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The How to Train Your Dragon Blog-0-Rama

By on February 22, 2019 in About the Beats, Success Stories with 0 Comments
The end credits of How to Train Your Dragon, dedicating the film to Blake Snyder and thanking Master Cats Ben Frahm and Jeremy Garelick.

The end credits of How to Train Your Dragon, dedicating the film to Blake Snyder and thanking Master Cats Ben Frahm and Jeremy Garelick.

We’ve celebrated the success of writer/director Dean DeBlois on this site — and there’s no better time than the premiere of the third installment in Dean’s trilogy, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, to re-introduce some of our favorites!

First, here’s Tom Reed’s in-depth interview with Dean after the debut of How to Train Your Dragon 2:

How the Cat Saved the Dragon

Dean DeBlois at the Golden Globes podium with producer Bonnie Arnold.

Dean DeBlois at the Golden Globes’ podium with producer Bonnie Arnold

SPEAKING WITH OSCAR®-NOMINATED WRITER/DIRECTOR DEAN DeBLOIS ON THE MAKING OF THE HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON FILMS AND HIS ROAD TO THE ACADEMY AWARDS

As awards season ramps up to the Oscars, I welcomed the opportunity to interview Dean DeBlois, writer/director of How To Train Your Dragon 2, an Oscar nominee for Best Animated Film. Dean was part of Blake Snyder’s inner circle and has gone on to employ Save the Cat!® principles for the mainstream audience at the highest level. Dean was incredibly generous with his time as he sat down with me to articulate his impressively conscious process. For anyone interested in storytelling, and especially all you cats out there, read on with relish.

[This interview has been edited slightly for clarity and length.]

TR: First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this.

DD: Of course. I’m happy to.

TR: I know you’re a man with a lot on your shoulders right now, so I appreciate it. Congratulations, by the way, not only on the success of the Dragon films, both critically and commercially, but also for the Golden Globe and Annie wins and the Oscar nomination. It’s pretty awesome.

DD: Thanks very much.

TR: I think it’s all completely deserved, too, which is why I’m inspired to talk to you about it. So here we go. I know that right now you’re in the middle of focusing on How To Train Your Dragon 3, but I want to turn back the page to the beginnings of the dragon journey, to How to Train Your Dragon, and since this is for the Save the Cat! website I want to make this somewhat Blake-centric. So with that in mind my first question is, what role did Blake play in the development of the first HTTYD?

DD: Well, I had read Save the Cat! probably two years before I was drafted onto HTTYD, the first film. At the time I had co-written and directed Lilo & Stitch along with Chris Sanders at Disney and then I left to set up live action films to write and direct. I sold three of them and during that time I was just reading a lot of books and taking courses and Blake’s book really resonated with me, in that every success that I had had at Disney came from a lot of trial and error and just working with the story until it felt right.

When I was able to look back, having read the book, and look back at working on Mulan and working on Lilo & Stitch, by the time we got it right it was almost down to the page count according to Blake’s beat sheet and his methods. So I thought, well, here’s somebody who really has figured out universal storytelling but in a practical, applicable way that is so useful right out of the book, right into your project. 

And I had read others, of course. There’s Robert McKee, there are so many great writers with many important things to say and I enjoy reading all of it, but I think Blake managed to distill all of that theory to such a practical set of tools. So, we got to know each other. I took one of his weekend seminars, the Beat Sheet Workshop, followed up by the Beats Master Class the next weekend and he really liked the way that I was participating in the critique of the other students’ work. It’s just the way that we would work as a story team at Disney so it was instilled in me.

 

Blake with his Writers Group -- Ben Frahm, Mike Goldberg, Dean DeBlois, and Jeremy Garelick -- on the Warner Bros backlot

Blake with his Writers Group — Ben Frahm, Dan Goldberg, Dean DeBlois, and Jeremy Garelick — on the Warner Bros backlot

He asked me to be part of his personal writers group. There were just five of us and that was as extra-special as you might imagine because we were getting together whenever we could to read each other’s material, sit around and try to break story with each other, and I was able to pull a lot of great feedback from them on my own projects. But, as it turned out, the three live action projects that I had set up, they each kind of met the same fate, which is the president of production who bought the projects was out and then the new president of production wanted nothing to do with that slate, so they all kind of went into this stasis mode.

TR: Stasis equals death, in fact.

