Telling a Story from the Inside Out

Hi, I’m Michael. This is Lessons from the Screenplay. A popular piece of advice for writers is to “write
what you know.” While I do think a story’s emotional authenticity
comes from the storyteller’s own experience, I don’t like the stagnation this phrase
encourages. Instead, I prefer: “write what you want
to know.” Because, in many ways, a story is as much a journey for the person writing it as it is for the characters in it. Such was the case for Pixar’s “Inside Out.” It took their team a lot of introspection
to arrive at the emotional truth that is the core of their story. So today I want to look at the process of
writing this film. To examine how creating some of its most powerful
moments required the writers to explore vulnerable
places within their own psychology. And show how trying to answer a simple question
can lead to the discovery of a creative premise and an emotionally honest theme. Let’s take a look at “Inside Out.” In my previous video I talked about how character
arc should be an expression of the story’s theme. But as a writer, how do you find the theme
you want to explore? Often, it can help to think about it in the
form of a question you want answered. For example, the question that led to “Inside
Out” came when the film’s director, Pete Docter, noticed something about his daughter. According to Meg LeFauve, who wrote “Inside
Out” with Pete Docter: “The director, he had a daughter.” “And she was so happy all the time, and was
so joyful.” “And then she turned eleven.” “And suddenly she was quiet and she wasn’t
smiling…” “And he sat at breakfast and he wondered,
‘What happened to joy?'” “And then he thought: I’m going to make
a move about that.” From this question, he came up with the idea
of the story taking place in the mind of a young girl and having her emotions being characters in
the film. But asking the question is only the beginning. The theme is expressed when you answer it. To answer the question “What happened to joy?” they needed to figure out the protagonists’s character arc, which required asking even more questions. “We always want to answer the same questions
for any movie that we start.” “What does the character want?” “What does the character need?” They quickly decided that Joy’s want is
for Riley to be happy. But figuring out her need proved more difficult. The writers realized that pairing her up with
someone would help express her need, so they partnered Joy with Fear. Joy: “Stop!” “You have caused enough trouble.” But the lessons she learned while on the journey
with Fear didn’t seem to answer the question. “Pete Docter, the director, says that when
he was an adolescent he was mostly afraid.” “So he wanted to explore fear.” “But his problem was that when they got back
up to headquarters, he didn’t know what he wanted to say about fear.” This is one of the many reasons the writing
process is so difficult. This question came from Pete Docter’s personal
life, so I’m sure it seemed logical to try to answer
it based on his own experience growing up with fear. But sometimes the right answer requires uncomfortable
self-reflection. “Hi. Pete here. I’m out walking in the woods because I’m
stressed.” Realizing that the film wasn’t working,
Pete Docter took a walk in the woods, allowed himself to be vulnerable, and started asking himself some questions. “I started thinking, ‘Ok, what if I lost everything. What would mean something to me?'” “And like most of us, I think, the answer
is relationships.” “The people that really mean something deeply
are those that I have cried with, that I’ve been pissed off at, that I’ve
experienced fear with.” “It’s all the aspects of emotions that bond
us together.” And only then was he able to finally figure
out the answer to his original question. “So that gives me this idea.” “That maybe joy, as much as we all want it
in our lives, is not the answer.” “The answer is actually sadness.” And now that he had the answer, Joy had a
character arc and the film had a theme. As much as Joy wants everything to be happy
all the time, to have healthy relationships she needs to embrace sadness. So how do you bring the audience along on
this journey? The first step is to bring them into
Joy’s point of view. In order for the audience to discover Sadness
the same way that Joy does, they have to be able to empathize with Joy’s
beliefs in the beginning to the story. But there were two obstacles in the way of
that. The first was that Joy was a jerk. JOY: “So weak.” “No way we’re going to that!” FEAR: “Joy.” JOY: “We should spit in that girl’s face.” OTHERS: “Whoa!” They originally made Joy angry and entitled,
hoping that by giving her this flaw there would be opportunities for humor. But she pretty much just came off as unlikeable. JOY: “Francis. That rat-faced creep.” JOY: “We ought to break his legs.” OTHERS: “Whoa! Yikes!” But even after they toned that down, they realized the audience might not immediately
identify with Joy and her aversion to Sadness. To solve this, they made Sadness as annoying
as possible. “Sadness! You nearly touched a core memory. And when you touch them, we can’t change
them back!” “I keep making mistakes like that. I’m awful…” “Nooo, you’re not.” “…and annoying.” “Well… uh… “You know what? you can’t focus on what’s
going wrong.” “There’s always a way to turn things around,
to find the fun!” And Joy’s need to fix things was a solution
to another obstacle they ran into, which is that incessantly happy characters
are annoying. “You have to make it very clear that Joy’s
chipperness is her solution to her vulnerability.” “If you don’t have the vulnerability behind
the ‘ha-ha-ha’ you’re just annoyed at her.” The writers included several moments where
