Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video The artistry of animation, part of 2012 SBIFF Directors' Panel: Directors on Directing.
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Peter Bart: So Chris and Jennifer, you guys down there, hi! Chris Miller: Hello! Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Hello! Peter Bart: At what point did you say to yourself, Brad (bleep) Bird! Thank you. Look what he did. He went from animation to the hottest movie of the year. Do either of you guys want to make that move and do a Brad Bird with Mission Impossible? Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Well, I never rule anything out, but I personally love animation as a genre. I just love the technique of it.
Peter Bart: Say it one more time. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: I don't rule it out, but I personally love animation as a genre. I just love the technique of animation and just the artistry that goes into it. I think it is different. It is a technique that requires a certain approach, and I just really, really enjoy it. So someday, maybe. The movies that play in my head are always in live action. I have to distill it down into animation for myself. So someday maybe I will just forget about distilling it and just try going straight, but I don't plan.
Chris Miller: Yeah. I mean, I would be open to anything. It just depends on the project. I mean, to me, it's all filmmaking. It's all whether the process is animation or live action, or more and more it seems like the lines are pretty gray now as the two ends are sort of seeping into one another. But it's all filmmaking, it's all storytelling, it's all character development, and I have to just really agree with Paul. It's like, that, we are working on comedies, but at the end of the day, it's finding a story that you can emotionally attach to.
In the case of Puss in Boots, I'd say, yeah, it's two cats and a talking egg, and that's what you're really stressing out about. Like how are these enchanted creatures going to connect and relate to an audience? Because the funny is not necessarily the hardest part, but it's just making something that's going to connect and feel like it's special. It's what's going to make it live on, and if that's in animation, which I love-- I love the art form, because there is just no limit to your imagination--or if it's live action, I would be game.
Peter Bart: Gore, if I may pick on you again, when you started, Rango covers so many topics, and there are so many levels of satire. What was in your head when, I guess, you started with a twelve-page outline, is that right? Gore Verbinski: Yeah. Peter Bart: What was basically in your head Peter Bart: when you started that outline? What did you want to accomplish in terms of ideas? Gore Verbinski: It really evolved. I mean, it evolved from a very primitive discussion about trying to do a Western with creatures of the desert and then that led into there should be a man with no name. There should be an outsider. Maybe he is aquatic.
If he is aquatic, he should be a chameleon. If he is a chameleon, he should be an actor. If he is an actor, he should have issues. And then that whole kind of identity quests came in. Then you sort of-- he wants to be a hero. He is looking for an audience. And then we said, okay, rather than being shy with references, because it's very hard to make a Western and not have the shot over the gun, with the guy down the street. I mean, you are dealing with a language that is really well established in terms of construction of shots.
So instead of sort of running away from that, once we knew this guy is aware, the protagonist is aware he is entering a genre, and we have this mariachi sort of breaking the fourth wall and talking about the hero's demise, it sort of became obvious that we could actually celebrate movies. Celebrate, very much like Michel did, celebrate all of these Westerns that we love, because I think in that case, the protagonist is pretending. I mean, he wants to blend in, he wants to belong.
So it just evolved. The only thing that's different in my process than maybe Paul's process is I have a kind of abject fear of homogenization from the process of gathering data. So at some point, I really like films that are flawed, that feel like they might go off the tracks a little bit, that maybe have second-act issues. There is a kind of perfection that can be achieved in animation by virtue of constantly writing.
So we had a slightly different process. We went to ILM and we couldn't change anything. It was a visual effects model--once we-- so we had eighteen months, very loose on the story, we were doing drawings, getting a microphone, having a Macintosh computer, working out of our houses, incredibly low-fi. And then twenty days with the actors, re- cut, and then really hi-fi at ILM, where you've got a drawing and you're saying, this is twenty-eight frames, and we need exactly twenty-eight frames, and there was no deviation at all; we couldn't afford to.
Peter Bart: And they don't have experience in animation. Gore Verbinski: You can't change--I mean, it would be incredibly cost-prohibitive to go there and to expect to say, "You know what? We changed our minds. The second act is now going to be, he has a relationship with a goat" or something. We can't do that because it's funny. So we really--but I do think there is a language of shot construction which you also get humor from, and I think that in many ways you can design--the camera can be part of the humor, if you're willing to sort of plan that out.
Peter Bart: But mindful that you like to be, acts of temerity, do you find going from a movie that is a send-up of Westerns to now in one month starting to shoot a Western, doesn't that give you a little bit of a cringe? Gore Verbinski: Yes. Peter Bart: Then I am glad I asked. Yeah Gore Verbinski: But this Western has gravity and weather and all sorts of other issues that we didn't have, but it also has gifts, very much like Chris was talking about.
