From director David Lowery, the fantastical and magical story of Pete’s Dragon tells the tale of the adventure of an orphaned boy named Pete (Oakes Fegley) and his best friend Elliott, who happens to be a dragon. Now available on Digital HD, Blu-ray and Disney Movies Anywhere, fans of the film can check out cool new never-before-seen bonus features, including a revealing look at the personal diary that Lowery kept during filming, the design process behind the lovable dragon Elliott, deleted scenes, bloopers, a tour of the film’s production location of New Zealand, and audio commentary by filmmakers and actors.
During this exclusive phone interview with Collider, filmmaker David Lowery talked about why it was important for him to keep a personal diary during the production of Pete’s Dragon, deciding how much of the movie-making magic to reveal, bloopers and deleted scenes, always wishing he could go back and fix or change things, and what he’s most proud of with the finished film. He also talked about re-teaming with both Robert Redford (with whom he worked with on Pete’s Dragon) and Casey Affleck (with whom he worked with on Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) for The Old Man and the Gun, which he’s hoping to shoot in March, and how things are progressing with his telling of the classic Peter Pan.
Collider: Why was it important for you to keep a personal diary during the production of Pete’s Dragon? What can we expect with that special feature on the Blu-ray, and is that something you normally do?
DAVID LOWERY: When I was in high school, which was way longer ago than I like to think, I started this website to keep track of the things I was working on, and that evolved into a blog. Blogs were just starting to exist, around that time. That was around 2004, and then around 2012, I got busy and stopped updating. So, when I started to work on this movie, particularly around when we were getting ready to start shooing it, I thought back to all of the production journals that I read when I was first starting to learn about filmmaking. There’s Robert Rodriguez’s famous one that he kept for El Mariachi. There’s an amazing one that Spike Lee did for School Daze and Malcolm X. And then, there’s my favorite, which was Steven Soderbergh’s journal for Sex, Lies, and Videotape. I loved those. Those were so incredibly educational to me, as a burgeoning filmmaker, and I still go back and read them. I still go back and read Steven Soderbergh’s journal probably once a year. It’s so interesting to me to see where he was, where his mind-set was and where he’s coming from.
So, both for myself and for anyone else, I wanted to do the same thing. I selfishly was mainly doing it for myself. I wanted to be able to look back and remember this experience because I knew it was going to be such a crazy, new and different creative journey for me and I didn’t want to forget about any of it. I just wanted to preserve it for posterity. So, on day one, I wrote an entry and realized that I should just do it every night, so I did. Every night, for the whole shoot, I wrote an account of what happened that day. There were some days where literally all I wrote was, “Too tired.” And Disney was aware of it. When they started to put together the Blu-ray, they asked me if they could use that as the basis of a behind-the-scenes documentary. I was very open to the idea because another great filmmaking journal is Eleanor Coppola’s diaries from making Apocalypse Now, which ultimately paved the way for Hearts of Darkness, the amazing documentary about the making of that film that’s based entirely on her diaries. I was like, “Maybe this will be a G-rated version of that,” and it is. It’s a really nice little feature. I can’t stand hearing my own voice. It’s the worst thing. I had to watch it on mute. But it’s nice that something I did, just entirely for myself, has now been discovered and people are appreciating it. I’ve heard from so many people that enjoyed reading it, and from other filmmakers who found it meaningful. I’m glad it made its way out there.
With a movie like this, where the magic is so important, were you reluctant to reveal too many behind-the-scenes secrets, or are you okay with revealing some of the movie-making magic?
LOWERY: I’m okay with it. I’ve turned a bend, around the corner, with DVD extra features. I know enough about how movies are made now that they don’t really interest me that much. I think the last movie that just boggled my mind, as to how they did it, was Gravity. I remember thinking, “Should I get the Gravity Blu-ray and find out how they did it, or would I rather just let that magic remain magical?” Ultimately, I was like, “I know that they made it and I know it’s possible. I’m just going to let that all remain a mystery because it preserves something special about the movie.” So, I’ve personally reached a point where I don’t want to know as much anymore, but I’m happy for the people who want to know, to have that information. On this Blu-ray, there’s the behind-the-scenes documentary, which is nice, and there’s a little bit of visual effects work in there. Not too much, but just enough to give you an idea as to how we pulled off some of the things we pulled off in this movie.
What can we expect from the bloopers and deleted scenes? Did any one, in particular, have more bloopers than everyone else?