we see Joy deal with doubt and worry by forcing happiness back into the situation. FEAR: “Dad just left us.” SADNESS: “Oh, he doesn’t love us anymore.” “That’s sad.” “I should drive, right?” “Joy?” “What are you doing?” “Uh, just uh, gimme one second…” “You know what I’ve realized?” “Riley hasn’t had lunch!” By showing that Joy’s incessant happiness
was a defense mechanism, and by making Sadness as annoying as possible, the Pixar writers allowed the audience to
empathize with Joy and see things from her point of view. With this connection made, the story could
finally begin to explore the importance of sadness. “So you’ve set the belief system, and then
act two is literally psychologically saying to them, ‘Is that true?'” “You’re trying to break their psychology,
you’re trying to bring something to consciousness.” Act one clearly establishes that Joy believes
being happy all the time is the right way to live. So in act two the writers start to poke holes
in that belief system. One of the clearest examples is when they’re
trying to get to the train station, but Bing Bong’s rocket is pushed into the
memory dump. “Riley can’t be done with me.” Here, both Sadness and Joy have the same objective. They want Bing Bong to lead them to the train
station. But by having them use different tactics, the story demonstrates to the audience and the characters the lesson that needs to be learned. Joy impatiently tries to make Bing Bong feel
better the only way she knows how— by forcing him to be happy. “Hey, who’s ticklish, huh? Here comes the tickle monster…” No response. “Hey! Bing Bong, look at this! Dohoioih!” She makes a silly face. Nothing. “Oh, here’s a fun game! You point to the train station and we all
go there!” “Won’t that be fun? Come on, let’s go to the train station.” When this tactic doesn’t work, Sadness sits
next to Bing Bong and patiently empathizes with him. “I’m sorry they took your rocket.” “They took something that you loved.” “It’s gone, forever.” “Sadness, don’t make him feel worse.” “Sorry.” “It’s all I had left of Riley.” “I bet you and Riley had great adventures.” “We were best friends.” “Yeah.” “It’s sad.” Bing Bong puts his head on Sadness’ shoulder
and CRIES. Sadness keeps her arm around him until he’s
done. “I’m okay now.” “C’mon, the train station is this way.” This shows Joy that she might be looking at
life the wrong way— that happiness isn’t always the answer. This idea is pretty unconventional, especially
for a kid’s movie. As a culture we tend to constantly seek happiness
and joy, and look at sadness as something to be avoided
at all costs. But this moment rings very true to me, and I think it’s because it’s actually based
on experiences from Meg LeFauve’s life. “My son went to what’s called an attachment
preschool, where they’re not teaching ABCs, 123s, they’re teaching emotional intelligence.” “Let your kid have whatever emotion they’re
having right now. And just meet them where they are.” “And then you would just keep narrating it,
and they would talk, and you’d narrate it.” “And then they’d pass through and toddle
off and be happy or angry whatever next emotion is coming up.” But Joy doesn’t fully learn the lesson here, as later in the film she chooses to leave
Sadness behind when she finds a way back to headquarters. “I’m sorry.” “Riley needs to be happy.” “Joy?” She’s still refusing to let go of her old
beliefs, and this selfish choice is met with catastrophe. “Ah!” “Joy!” Joy realizes that despite her best
intentions, she’s found herself at her lowest point yet. It’s the same point that Pete Docter found
himself in when he realized the film wasn’t working. He thought wanted to talk about fear, but
it wasn’t what he needed to talk about. And for both he and the character of Joy, it took arriving at this dark, painful place
for them to realize the truth. “Mom and Dad…” “The team…” “They came to help because of Sadness.” “Joy, as much as we all want it in our lives,
is not the answer.” “The answer is actually sadness.” Joy’s character arc mimics Pete Docter’s. And her realization is powerful and authentic
largely because it was inspired by the director’s own discovery of the importance of sadness. “The mysterious thing about telling stories
is that it ends up changing you.” “As a storyteller, the research that you do, the almost meditation-like focus on a theme that you’re dealing with.” “It ends up seeping into your own system and
changing the way you look at the world.” Knowing the mechanics of storytelling is important. But it’s also important to remember that the
ultimate goal of telling a story is to share something. And I believe the way to ensure that your
story is generous and not simply a vanity project is to for it to be emotionally authentic—which
is rarely an easy thing to do. As Meg LeFauve says… “There should probably be, as a writer—now,
I’m just talking about myself, personally…” “A point in the process when you’re writing
that to write this scene…” “You feel like you’re going to throw up
because it’s so emotional. It’s so digging into something in your psychology.” “In other words, you’re asking the audience
to have a cathartic experience… odds are you probably need to have one when
you’re writing.” This is something the team at Pixar fully
embraced, and the result is a film that deeply resonated
with many people, both kids and adults. The writers allowed themselves to be vulnerable,
went on a journey into their minds, and returned with an emotional truth to share
with us. The power of the film didn’t come from a
clinical, outside-in approach, but rather, from the inside-out. Hey guys, Michael here. I hope you enjoyed this video which was sponsored
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Comments 100

