Posted on Tuesday, May 15th, 2012 by Peter Sciretta
In February 2012, I visited the Portland-based animation studio Laika to watch the production of their newest stop-motion animated feature film ParaNorman (you can read about what I learned on set here). While on set I participated in an extensive roundtable interview with directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell about the very long process of turning this idea into a hand-crafted stop-motion animated 3D feature film. After the jump you can read the entire transcript of the interview.
Question: How did the idea for ParaNorman come about?
Chris Butler: Okay, well this all started a long time ago. I started coming up with the idea ten to twelve to fourteen… I keep saying that it’s “twelve years ago,” but I’ve been saying that for years now. So it’s longer than that, but I just wanted to come up with… Initially it was a zombie movie for kids and that was the “John Carpenter meets John Hughes” thing where I wanted to use all these TV shows and movies that I really loved when I was growing up to tell a story. So it was like THE GOONIES, GHOSTBUSTERS, GREMLINS, ET, POLTERGEIST, and SCOOBY DOO was a big one. Yeah, and that’s kind of where it started. So I started writing it on and off, just kept jumping back into it and I had thirty pages of a script I think, which when I was working on CORALINE I showed. Travis [Knight] read it and he really liked it, so he said, “Where’s the rest?” I was like “Oh, it’s at home,” but it wasn’t exactly at home. (Laughs) So I would go home at night and write it and came up with the script. They really liked it and we started developing it and then Sam [Fell] got involved.
Sam Fell: It was about two and a half years ago I came along and Chris had already written a couple of drafts and I just came along initially just to talk, you know, and then we sort of started getting on very well and a lot of the stuff that he is…
Chris Butler: We got on very well, because he liked it.
Sam Fell: Yeah.
Sam Fell: I did, I just liked it. It’s a very complete story. It’s got a killer… like a really great ending to it. All of the references that he was talking about was stuff that I as a teenager was kind of watching and… This is a movie for kids, definitely. It’s a family movie and you know it’s for everyone, but some he’s referencing some of the John Carpenter stuff especially, like the notion of playing in that sort of horror genre without being kind of crazy scary or anything. I enjoyed HALLOWEEN and so…
Chris Butler: It was definitely… For both of us it was an approach to family and kids movies from the past, which was definitely more of a rollercoaster ride, a lot of fun, but there was an irreverence to them that I felt was sometimes lost in modern kids movies.
Sam Fell: That whole Amblin period, the whole Amblin thing… You know those films, if you look back at them actually they are a little edgy as well, as well as being fun and adventurous and exciting and they all often deal with serious issues and that’s something I really liked about Chris’s script, that he’s actually dealing with the subject of bullying, but without being preachy or boring about it, it’s just in the fabric of the story. So you get to go and watch this movie, it’s great fun, you enjoy the characters, but you also get to kind of think a little bit about it afterwards, which I think a lot of those Amblin films did.
Chris Butler: Yeah, so it’s just been… That’s where it started, I guess. So we met and originally we just spent a lot of time just the two of us together and figuring out a way of approaching the movie, how we would approach every department and every aspect of the production, so that we had a common vision and we were very clear when we started bringing people in, but also we wanted to make sure that the movie stood out and is kind of its own original thing and a new fresh approach to the medium of animation. Animated movies aren’t quite the novelty they were ten or fifteen years ago, so we’ve worked hard to make this the unique thing that it deserves to be.
Sam Fell: Yeah, for sure. I mean right from the start I wanted it to be a stop motion movie, because it just made perfect sense. If you’re going to make a zombie movie for kids, you know it has to be stop motion. So that was natural, but both of us wanted to do something, to really push the boundaries, because certainly working on CORALINE and seeing some of the innovations that the studio was coming up with was hugely exciting and it enabled us to take stop motion in a bigger, broader direction, to increase the scope and or ambition, which was really exciting and you know in a sense we approached this like all of the things that you shouldn’t do, we did them or tried to do them. (Laughs) That is especially exciting about the studio, it’s genuinely intent on pushing the boundaries and I think we pushed them as far as we possibly could on this.