DD:  Exactly. So I found myself without a real sense of direction in the late summer of 2008, having turned in my last draft complete with studio notes to Universal Studios and feeling like it just wasn’t even being read. There was no movement on the project at all. I got a call from Chris Sanders who had left Disney, was working at DreamWorks on The Croods. He had received a call over the weekend from Jeffrey Katzenberg [CEO, DreamWorks Animation], who asked him to step off of The Croods and onto HTTYD. They had just let go the existing director and existing writer and they needed a fresh take on it. But the catch was they were only about 15 months out from a fixed release date, and in animation terms that’s a good half of the time, if not less, than what you need to actually produce the film.

TR: And you were starting from scratch, more or less.

DD: Yes. Chris called me up, I was in Seattle, and he said can you be here Monday and jump onto this with me, so I did. We found ourselves in the room with Jeffrey Katzenberg and he said, “Here’s what’s not working about this: it’s a book with a neat world but the story itself is a little too small for our purposes, so I’m encouraging you to keep the spirit of the book and the names of the characters and the general world of it all, but expand the fantasy-adventure tropes.”

TR: I also heard, or read somewhere, that he had a mandate of three things for the film, like first it had to be a father-son story, and I don’t remember what else.

DD: Yes. He said, “I want a father-son story, I want a big David and Goliath ending, and I want a Harry Potter tone.” And for us that was kind of all we needed to really get started. So we aged up the characters, we changed up the central dragon Toothless to become something that was much more impressive and flight-worthy. The dragon in the books is a small Chihuahua-sized dragon that talks, so we departed from that conceit and treated our dragons as creatures of the animal kingdom as we know it.

TR: So, back to Blake–

DD: Yes, this is sort of a long-winded way back to Blake. The very first thing we did, knowing that we had very little time to break the story and establish something that worked, we went back to basics and we used Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet to beat out the story in its rudimentary form. We extracted dragons and Vikings and everything else out of the mix and just talked about, if this is a father-son story, let’s talk about a universal father-son story that can create for us the emotional framework that we need.

And I remember specifically we had broken it down so that an external conflict created tension between a father and a son, and the son is eager to succeed and prove himself to his father but ill-equipped to do so, and so he finds himself doing the very opposite of his father’s expectations and in so doing he discovers the real secret behind this external tension. But before he can communicate that back to his father, his deceit is exposed, he is disowned, and it completely ruins the relationship, becoming the confirmation of his father’s worst fears. And in his hubris the father goes out to try to deal with the problem his way.

TR: The good old-fashioned Viking way.

the son and the father

the son and the father

DD: Right. But then the son, being tenacious and still believing in himself, comes to his father’s aid and delivers the entire community from what would have been a very terrible end, and that leaves his father in a state of remorse but also humbled when he realizes that his son achieved the greatness that he set out for him, but in his own way. So our character gets to be true to himself and still attain his goal.

That was the very basics of it, but we applied quite a lot of Save the Cat! theory to building out the story, and it became the framework that we could all cling to every time there was a discussion about, like, do we need this beat, is this aspect of the film earning its place… we could always go back to our beat sheet board and defend it in that way.

TR: So was everyone on the development team using Blake Snyder terminology? Were you all fluent in the language of Save the Cat!?

DD: Not at the time. Both Chris Sanders and I were so enthusiastic about the book that I think, just in order to speak the same language, our development executive, our producer, and several other people read the book, as well. So they knew what we were talking about.

TR: So everyone was on the same page even if they weren’t as fluent as you and Chris were.

DD: Yes.

TR: But the two people at the top clearly, the co-directors, were using the language and unifying everyone through it.

DD: Yes. And I think everyone in our business speaks in terms of Acts, as well, but they hadn’t been used to the Act-2A and Act-2B aspect, divided by the Midpoint, and so the clarification was a little more defined than perhaps what happens among the other teams working on the other films here at the studio.

TR: And boy, look at the outcome. I mean, it’s a great film.

DD: Thanks. At one point, we were pretty far along, we were animating the film at that point and we were still working on a few story beats, and I invited Blake and a few of the other members of our small writers group into the studio to sit around and bat around ideas and kind of check it, to make sure that things were lining up and that they were clear and that they were compelling.

And that was really useful to us because Blake had some great input. He said, “Your hero never articulates what he wants so I’m left scratching my head. He does a lot of talking about what he doesn’t want, but he never really identifies what it is that he wants.” And that led us to putting in… and it’s very simple, you know, to add to a scene and have him say, “I want to be like you guys.” And that’s his desire, to assimilate, and it’s sort of a dichotomy in that he was so quirky and such a forward thinker that he would never really belong or never was going to be the big, brawny Viking that loves to kill dragons. And so therein lies his journey.

