Filmmaker Brad Bird is on top of the world at the moment coming off the record-breaking box office of his Pixar sequel Incredibles 2, which means it’s a very good time for him to finally get his passion project off the ground. Bird has been talking about making 1906 for years, a project that dives deep into turn-of-the-century San Francisco and climaxes in the devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake in which at least 3,000 people died and over 80% of the city was destroyed.
1906 was planned to be Bird’s first live-action film after winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar for his two Pixar movies The Incredibles and Ratatouille, but as far back as 2010 Warner Bros. had concerns about the budget. Bird eventually went on to make his live-action debut on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and followed that up with the Disney film Tomorrowland, and then he went back to Pixar to make Incredibles 2, which grossed over $180 million opening weekend.
But through all this time, Bird hasn’t forgotten about 1906 and still wants to make it. Appearing on the podcast Playback with Kristopher Tapley, Bird revealed that the issue with 1906 is that it’s too big for a movie, but he’s convinced the earthquake has to be seen on the big screen:
“It wants to be a longer story. It’s a really fascinating moment in history. Prior to the earthquake, San Francisco is this really happening city that’s somewhere between the Old West and the 20th Century. I mean, they still had bars where people were getting Shanghai’d—getting slipped Mickey Finns and you would wake up on a boat and if you didn’t work the boat, you’d be thrown overboard. So that was still happening and the people who owned those kinds of bars were in the California legislature. In other words, it was somewhere between the Wild West and the sophisticated city San Francisco would like to see itself as, and was in many ways.
So it’s this fascinating moment in history where gaslight and electric light were co-existing, and cars and horses were co-existing. Getting it in a movie-sized box, it’s too big a story for. If you do it for TV you’re missing the scale of motion pictures, so I keep trying to get it to kind of straddle these two worlds.”
Bird says Warner Bros. is keen on making a film out of the earthquake portion of the story, and it sounds like the filmmaker has at least been in some kind of discussions about a TV aspect of the story that would precede the earthquake movie:
“I love the movie experience and I would want the earthquake to be on a movie screen and yet I recognize that the story’s too [big], so I’m kind of trying to get it done as an amalgam and people are kind of intrigued by it. Warners wants to do the earthquake part of it as a movie, and we just can’t get it all under one roof. But I’m still fascinated by the story. To be continued. I’m still interested in it but I want it to be done in a way that embraces all the possibilities and yet somehow stays near or part of it or something on the big screen, so we’ll see what happens.”
It’s curious and heartening that Bird is still passionate about the big-screen experience as opposed to just taking the whole thing to Netflix for a scaled-down limited series version, and it’ll be interesting to see if any network would want to step up in partnership with Warner Bros. and back a purposefully incomplete limited series that concludes with a feature film you have to see on the big screen. That said, whichever TV entity backed the effort could make some sort of deal with Warner Bros. to host the film when it heads to pay cable/streaming, so they’d have the complete picture eventually.
Regardless, as someone who’s been tracking this project for nearly a decade now, I really hope 1906 happens. Listen to Tapley’s full conversation with Bird below.