22,April
2014

Pixar’s Poker Game Structure

I once saw a tweet by a Pixar exec which likened the classic 3-act structure to a poker game but, for the life of me, I can’t find the tweet (or Twitter account) anywhere. ** MAY 2016 UPDATE: Found the source, finally! It’s Emma Coats, who was working at Pixar at the time, and was tweeting thoughts on structure. Follow Emma here. ** )

Ever since I glimpsed the tweet, it’s resonated with me and helped with my day-to-day screenwriting needs. It goes something like this:

– the inciting incident is when you, the protagonist, are dealt a hand.

– the end of act one is when you decide to bet.

– the midpoint is when you have to go all in (point of no return/stakes & jeopardy).

– the end of act two is when you seemingly lose.

– the final twist/denouement is when you finally manage to win.

Pretty neat, right? I particularly like the ‘go all in’ analogy, as midpoints can be tricky beasts to say the least. But what I really love about this structural breakdown is that it makes you focus on the protagonist and their story objective. It enables narrative clarity, something I recently mentioned on the blog here, and is particularly useful for commercial/genre scripts or TV pitches.

Remember, structure is your friend, there to help you when you want to get started or even when you get stuck. If you rail against conventional structural methods, fine, but there’s no denying that there’s always something to be gained from the use of classic storytelling techniques.

For a full breakdown on all the various structure methods that are out there, check out this great link  (via @Glinner).

Use what works for you.

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    Jack said:

    That’s great!

    Except I’d be inclined to swap the last two round for sitcom writing: have the protagonist’s four aces trumped by a straight flush.

    That’s great!

    Except I’d be inclined to swap the last two round for sitcom writing: have the protagonist’s four aces trumped by a straight flush.

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