TR: So on the BS2 (Blake Snyder Beat Sheet) as a topic, it’s designed as an overall story model to look at a story from beginning to end, but did you ever find yourself applying it to discreet segments of the film, like an Act, or a sequence or even a scene?

DD: Not really, no. Yes in the sense that I always keep the outline board in front of me no matter how far along we are with the film.

TR: Is it literally on the wall? Posted for all to see and feel and touch?

DD: We have ten foot wide cork bulletin boards and rails along our walls to hang them on, so we pin up the entire outline, and under each one of those sheets describing the scene, if you lift it up it tells you, this is the Catalyst moment, this is the Break Into Two, this is the Midpoint. Because I just like to have it handy. If I start losing myself in the detail I can always pull back and say okay, hold on. This is what I’m supposed to be doing… I’m supposed to be making a clean statement about the Midpoint here and am I doing that or am I allowing to be muddied? But still, everything would move around.

I think it’s a great way to start and then things become a little amorphous and flexible as you’re working on them, but to be able to step back at any time and take a macro-perspective and say, “Are things falling into place? Am I firmly establishing my B Story? Is the Break into Three as motivated and clean and dynamic as it can be?” This is very useful. And without letting things become formulaic, it just sort of reinforces the intent behind these scenes.

TR: So that’s sort of looking at it from the writer’s perspective. Now I want to look at it from the director’s perspective, the filmmaker-storyteller’s perspective that encompasses the “cinema” of it, right? To what extent did you have these teachings in mind and communicate them overtly in the collaborative process of the filmmaking?

DD: Well, for me they can’t really be extracted from the process because, being that I direct the material that I write, it’s part of my language when I’m communicating the intent of certain scenes to an animator or to the production designer or even to the lighters. It’s all versed in story. Even before I read Blake’s book, my first directing experience with Lilo & Stitch was at first a nervous one, in that I was working with artists who were excellent at what they do in disciplines I knew nothing about really.

I’d come from a general classical animation training and I had worked a little bit as animator and a set designer and layout artist, but if I’m sitting there with a background painter and he’s painting these incredible lush watercolors, the only way I could really communicate to him that was useful was to speak about the story. Is it communicating the intent?  I think Blake’s books and just knowing him as a person helped me communicate those ideas even more cleanly.

A lot of people that I work with are very curious about story and they would love to know more and are often asking me, like writing scripts on their own, what books would you recommend, is there any way that they could hone their own storytelling sense, and I’m always referring them to the Save the Cat! books because I think they’re a fun read, but it’s also information that’s immediately applicable. I think it’s a common part of my language, but I’m not completely engrossed in it. To be honest, I supplement some of the more vague aspects of Blake’s structure method with experience of my own, so for instance, the sort of vague Fun & Games section or the vague Finale section…

TR: Or the vague “Bad Guys Close In,” that’s one that confounds a lot of folks.

DD: Yeah, even if you’re in the Bad Guys Close In, Act-2B part of your story, you need something uplifting. There needs to be a moment that’s romantic or touching or in some way joyous to balance the negativity, because very soon that tension overwhelms the experience, particularly in our medium where you’re trying not to make a film that is too dark for a family audience. Michael Arndt is someone who talked about a “Page 45 Reveal.”

TR: Michael Arndt, the Academy-Award winner for Little Miss Sunshine.

DD: Right. He was working with the Pixar people at the time, and we were doing a story session for one of the projects. It was actually Bolt, during the early days of Bolt, and he kept talking about a Page 45 Reveal which I think is quite useful, almost like a Midpoint of Act-2A.

Blake the Pigeon from Walt Disney Pictures' Bolt

Blake the Pigeon from Walt Disney Pictures’ Bolt

TR: Page 30 to 60.

DD: Yeah, if you take Act-2A as its own chunk, and dividing that and stick a moment in the middle that is some sort of twist, some sort of surprise, something that increases the intrigue, it really does help spruce up that Fun & Games section that Blake talked about. So it doesn’t feel entirely aimless. It is building towards something. You pick up these little things and if they work for you, great, you put them in your toolbox and if they don’t you can push them aside. A lot of people talk to me about how they find the BS2 or just that way of thinking too formulaic, but I’ve reacted against that in the sense that there is a mathematics, there is an architecture to story in the same way there is architecture to music.

TR: Or architecture to architecture. I mean, you can’t build a building without a blueprint.