Chris Butler: Yeah. It was interesting, because this place is a real mixture of old and new technology, like there’s definitely the old fashioned stop frame things at the heart of it that’s like 100 years old, but now we have a lot more… We have a visual effects department in house and we’ve got a lot where we can use green screens any time we like, and composite as many things as we like and we have a whole CG department, so we create these massive big special effects as you would in a special effects movie. We’ve got crowds, so like extras…
Sam Fell: A crowd in an old-fashioned stop frame film is like ten puppets standing close together.
Chris Butler: There are so many limitations to stop frame that kind of have given it its charm over the years, but now that the technology has advanced you don’t have to be as constrained. It doesn’t have to be as theatrical. It’s often theatrical just purely because of sets and puppets and just really it’s logistical stuff and getting the opportunity to really push those boundaries. I mean the story takes place in a town, so we wanted it to feel like a town. It’s not three locations. Ordinarily I think, and this is in 2D and CG, it’s pretty much in everything, as part of the story process a lot of the extraneous ideas, the kind of whimsical ideas… the bits of detail get chopped out, because they’re not considered important to the story and we really took our time to make this a tangible place. We’ve got shots that are just like a bit of plastic bag stuck on a fence or… We were really influenced by photographers as much as anything. William Eggleston…
Sam Fell: He was a key one that we looked at quite early. We wanted the film to be not like this kind of made up thing that was made up in some studio somewhere, but actually reflected the world outside, like the real world, a contemporary world. So we wanted to hold a mirror up to reality and what’s out there. We didn’t want to copy it. I’m not talking about realism or copying, but we went out, we went and studied this location on the east coast and got lots of photographs and our world is sort of a recreation of…
Chris Butler: It’s well-observed and I think that is what makes really good animation stand out, observation, and in every facet of this we wanted it truly observed, because for me a big part of writing this was to have it feel like the real world with real kids in real situations and well I should say “real kids in very unreal situations,” but dealing as you would expect them to deal with them. And that’s part of the fun of it and that actually goes back to SCOOBY DOO where you know, you’ve got these four different types of kids in a van together and they’re all getting along famously and it just doesn’t make any sense. Whereas if you really put a jock, a cheerleader…
Sam Fell: A bully…
Chris Butler: …yeah, and a boom worm in a van together, all they would do is bicker. You know, they would hate each other and so that’s what we did. We kind of had fun with that idea and initially a lot of people said there was a live action sensibility to the script and that was absolutely intentional. We wanted that kind of banter, that quick overlapping dialogue, again stuff that you don’t often see in stop frame animation.
Sam Fell: That was definitely it. I know all the references were live action as well, so in many ways we got a foot in the world of live action with the way we shot it, the way we paced it, trying to free the camera up so we had more of the sort of hand held feel to it and trying to photograph it in a more truly photographic way. The camera was not just there to record the animation or present the animation; we tried to make the animation a character.
Chris Butler: Yeah, and draw the audience in and you can do that especially with the stereo as well, the 3D.
Question: So because this is a movie for children, have you tested the movie already on children?
Chris Butler: Yeah.
Question: And what ages?
Chris Butler: Well they show it to everyone. We did this screening and you get everyone from like five I think all the way through, so it’s the whole family.
Question: It wasn’t too scary for the younger ones?
Sam Fell: I mean if it’s a very sensitive five year old it may be. To have a five year old sit through a feature film anyway is sometimes a challenge, but yeah I mean with the people who compare it to CORALINE because it’s from the same studio, CORALINE was probably much darker psychologically. It’s probably difficult to say that “your parents have been replaced and your eyes will be replaced with buttons.”
Sam Fell: That could be fairly disturbing to a child, whereas this is scary and we think of it like those Amblin movies. It’s like a haunted house ride, you know with scary things that jump out at you.
Chris Butler: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I worked on the story on CORALINE and it was… I loved working on it. It was an opportunity to work on something that was kind of brave in how kind of creepy it was, but there wasn’t that balance of humor in CORALINE. It was more like a contemporary fairytale, whereas this is very much an adventure story. So anytime we have any kind of scary moment, we tend to puncture it with humor and even though we set up these scares, a lot of them don’t actually turn out to be what you think they are going be. I mean that’s a big part of the story is “you can’t judge a book by its cover” and “all these that you think you understand don’t quite work out that way.”
