend a lot of time together, since The Divorce and that Ray seems to be trying to make up for that by purchasing his kid a pair of expensive kicks.

    Right off the bat, it seems a little cliche and awkward. Separated parents, chubby bullied kid, plus you’re looking at this fair skinned red headed kid and thinking that this is some of the worst casting, there is no way this kid is Ray’s….

    Then we cut to the next scene, which btw is framed exactly the way Rust’s interview scenes were in the first season. Ray is sitting with his lawyer and she’s asking him questions about why he’s suing for more visitation rights with his son. This scene was so perfect, this is the type of writing I applaud when I see it, and strive so hard to achieve in my own work. Writing that subverts expectations.

    Every one of those points that I brought up – it being cliche, it feeling awkward, the bad casting – is addressed. It turns out that Ray’s wife was raped, and that they don’t know for sure if the child is his. There are suggestions of infertility, abandonment and possible drug use. His awkwardness comes from the fact that deep inside he doesn’t think Chad’s his son. He’s trying just as hard to convince himself as he is the attorney that the kid is his no matter what and that he loves him. (There’s a scene later on in the episode that definitely calls that love into question).

    And then the attorney asks him if there is anything is his past that might come up and hamper his case. We flash back to the past where Ray (looking a lot more put together) is shown a picture of the person who we are told raped his wife. But the suspect doesn’t look like Ray’s son either, and in fact there is another man in the room with the exact hair and skin tone of the boy – odd right?! And because we haven’t been shown the boys mother, we are left with even more questions.

    I LOVED the first few scenes of this episode. The rest was hit and miss. Pretty much everything with Ferrell was great, and everything else not as much.

    Anyone else catch it? What did you think?

  • Midnight Luck


    We’re sad to confirm that film composer James Horner died in a plane crash near Santa Barbara. He was 61 years old. Rest in peace. http://imdb.to/1e0GpL1

    • Scott Crawford

      Just heard about this an I’m incredibly upset. One of my favorite composers.

  • Buddy

    seen on internet

  • Poe_Serling

    What I Learned: “Every story has its own exposition requirements. It’s something that
    should be taken into consideration before every movie you write. “Is this going to be an exposition challenge?” If you come up with an idea that requires a ton of exposition, then you better have a plan for how to include that exposition that doesn’t grind your screenplay to a halt.”

    Here’s legendary screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s take on the subject:

    “One of the most important feats in screenwriting is to convey exposition not only without it appearing to be exposition, but also without wearing the audience out, and there’s a limit to how much you can do in one long, sitting-down scene. One of the tricks is to have the
    exposition conveyed in a scene of conflict, so that a character is forced to say things you want the audience to know–as, for example, if he is defending himself against somebody’s attack, his words of defense seem justified even though his words are actually expository words. Something appears to be happening, so the audience believes it is witnessing a scene (which it is), not listening to expository speeches.”

    –Courtesy of Go Into The Story.

    • Gregory Mandarano

      What if the exposition serves no purpose plot wise, and is only a tool to better understand the character? Is it then technically no longer exposition?

      • Scott Crawford

        From First Blood:

        “You’re dealing with an expert in guerrilla warfare. With a man who’s the best. With guns, with knives, with his bare hands. An man who was trained to ignore pain, ignore weather. To live off the land… to eat things that would make a billy goat puke. In Vietnam, his job was to dispose of enemy personnel, to kill… period. Win by attrition.”

        It’s exposition, but it’s relevant. And fun.

        In my opinion, character should be revealed more through action and less through dialogue.

        There’s a long, LONG scene in Fatal Beauty where Whoopi Goldberg explains her thoughts, feelings, backstory, etc. to Sam Elliot. I believe this scene was added when Cher was attached to star, but it stands out like… a long speech in an action comedy.

      • Poe_Serling

        Another good ? – I guess it all depends on one’s definition of exposition and how it is inserted within the framework of the story being told.

    • brenkilco

      I think Hitchcock’s Family Plot was Lehman’s last credit. And it kicks off with an extraordinarily long expository scene. Just goes no forever. There’s a bit of phony sceancing but really it’s just two actresses sitting there and yacking. Doling out great gobs of necessary plot info without much effort to conceal it and certainly nothing much in the way of conflict. The actresses are very good so it isn’t dull. But I’ve always wondered why Hitchcock and Lehman did it that way.

      • Poe_Serling

        “…Family Plot … it kicks off with an extraordinarily long expository scene… But I’ve always wondered why Hitchcock and Lehman did it that way.”

        That would have been a great ? for both Hitchcock and Lehman to answer. When I spoke with Lehman, it was mostly general chitchat about working with Hitch and their last project together – The Short Night.

  • Malibo Jackk

    What day is it?

  • Casper Chris

    Wow, I’m dying to watch this now. Love the creativity. Don’t mind a bit of exposition, if I get this kind of creativity in return. Same reason I loved The Matrix, Inception etc.

  • Elizabeth Barilleaux

    Great review! Andrew Stanton of Pixar gave a really illuminating TED talk about the elements of story which I refer to often. Just for giggles, I keep playing around to find a working analogy for the elusive process of good story writing/telling. My closest ones to date involve organic systems – seeds, babies and lots of digestive comparisons. At the end of the day, it always comes back around to “whatever serves the story” which is one of the most damnably frustrating (and freeing) concepts to absorb. As much as I appreciate your reviews, insight and advice, I was wondering if there has ever been a forum here about other materials (books/videos/websites/seminars) that writers find most helpful (or useless) in guiding their work? I’ve found a few worthwhile (for me) sources, but I sometimes feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time wading through repetitive crap. My sister pointed out to me that the people who consistently got rich from the Gold Rush weren’t the actual miners, but the folks who sold the shovels. I don’t mind paying for good tools, I’d just like to know where to find them.