DD: Yes. In music, there is a sense that notes need to fall in a certain arrangement, even if it’s a completely new arrangement, in order to appeal to the ear. Otherwise it’s just chaos and noise. And I think a lot of storytelling, it’s ingrained in us as human beings, it’s the way we tell stories over and over again, and the ones that seem to be most deeply satisfying follow that overall shape even though the details of each story can be wildly different. And I think that’s where the difference lies.

Don’t fight the idea of structure. Challenge yourself to come up with a new way of presenting it that doesn’t feel familiar. One example that I use to illustrate this is The Black Stallion. There is a moment between the boy and the horse when they’re shipwrecked on the island, and it’s like this communion of these two disparate characters coming together in a largely wordless, music-driven scene.

TR: Can I tell you it’s one of my all-time favorite soundtracks?

DD: Yes!

TR: Can I tell you that Caleb Deschanel is one of my all-time favorite cinematographers? Can I tell you I know this moment very well, it’s shot largely in silhouette against the setting sun on the glistening sea, and I think it might even be what was used for the album cover.

DD: Yeah! Okay, you know it well. Well, that moment for the longest time on our outline board for the first film was just called “The Black Stallion Sequence.” What it turned out to be was perhaps the most unique and memorable sequence from our film, which is the moment when Hiccup enters the cove with Toothless, who’s got the damaged tail, and they go through this largely wordless kind of dance that leads him finally to touching the dragon for the first time. So it’s the detail with which we executed it that makes it unique.

TR: Are you referring to the sequence where they commune through artwork?

DD: Yes.

TR: I mean, coming from an animator-artist like yourself, that’s actually quite self-revealing in an interesting way. How are they going to dance? By drawing!

DD (laughing): Yeah. But that’s just an example I use to say that it’s all in the details. Because that scene feels fresh and unique.

TR: Totally. And you know what? As well as I know The Black Stallion, I never once thought of it while I was watching that sequence or after the end of your movie, which speaks exactly to your point.

DD: Yes, it serves the exact same function in our story. The shorthand was, for the longest time until we dreamed up those ideas, it was simply “The Black Stallion.”

TR: Did you tell that to John Powell when he was scoring it? Did you say “this is our Black Stallion moment. Make it sound like that.”

DD: Well, John had a different inspiration because as we were building out the storyboards for this scene, we used a piece of temp music that was written by an Icelandic band called Sigur Rós, and it’s a piece from a performance they did called Odin’s Raven Magic. It was beautiful and it fit the piece completely, so much so that we were thinking maybe we should try to option it because it was so perfect. John loved the challenge of it and said let me at least try to make you forget it.

TR: Sounds like John Williams trying to make George Lucas forget Holst’s The Planets, which I understand served as the temp track for a lot of Star Wars.

DD: Yeah!

TR: And he did! Make Lucas forget, I mean.

DD: Temp tracks can be a bit of a composer’s nightmare, but I think there’s also a challenge there that they do get quite excited about.

TR: So, HTTYD is a huge success. So there’s got to be a sequel. Did Jeffrey have any sort of mandate about that?

DD: While we were mixing the first film up at Skywalker Ranch, he asked me to start thinking about ideas for a sequel. I wrote out an outline in my journal when I was still up at the Ranch, and when I pitched it to him I said, “I would love it if you would consider this a trilogy, because this could be the second, the middle Act, of a larger three-Act story with one narrative connection of Hiccup’s coming of age and the eventual loss of dragons by the end of the third film. We cover a period of time in which dragons existed and that actually ties into Cressida Cowell’s books. The opening line is “There were dragons when I was a boy.” And I always found that really compelling, and her goal by the end of her book series is to explain what happened to them.

I thought, as a goal, knowing it’s bittersweet but also I think narratively compelling, to explain where that would eventually lead, but throughout the process this dragon helps this meek underling of a Viking become the wise Viking chief by the end, able to stand on his own. That becomes their intersection, each other’s destinies forever. So he bought off on the idea of a trilogy, so long as, he said, the second movie is a stand-alone film without a cliffhanger.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 poster

How to Train Your Dragon 2 poster

And I welcomed that challenge. It was an opportunity to go a little deeper into the characters, to take the tone a little more serious, like The Empire Strikes Back did, which was a big inspiration for me, and to also meet Hiccup at a different age facing a different crossroads, a different rite of passage in his life. Mostly because, by the end of HTTYD, Hiccup was a character without a problem, and I knew that grafting something on or making it feel entirely external, whatever the conflict was, by jumping the timeline ahead to the point where he’s being asked to set aside the freedom of youth and to step into adulthood and to take on the mantle of his father and become this sort of serious and settled character… that would be a real inner turmoil for him and reason for him to be on the outskirts of the Viking map searching for identity.

