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CREATIVITY INC: What You Can Learn About Screenwriting From Albert Einstein and Walt Disney

By Britton Perelman · October 5, 2018

Opposites attract. It’s a phrase applied to so many things, and screenwriting is not excluded. In his book, Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration, president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios Ed Catmull discusses the two men he idolized as a child — Albert Einstein and Walt Disney. 

Both prolific figures of the 20th century, but very, very different from one another. Catmull brings up an interesting concept regarding the two men, one that could easily be applied to screenwriting.  

Catmull explains how the men epitomized two poles of creativity. 

“Disney was all about inventing the new. He brought things into being — both artistically and technologically — that did not exist before. Einstein, by contrast, was a master of explaining that which already was,” Catmull writes.

For screenwriters, the implications of this observation should be obvious. As storytellers, we need to both invent the new and explain that which already is — hitting both poles of creativity in each story we spin. 

The first pole: explaining that which already was. 

“I loved how the concepts [Einstein] developed forced people to change their approach to physics and matter, to view the universe from a different perspective,” Catmull writes. “Wild-haired and iconic, Einstein dared to bend the implications of what we thought we knew. He solved the biggest puzzles of all and, in doing so, changed our understanding of reality.”

Our screenplays must force audiences to change their perspectives, challenge them to view their world in a different way, and change their understanding of reality.

But they must also incorporate the second pole of creativity: inventing the new.

While Disney and his animators were literally inventing new forms and tools of animation, Catmull’s observation must be applied in a wider sense. 

“I loved the idea that animation could take me places I’d never been,” Catmull writes about Walt Disney.

As screenwriters, we bring characters and worlds to life. The things we write about aren’t real until we begin typing them into existence. The best stories — including those created by Ed Catmull’s teams at Pixar and Walt Disney — find the perfect balance between both poles of creativity.

Britton Perelman is a writer and storyteller based in Los Angeles, California. When not buried in a book or failing spectacularly at cooking herself a meal, she’s probably talking someone’s ear off about the last thing she watched. She loves vintage typewriters, the Cincinnati Reds, and her dog, Indy. Find more of her work on her website, or follow her on Instagram.

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