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To Pixar and Beyond
My Unlikely Journey with Steve Jobs to Make Entertainment History
A Sunday Times Best Book of the Year 2017
One day in November 1994, Lawrence Levy received a phone call out of the blue from Steve Jobs, whom he'd never met, offering him a job running Pixar, a little-known company that had already lost Jobs $50 million. With Pixar's prospects looking bleak, it was with some trepidation that Levy accepted the position. After a few weeks he discovered that the situation was even worse than he'd imagined.
Pixar's advertising division just about broke even, its graphics software had few customers, its short films didn't make any money and, on top of all that, Jobs was pushing to take the company public. Everything was riding on the studio's first feature film, codenamed Toy Story, and even then it would have to be one of the most successful animated features of all time...
Full of wisdom on bringing business and creativity together, and recounting the touching story of Levy's enduring friendship with Jobs, To Pixar and Beyond is a fascinating insider's account of one of Hollywood's greatest success stories.
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It’s probably quite a triumph for Lawrence Levy that I enjoyed To Pixar and Beyond. Not because I think that he gives two hoots about my inconsequential opinions, but because it’s testament to his writing that an artsy girl who has zero business sense can not only comprehend but be engaged by what is at first glance a business book.
Levy’s recurring point in this memoir is that “story is king”. He has certainly taken this philosophy to heart and has retold his experience of Pixar, Disney and Steve Jobs in a way that absolutely puts the story first. Levy writes with some self deprecating humour (possibly because of his British heritage!) as he and Steve try to get to grips with the entertainment industry. Preservation of creativity is a working practice that has become standard for tech companies emerging from Silicon Valley, but rather surprisingly for an artistic industry, the world of entertainment is not so forward thinking.
Levy theorises about this inclination and says, “Fear and ego conspire to rein in creativity, and it is easy to allow creative inspiration to take a back seat to safety… As corporations succeed, they generally become more conservative. The flames of creativity on which a company is built can easily cool as pressures to perform mount”. The quest in this story was to stop this from happening to Pixar.
Albeit on a much smaller scale, I recognised the attitudes of the movie industry. My previous professional life in West End theatre exposed me to similar egos and institutional protectionism that Levy encountered. For Levy and Jobs to have successfully integrated Silicon Valley tech attitudes to the behemoth that is Hollywood was revolutionary, and clearly the source of their success - incidentally also laying the groundwork for the rise of Apple and the iPhone.
What is interesting about the insight that Levy brings to the Disney / Pixar relationship is that success has worked both ways; in the end the Disney we know today, the one that eventually released Frozen and Moana, found its path back to being dominant in animation in part because of Pixar and its creativity centred working practices. Goliath needed David.
For Levy and his wife, the ‘beyond’ referred to in the book’s title refers to their pursuit of meditation practices and something known as The Middle Way as a lifestyle philosophy. Their group, ‘Juniper’ (named after the tree’s hardiness and ability to grow in mountainous Tibet. Not, as I obtusely pointed out to my husband, because gin is the secret of happiness and joy!) Levy’s exploration of Eastern mysticism and philosophy are thankfully a small portion of this book; although I appreciate the value of meditation, I can find it jarring when the privileged and affluent extol the need to pursue mysticism to achieve happiness. However as philosophies go, The Middle Way seems fairly sensible as it focusses on the balance of practicality and creativity. Indeed I also found the parallels of this philosophy to the success of Pixar (creative free reign balanced with strategic planning) truly insightful and forward thinking.
As Levy himself points out, Steve Jobs famously compartmentalised his life. So the Steve that we glimpse here is very much the man who existed within the context of Pixar. This isn’t an analysis of Steve Jobs though, fascinating though he may have been. Both men, naturally, come across as balanced and intelligent individuals, but what made me respect the author was his negotiation of the naming in thanks of the Pixar admin staff at the tail end of each film’s credits. He says, “Of all my moments at Pixar, seeing this for the first time stood out as the most gratifying.” Maybe it’s because I’ve worked in theatrical admin that I felt delighted for these under appreciated workers! However I think that most readers will probably connect with the humanity of this act. This is not really a business book: it’s too full of good stories.
`A fascinating tale of creative and business brilliance, and of a remarkable friendship.' * <i>Sunday Times</i> * `A highly readable and gripping story.' * <i>Mail on Sunday</i> * 'A charming, upbeat tale...much like one of the studios own animated features.' * <i>Financial Times</i> * 'A magnifying glass held to the small print that is needed to make magic.' * <i>The Sunday Times</i> * 'Levy's memoir of his time heading the most dazzling entertainment studio of our times, has all the twists and turns of one of Pixar's own films.' -- Francine Stock * <i>Prospect</i> * 'This book, like Pixar's story, is truly remarkable.' * <i>E&T Magazine</i> * `[An] enchanting memoir...Mr Levy has quite a story to tell.' * <i>New York Times</i> * `Those interested in how start-ups work or how film studios make money will love the book.' * <i>MoneyWeek</i> * `I love this book! I think it is brilliant. Of course I am biased, but even so, I think people will love this story - one they didn't even know existed. And Lawrence has told it beautifully.' -- Ed Catmull, co-founder and president of Pixar Animation, president of Disney Animation, bestselling author of <i>Creativity Inc.</i> `A lovely and surprising discourse on topics business books rarely touch...eye-opening and inspiring... This delightful book is about finance, creative genius, workplace harmony, and luck... Life obviously is about more than business, but few books discuss both so well.' * <i>Fortune</i> * `What a delightful book about the creation of Pixar from the inside. I learned more about Mr. Jobs, Pixar and business in Silicon Valley than I have in quite some time. And like a good Pixar film, it'll put a smile on your face.' * Andrew Ross Sorkin, <i>New York Times</i> * `A finely sketched insider's account of the hard-fought success of a pathbreaking company. Lawrence Levy goes surprisingly and refreshingly deep on the business details behind Pixar's creative achievements. He also shows an intimate side of Steve Jobs that will delight the mercurial businessman's many admirers.' -- Adam Lashinsky, assistant managing editor of <i>Fortune</i> Magazine and author of <i>Inside Apple</i> `To Pixar and Beyond is part business book and part thriller - a tale that's every bit as compelling as the ones Pixar tells in its blockbuster movies. It's also incredibly inspirational, a story about a team that took big risks and reaped the rewards. This is a must-read book for anyone who cares about corporate culture and wants to learn how to build a business, as well as everyone who loves Woody, Buzz, and all of the other beloved Pixar characters. I loved this book and could not put it down.' -- Dan Lyons, bestselling author of <i>Disrupted</i> `The gripping story of how through hard work, vision, and a devotion to excellence, tiny Pixar transformed itself into a Hollywood powerhouse. But it also something more: a wonderful buddy story - between Levy and Steve Jobs - and how their friendship and partnership transformed them both.' -- William D. Cohan, bestselling author of <i>House of Cards</i> and <i>Money and Power</i>