A Dreamer Walking

The Brain Trust

Posted in Film and Filmaker Studies, Personal Philosophy by Jacob on May 18, 2010

Pixar has this small group called The Brain Trust. This group consists of the  Pixar directors and a few of their best artists. The Brain Trust is one of the greatest reasons why Pixar is on the top of the pedestal when it comes to animation and storytelling. The success of Pixar does not come from one man’s mind, it comes from the best of several master filmmaker minds, all of whom have their own unique qualities when it comes to making a movie.

Every 3 to 6 months each director at Pixar has to show the project he or she is working on to The Brain Trust. After showing the film (in its unfinished form) The Brain Trust tears the film apart in the form of critique. The Brain Trust is brutally honest on what they think of the film they are critiquing. The fact that the director might have been working on the projects for a few years now is irrelevant. The fact that the director showing the film might have already won several awards in the past is irrelevant. The fact that one of the suggestions might be (and has been in the past) to restart the project from stage one is a suggestion the director must be able to take seriously and be able to handle. “You need to leave your ego at the door”, says Pete Docter, the director of Monsters Inc. and the Academy’s best picture nominee UP.

Pete Docter talked about the power of The Brain Trust and how important it is to have fresh eyes look at your project every once in a while, especially when you are in the middle of a four or five year project. Usually the director gets so involved with his or her film that he or she loses perspective. Once you hear a joke for the hundredth time it stops being funny.  Because the director knows the story he is telling in such depth it is easy for him to assume the audience knows more then they do. The Brain Trust helps bring perspective to the people who are in the middle of a project. They see the film with new eyes, catching the things that either are not explained enough or over explained.

One of the keys to The Brain Trust’s success is the ability to openly criticize. The people critiquing the film must not feel that they will be punished if they say something wrong or say something too extreme. The Brain Trust needs to come to each other at a even playing field. No matter the kind of success one person might have had from another each director and artist needs to be open to what the other person is saying. Ego can very easily get in the way especially with the success Pixar seems to have had. The Brain Trust is a true test of humility.

Another key to The Brain Trust’s success is the control that the directors have for their films. Even though the director and his or her team must be open to The Brain Trusts comments, it is the director that has the final say to what stays and what goes out of his or her film. Brad Bird, director of The Incredibles and Ratatouille, has a much different style of filmmaking then someone like Pete Docter. Both directors can look at something from a very unique angle, both might have great ways to communicate a curtain idea, it is the job of the director who is in charge of the project being shown to figure out what works best for the story and what doesn’t. It is the directors personal vision that is the driving force for a Pixar movie. This is what makes Pixar a director driven studio.

The main key to The Brain Trust’s success is the ability to put story first. Both the director showing the project and the Brain Trust needs to have their first priority be answering the question, “what is best for the story?”. As popular and critically acclaimed as some of the members of The Brain Trust are they have not yet forgotten that they are servants to the story they are trying to tell.

It is amazing to see a group of people from completely different backgrounds and with completely different styles of film making, come together to help each other succeed. It is hard to look at a movie with unbiased eyes and criticize it. It is even harder to open yourself up to criticism. But, through the power of constructive criticism you can accomplish things that seem to be impossible, as Pixar has already proven.

(The Picture consists of five of the key people in the Brain Trust. They all have either directed or are in the process of directing Pixar films. From left to right, Brad Bird, Andrew Stanton, John Lasseter, Pete Docter, and Lee Ulrich)

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