Sam Fell: Yeah, like the big tough bully, he’s not a big tough bully, he’s a coward it turns out… The zombies are not as kind of terrifying as you might think.
Chris Butler: They’re kind of crap.
Question: You mentioned test screening. When do you start test screening? When you have the animatics and stuff like that?
Chris Butler: No, it’s pretty late to be honest you know. If you go showing an everyday audience a lot of drawings and temp sound, it gets hard to engage.
Question: It takes a long time to animate these scenes. What happens when you test screen it and a scene or sequence doesn’t work? Or they don’t understand?
Sam Fell: Well happily…
Chris Butler: You know, this is a typical thing in animation, you constantly are screening it for yourselves, the people who are working on it to make sure that it works and certainly all the internal screenings that we’ve had on this have been good. We knew it worked and we also knew what movie we wanted to make and that’s not always the case in animation. Certainly a lot of projects that I’ve worked on you’re storyboarding on something that doesn’t have an ending, doesn’t have a third act. And that to me is not really knowing what you’re aiming for. We knew what we were going for and it was just about makings sure it worked at the best way it possibly could.
Sam Fell: Yeah, and subsequently that people get it, I think. You need to make sure that it does play well. You know, you hope people go with it and enjoy it.
Chris Butler: So like in terms of the kids’ screening, that was a late thing, but before that we watched it many, many times with various groups.
Sam Fell: Thousands of times, yeah and what’s been good about this project is it’s just been very sort of from the beginning we spent a lot of time developing it, so he’s done a lot of the legwork of exploring it quietly on his own without…
Chris Butler: (Laughs) That sounds sad.
Chris Butler: That sounds quite insane to me.
Sam Fell: Right, well rather than having 300 people standing next to you with “What should we do now?”
Question: Do you feel like being located in Portland, away from Hollywood, has let you get away with more?
Sam Fell: Yeah, I think it makes a difference. It’s a frontier here, rather like… I saw it compared to New Zealand in a way, away from the mainstream in some way and they think differently here and the way the studio is structured and the way it’s run is different.
Chris Butler: It’s definitely pushing boundaries and wanting to excel, wanting to put so much resource into this ancient craft and making it as good as it possibly can and it’s exciting. It’s exciting that you don’t feel obstacles here. You don’t feel like you’re being corralled to make a certain type of movie or a certain type of end product.
Sam Fell: I think they know that they have to be different, that it actually pays to be different. I mean there is a lot more animation around and it’s not homogenized, I mean people are doing lots of interesting and different things around the world, but you know. You can’t really follow a formula.
Chris Butler: Yeah. You know Pixar makes amazing movies, but that’s Pixar. You can say the same about any of the big studios. I think what really makes something work is if you don’t copy what everyone else does and you try and do your own thing and we definitely tried to do that.
Question: How early on did you decide you wanted to direct it together and how much of that is just a purely practical consideration given the number of units you have going and stuff like that?
Chris Butler: I mean it has a lot to do with the size of it.
Sam Fell: Yeah, a lot of it is practical. We just seemed to compliment each other in where we were coming from when we met and it is a big beast to run.
Chris Butler: It’s huge.
Sam Fell: But we’ve stuck together a lot, especially in that first year. You know, as you go on you can split up a little more, but we made sure that we have a very common vision and we’d say exactly the same thing.
Chris Butler: Yeah, we haven’t split the movie up and like said, “This is your half. That’s my half.”
Sam Fell: Yeah, because you can feel it… You’ve seen films that do that and you can see it. So we were not super proficient. We do sort of travel around together a lot, but we meet in the morning and edit, everything comes through eventually… We do rehearsals and basic sort of staging things, blocking things, lighting tests and we discuss all of that together and we completely happy with the direction and then we’d split up later in the day. We would split up to go sort of “deliver the message.”
Chris Butler: “The daily grind.”