As it wrote itself forward, it made sense that he would come to meet somebody who represents what his soul seems to be pining for, this life of great importance but very dragon-centric, alone to make her own rules, and that this character turned out to be his mother, whose fate we had never explained in the first film. It began to kind of form itself as I considered the next stage of Hiccup’s coming of age.

TR: When I think of the mandate of any sequel in the abstract, coming from an executive point of view, I think it’s basically “Gimme the same thing only different. Only better. Only bigger.” Or whatever. And I think you totally succeeded in delivering that because it was remarkable to me in watching and experiencing HTTYD 2 how much of it felt like the first movie, only fresher and deeper. So the first one is about Daddy issues, the second one explores Mommy issues, you know? The first one is about protecting one dragon, the second is about…

DD: Protecting all dragons.

TR: Yes, and the complete exploration of them and their universe. It goes that much deeper. And then, just in terms of the Empire Strikes Back analogy, the first one to me felt like an animated movie, but a very “live-action” one. The second one felt like a live action movie that happened to be animated. I think the very best animated films all make you forget you’re watching an animated film and are just in the world of filmmaking, period. The second Dragon movie succeeded in doing that. For me.

DD: Thank you.

TR: And so I consider it the greater film even though, like Empire, it made less money than the original Star Wars. At least until it wins its Oscar and it’s rereleased, and then who knows what might happen.

DD: We did so well internationally that the second film actually surpassed the first film by a $120MM.

TR: Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that. I had only looked at the domestic box office statistics.

DD: We made a little more money domestically on the first film, but worldwide it tapped out just shy of $500MM and the second film actually tapped out at $618MM. So…

TR: So, unlike Empire. Outstanding.

DD: There was a little doom and gloom surrounding its release because it wasn’t the immediate success that everyone was hoping for here, but it did have legs and it played exceedingly well internationally. Which is really great. But thank you, I was hoping for that affect. I was hoping for a sense that this world and these characters took themselves seriously enough that we could weave an experience that made you forget you were watching an animated movie sometimes.

TR: Yep. So what did you learn in the making of the first one that allowed you to push further in that direction, like, you know, what did you realize that you didn’t exploit to the extent that you could in the second one? Maybe it was the subtleties of performance or spectacle or whatever.

DD: Well, there are several levels, but the most important to me was the sense of daring. By having Hiccup lose his leg at the end of the first movie, it felt like we were kind of playing with fire. We were expecting all sorts of negative reactions from parents, and we actually were surprised that we got just the opposite. Our focus group revealed that there were parents and kids in our test audience that rose to defend it knowing it was just storyboarded at the time and probably very precarious.

TR: That’s cool.

DD: And as we finished the film, we started to see that that was half of the affect that you’re left with at the end of the film.

TR: I found it so powerful and so memorable. And to me, as a viewer, I didn’t react to the daringness of it, I just reacted to the rightness of it. It totally works and is so moving.

DD: Sure. It was never meant to be gratuitous. It actually felt right to us and we were glad to see that it felt right to the larger audience out there. So knowing that, I personally wanted to push that level of daring forward in the second film, with bolder story choices. Admittedly it darkens the second film, but I think in an interesting way. 

Some folks think if the film is dark, it seems to equal lower box office. And negative criticism. But I think in our case we were handling this topic with sincerity, and with that came a couple of tough scenes and some very emotionally challenging moments, like the death of Hiccup’s father, and the fact that it was carried out by his best friend who has been turned against him and taken away. Like that to me felt like the complete destruction of that relationship, and it was the bottom end of the arc.

Without it, we have started with Hiccup and Toothless as best friends and ended with them as best friends, and it would have felt fairly flat. But not only does he lose Toothless, but also in losing his father it forces Hiccup to truly step over that threshold and become an adult and take on that mantle… with his own conviction. Narratively, all these choices felt very strong to me, and undiluted, and it required fighting for them, but I’m really glad we did because those seem to be the elements that are most celebrated by critics and audiences who love the film right now.

TR: You know, it’s dark, and it’s sophisticated and it’s adult, but I think, to use a Blake-ism, it’s Primal. And that’s why it goes deep. It’s not the kind of dark that goes into the head. It’s the kind that goes into the heart. And they’re different.

