Interview: ‘Pete’s Dragon’ Director David Lowery on Not Reading Reviews and the Toughest Days on Set
Posted on Friday, December 2nd, 2016 by Jack Giroux
David Lowery‘s Pete’s Dragon is a simple, beautiful and warm tale of friendship. It’s a refreshingly sparse story that hardly resembles the original Disney film. Lowery and co-writer Toby Halbrooks lifted very little from the ’77 musical; they made a movie that stands on its own and doesn’t rely at all on nostalgia.
The film was well received when it was in theaters, but now that it’s on home video, more viewers will likely embrace Elliot and Pete’s heartfelt and tender adventure. With Pete’s Dragon now on Blu-ray, we recently had the chance to speak with Lowery again, and he reflected on some of the toughest and most enjoyable days during the shoot, not reading the reviews, the lessons he learned, and the experience of working with Robert Redford again.
Below, read our David Lowery interview.
It’s been a few months since Pete’s Dragon opened in theaters and audiences saw it. Now that you have some distance from the film, how do you feel about it?
I’m feeling really good about it, but I also feel that it’s in the rearview. It’s weird how quickly that happens. When we last spoke, it was right in the rush of getting the movie out there and finishing it, because we were still finishing it at that point, I think, or had just finished it. I still had to go in and do all the Blu-ray color correction and things like that, and the commentary. There were still things being done at that point, and still so very present. Then, suddenly, it opened, and it was in the rearview mirror almost immediately.
I’ve worked longer on this movie than I have anything else I’ve made. Just to have it all of a sudden be turned over to the world, for better or worse, and let people see it, at that point, my job is in some ways done, because there’s nothing else I can do. For me, it’s important to sort of disengage, and to sit back, and to just let it go. I don’t watch it. I won’t watch it again, I’m done watching it. I don’t read the reviews; I sort of let it be its own thing. I am, however, very happy to talk about it, so here we are today.
Have you always not read reviews of your work?
No, I obsessively read reviews for my last film and realized that it does me no good whatever. I love film criticism as an art. I think it’s a very important thing. A lot of filmmakers don’t like it, but I love it. I think it’s a very valid medium in and of itself, and I used to practice it myself as well. I think that the lesson now as a filmmaker, it’s important to me to not pay attention to those things, to the reviews, and to the criticisms… the good ones or the bad ones, because I get too caught up in it. I take it too personally, whether it’s good or bad. In the end, no good comes of it, really. If I read a good review, it makes my day a little better, and that’s great, but I already feel pretty positive about the movie. So it’s like I’m feeling pretty good about the movie already. I don’t need necessarily to read the good ones, I’m very appreciative of them.
If I read a bad one, a negative review, I’m just going to think about it for a week, and it’ll keep me up all night, and I’ll start to agree with it, or I’ll start to wonder why I didn’t fix that one problem that someone called me out on. I did that in the last film, and it kind of contributed to a severe drop in my mental health for about four months. So I was like, you know what, next movie I make, I’m not going to read them. In June, I disengaged from Twitter, so I couldn’t be paying attention to it, and just tried to separate myself from that part of the movie’s release, because my job is to make the best movie I can, and your job as a critic and all the other critics is to watch it and process it and bring your own perspective. Your perspective is valid, and I’m really glad that you like it. [Laughs] It’s everybody’s opinion, it’s up to them, and I don’t want to let that get in the way of me moving on to the next film, and I don’t want that to affect how I feel about what I’ve made.
As you said, the movie’s kind of in the rearview now, but now when you stop and think about Pete’s Dragon, are there certain memories that immediately come to mind for you?
Definitely. It’s still very present in that way. I very frequently remember what I was doing this time last year. I think where we are now, last year I was in New Zealand to get a couple pickup shots, and that was a year ago. I’m just like, oh, this time last year, I was probably scouting a location for one of the pickup shots that we did. Or, I’ll think about the time I spent in post-production and how all-encompassing that was, and how my schedule was so jam-packed. Right now, my life is sort of… I’m doing a lot of writing. I get up and sit in my pajamas on the couch all day and work on a script, and it’s so different from where things were. I think about those things a lot. The memories that come to mind are all positive. It’s so crazy how quickly the rose-colored glasses come on. Making the movie was tough and really difficult. It was fun, but very tough and exhausting, and very stressful, and it went on for a long, long time. There were plenty of days where I thought, man, Is this worth it? Am I cut out to be a director? I don’t know.
Then, as soon as it’s done, you automatically feel happy about everything, and all of the bad and good in hindsight, and you just romanticize it all in your head. There’s no specific memory that comes to mind, but they’re constantly there, they’re constantly just floating around. I’m always just thinking about this or that little element of the production. Especially now that I’m writing the next couple of films that I want to make, and I’m thinking about the lessons I learned on Pete’s Dragon, and how they’re going to play into all the choices I make in the future.