Sam Fell: And if you are out there and something goes awry or it’s different, then we will just come back together again and flesh it out again. It’s actually… Animation sort of serves this sort of joint directing thing quite well, because it’s slow motion filmmaking, so you make it all once together on paper with six storyboard artists and an editor. So you go through all of that. You have plenty of time to try this or try that. You might think “It should all be done in a lopped off wide, let’s try that” “Oh, it didn’t work, let’s cut it up.” You know, you don’t really get to a point where you’re like under so much pressure that you have to sort of fire out some kind of disagreement, you know? You sort of wind your way together.
Chris Butler: I think getting on the same page just visually, you know it takes time at the beginning as it does with everyone. The whole crew is finding the look of the movie and the feel of the movie, but definitely… I think again, going back to the story thing and actually we didn’t have a head of story on this, we did it.
Sam Fell: Yeah, that was good.
Chris Butler: I think that gave us a connection to… and it was quite a small group for a long time.
Sam Fell: And we had a room that was sort of back there that’s just a mess now and not worth showing you, but we had this room where we put the whole movie up on the wall in sequence and we threw up photographs or clips of film or just anything we thought would sort of pertain to that scene or kind of guide that scene and we kind of ended up with this sort of whole movie up on the wall so to speak. So when we brought the DP and the production designer, the vis-fx people, we already had stuff like a loose kind of bible of where the movie would go or how it would feel.
Chris Butler: And after a certain amount of time you just know as well.
Sam Fell: Yeah, it’s like everyone gets it don’t they? Yeah, after a while.
Question: What would you say the steepest learning curve was for you, though? Because this is your first feature directing.
Chris Butler: Yeah… Let me think. I guess I had more experience before in pre-production, in design, and storyboarding, so that side of it was second nature. I think when you get into full production and the needs of the floor is quite daunting and I guess the surprising thing for me was… not surprising, it’s just sometimes intimidating, you know when you’re out on a unit and you’ve got all these hugely talented people around you and everyone just goes “What next?”
Chris Butler: And you’re like “I don’t know,” but then you just think, “Yes, I do. I do know. I know exactly what I want to see.” I think sometimes it’s just that. I felt the weight of all of these people and all of this huge juggernaut that started rolling and you’re supposed to be driving it. Well you are driving it obviously, but you know 350 people…
Sam Fell: Yeah, fifty units running around….
Chris Butler: If you stop to think about it, you’d probably just…
Sam Fell: It’s just a lot of detail as well, isn’t it? Yeah, I think there’s so much detail that you have to keep pushing that away a bit, the detail. Someone will happily suck you in and engage you in like…
Chris Butler: The design of a blade of grass.
Sam Fell: But it’s their thing, you know? They need to know how to do it.
Chris Butler: And you can get lost in it completely. You can get really angry and passionate and you know hate people, because they designed this handle on a saucepan, you know?
Chris Butler: It’s quite intense.
Question: How close is the final product to what you had in mind ten to fourteen years ago?
Chris Butler: Actually mostly it’s pretty close. I think where it’s changed is where it’s expanded. It’s gotten even bigger, which is great. And certainly when I was writing it I had visuals in my head specifically of the characters and not all of them wound up how I thought, like Mr. Prenderghast, the ghost in the bathroom. He was originally like some frail thin old man who dressed in a nice suit and I don’t know… I think, Heidi Smith, the character designer, just drew… Like that was the brief I gave her, “A dapper frail old man in a suit” and she actually drew a massive hobo. (Laughs)
Question: Who just passed…
Chris Butler: Yeah, and I looked at it and was like “What is that?” and I thought, “He’s kind of cool.” So then that became Mr. Prenderghast, you know? It wasn’t anything else.
Question: Can you talk about how you found Heidi? I just think that’s really kind of cool.
Chris Butler: Well you know we got so many portfolios and this is back into CORALINE when we were looking at new people’s work, because again I think that’s something that we are definitely getting right here, new talent and looking for new directions. We looked at so many people’s portfolios and you get all of these amazingly talented young people from Cal Arts and Sheridan and you’re looking through their stuff, but there’s a trend. There’s always a trend and I went through pages of beautiful graphic 50’s retro inspired gleaming magnificence and it’s like “I want to do something else” and then suddenly we come to a page where it’s grotesque and ugly and kind of fucked up and you’re like “Wow. Who is this person?” And it was Heidi. She just completely stood out. She didn’t do anything like anyone else. She had this nervous organic line, this scribbly line and it was exactly the kind of stuff that you should never do in stop motion.
