‘Less is more.’ I have heard this my whole life and when I was young it made no sense at all to me. Less is quite obviously less. A smaller piece of cake is less cake. An hour at the beach is less than a day at the beach. Less could also be a good thing. A half day of school was less than a whole day of school. But whether the outcome was good or bad less was less, not more. More was more. It took me a lot of year to figure that out and a shift to and understanding of quality rather than quantity. I came to understand that while an hour at the beach is not much time, it’s a lot better than an afternoon at home cleaning my room. I also eventually came to understand that this applied to less physical things as well.
Throughout my education, I was given various assignments that had requirements for length; x number of pages, x number of minutes, etc. I’m sure you all know the drill. The problem would come when my information ran out before the randomly determined length would come. So like any good student, I learned to pad my work. Long quotes formatted to take extra space, dramatic pauses, anecdotes that were only barely tied to the subject matter. Teachers would, of course, notice these additions and point them out. But instead of getting a large deduction for not meeting the length requirement, I would get docked a point or two for poor editing. This was regular occurrence throughout my educational years until I got to my Introduction to Homiletics class. For those of you for whom church speak isn’t a second language, that translates to Preaching 101.
I was fortunate enough to take preaching from a pastor who was considered (at the time) to be one of the best preachers in the country. He took 12 students a year and I lined up at 6:30 am outside the registrar’s office to sign up for his class. I was the 7th person in line. He was an amazing teacher who taught me a lot not only about the practice of preaching but about who I am as a preacher. However, the most important thing he said to our class was, “If you cannot summarize your sermon in one sentence, you have no idea what you’re talking about.” And he believed it. So much so that part of the grade we got for each sermon consisted of identifying the ‘sermon sentence’. If we couldn’t do that, we were not going to be well graded.
That has stuck with me ever since. It takes a lot more work to do something well and simply than it does to get something done by over-complicating it and eventually getting to a finished product. In the first years of my preaching, my best sermons were short and too the point. As I got more experience I slowly learned what I could add that would supplement my points rather than distracting or just filling time. There’s nothing like preaching a sermon that everyone remembers for the funny story rather than the actual point of the sermon. This applies not just to me and my work, but across the board in any profession that deals with presenting ideas, information, or entertainment to other people. One of the best examples of this is the short film genre. And consistently one of the best creators of short films is Pixar.
Pixar consistently produces films that not only tell excellent stories but engage our emotions. Unlike other creators, they do not rely on over used tropes or gimmicks. Quite simply, they know the story they want to tell and they do so without any extra padding or side stories. In fact, Pixar animation was created to make short films and make them well. Even all these years later, they are still able to perform this first task they were ever given. Over the next several weeks, I will looking at the Pixar shorts and looking at how Pixar has managed to live into and improve the short film genre.
Do you have a favorite Pixar short? Tell me in the comments.