We caught up with the director of the new Disney adventure – PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE

In 2006 Disney/Pixar introduced us to CARS, which became one of their biggest hits, with merchandise alone bringing in over $10 billion in just 5 years. This led to a sequel in 2011 and a spin-off PLANES was released last year. This month the follow up to PLANES soars into Irish cinemas, it changes genres from a race movie to an action-disaster film. The filmmakers were in Ireland recently to launch the film with a special screening for Our Lady’s Hospital Crumlin, alongside members of Scouting Ireland and The Irish Coast Guard. We caught up with the film’s director Roberts Gannaway to talk about the change in direction for the high-flying franchise.

When making PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUEhow much research went into real-life fire and rescue? Are you now an expert in the field?
Roberts Gannaway: Not an expert, so much as very informed. We let the research inform our storytelling; we don’t just make up stories, we go out and find the stories, or we find a world we’re interested in and learn about it. We bring that knowledge back and form a story around it. So when we discovered that Dusty – that type of plane – in real life is used in wildfire air attack, that led us into the world. We went out and met with the California Forestry and Fire Protection Agency. We worked with smokejumpers, we went on their training exercises. Ultimately, they became our friends. We dedicated the film to fire fighters because we were so moved by what they do and how selfless and courageous they are.

Did you take any inspiration from other disaster movies?
RG: For the fire effects we didn’t look at fire in other films, we looked at real fire. From a storytelling standpoint we really let the research inform the story, so we went and talked to the fire fighters about good days and bad days, and what happens when it goes bad. We also looked at historical fire fighting stories. There is a scene in the movie where Blade has to take Dusty into a mine to protect him during a burn over. That’s based on a true story about a fire fighter in the US in 1910 who protected his rookie crew by taking them into a mine, and standing at the doorway to make sure no-one ran out. He was injured and lost his sight in one eye, but ultimately saved his team. Here’s a scene in the movie that’s based on a historical event; no-one’s gonna know that, except for the fire fighters. You become almost a collator of the information you received and then you have a bunch of puzzle pieces that you get to put together. So, we don’t actually go to other films as much as we go to the real world.

At the Irish Premiere of PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE, you were awarded the Fire Safety Award by Scouting Ireland. How did that go?
RG: It was fantastic, because fire fighters are such selfless and courageous people, so it is really nice to celebrate them. The awareness of fire safety and the ancillary things that come out of the film as a result of telling a great story is awesome.

You voice characters yourself in the film, was that something you wanted to do from the start?
RG: Something distinctive about the way that John Lasseter leads his studios is that we don’t take outside pitches, like the rest of Hollywood; you can’t write a story and then come pitch it to Walt Disney Animation Studios. Animation takes so long to do – in our case 4 years – the films come from the directors; we are a filmmaker driven studio, so the story comes from the director, so the director feels a connection to it because they have to nurture it through the tough process of making a movie. Doing a voice is another fun way of putting your mark on it.

You have new characters this time, how did you go about casting the voice actors?
RG: When we are defining the personality of a vehicle, we do a few things; first of all, we look at the vehicle itself and find what it looks like, what feeling you get from looking at it. Who designed the vehicle? Where was it manufactured? All of those things start to define your character. Then you want to find an actor who embodies the spirit of the character. In the case of Blade Ranger, we have a tough, no nonsense helicopter, who is all about safety, so Ed Harris can naturally come in and be that character. He is a tough no nonsense, straight shooting kind of guy. We really try to find someone who doesn’t come in and do a voice, but be who they are and do what they do to make the character feel real. The goal is to make you forget that this is a talking vehicle, and for you to connect with the character.

Words: Brogen Hayes

PLANES: FIRE AND RESCUE is at Irish cinemas from August 8th