Sam Fell: Yeah, and she didn’t know anything about puppet making, but somehow…
Chris Butler: I think it comes down to “well observed” again. She is so brilliant at observing the real world and she does it in a very messy way, but getting Kent Melton, who is a fantastic maquette sculptor to work directly with her, so he was directly translating her sketches and these are sketches that should not work in three dimensions at all and they caused lots of problems for the puppets. You know, we had characters with big necks and…
Sam Fell: Tiny feet…
Chris Butler: Everything that we shouldn’t have done. I’m pleased we did, because it has made some amazing looking puppets.
Question: How does the budget compare to CORALINE? Is it pretty much the same? More?
Sam Fell: It’s in the ballpark…
[A handler agrees with Sam. “With consideration of inflation. We don’t really give that out, but you can surmise that it’s in the ballpark.”]
Sam Fell: It’s a bigger movie, but they… The visual effects are in house and they are totally connected to the production. They are here all the time, so any time we are setting up a shot we instantly have the effects supervisor and other people there to kind of talk to us about the best way to make that happen, the most efficient way to make that happen.
Question: And more effects shots?
Sam Fell: Yeah, way more effects shots. Yeah, a lot more, but I think we are getting a lot of bang for our buck with having the right people in here.
Chris Butler: And involving them right from the start.
Sam Fell: Yeah, exactly. You know even while we are still storyboarding we can could talk to them about designing stuff or where to put the camera that would help.
Question: How important are the voices in the film?
Sam Fell: Initially they are everything to bring the characters to life, you know. It’s a big cast. It’s a big ensemble cast of characters.
Question: Are you involved with changing [them in other languages]? And how about the voices abroad. For example, in the Netherlands it would be dubbed. Do you have any influence on who…
Sam Fell: Yeah, I think we are getting a little involved in that. We usually meet the dubbing directors from each territory and we get to talk to them. Often, like with the name actors there’s often an equivalent already with somebody in that country… There would be a Dutch Anna Kendrick…
Question: It could spoil the film…
Sam Fell: Yeah, people speak English anyway in Holland, right?
Question: The children don’t though.
Sam Fell: Not the little kids? Okay.
Chris Butler: But I think one thing that we wanted to do, because it was such an ensemble thing was get these voices that really worked well together, because there is a lot of rapid dialogue and the van chase stuff where all these kids are in the van and they are all talking to each other, yelling at each other, and making sure that those distinct voices with their distinct personalities really gelled and we got a fantastic cast that way, but like when it goes abroad I think as long as you maintain that where you’ve got this real lyrical…
Sam Fell: A musicality like some group. We found one newcomer, well he’s been around a bit, this little boy named Tucker [Albrizzi] who plays Neil, Norman’s friend. He was one of those discoveries…
Chris Butler: Who is weird. He’s a weird little kid.
Chris Butler: It made him so good to work with.
Sam Fell: Yeah, the way he delivers lines is completely natural. He is “that kid.”
Chris Butler: When we first met him he physically was Neil as well and he was just slightly bizarre, you know? It actually turned out to work best if you didn’t give him too much time to prepare, because if he read something too much it became stilted, whereas if you surprised him with a new line, he would just do it the way he would do it and often it was completely wrong or completely weird, but it worked so well, because it fit his personality.
Sam Fell: Just flashing charming, yeah.
Chris Butler: Utterly charming. Every scene he’s in he steals it.
Question: Is that why his picture is up around so many people’s workstations?
Chris Butler: Yeah, because he keeps sending them to us.
Chris Butler: He sends us Christmas cards and he’s got a fan group in the puppet department. They love him. He’s got groupies, but we got to record him with Kodi, Kodi Smit-McPhee and there’s one scene in particular actually where they are just becoming friends and they are kind of playing together in Neil’s backyard and it was great getting them to record together, because we got so much unusual naturalism where they are kind of stumbling over each other and improvising…
Sam Fell: And that was a good dynamic anyway, because Neil… Tucker is younger than Kodi and Kodi is at that age where he’s kind of the cool kid and Tucker is the most un-cool kid you’ve ever seen in your life, so you instantly had that dynamic and Kodi not really wanting anything to do with him. (Laugh) It just came out great.