  • This was a stupid movie, actually. The problem is that it tries to tug so hard at your heartstrings it starts to seem like they did not know anything else to do – a total freakshow.

  • I literary cried when I watched this film with my 3 kids .. I'm 29 and this animation really changed my perception of life


  • This movie is one of the greatest Pixar movies made yet. Such an important message that they're conveying.

  • Very glad they changed Joy. Her early version is more like Anger/Disgust 2.0

  • The first time I watched this is when I was around 14. My childhood was pretty damn good so I was just like Joy, always enjoying life. But after I watched it, I realized that the world is not a place where you can be happy all the time. And the next three years are total nightmares: Learning pressures, bullying, a family member went away, etc. I felt that those events sent me down all the way to the Abyss (you can refer to Memory Dump if you like). At there I realized that the life is not simple, it's complicated, and if you dont' stand up, change yourself, you won't be able to stand a chance against it. Now I was able to get past those problems and be more mature both physically and mentally. Pixar is always good about one thing: being able to teach not kids, but adults about the lessons and convey the meaningful messages to us.

  • Inside Out was a lot better than I was expecting. As Pixar moved on from Toy Story, I felt disappointed. Sure there were standout home runs, like Ratatouille, Up and Wall-E, but they lacked just a little…heart. I still adore those 3 movies, but I was sorely overwhelmed by how much I could relate to Riley's story. The pain of having to move, to grow up and accept that sometimes, the best thing to do is to cry a little, and smile brighter afterwards. There are some clichés, but they are overshadowed by the heart and relatability of the movie itself. A great movie, with a hertwarming message at its core; growing up doesn't mean you can't be emotional.

  • Epic movie. Was not expecting this from a disney movie to me honest. They seem to be overly happy sometimes, and only feeding the audiences with what "they wanna see" instead of challenge the audiences with life learning experiences. Great film.

  • You know what, this day was going so good! I had a field trip at school today, and when I came home I listen to my Christmas music! Until this came again and now I'm really mad! I'M SICK OF PEOPLE ALWAYS HATING JOY!!!

  • I wanna see concept art Joy in another movie sometime.

    "Francis. That creep. *We have to break his legs.*"

  • Was blown away by this film, Inside Out. I felt it was so well before its time and worried about how it would be received by gen pub and was so pleasantly surprised. Thanks for the review and about “writing what you want to know.”

    The subversion in films like Inside Out and Mulan in the emotion as potential antagonist is not necessarily fear, but sadness and lack of acceptance.

  • Thanks, im crying

  • This is not on topic, but I absolutely love the soundtrack to this movie. One of my favorites ever.

  • Have you notice Joy moves and looks like wilma flintstone??

  • Hey Michael, this was a great video and analysis of Inside Out…please keep up the amazing work that you do.

  • I loved Inside Out. It made me cry man

  • Inside Out is one of my favorites from Pixar. It's their best coming of age film. Will watch again on my android using boxxy software.

  • i think they failed about the annoying sadness and empathetic joy thing

  • Awesome video

  • i liked the message but i feel the graphic development was lazy AF

  • This channel is a gift to the internet.
    One that internet doesn't deserve but it needs

  • Excellent video!

  • Thanks for the video storytelling is awesome!

  • Your channel is so good! In the era where YouTube channels only criticize films, yours analyzes them. Beautiful! Keep doing this and enlightening us. Love from India.

  • hol tf up….he just said pissed off in a disney directory…

  • Michael, really great video! One of your best! Greetings from Thessaloniki, Greece!

