Tag Archives: Elaine May

How Jewish Guilt Helped Find Nemo

I’m a Pixar junkie. Shamelessly so. Besides all the razzle-dazzle, I think the writing is very tight, very smart; a friend of mine who, thanks to her three-year-old son, has seen Up dozens of times, put it best: “There isn’t an ounce of fat on that film.”

And the commentaries for their films are a real education in economical screenwriting. In this minute-long example from the Finding Nemo commentary, the filmmakers explain how they found inspiration—and discipline—in, of all places, the comic stylings of Mike Nichols and Elaine May. They’re referring to the character development of two very minor characters, a pair of pelicans named Gerald and Nigel:

And here’s that “touchstone line”:

It made me wonder, “What if all fillmakers applied this discipline to their storytelling—not just animators, but for all films—how much tighter and stronger films could be.” And then I had an inner-Gollum moment and countered with: “Oh, come on. I’m sure most screenwriters have similar habits to make sure their scripts are efficient and fat-free.”

Then I saw Avatar.

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