Chris Butler: There is a beautiful performance and being able to give that to an animator and we gave it to one of the lead animators, Jeff, who just did some amazing stuff in that scene.
Question: Can you talk about casting animators? We kind of chatted about that before.
Chris Butler: I think the thing that we really did on this that’s perhaps unusual again is we let animators own a scene so they would get all the shots within a scene or as much as possible.
Sam Fell: So they did the background characters and the foreground.
Chris Butler: Yeah, and then there’s a continuity to their performance as well, because a lot of the time… You have to work on the facial animation well in advance of the shot, so being able to sit with them and talk through that whole scene, that whole sequence, you know shot by shot and they’d get an idea of the full performance, so they could go away and really think things through, because again something else that we didn’t want this to become was where each shot has a beginning, middle, and end or each shot has it’s own performance. We wanted it to feel part of a bigger thing. We have shots where it’s a close up of a character just listening to another character, shots that are just reactions to someone else talking, which again has that live action feel to it, but it gives you some really beautiful nuance performance and the animators being able to own that and really work through it was really good.
Question: How is it normally done? Is it usually someone is with a certain character?
Chris Butler: In 2D it was always split up by characters.
Sam Fell: Yeah, with stop frame it can be a bit more chaotic where you end up with people with three shots and then like someone else does the one in between and then somebody else does the one after that.
Chris Butler: I think for stop frame the main thing that’s always, and we always come back to this, the main thing that’s always kind of made it have to be a certain way is like the number of puppets and number of sets. If someone is animating a puppet on one set, it can’t be anywhere else, so you end up really having to schedule around. Purely it’s all about logistics and being able to kind of do some real skillful scheduling. No one ever talks about the production people here, but this has been such an amazing crew.
Sam Fell: It was massive jigsaw puzzle. It’s crazy, like four-dimensional chess, isn’t it?
Chris Butler: And the people who are arranging all of this are spending every hour of the day trying to make it all fit into a schedule, then being shouted at by the creators and you know they have done wonders on this as well.
Sam Fell: Yeah, absolutely. We committed early to this story and that’s another thing with animated projects, once the story starts going into chaos then you’ve only got a bit of the film that’s safe to shoot and like everyone tries to shoot that bit, so you’re crew might be too big and so you try to keep everyone busy on this little morsel over here, whereas this has been very sane like that. We stuck to our guns and stuck to what we originally intended.
Chris Butler: Yeah.
Question: How would you say, overall… What’s the quality that makes this movie stand out among the rest of the animated releases this year?
Chris Butler: To me it’s fun, adventure… It’s all of those things that a lot of movies are, but then it takes you somewhere. It has a heart to it and it takes you somewhere sort of dramatically and emotionally in the third act where I don’t think other films go actually. So to me it just keeps unfolding and offering more and we’ve nailed the Amblin thing well I think and all of the things we are talking about here today. We don’ t really want to give away where it goes, but that to me is what makes it extraordinary.
Sam Fell: Yeah, its voice. Right from the start we wanted it to have its own distinct voice. It’s very easy… Obviously this has got zombies in it and it’s stop frame, so it’s very easy to start talking about all that’s come before, you know? All the Tim Burton, the Henry Selick, everything that’s come before it, and we wanted it to have its own voice, its own style, its own aesthetic, its own narrative drive and I think on every level we achieved that and I think it does exist on its own terms and its pretty brave. I think it’s pushing everything that we wanted it to push.
Question: You mentioned there are some nods to some of your favorite horror film stuff. What are some of your favorites that you were able to get in there?
Chris Butler: Well I don’t think we are ever arch about it. I don’t think we are ever like going… I mean we are, but it doesn’t matter if you get it or not.
Sam Fell: HALLOWEEN is in there, isn’t it?
Chris Butler: Yeah, HALLOWEEN is the big one, because we’ve got the ring tone in there. FRIDAY THE 13TH with the hockey mask… But we have got little things as well, like the bar in town is called “The Bargento.”
