When you get the opportunity to talk to one of those people who really sets fire to the imagination of millions of fans in the world, it gets your own creative juices flowing…
In advance of the release of The Incredibles 2 in theatres everywhere today, I got the distinct pleasure to sit down and talk with Writer/Director Brad Bird who has not only delighted audiences with The Incredibles franchise but with animated gems like Ratatouiille and live action adventures like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol.
We talked a little about the struggles of the business, keeping those creative juices flowing and finding inspiration in some obvious and some unexpected places…
Obviously first off, congratulations on the film and I think the thing that really struck me the most was how ‘big’ the film actually felt. As a director who works not only in animation but in live action and well I am curious to know if there are things you learn while say; hanging Tom Cruise off of the tallest building in the world in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where you wish you could try it in an animated setting and vice versa something you may shoot/create for an animated film and you may want to apply to a live action film?
Yeah, I mean you really benefit from people who are just nuts! (smiles) I mean with Tom (Cruise) the fact that he was not only willing but enthusiastic to do that stunt was just such a huge plus and we really wouldn’t have been able to pull off a sequence like that with his willing participation. It was so physically daunting but he went and he did it. When you’re making movies I think you really have to look for fellow crazy people, and I think that’s the key. Tom is someone who just loves movies, and in that vein everyone at Pixar really does love movies.
If someone sees a movie that they are excited about then they just have to tell you, we play tons of stuff at the Pixar offices even some of the tiniest independent stuff and we share that knowledge. On Monday nights we run old movies, actual film prints and our in house projectionist has his own collection of film prints. Pixar really is this company filled with people that have these very odd, yet very specific talents but they all share this genuine love of movies.
Oh yeah, I mean some of the action sequences in Incredibles 2 were great and I found myself completely blown away think “Wow, there isn’t a country in the world that would have let them do something like that”…
(Laughs) Well Dubai did! (Laughs) But it was wild because we got to do something that I don’t think any building in America would have let us even attempt to do!
You’ve made so many films that have truly excited people over the years, is there anything recently that you’ve found yourself excited by?
Oh, I absolutely loved Guillermo’s (del Toro) film The Shape of Water. I was so happy that he won Best Picture for it and I was so happy that I got to see it at Telluride. And I think that one of the films that people just didn’t talk about enough was Blade Runner 2046 because it was just absolutely spectacular. I liked it the first time I saw, but I didn’t love it think that it was a good, solid smart piece of filmmaking, nicely shot etc etc, but I wanted to see it again. When I ultimately did, I saw all things that I missed on the first viewing and I think I’ve watch it five times by now and I know it’s almost sacrilegious to say, but I think I really enjoyed it more than the first Blade Runner which is obviously great, but the sequel just didn’t get enough love as it was a great job by Denis Villeneuve and everyone involved on that shoot…and I actually want to go see it right now! (Laughs) But I also loved Greta Gerwig’s film; Lady Bird and I thought The Big Sick was pretty brilliant. It was a great year for movies last year even though I am almost always usually playing catch up.
Incredibles 2 really does seem to put the ‘family first’ of the story to the forefront more than the first film to show that it’s just as hard to be a member of a family as it is to be a superhero…
Some day’s family is a lot harder (Laughs)
How does your family influence you as a filmmaker and storyteller on a day to day basis?
Oh they are a huge inspiration. My wife has many traits in common with Elastigirl because she’s tough, smart, loving, ferociously loyal, and funny to name a few things and stuff from family has creeped their way into both of the films quite a bit. My son, Michael actually does the voice of the Tony Rydinger character, and my son Jack was a baby when I was developing the first film and we kept calling him Jack-Jack then my youngest Nick was in a great mood 95% of the time, but then a terrible mood about 5% of time just like Jack-Jack. My family really is peppered all over The Incredibles and even when I was younger with older sisters, I was the annoying little brother just like Dash. My entire family experience is a huge part of these movies which is really why they are strangely personal to me. They play in a very commercial way with things blowing up and going fast and while they all have this candy-coated flavour about them they are all strangely personal for me. I genuinely like this family and it was important for me to return to them.
When you’re crafting something like this, as you say there are the obvious elements at play but there’s also these fun throw backs to cartoons/kids shows from the past like Johnny Quest & even Thunderbirds. How important is for you to have these ‘deep cut’ kind of layers in a film like Incredibles 2?
I think that there’s really a couple of different aspects to the film business that you have to consider. One is obviously film itself which is endlessly fascinating and wonderful which I would almost pay them to do, but then there is the business side of everything which is terribly tedious which can make you crazy and want to pound the wall. It can make you feel like there’s no amount of money which would possibly be enough to make you suffer through X, Y & Z, but those two elements have to live side by side.
