How much pressure was on WALL-E producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins? Find out in the first of our Wall-E articles this week
It’s finally here, welcome to Wall-E week on Movies.ie
Movies.ie visited Pixar’s studios in San Francisco last month (yeah, it’s a dirty job but someone’s gotta do it) and spoke to the team behind this years most amazing animation WALL-E!
First up are Wall-E producers Jim Morris and Lindsey Collins. Jim joined Pixar in 2005 and is responsible for managing the production of the studio’s features, shorts, DVDs and theme park activities. Prior to joining Pixar he served as President of Lucas Digital Ltd, where he managed Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) and Skywalker Sound.
Lindsey on the other hand has been with Pixar for over 11 years now, she has worked on ‘A Bugs Life’, ‘Toy Story 2′, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘Ratatouille’, her claim to fame is that she voiced the character of Mia in ‘Cars’, the 2006 Pixar movie.
Q: Pixar animations obviously take a very long time to put together, was WALL-E any easier to make given the fact that there was no dialogue?
Jim: I think that the animators really had a different sort of challenge on this, because they really had to bring all these performances forward without, really, a whole lot of reliance on speach and so forth. It’s almost kind of a tip of the hat to the films of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplain and, where there’s so much that you get through the pantomime of the characters.
Lindsey: While most of our other films rely on the animation to bring it alive this one really relied on the animation to make it all come to life. There was a huge leap taken really from just the sketches of the storyboards to when you saw it animated, you can’t just sit on a character and listen to a monologue go on. From the timeline point of view it took about the same time as most of our films, they take about four years and we’ve been working on this one for about three years.
Jim : Andrew was writing it during Nemo, so it had a longer gestation period creatively but the physical production didn’t really take any longer.
Lindsey: You know, if the story is told well, that the lack of dialogue at the beginning and stuff, actually draws people in more. Including kids, because they invest more, it’s like you see babies interact with each other, or kids interacting with each other when their language skills aren’t perfect. It doesn’t matter, they play and they interact and they project emotions and feelings onto those characters more if its told well because they’re not being told what the character is feeling. They’re actually investing in it and they’re projecting what they think the character is feeling onto them, and so Andrew kind of felt as if he was successful in that first act, that you would actually engage the audience at a more visceral level. Much like pets do, or babies do, without the dialogue to rest on, so…
We’ve looked at a lot of films, you know, as we were getting ready for this and you know, one of the films that stands out for us certainly is, ‘The Black Stallion’, Carroll Ballard’s film. And there’s very little dialogue in the first acts of that film, if you’ve seen it, but it’s very engaging, and you do invest in it.
Q: This film has a much more grown-up appeal to usual animations, do you try to have a balance that will pease both children and adults?
Jim : We try to make films for ourselves more then a specific audience, we try not to talk down to children but we’re kind of making the movies we’d like to see. There’s no profanity in them or any of that kind of stuff, but we really try to make films that we think would be fun to see and we assume that kids and adults and everybody else would like to see them, that’s kind of the metric that the film makers here have.
Q: With the nature of film there are so many people collaborating on one project how do you keep control? Do you play good-cop/bad-cop with each other?
Jim : It’s a tricky process to manage, the process of making an animated film, you have to build in room for that kind of change. Because that’s how you make the movie, in a way. So it’s trying to keep it within some reasonable confines and trying to keep it from going too far off track.
Lindsey: Pixar has a long history of changing films, I mean the reason our films often take as long as they do is that we accommodate that kind of change. You have a crew who are completely behind change if it’s for the right reason. No matter how late in the game, if it makes the story better, you have 200 people deeply invested in making this movie the best it can be and so the minute the director pitches a change, as long as he pitches it in a way that they all understand why the change is happening and how it betters the story or how it clarifies the arc, or endears the character more, then that’s all it takes. Then 200 people all together say ‘All right! Forget it, We’ll make it a dog!’
I mean they get it, and that’s been the case on ‘Toy Story 2′, and on ‘Monsters Inc’, and on ‘Finding Nemo’. I mean change happens, throughout the process and our job is to make sure that change is communicated clearly and that we can accommodate it, as best we can.
Jim : Frankly, we have a crew full of perfectionists. Our job in a way is more telling them to go home. I mean these guys would stay and perfect, and perfect, and perfect right down to the end. They’d never feel it’s perfect until we tell them “ok, let’s move on”. It’s really the dead-line of a film releasing in the theatre that makes them finish up.
Q: I’m interested in that first moment, whenever it was that that this project was given the green light. When someone arrives in a room and says “Ok, I want to make a film, with no dialogue about two robots who fall in love and it starts with the complete desolation of earth” how did that happen?
Lindsey: The original idea was a little more engaging than that. I mean the pitch was, director Andrew Stanton’s one liner… “What if everybody left the Earth and somebody forgot to turn the last robot off?” It sort of evoked this loneliness and evoked kind of a Robinson Crusoe sort of feel.
And the whole story was in a way, sort of reverse engineered to support that idea, what would be the circumstance in which that would happen, and if you did have this lonely character, where would they get to? And the idea was that they’d be seeking some sort of connection somewhere. And a lot of the pieces unfolded Andrew talks a lot about his story process, he’ll find a bone and as he’s been, a palaeontologist, it’ll be really interesting bone and he’ll try and find bones to fit that. And eventually, if he’s lucky he’ll be able to put a whole skeleton together. And I think this story really puts the pieces together.
Q: Normally as a producer, one area you work in is the fine art of product placement. I’m guessing the fact that the film is largely based in huge rubbish tip that you couldn’t exactly put product placement into the film?
Jim: Well, no, I mean certainly not too many people want to be associated with rubbish, and so we had no opportunities here. But we’re kind of, ferociously opposed to product placement anyway, it it just doesn’t serve the audience typically.
Q: Every Pixar movie is renowned for its high quality and huge box office returns. Do you worry that you’re now the next guys up to bat and if you drop the ball, it’s going to be a major bad day at Pixar? It might happen some day, do you ever wake up at night in fear, feeling a little bit sweaty?
Jim: It would suck, yeah. Of course! But you know this film is a little bit tricky, it’s about a trash compactor that’s on a post apocalyptic Earth. It paints a somewhat interesting picture of the future to say the least, and I think we’ve all been concerned – I’m sure the Disney executives have been a little concerned about it, and we’re kind of putting our faith in the story and the character and characters that will make it a compelling experience for people.
Lindsey : It’s a little edgier then many other Pixar films. I think if anything the directors are more intimidated by each other, in a really great way. When Ratatouille was finished and Andrew saw it for the first time, he called up Brad Burton and was like “uhhhhhh!”, because he thought it was so great and he was like, “Great!” it was like, no pressure on the next film! So I think they have this collaborative sense of wow.
I think what it does do, on the good side of it is, it forces everybody here to not be complacent. You’re taking something, it’s pretty tricky and you’ve got to make sure that you’re going to make it end as best as it can because you’re already taking some risk in terms of the subject matter, and the material and the structure. So it’s made all of us, rather then feeling like we know what we’re doing, we feel like we don’t know what we’re doing and we better really think this through and get it right.
The day that we come into work and think we know what we’re doing is the day that it’s all going to go to pot. But I think they feel as though it’s like playing tennis against people who are always a little bit better then you at all times. It ups your game just a little bit more.