Sam Fell: Some street names…
Chris Butler: There is… There’s lots of stuff in there, even just again some of the visual approach that we took was kind of like the EVIL DEAD kind of driving the camera around and having fun with goofy shots.
Sam Fell: Crash zooms and Dutch angles and stuff. We are both early Raimi fans, you know.
Chris Butler: The opening of the movie is like a really bad zombie movie and we had a lot of fun or are still having a lot of fun with that one, because you know you can go with the real gaudy colors and the bad cutting…
Sam Fell: Yeah, it’s like a little bit of homage to Italian…
Chris Butler: It’s just a real brief homage at the beginning, but it’s so relieving to have a sequence in the movie where continuity doesn’t matter.
Question: It’s been hard with the crew though, isn’t it? Because they are trying…
Chris Butler: I know, you sit there and you’re like “That doesn’t cut.” It’s like “I know! That’s good.”
Sam Fell: Yeah, they had to force themselves.
Question: How many days into the film production are you?
Sam Fell: Well we’ve only got a few weeks of shooting left. We started at the beginning of January in 2010, so that was the beginning…
Chris Butler: I know. It’s so weird seeing it…
Sam Fell: It’ll be two and a half years in all.
Chris Butler: Yeah, but then obviously we’ve got a lot of VFX work, post, sound, music… We’ve got a lot still to get through.
Sam Fell: Busy through March, April, May, yeah.
Chris Butler: But the end is in sight.
Question: At what point did you do the voice recording?
Sam Fell: Early.
Chris Butler: Really early.
Sam Fell: Yeah, 2010. We did the first pass of the film on paper with drawings and temporary actors, so probably about like summer of 2010.
Chris Butler: Yeah, you get anyone in the studio who thinks they’re an actor to do temp voices and for a while you’re like “They’re really good” and then you get the real actors in and you’re like “No, they were awful.”
Chris Butler: No… don’t use that… (Laughs) You do kind of get used to…
Sam Fell: Every now and then someone stays in the movie. You do get that, but it didn’t happen often.
Question: Do you use crewmembers for that?
Chris Butler: Yeah.
Question: Oh, okay. I would hate to think it was like a bunch of local actors who are now…
Chris Butler: Oh no.
Sam Fell: Some times…
Chris Butler: We did use some local actors, but they were the good ones, but especially because we’ve got a lot of Brits on the crew, if anyone needed an English accent it was like “You’ll do.”
Question: Did any of the crewmember voices stick as cameos or anything?
Sam Fell: I don’t think so. Some times you get that.
Question: Good thing they are very good at their day jobs.
Chris Butler: Yeah.
Question: And who is doing the music and the sound?
Chris Butler: Jon Brion.
Question: Oh, awesome.
Chris Butler: Yeah.
Sam Fell: We did use a lot of his stuff in the temp track in that first year, we just kept using his stuff.
Chris Butler: Yeah, it just fit really well and so you know when it came time to pick and they said “who would you want?” we said “him” and he said yes.
Sam Fell: It’s good because he’s wanted to do an animated movie for a while and he’s been waiting for the one that’s right.
Question: What were you using on the sample that we just saw? What kind of sample music?
Chris Butler: Some of it was his, it was ETERNAL SUNSHINE, MAGNOLIA I think…
Sam Fell: Yeah, that’s MAGNOLIA in there.
Chris Butler: Then there’s other stuff in there as well.
Sam Fell: A lot of strings stuff.
Question: And you haven’t recorded his stuff yet?
Chris Butler: No.
Sam Fell: He’s beavering away down there.
Chris Butler: We’re going to go work with him in a couple of weekends.
Question: And the Donovan song is included in the movie, is that correct?
Sam Fell: Yeah.
Chris Butler: It’s his, but not quite.
Sam Fell: It’s not Donovan…
Chris Butler: It’s actually part of the school play, so all of the kids are onstage singing.
Question: It’s not really a children’s song.
Sam Fell: No.
Chris Butler: But you know, the idea again is like this play… this teacher is this horrible awful woman and she’s written and she’s directing a play and she is putting the kids through miserable times and it just seemed to fit that they would be singing this really weird song. (Laughs)