Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is Brad Bird‘s first live-action movie. Think about that for a second. In the film community he’s easily one of the most exciting and respected directors out there but he’s never released a movie with a flesh and blood person in it. It’s fairly mind-boggling. Then you watch The Iron Giant, The Incredibles and Ratatouille and realize the characters in those are way more human than humans are in most movies.

The fact of the matter is Brad Bird was simply born to tell entertaining, exciting stories and he’s finally doing it with humans with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, which opened last week in IMAX and opens everywhere else today. Tom Cruise returns as IMF agent Ethan Hunt whose team, including Simon Pegg, Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner, are disavowed and must fight to save the world.

In October, /Film spoke to Bird at a Beverly Hills hotel about his first foray into live action, shooting for IMAX, its early release, the then-rumor of The Dark Knight Rises prologue being in front of his movie and the latest on his long discussed disaster film 1906. Read the interview after the jump.

/Film: All right, so ten quick minutes. What is the most surprising or enlightening thing you learned from going from animated filmmaking to live action?

Brad Bird: That you shouldn’t cut right away. (Laughs) I think that I was all set, because I’m used to really pre-visualizing things and being very specific about when I cut and exactly what I need that when I started shooting this, I started calling “cut” way early and I didn’t want to shoot coverage too much. I wanted to say “No, I only need the camera to be here for this shot” and I kind of had to be indoctrinated into that process. I still am a believer in mainly being one camera, but there are a couple of times where I was… There were more than a couple of times where I was encouraged to shoot two cameras and I’m really glad I did, because it allows you some flexibility in the editing room.

Yeah, I mean because with all of your animated movies you do the movie four times over basically before…

Yeah and you are very specific about it early.

So how long did it take for you to learn about shooting coverage, different angles, or do you think shooting too much is a curse of live action?

Well different angles I was already there, in fact a lot of people have commented that my animated films feel more like live action films in terms of the way they are shot and edited, so that was no problem for me to make that adjustment, but being able to have… to physically move around and have some limitations like you can’t drop a camera a thousand feet on a dime, it will crash right through the ground and kill people.

[Both Laugh] Right.

So there are some things like that, but I loved the spontaneity of live action filmmaking. That’s something that’s very hard to get into animation and I think live action films kind of subsist on it.

Now this is obviously your first live action movie and (producer) Bryan Burk told us yesterday before we saw the IMAX footage that you sort of jumped at the chance, which makes sense. It’s a huge movie, a huge franchise, but were you at all scared about the responsibility of the franchise, this huge budget, this… new experience?

A little bit sure, because it was big and very complicated and we didn’t have a lot of prep time and so yeah, sure. I was… I was healthily frightened, but I think that you also are that way before you go out on stage, but that doesn’t keep you from going out. I think if you surf or ski you also learn to respect nature and know that you better do your homework, you know?

So about thirty minutes of the movie is in full IMAX?

Yeah, yeah.

All right, how did you decide how much of the movie to shoot in IMAX, what to shoot in IMAX, and what was it like shooting IMAX?

Well I mean we were somewhat limited. I knew that we were never going to get more than, in terms of screen time, than The Dark Knight got, because although it’s a very big movie, we didn’t have the time or quite the size of budget that that film did. But I was happy Paramount went along with me in doing it, because I think that there’s a certain bit of showmanship that I think is not often done nowadays and I can’t think of a better way to see this movie than on a really big screen with really great sound with unbelievably sharp imagery and IMAX is the ticket to that.

Which is why you guys are releasing the movie five days early in IMAX…

Right and you know look, there’s no studio in town that wants to limit the number of theaters on an initial release, particularly for a big movie like this, because then they don’t get bragging rights to the biggest money number, but I argued with Paramount successfully that that number only means something to business people and being able to say “The movie is number one at the box office” for a week. For the average moviegoer, they react to the experience that they have and I wanted all of the first people that saw this movie to see it at its absolute best, so that when word of mouth happens, knock on wood, that it’s positive, but I think word of mouth is the hardest thing to get and the best thing you can get for a movie and you want the first people to see it to see it at its best.

Right and there’s this thing… We’ve put it on our site and nobody official has confirmed it yet, but you talk about seeing the movie in IMAX and now everybody is saying that you are going to have the first couple of minutes of The Dark Knight Rises in front of that movie. Is that something that you know anything about? [Note: This has since been confirmed, a theater list is here.]

You know, I’ve heard rumblings of that nature, but that’s a Warner Brothers movie you know. (Laughs)

That’s true. That’s true.

Not that I’m against Warner Brothers. I’m working on project with Warner Brothers, but I’m just saying that we are talking about Mission: Impossible, but as an IMAX fan anything that increases showmanship, and Chris Nolan is certainly a showman, is all good in my book.

Cool. And now another thing, I don’t think it’s been confirmed or maybe it has been, but is that Mission: Impossible 4 is sort of a passing of the torch from Tom Cruise’s character to Jeremy Renner’s character. Is that true? If so, did that affect the movie at all? Is that not true?

You know, I don’t view this movie as that. I view it as another Mission: Impossible movie with the addition of some really spectacular actors, one of which was in the last Mission: Impossible, Simon Pegg, but in a much more expanded role. But no, I say this is the next Mission: Impossible movie and that’s it.

I was watching the Dubai sandstorm chase last night and I couldn’t help think of Dash in The Incredibles. Are there any scenes in your previous films that you look at and think that maybe they helped influence your work in Mission: Impossible 4?

I don’t really think about it that way, because I don’t sort of stand outside of myself, I just go “This will be cool” and “That would be cool.” I just was attracted to the idea of somebody putting a chase in a place with limited visibility. That just sounded like a really cool challenge to me.

Okay and the publicist is trying to wrap me up but I have like two more minutes, so I’m going to keep going. What is the most Brad Bird thing about Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol?

(Thinks for a moment) The director, maybe?

[Both Laugh] Sorry, I guess to rephrase it, “How is your movie different specifically because of you as opposed to the last three?”

I can’t really talk about it that way, because I just kind of do what I think I would like to see. I think that there’s a playful quality to it though that might be unique to this movie that sort of enjoys its “movie-ness” without hopefully cutting any of the suspense or any of the action that people want to see when they see one of these movies. I’ve mentioned before a movie that really inspires me is Raiders of the Lost Ark, because it has a slightly whimsical feel to it, but not at the expense of the intensity of the action. You never have the characters winking at the camera and yet it’s a “movie” movie, you know? It’s a popcorn chewer and so I say “Pop it up and throw some butter on top and we are good to go.”

Last one and I’ll make it really quick; you said you are working on something with Warner Brothers, can you say what that is? And what’s the status with 1906?

Well that is what it is.

Will that be next for you after this?

I don’t know. A wonderful writer has been working on it recently named Becky Johnson and we will be looking at it. She will be done with a draft that she has done pretty soon and we will see how it is. It’s a very challenging story to get to work, because it keeps wanting to sprawl outside of a movie-sized box. But if it could work it’d be really… I’m still very much attracted to that idea, but it’s a very challenging project to get work and I want the story to work first and foremost.

Of course. Well thank you very much.

Thank you.

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is now playing in regular and IMAX theaters.

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