From the business side of things, if you think about this job logically; your job is to come up with an idea which will appeal to everyone of every age, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, social, political and economic background in two-three years from now.
That’s the assignment, go figure out what that is and come back to us and we’ll put a ridiculous amount of money into it, and then if it doesn’t work out it’ll all be your fault. When you think about the whole process logically, that’s what the job of movie making is and the reality is if you ever thought about the job like that you’d just curl up into a ball and never leave your room and die in the fetal position out of sheer paralysing fear (Laughs). So basically I do my best to never have any of those thoughts.
If you go onto the internet you can find 7000 different reasons of why you just suck and really it’s just some stupid jerk in his basement saying that but because it’s now out there and in print, it now has meaning which it really shouldn’t have.
All those things are distractions because you are there to tell a story in the greatest medium that has been devised in the history of creation. It’s really the ultimate art form in it because it has so many art forms going on as a part of it. It’s the ultimate salad bar of the art forms, and then if you start think it about it that way then you really can’t wait to go to work. You have to think about what you’d like to see on the screen, and then you remember that episode of Johnny Quest with the invisible monster in it and then they threw paint cans at it and used electricity to beat it even though it was just this coloured blob that just shrikes and why was that so cool? Then you are dealing with emotion and wonder and pushing logic to the background, and these are things that just make you happy to be alive which is just a wonderful state of being to be in and I think it’s a worthwhile trade off with the business aspect of things which really can just drive me nuts.
I mean look at how well Solo: A Star Wars Story has done, money wise…it’s made A LOT of money. Yet it’s just not enough because it’s 47% below expectations, blah blah blah. It makes me want to scream and go “Whose expectations?” “And what the hell are you actually talking about?” This stuff makes the local paper and twenty years ago you’d only ever see stuff like that in the trades. People really shouldn’t be interested in what the number one movie at the box office is and just want to go see what they are interested in, regardless of its box office rankings…when did this business become this miserable horse race?
Exactly, the fact that people can put Solo is a flop but it made over $100 million in the first weekend in the same byline is ludicrous…
AHHHHHH…yeah it’s THAT kind of stuff that makes me want to curl back up into a ball in the middle of the floor, you know what I mean?
I do try and stay away from all of that over analysis because it really does make you want to quit and I try to go toward memories that made me happy when I was a kid or things that inspire me now which can really be anything, a piece of music and beautiful day and those are the things that motivate you to make the kind of film that you want to see.
In every animated film it always seems like there’s one very tough problem that always has to be cracked during production. For you guys on Incredibles 2 what was that problem?
The one problem that never really changes is the story. It’s all about how do you make people care and how do you keep them interested or are you focusing more on technical issues?
Yeah but if there was a story point that was a particular challenge as well we’d love to hear about it…
I’d say it was the initial core idea that Helen would get the assignment and do the superhero heavy lifting over Bob, while he’s at home taking care of the kids and the fact that him ever getting to do it again all hinges on if she succeeds. That idea I had on the first film, but the villain idea and that whole arc really did change around a lot with the Screenslaver character and everything that happens there. Part of it was because we had a year taken off of our schedule because Toy Story 4 had run into some story challenges in their development process. It’s not an usual thing at Pixar really because for the first Incredibles we were supposed to come after Cars but our development was going a little faster than their so we got to bump ahead of them.
Plus it’s a really big film and we don’t want to take any hits on the quality side of things but now we’ve got a year less to get them all done in. That really focuses the mind quite well and I’d say that was the big challenge overall, getting everything we wanted in the film but with 12 less months to work with. Thankfully the crew is amazing and we all rallied and decided that we’d just see each other in our shorts and not to be too critical of one another and understand that we’ll all get our pants eventually, buy which I mean that we just didn’t have the luxury of waiting until all the work was at it’s very best and we had to really be on ourselves about that because we hold ourselves to a very high standard and we had to have faith in one another that we’d get everything to where it needed to be. Metaphorically speaking we all had to be in the production foxhole together because communication just had to be immediate so we could all do our jobs. As example if I would do a storyboard pitch, we’d have the art director in the room as well, which we wouldn’t normally do that until we were 100% firm with the story but he had to know if we were making any kind of story changes because he had to immediate adjust in how he was preparing his team to get the work done. We were kind of in each other’s faces quite a bit but we just had to hunker down and pledge to one another that this is the way it has to be if we’re going to get this all done in time and do it with the level of quality that we hold ourselves to. The crew did such a good job that it actually makes me a little misty eyed just talking about it (Laughs)
The Incredibles 2 is in theatres everywhere all across Canada.