How to Get Your Short Film Made at Pixar
Coinciding with the Hamptons Film Festival, Pixar is promoting its new short film, ‘Lava,’ that will play before the theatrical release of ‘Inside Out’ next June. ‘Lava,’ directed by James Ford Murphy, is the story of a lonely volcano who sings – in a style inspired by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole’s version of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" – in an attempt to find his one true love. It’s a sweet story that will garner attention as all the Pixar shorts seem to do – and can serve as a springboard for feature length animated films.
How does one get an animated short approved by Pixar? Here, ‘Lava’ director James Ford Murphy explains the process, which started on a napkin.
It started off with just a napkin drawing with a two-headed volcano and I just wrote, “I lava you.” […] You have to pitch three ideas. And you pitch to a panel of directors and if you get through the panel of directors, you get to pitch to [chief creative officer at Pixar] John Lasseter. So, kind of leading up to that first pitch to the panel, you work with development and you develop your three ideas and develop those three pitches. […] My goal was to pitch ideas that I really love. And I just love volcanoes and islands and Hawaiian music. All the other ideas had something in them that I love.
But what if the panel likes more than one of your ideas? Murphy continues,
I got all three through. And this is the one that John really gravitated to. And I think what John gravitated to was that he loved the originality of volcanoes and I think he loved the music, the song … John just got super excited and the line he said to me afterwards was, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this, that’s what I’m excited about. I don’t know how we’re going to pull off this scale.” Because scale is something we’ve struggled with at Pixar, to really do believable scale. And it’s something that we really tried to get here.
And how often do these pitch meetings happen? Is there one coming up soon?
There’s no certain time of the year, it’s just whenever we realize we’ve got these features lined up, because we always put a short in front of our features. So, we’ve got several shorts lined up after this one. Yeah, it will probably be a while.
And what happened to that napkin drawing of the two-headed volcano?
It’s actually framed at Pixar. They have a little art gallery there.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.