Writing for Animation: Jim Capobianco Shares 4 Habits of Successful Screenwriters

Here are 4 habits of successful screenwriters according to Jim Capobianco who received the 2008 Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay for Ratatouille. He’s also worked on story and animation for Up, Inside Out, The Lion King and Finding Nemo, among many other iconic animated films. Jim is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

While it’s true that no paths to success are exactly the same, everyone at any level of writing can relate to the surprise with which they find themselves provided their first big opportunity. Whether it be a meeting, a chance to get represented or even the promise of getting a script optioned, these moments often present themselves when least expected.

Jim Capobianco, who in addition to being a prolific animated writer is also a judge for the 2020 ScreenCraft Animation Screenplay Competition, has a journey that is unique. In his conversation as part of ScreenCraft’s AMA series, Jim detailed his path that led him into the successful animation powerhouses of Disney and Pixar. This also revealed the intriguing truth that although nobody’s path is the same there are certain core tenets that connect them all. Here are our takeaways from our conversation with Jim: 

1. STAY OPEN

As Jim entered the world of animation, he noticed a distinction between the stories being told by animation and live action films. He realized that he could “apply these same ideas to animated movies…Disney Animation had a very limited scope of the stories you could tell. And I’m going, ‘I don’t see why we can’t tell the same stories we do in live action in animation.’” Sensing an opportunity, he became part of a recent push to tell “sophisticated” live action stories in the animated format. Being open to this opportunity helped provide Jim his path to career success.

2. KEEP MOVING

Jim says “It’s always good to keep moving. It’s like a shark. You don’t want to stop. Sharks die if they stop moving.” Staying still for too long could be deadly. The writers who find success are the ones who push forward and are always actively pursuing opportunities. It is crucial to maintain a consistent drive that allows up and coming writers to move past any potential obstacles.

3. PUT YOURSELF OUT THERE 

A very important piece of information that Jim revealed was how, after an idea is greenlit, Pixar “generally like[s] to find writers who are in the Lists …or [who] haven’t quite hit it yet.” These writers are found because they took the chance to get their names out there in any way they could by submitting their work to placed like Coverfly, The Black List, writing competitions, fellowships and labs. Coverfly’s The Red List or the Tracking Board’s Young and Hungry list are great platforms for exposing emerging writers to the industry. And for writers interested in animation specifically a great outlet is the upcoming ScreenCraft Animation Screenplay Competition.

4. KILLING YOUR DARLINGS 

When opportunity finally presents itself for a writer, there may be one final roadblock in front of the path to career success. Anyone reading your work is guaranteed to have some kind of input. This more often than not means taking out a character or storyline that is particularly close to the writer’s heart. Jim admitted how difficult this is, saying “there’s stuff you don’t want to change, like ‘Oh I really love that moment.’ Usually that stuff you really love is going to change… I’ve done that many times. But you hope that eventually these things you’re really into will coalesce into the story you’re telling.”

The path to success is not straightforward but it is certainly doable. The hurdle in front of a writer’s final push to make writing a career can be one that seems insurmountable. Fortunately there are ways around this obstacle. Jim’s path may not have gone as he anticipated when he first started writing, but because he embraced the ideas above he has been able to develop a long lasting career in animation.

Watch the full interview with Oscar-nominated writer and artist, Jim Capobianco at our ScreenCraft AMA series via Facebook here:

For other content from ScreenCraft check out:

From Contests to Staffing— 4 Tips on Finding Your Voice and Getting Read 

Anatomy of a ScreenCraft Screenplay Competition: How We Evaluate Scripts