Behind the scenes of Shrek The Third

We talk to Chris Miller, the new director to take the reigns of the green ogre franchise.

Q: We hear you can do a one-man movie because you’re able to voice every single character in ‘Shrek The Third’? That suggests you are obsessed by a project?
A: I could do a very poor one-man movie, that would lack entertainment and skill. It definitely borders on the psychotic – like they are in the room with you and you find yourself having conversations with the characters. There is a lot of familiarity.  

Q: This must help because you can give the actors something to react to when they record their voices?
A: Yeah, definitely, that is key. We record them one on one. Unfortunately we have not had a situation when they were in there together. I wish we had, I really do. The main reason for that is scheduling. We take two and a half years to record, sometimes even longer. So to get two actors in the same room at the same time is difficult. It does not pan out. But it has been done in DreamWorks films and with great success. There is something in the freshness of performance when you give an actor someone to play off. But we cover it in every imaginable way when we record a scene.

Q: So how long has the making of Shrek The Third been, from beginning to end?
A: I got the original script in the summer of 2003, nine months before SHREK 2 even came out. That was out of necessity, and then we hugged the script and kind of started over. It really started about the beginning of 2004.

Q: So, is work starting on the fourth Shrek film even before Shrek The Third comes out?
A: Yeah out of necessity they have started developing the story. It is early on, so they are really just finding the story.

Q: Is it harder to make a Shrek film now because of the high level of expectation?
A: I think the hardest time is the first time because you have to discover who the characters are and then create the compelling story. From there it’s really telling the story, which is difficult every time. The hardest thing about this one was telling a Shrek story that was interesting; that we knew was going to play well. We weren’t too concerned about the comedy because we have amassed 1,000 characters. That’s also what makes this one hard – making sure that all these characters that you love or are familiar with from the first two films are given their time on screen and are contributing to the Shrek story. It also made the first one easier because we didn’t have that army of characters.  

Q: You must also have so many fairy tales and legendary fantasy stories to plunder. Are there so many ideas available that you have to be ruthless self-censors?
A: For us – the group that has written the films – those characters are a really fun diversion. Yeah there is a lot of editing. But it would be very easy for us to make an entertaining film with lots of comedy but that would probably feel very empty. So we are always reeling ourselves back in to make sure that we are servicing Shrek. He is a funny character in his own right but he also has to carry the emotional weight.

Q: So is there also a Shrek bible that deals with the continuing stories?
A: There are things that we go back to check and make sure that we are staying true to his experience and the choices that he would make.

Q: Why does everyone love this big green ogre?
A: He is an under dog character, the ultimate outsider, but very bold and self-assured. He is true to himself. He can navigate himself through any situation. But it is more the vulnerable side of Shrek that people can relate to.  

Q: How was Justin Timberlake cast?
A: Jeffrey Katzenberg suggested him, three years ago when Justin hadn’t really broken into acting. I hadn’t realised he was that kind of performer. I knew he was a singer/songwrtiter and so I was thrown initially by the idea. Then Jeffrey showed us this Saturday Night Live tape to check out and Justin was great. We were instantly sold. We liked his voice too; there was something about it. So we had this great mix of a Scottish Shrek, a Spanish cat and this boy from Tennessee.  

Q: Has the Shrek franchise helped revolutionise the world of animation?
A: I think it has had a huge impact. The twist on the fairy tale, and the theme of the first film that beauty comes from within had an impact. When we make the films, we make them as a film that we would want to go and see and that we would find entertaining. That is first and foremost for us as film makers. And I think that there is enough of the child in us that these films appeal to children as well.  

Q: Who decided to use Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ for the scene with Snow White?
A: That is an example of there having been a song before there was a scene. Immigrant Song was something that I always wanted to put in there and it was not easy to do, by the way. But I have no idea how much it cost to use that song – I was frightened to ask.  

Q: Talking of rights, do you need clearance to feature certain fairy tale characters?
A: It is another very strange legal world that I will never understand. Anyone can make a movie with Snow White, they are public domain characters, but my understanding is, it’s how they’re dressed. Yet here Snow White can have a Dopey tattoo on her shoulder, so…

Q: Are the trees an homage to The Lord Of The Rings?
A: No we just thought that enchanted trees would be cool.  

Q: Is there friendly rivalry between you guys and the makers of other animation like ‘Happy Feet’?
A: I loved ‘Happy Feet’. I am very partial to George Miller and all his pictures. There is a happy rivalry. I also know a lot of the guys at Pixar, I went to school with them. But Pixar  are up near San Francisco so we don’t get to talk. I love their films and I love it when they are really good because it’s healthy.  

Q: But is the animation market getting over crowded with so many releases?
A: A little bit. I miss the event quality. I know there is room, but right now it seems there is a lot there.

Q: Your voice has been heard as characters in the other Shrek films and other animation films. What about this time?
A: I am the Stromboli character in the bar. The reason it happens is that when we are developing the films we do a temp track and sometimes the voice sticks.

Q: And do you get paid extra?
A: Oh yeah! Then I make fun of all my acting friends from school when I say I’m a working actor.  

Q: How about working with Mike Myers?
A: When Mike is playing Shrek I am unfortunately his Fiona. Sometimes he does not keep a straight face when I’m Fiona. We did the scene together when I yelled to him that I was pregnant.  

Q: Did you have any trepidation in following the previous director Andrew Adamson?
A: Andrew is executive producer on this film. But he is directing Prince Caspian so he has not been around much. We kept him in the loop and that was great. He really helped us out at times.  

Q: Will you do Shrek 4?
A: Maybe, right now I am so focused on this. I need a bit of rest because it is a long haul.  

Q: How did you decide on Ian McShane as the voice of Captain Hook?
A: It was hearing Ian’s voice in ‘Deadwood’ that got us to cast him. He’s so good, a fantastic voice. And of course Eric Idle is Merlin. We encouraged him to ad-lib.