DD: It’s truthful, because for me personally I was Hiccup’s age, 19, when my father passed away. And we weren’t ready for it. Like as a family we weren’t ready for it and so I found myself going forward as I was kind of pushed into being a man and to start providing and being a lot more responsible than I had been prior to that. I found myself looking back on these moments that seemed trivial for whatever reason, not necessarily important in my past… moments with my father fishing or whatever it was… that suddenly took on great importance because there were life lessons in there.

That’s something that compels me. In the funeral scene I feel that Hiccup is saying the words I wish I could have said, had the clarity to have said, at my own father’s funeral, but also going forward into the third film, I think those experiences that Hiccup has had are going to continue to inform the kind of chief he becomes.

TR: Wow. I think here is a case where an animated film actually seems to conform to the auteur theory! I had no idea these films were so personal. You sure were the right man for this job.

(laughter)

DD: You kind of have to bring conviction wherever you find it, right? Even if it’s the fantasy you wished you had lived, I think if you don’t believe in it then it shows.

TR: Okay, just a couple more questions. In your opinion, what’s the single most important lesson to be gleaned from Blake’s work for the professional storyteller?

DD: I go back to his emphasis on the beginning. The logline and the simple questions which he covers in his third book in detail, and those are: Who’s the hero? What’s his problem? What does he want? And what does he need? And how does pursuing what he wants surprisingly give him what he needs? I think that if you can answer those questions with authority in a nice, clean, simple way, it is the map for your entire story. It’s even simpler than the Beat Sheet.

TR: It’s the Mission Statement.

the 5-CD audiobook version of Blake Snyder's third book (shameless plug)

the audiobook version of Blake Snyder’s third book (shameless plug)

DD: Uh-huh. It has all of the elements and your logline is in there. I think, as tough as it is… and I’ve spent days on end working with a two-sentence logline trying to distill my idea into something that’s universal and compelling and that  blossoms in your mind, and failing miserably at it over and over and over again… I recognize how tough it is, but it’s so important not to bypass it. I think we as screenwriters all want to get into the detail of our scenes and the dialogue and the description.

TR: The rendering.

DD: Yeah. But you have to earn that. I had a professor in college who was one of the background painters on Snow White, so he had worked at Disney since 1934.

TR: Was this at CalArts?

DD: No, this was at Sheridan College just outside of Toronto in a town called Oakville.

TR: Okay.

DD: He had been part of the animation industry his whole life, and he told me the most valuable little bit of information he could give me was this: “All art, if it reads as a postage stamp, it will read as a billboard.” That advice was about simplifying and strengthening your basic statement and making it as dynamic as possible, and then making sure all other detail supports it. But don’t skip that step. It’s a good lesson to keep in mind because this story beast is untamable, and I think anyone who develops the hubris to think they know everything about it is going to fail.

I even noticed that with Blake. I clung to every word in his books and he was just such a charismatic teacher, as well, live and in the room, but when we would get together to go over each other’s material, I read a couple of Blake’s scripts that were full of flaws, you know, and he couldn’t quite see them and he needed us to be able to say, “Hey, your own philosophy is not being applied here!” So, I think it’s great to know that these are tools but learning to use them and continuing to have an appreciation for the mysteries of story is just as essential. There’s no short cut.

TR: Well, I think you’ve just answered my last question, which was,”What’s the single-most important thing you have learned about storytelling in your career?” but I think you just said it.

DD: Yeah. You know, I could always draw, from the time I could pick up a pencil, and I got better and better at it. By the time I went to college, I was a pretty decent draftsman, and then my years at the Don Bluth Studios, and Disney, I got better at it as the years went on and I still love to draw. But story was always the greater mystery. And I had this thirst for knowledge. Robert McKee’s Story Structure weekend was the first course I had taken in London, and it just whet an appetite that I’ve kept throughout the years.

I am always intrigued by it. I’m always excited by it. And I’m frustrated by it. But I think it’s the most compelling part of the art form to me. I’m surrounded by amazing artists, I’m already humbled by them, but they look to me to really conquer the story aspect.

TR: I know no one would be more thrilled by your success than Blake. What a huge testament you are to the application and the viability of his work and the importance of his work to the professional storyteller.

DD: Thanks! It was my honor to dedicate the first movie to him in the credits. And I will never forget him. I think his impact on me and so many others is going to be felt for a lifetime. It’s what keeps him alive.

MORE DRAGON-RELATED POSTS:

How to Train Your Dragon Beat Sheet

How to Train Your Dragon 2 Beat Sheet

How the Dragon Really Got Trained – An Appreciation of Blake Snyder by Dean DeBlois

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