  • Beautifully explained and enjoyed as well

  • Even an essay of this film can bring me to tears. Thank you for this video

  • I've been looking for the 4:36 animatic for a while now.

  • "The people that really mean something deeply are those that I have cried with, that I have been pissed off at, that I have experienced fear with…" I experienced all of these emotions and more with my wife.

  • The story is so relatable emotionally.. on and behind the screen.. the music so touching too..

    I tried to my niece but there's language barrier, I may have to find the dubbed version..

  • Sometimes we need to be sad ones in a while, for after you cry you will find yourself rejoicing and smiling again..💛💛💛💛 I do love the story..😄

  • this is soo depth…i am ready to write something that emotionally truthful and personal?…thanks for the video

  • About to make me tear up on the nyc subway.i love you.

  • Honestly inside out is probably my favorite animated movie of ALL TIME. it always makes me cry and stuff. The story is purely amazing

  • How did a movie ANALYSIS bring tears to my eyes😢

  • Do Spirited Away, please!

  • Bing Bong: I'm okay now.

  • I love love love love this video ❤️❤️❤️

  • Cried twice in this film. Until Coco came, this had taken the place as my fave Pixar work (which used to be Ratat).

  • Speaking of Inside Out, how about Spirited Away where Miyazaki got the inspiration from a girl who was very bored. So he thought of making film an ordinary girl like her thrown into extraordinary circumstances!

  • When your child is jolly and sociable and then they suddenly become sad and don't talk, you don't make a movie about it. You talk it out.

    "O my! My child is eleven and suddenly becomes sad, I'mma make a movie about it. Damn I'm so smart!"

  • I cried through this video wtf

  • Joy and Sadness have more in common with each other than with the other emotions. They're practically sisters.

  • This was a beautiful breakdown of the film. Your narration is excellent and I felt emotional just hearing your voice explaining the film.

  • This was just beautiful. Great work

  • So… instead of getting her psychological help, functional medicine of some kind or finding out if she needs to change her diet and/or get supplementation… basically HELP his daughter… he, the director, decides to make a movie… mmmk…

  • It is ok to embrace and accept your emotions, but we cannot be governed by it either.

  • I wish my parents asked me what the meaning of a movie was after i watched it. Def recommend asking your kids that

  • your videos and content are so much more positive than most other stuff on movies its just really refreshing thank you

  • It was great that this movie won Best Picture Award
    and #10 in Movies that will be classics in the future

  • This VIDEO alone made me cry and I only saw the movie once in theaters. Like. Wow this is all so interesting and good. I'm not sure what about Sadness is so annoying though. Isn't she also quite sympathetic?

    I'd really like to see you analyze a Biopic. I'm going to see Rocketman tomorrow and I'm just thinking about it.

  • I'm not crying you're crying!

  • I have been hooked with your vids. Very good.

  • Never thought Joy would say “we have to break his legs” 😂 I’m glad they ditched that idea

  • inside out is truly amazing, a lesson many of us needed

  • very beautifully described…THANKS

  • So… This is an "older" video and I've only discovered you channel 2 days ago. Suffice it to say I'm blown away by your insights and interpretation of various films and this is BY FAR my favorite.

    Thank you for sharing as you do. I'm totally hooked.

  • hormones happened (in all seriousness)

  • this is such an amazing cartoon. I cried in the end. I think people who didn't cry, simply did not understand it…
    And the writers – OMG, they did such an incredible job! It must have been extremely difficult…

  • what a good ass video

  • Lion King ???

  • Okay so now I'm crying into my lunch while on my lunch break because of a fluffy pink imaginary friend…..

  • I'm crying

  • But what about that pothole, of a simple pipe that leads memories back to HQ?

  • i like better hoe the girl talks

  • Who wants a movie like inside out with an emotionless child/teen? I would like this for inside out 2

  • I used to move a lot as a teen, and I really understood everything. Sadness seemed to turn all of the happy memories of the places I had lived into a crying fit. It really sucked, I cried all the time. I think it was important that sadness took over during those hard times, because it allowed me to move on and see things more clearly. I have lived in the same place for 4 years so far, which is the longest I’ve stayed in a home

  • I've seen the movie 4 times and I've watched a bunch of video essays and yet I can't change my own mind. I hate sadness (the feeling.). I know that it's needed for character growth and as an amateur aspiring writer I often put my characters into difficult situations that make them sad or angry or upset in general. I know that it's important to deal with the negative emotions, but sadness is the one emotion I can't get over. I hate being sad, because it makes me volnurable. I often replace sadness with anger and self confidence.


