Andrew Stanton Interview

As the director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo, filmmaker Andrew Stanton is no stranger to success. So it was a surprise that his live-action epic John Carter received such a lukewarm reception at the UK box office.

With Stanton’s interpretation of Edgar Rice Burroughs classic novella released on Blu-Ray and DVD today, Soundbite Culture caught up with the director to find out about his John Carter experience…

Soundbite Culture: How would you describe your first directorial experience away from your comfort zone at Pixar?

Andrew Stanton: It’s been extremely exciting to work on John Carter. The best analogy I can use to describe the experience is to say that it was like deciding, “Yeah, I’m going to get on a boat and sail across the ocean!” Half the people in the world wouldn’t want to do anything like that, but some people consider a voyage out to sea to be an incredibly attractive journey.

It’s an exciting adventure for some people, but it also sounds incredibly hard. You know there will be a lot of labor involved and you may see some really pretty things, but you may also get stuck in a horrible storm.

I feel like that’s a pretty good comparison because I knew making this movie wasn’t going to be necessarily easy, but there’s a sense of fulfillment and a thrill that you wouldn’t get any other way. It was the adventure of a lifetime.

SC: What’s the biggest difference between making an animated film and a live-action movie?

AS: I thought, at least intellectually, that the biggest difference would be the physical stamina of creating a live-action feature; the standing around all day for 100 days. It didn’t matter if it was hot or cold or wet, we never stopped standing – and that can be tough at times.

However, I think a lot of people thought the biggest difference would be that I was working with actors rather than computers. On the set of John Carter, I’d have tons of people asking me, “So what’s it like to work with people now?’ And I’d laugh at them and I’d say, “I don’t talk to computers when I work at Pixar”.

I’ve been talking to 200 people on movie projects for the last 20 years! I talk to them about where to put the camera, what costumes we should make, where the lights should go and what the motivation of the scene is. It’s not very different at all.

It’s funny because I have all the same conversations at Pixar as I do on a live-action project, I just don’t have them all at the same time. On an animated project, I have these conversations in separate meetings over the course of several weeks or months. On a live-action set, it all happens at once.

SC: How much of John Carter was shot using green screen?

AS: We tried really, really hard not to use too much computer generation in John Carter. I watched a lot of movies where it can look incredibly pretty, but the more CGI a movie uses, the colder and more antiseptic it feels.

SC: Were there any other reasons why you veered away from green screen as much as possible?

AS: I had spent all my life reading the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs and imagining what it would be like to stand in the desert talking to the 9-foot tall creatures he wrote about so distinctively, so I wanted this movie to feel as real as possible.

The Ape Arena in John Carter is a perfect example. We went all the way to Utah and found a big patch of sand where we built the throne and dungeon areas for the scene.

Everything else was green screen, but we built enough for Taylor Kitsch, Willem Dafoe and all of the other actors to feel like they were really there in the arena.

We were always trying to strike a balance by building enough so that if we had to have green screen, the actors didn’t feel like they were standing in the middle of nothing.

SC: So what’s next for you and Pixar?

AS: I’m not working on any Pixar features right now. However, I have a Pixar short that I’m working on with Pete Docter. Plus, I’m working on a couple of other options. I’ve had lots of ideas over the years, so there’s always something bubbling around in my mind. We’ll just have to see where that takes me next.

Interview by Jonathan Campbell

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Dates ‘n stuff

July 2012