Revisions the Pixar way: Part Two by Max Brace

In Part One of "Revisions the Pixar Way," Max offered advice on how to gather constructive notes for revising your script. So how do you put them to good use? Max offers his expertise on next steps.

Culling through the notes

After you’ve gathered all of this useful information, it’s time to sift through it all, looking for trends and consensus. If a reader’s note jives with your taste and fits into your story, by all means use it, but also look at where most of the notes are coming from. For example, if you’re writing a thriller, and everyone is enamored with the love story, maybe you should change genres….or not. It’s all up to you. If twenty people hate what happens on page thirty-five, maybe you should take a hard look at what’s happening there, or maybe it’s a moment that needs to be set up earlier in your story.

Notecards and Sharpies

Next step is to go out and buy a corkboard, notecards (preferably multi-colored), some push pins, and a pack of Sharpies. It’s time to take your first draft and break it down into sequences and beats. Your script should break down to between 20 to 30 sequences, which represent the major moments of your feature screenplay. Create a short title for each sequence (even if it just says: They Fall in Love), and then write the beats for each sequence—the list of events that take you from the beginning of the scene to the end.

The benefit of using the notecards is that now you can move and/or remove sequences and look at the story without getting bogged down in details of the written page or parts you’ve fallen in love with but are no longer relevant to your story. It’s like a roadmap of your screenplay.

Now you can pull out all of those story structure books and analyze your script. Can you locate the first act break? What is the climax of the film? What is the inciting incident? Once you start tracking all of these tent-pole moments, you can start to see the structure of your film. Does your act one break happen on page 50? Maybe that’s too far into your screenplay, and the reader is getting bored early on. You may notice that your protagonist is too passive in the story, or maybe you’ve created the most perfectly structured screenplay, which sits there tediously checking off plot points with nothing entertaining happening. Whatever it is, you can now look at the whole of your story instead of the individual pages.

Use the notecards to write out new beats and new sequences. Add different colored cards to represent plot points, another for character beats. If a piece of dialogue comes to mind, jot it down before it’s forgotten. This is a quick way to write up and test ideas and you can quickly discard them if they don’t fit.

Once you’ve gone over your story sequence by sequence, beat by beat, you now have a roadmap to start on your second draft and the whole process repeats itself, until you have a script that everyone is dying to get their hands on to read.

There are many ways to do a re-write, and you may find one that works better for you. At Pixar, the belief is that a group of talented, passionate people solving story problems makes a huge difference.

Good luck and happy re-writing!

Max Brace has been a storyboard artist at Pixar Animation studios for fifteen years, having boarded on many films, including Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, and WALL-E. He is currently working on the feature Brave, set to release in summer 2012.