LOWERY: Oakes [Fegley], who plays Pete, was the king of bloopers. He wasn’t making mistakes. He’d just sneeze a lot, or there would be random little things, like him getting distracted and looking off-camera. There’s a lot of that, and it’s surprisingly funny. Robert Redford had the best blooper, which was intentional, on his part. We can’t put it on the DVD and I can’t talk about it because it is not G-rated, or PG, or PG-13, but it was amazing. I hope somehow, someday, it surfaces because it was just pure solid gold. All of the bloopers are good. And then, we have a bunch of deleted scenes. What I did, rather than putting a bunch of quick scenes up, we edited them together in a montage. It’s a seven or eight minute sequence of moments from the movie that were really good, but didn’t quite fit. I find that it’s easier to watch them all together than to watch them one at a time, so we just cut them together in a nice montage of scenes and moments. A lot of them are just little moments that don’t stand up by themselves necessarily, but when you watch them as part of a package, they really are lovely and are things I didn’t want to forget about.
Now that all is said and done with the film, what would you say you were most proud that you were able to accomplish with it, and is there anything you still wish you’d had more time on or that you could go back and change, in some way?
LOWERY: Well, there’s always going to be the things that I wish I could fix, and there are always going to be the things I wish I had more time on, or the scenes I wish I’d had another angle on and another half-day to shoot. That’s always going to be the case. I find that it’s very important and very healthy to not linger on those things and to not think about them because otherwise I’ll just drive myself crazy. And so, to that end, once the movie is done, I don’t watch it anymore. I have to let it go because otherwise I’ll focus on all of the things that I’d love to keep working on. And I think the thing I’m most proud of about the movie is that we made exactly the movie we set out to make, which was a very sincere, very personal, very evocative children’s film that hopefully goes beyond just being a children’s film and is a film that adults can appreciate, as well. I really wanted to make a movie that would make me, as a 7-year-old, happy, but I also wanted to make a movie that I, as a 35-year-old, would enjoy just as much. I feel content in that, if I were an audience member and movie-goer, I would really like this movie. I don’t let my pride in the finished product go any further than that, but I’m very proud that we accomplished that.
You’re re-teaming with both Robert Redford and Casey Affleck for The Old Man and the Gun. What most excites you about re-teaming with them, but also in teaming them up together?
LOWERY: They both have a very similar attitude. They both hate doing press, I can tell you that right now. When we do press for that movie, it will be a nightmare and you won’t get to talk to either of them. They both have a very irascible, fun-loving, devil may care quality, but they also really care about their work and they really care about the values that they represent in motion pictures. Obviously, Redford is incredibly vocal about the environment, and Casey Affleck is a really vocal proponent of animal rights, as am I. I really gravitate towards filmmakers, actors and artists of any sort, who have those type of standards that I can line up with. Even if our movies aren’t necessarily about that, we can work together to try to make something that will reach a little bit higher than just entertainment, and that’s important to me. That’s exciting to me, about working with both of them.
Also, when you find someone that you enjoy working with, I find that it’s important to hang on tight to them because it’s a rare thing. I loved working with Casey, and I would love t have him in every movie. In fact, he was going to be in Pete’s Dragon, until his Manchester by the Sea schedule got in the way. Luckily for him, that happened because Manchester by the Sea is amazing and he’s amazing in it. But, I would put him in every movie I make. It would be an easy partnership to just keep going, movie after movie. And I loved working with Redford, too. It’s really great to bring the team from both of those movies together, and a lot of the same faces behind the camera will be there, as well. It will be a nice family affair.
When are you looking to shoot that? Is that the next thing you’re shooting?
LOWERY: Yeah, the currently is to shoot in March. We were going to shoot it this fall, but Redford’s schedule got in the way. He had another movie that just wrapped, so he decided to take a little break before he jumps into the next one and wait until next year. Hopefully, cameras will be rolling in March.
You co-wrote Pete’s Dragon with Toby Halbrooks, and you’re also working with him on Peter Pan. What’s it like to collaborate with another writer?
LOWERY: Toby and I work on everything together, whether it’s writing or not. He’s produced all of my movies, and he’s a producer on The Old Man and the Gun. He’s a very creative producer, so we’re always working on a story level. With Pete’s Dragon, I was just like, “Hey, let’s write this together.” We’d written some things together in the past and there’s a shorthand there, and there’s a deep sense of collaboration and trust. It’s fun to have someone to bounce ideas off of. We don’t write in the same room together. We have a dropbox where we put scripts, and he’ll take something I wrote and I’ll take something he wrote, and we’ll spin it back and forth. It’s a fun way to collaborate and it really just feels like an extension of everything else that we do together.
How’s the development on Peter Pan coming along? Is it still pretty early in the development process?
LOWERY: It’s pretty early. We’re on page 87 of the first 1.5 drafts. It moves in weird shapes, but it’s coming along and we’re having a lot of fun with it. It’s a fun project to try to tackle.
Pete’s Dragon is available on Blu-ray/DVD on November 29th.