    Me : Starts to cry

    The angry side of me : No. Stop! We do not cry! What are you? A baby? A child?! If people see you crying they will ask what's wrong and they will figure out your weaknesses! Now stop crying! You're a lazy, idiot who can't finish a single story! But you're also a strongminded, hothead who will never back down! Now stop crying and push through!

    Doing this is probably not healthy, but is it really wrong if it works?

  • Writing what you know?
    That'd mean we wouldn't have fantasy stories, giant mechas, adventures to other worlds like wizard of oz

  • This film really hit a nerve with me because it was so much about depression I faced growing up. Depression for me, wasn’t about being sad all the time, it was not having joy or sadness. I was ruled by anger, disgust, and fear, when not totally apathetic. I grew out of that when I learned though, that happiness was something I could choose.

  • I always thought being sad is bad. Everyone said so. But this movie taught me, gave me a new perspective – that no one should ignore the sadness.

  • Wow, I just realised why it’s titled ‘Inside Out’

  • Best movie ever

  • I love Pete Doctor's work!!! And he's promoted!!! The new CCO!!!

  • This was incredibly helpful thank you sm

  • Inside Out is the only film to date that really made me cry.
    Not even Up did that for me.

  • Wow, this video… made me literally cry… dude, thats an awesome essay!

  • This essay always makes me cry

  • This movie came out at the perfect time for me. There were so many stories about people wanting to be happy all the time. It unsettled me. Why would I want to be happy all the time. There are other emotions for a reason. I don't want to limit myself from the full human condition.

  • Can you do my girl, now and then, and never been kissed?

  • Gosh this was soooooo beautiful! <3

  • This is not my favorite movie of all time for no reason.

  • Dislike just for the title pun

  • Imagine being significantly less happy and your dad makes an amazing Pixar film from it.

  • You know, I keep telling everybody they should move on… and grow. Some do. But not us.

  • Inside out, great film. Your lesson, so beautiful !

  • I can't even express how happy I am that you discussed this film. It's definitely a favorite and taught a great lesson not only to kids but to parents as well.

  • Why doesn’t this video have more likes and views? This is an amazing break down of an incredible movie.

  • My guy, this film is fuckin AMAZING!

  • When people call Inside Out Original, it has nothing to do with being “lol what goes on in your head?” That’s not what inside out is about. How many animated movies do you know that handles depression, loss of innocence, and the transition from childhood to adulthood in a perspective that hasn’t been done before, through our emotions? Not a lot. Inside out handles this stuff much more tactfully than most people give it credit for and I applaud it for that.

  • This film is genuine brilliance, in every way. I'm 31 years old and I watched this movie for the first time today, and it really hit home. All the nuances of turning human emotion and experience into entertaining visual characters, all the while making it's audience actual feel something in their hearts.. pure genius. 10/10!

  • not talking loud enough and always sounding like you're out of breath. BREATHE IN MORE! sit up straight. and get closer to the microphone. you sound like you're afraid of bothering the neighbors.

  • Sadness is NOT important. It's just that it's ok to be sad since you can't force happiness.

  • Initially Inside Out didn't resonate with me.
    I don't have a strong connection to my family, so seeing Joy leave hers, and then come back? It didn't phase me whatsoever. instead, I was more focused on how Riley became completely emotionless, and how messed up that is. It wasn't sad, but it was indeed disturbing.

    Then I saw it again last year. I still don't have a strong connection to my family. But the movie actually touched me.
    When I saw it originally, I wasn't phased, because I was focusing on the situation of Riley, and her family, and the reunion.
    I wasn't thinking about the actual important part, which was her emotions.

    And I think this resonates with me more than ever nowadays, because I've been able to see through my own experiences, that even if I don't like someone, or who they are, or think what they are going through is a big deal, I care about their well-being, and their emotion. If I can be there for someone, I will be.

    I'm not a very happy person. In fact, I'm rarely happy.
    The only happiness I ever feel, is when I can be there for someone else. If someone I care about is going through something rough, the ability for me to be there for them when they need me… It's probably the happiest I ever feel.

    And when they are there for me, it's the same way,

    There's something about bonding over negativity, and sadness, that makes everything feel worthwhile.

  • I wish I had this movie as a kid, but I’m glad kids have it now

  • OMG I just realised something: Sadness is blue and Joy has blue hair. To have joy you need a bit of sadness.

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