Everything is frontal lobe in animation. You're trying to fabricate anomaly, you're trying to make it feel like if you are a tortoise and I am a lizard, we're here talking and Michel's got a camera on his shoulder, and it's happening, it's occurring. But nothing is occurring in animation. So it's going to be nice to get back to, once we kind of capture that moment with Annette, it's done. We don't have to fabricate it. Peter Bart: But the other element of flexibility that's opened up today that, more than ever, I think, in the past, is the ability to move not only from animation to live action, but also from film to TV.
I mean, it is, as you were saying, Terry, there is so much more exciting work arguably being done in television, in cable particular, than there is in features, and there is more openness to finance. I just wondered whether or not, I think most of the people here on this panel, certainly you two, leap back and forth in television. Terry George: I think for me, with TV, first of all, I don't have the attention span or the patience to do it. Like three years, my god! And with television, the process from beginning to end is much quicker, especially if you are doing--I did a network TV show, The District, and once you get on that conveyor belt of the five shows going through, you're literally writing, prepping, shooting, post-production, putting it out there, and that goes through.
So you can get great ideas up on screen pretty quickly. And the live action film, the feature-film business, you are committing the two years of your life, or three, and so you better not mess up. Those two years are gone. It's actually why I went off and did The Shore, because I'd spent almost five years trying to get a film made about UN diplomat called Sergio Vieira de Mello, who was killed in Iraq, fantastic character.
But particularly after Green Zone and a year of serious drama that went down the toilet, I knew there was basically no chance of getting that made, and I went through a process with Spike Lee on Inside Man 2, where we wrote god knows how many drafts, and that went down the toilet. I did a pilot for NBC that should have went down the toilet, and very quickly did. By the end of that, I am like, I've got to do something. And I had a short story, a true event that happened to an uncle of mine that he told to me and Daniel Day-Lewis twelve years before, and it got stuck in my head.
And I am like, okay, that's it, and I sat down in like three days and wrote the script of The Shore. My daughter, who is a producer, went out and got the money. We went to my house in Ireland. We shot it outside the front door. My son was the AD. My sister was the costume designer, though she is actually a very good costume designer. And within six days, we had this little movie that encompassed, for me, and for all of us--Ciaran Hinds, a great actor, came over and did it. And it involves the tide coming in and the tide going out.
So we basically had four hours a day to shoot that, so we'd wait for the tide, and thank god it didn't rain. And at the end of it, and now, here we are, the George family is going to the Oscars with it. (applause) But it's that thing of, if you get the story right, it can expand to whatever size you want. And it's just for me, I need to push the process through fast.
Hotel Rwanda was 40 days. That's the longest shoot I've ever had, because it's like, let's get this done. Terry George: And that's why--maybe I should go into animation. Chris Miller: I know. I think you might-- Terry George: The Zen experience. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: It's not Zen; it's fear all the time. Terry George: See, I'll work on fear. Chris Miller: That's not true. We don't show up till around noon. Chris Miller: and we are gone by 1:30. Jennifer Yuh Nelson: Maybe your job. Chris Miller: Sweatpants. It's beautiful! Terry George: But yeah, TV is great.
And now with the Internet, the possibilities and Netflix and all those, this chicken can be skinned a lot of ways. Paul Feig: Well, that is the one thing, I mean, for anybody who wants to be a filmmaker these days, it's like, now I just say you have absolutely no excuse why you're not doing stuff, because literally, the computer you bought has a nonlinear editing system in it. You can shoot it on your iPhone and you can distribute it on the Internet. I mean if we would have had this, all of us, I think, up here, when we are starting out, all the terrible films I would have put out to the world twenty years ago, you are welcome, America! (laughter)
Moderated by Peter Bart (vice president and editorial director from Variety) the Directors on Directing panel features a who's who of Oscar®-nominated directors on their way to the Kodak Theatre on February 26, 2012. With a dynamic range of films, from feature animation to comedy to silent films, this panel offers a diverse group of opinions and stories from the set. Gore Verbinski (Rango) was shocked that voice actors were recorded one at time, so he arranged for his ensemble cast to be recorded at the same time to take full advantage of the actors' comedic interactions. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) talks about the challenge of getting a black-and-white silent film made in the 21st century. Terry George (The Shore) tells how he found humor in the serious subject of the conflict in Northern Ireland. Chris Miller (Puss in Boots) leaves room for improvisation in his script with his three main characters, two cats and an egg. Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2) shares her darker moments during production, assuring a nervous studio (a year into production) that everything will work out—despite having nothing to show them. Paul Feig (Bridesmaids), discovering the brilliant performance of actress Melissa McCarthy in rehearsals, rewrote parts of the script to take better advantage of her comedic genius.
All of the directors speak candidly about the importance of great casting, a strong story, and the ability to listen to their audience through prerelease testing.