I’m probably five years too late to this party, but it isn’t often that I read a book that profoundly affects me for good or for bad. In this case, this book, Creativity Inc. affected me negatively, in part because I had some inside knowledge that the author doesn’t know that I have.
Background: Ed Catmull is one of the founders of Pixar. He comes from a computer science background and I have no doubt he is very smart. But, because of my insider knowledge I know he can’t be trusted. Why? Because when you look at the Oscar Nominations for 1995, you’ll see that four people were nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Their names: Joel Cohen, Alec Sokolow, Joss Whedon, and Andrew Stanton. Yet only one person, Stanton, who has had a long career at Pixar is named in the book. Even Whedon, a talented celebrity in his own right, is not mentioned a single time.
In Catmull’s either deliberately schlocky or straight up lazy retelling of the story, he made it seem that Toy Story was his brainchild and John Lasseter’s. Catmull has the balls to not mention 3/4 of the team that created this project that took Pixar from a failing film studio to the global behemoth it is today.
My inside knowledge comes from Alec, as I was lucky enough to have him, a talented and kind working writer, as my screenwriting teacher over a decade ago at the University of Pennsylvania. Alec taught our Advanced Screenwriting class many valuable tips about the practical ins and outs of the trade, from story to character arcs to act structure, and he did this with complete humility. And, among his other stories, he told us how he and Joel Cohen, his long-time writing partner, came up with the original characters and concept for Toy Story — the same characters that have grossed Pixar billions of dollars in the past two decades.
Here’s the nitty gritty of this book; there are precisely 4 pages worth reading, and these are the tips and tricks for managing creatives on the last 4 pages of the book. The rest is a myopic retelling of stories, in 2020 hindsight (a term that, ironically, Catmull claims he loathes), that details nothing more than Catmull’s version of events of how Pixar became great. But I suspect Pixar, like Apple, became great because of Steve Jobs’ sometimes questionable leadership decisions. Jobs knew when to gamble and how to fight. Pixar could’ve been closed or sold many times in the decade prior to Toy Story, but it wasn’t. This book, save for its last 4 pages, is nothing more than a history of Pixar from one person’s perspective. It doesn’t say a thing about how to be creative if you’re a normal reader — it says things about how to be creative when you are bankrolled with hundreds of millions of dollars. Thus, young and/or aspiring creatives won’t get a thing out of reading this book.