Lights, Camera, Error: How This Pixar Director Hit His Stride
Career Development Take it from the masters at Pixar—making mistakes isn’t only an unavoidable part of creating; it’s essential to growing and breaking new ground.
The worst thing about being a first-time director—for me that was “Monsters, Inc.”—is that you feel like an idiot. You know the crew has lots of experience, and they’re looking at you saying, “He doesn’t know what he’s doing.” And they’re right.
Unfortunately it’s also the way I felt directing “Inside Out,” my third film. You’d think it would get easier, but it doesn’t. And maybe that’s for the best, because if I knew where I was going when I started, chances are I wouldn’t end up anywhere new. It’s only by getting lost that I’ve ventured off the well-trodden path and into new territory.
Directing “Inside Out,” I made a lot of decisions that turned out to be missteps. Luckily, at Pixar that’s expected. Our entire talented crew is there to support this journey, prepared to have their hard work thrown out as part of the discovery.
Does that make it easier? Maybe. But you still pour your heart and soul into these ideas, and invest a lot of work—of your own, and of other people’s—before discovering they lead to dead ends. That stings.
Peter Sohn, director of “The Good Dinosaur,” is the latest director to experience this pain. There were plenty of us standing by to offer him advice, but you don’t learn what works for your story in a classroom, or from theory. You only truly learn by writing and doing, writing and doing.
Mistakes are what make the process worthwhile. The missteps chip away at your pride, they humiliate, humble and teach you in a deep way.
By the end, both you and the film are deeper for the experience.
When you see “The Good Dinosaur” this fall, I think you’ll join me in thanking Peter for having the guts to charge forward even when the answers weren’t clear. Peter and his crew allowed themselves to make mistakes and learn from them, and the film is richer for it.