Director Pete Docter Exclusive Interview UP

     May 26, 2009

Up movie image Pixar (8).jpgOpening this Friday is the 10th film from Pixar and it’s called “Up”. And just like all the other films from this mighty studio, it’s a classic. But would you expect anything less from Pixar?

However, even though all Pixar films have great moments, the opening ten minutes of “Up” left me speechless. It’s without a doubt my favorite stretch of story from any of their movies and it will absolutely touch your heart. And for some of you, it will make you cry. I’ve seen the opening twice and I can’t find a single shot or frame I’d have done differently. It’s perfect.

And please don’t think the rest of the film is any less spectacular, because “Up” is a wonderful film that everyone will enjoy. I can’t recommend it enough.

So to help promote “Up”, I recently got to speak with director Pete Docter and the transcript is below. We talked about how they created the amazing opening of the film, what are his thoughts and Pixar’s thoughts on IMAX, what’s up with the “Monsters Inc.” Blu-ray, what will be on the Blu-ray of “Up”, and we talked about the amazing work of composer Michael Giacchino. I even tried to find out a little on “Toy Story 3″ and the character of Lotso…but he wouldn’t spill anything.

As always, you can either read the transcript or listen to the audio by clicking here. And here’s a link to six clips from “Up”. Again, “Up” arrives in theaters this Friday.

Up movie poster Carl.jpg

Pete Docter: Hello Steve.

Collider: How are you doing, sir?

Pete: I’m well. How are you?

I’m doing excellent.

Pete: Good.

Congratulations on the movie.

Pete: Oh well, thank you.

What’s interesting is…I’ve been following you, or I should say I’ve been following the promotional machine known as Pixar over the last few weeks, and I really struggled to come up with questions you have not been asked.

Pete: Yeah.

So I’m going to give it my best so here we go.

Pete: All right.

Well the first thing I’m going to ask you and I know other people have talked about it is the opening 10-12 minutes, which I think is probably the best 10 or 12 minutes you guys have done at the company.

Pete: Wow, thanks.

It’s really amazing so I definitely want to know how long did it take you guys to craft that and how complicated was it to find all the right notes that you wanted to hit and tell the story?

Pete: It was tricky. The nice thing about it was it sort of worked from the get-go in terms of the emotion of it. So it wasn’t as though we were hunting high and low just to find the tone. We sort of had that but it was a matter of getting it down in length and making sure that each scene was sort of lyrical and had the right feel but also told you information and kind of furthered the story. On the first viewing hopefully you don’t really notice this but every shot in that is kind of a set up to stuff that comes later, so they’re all kind of really necessary. But it was a typical kind of process where you start with way too much, you know almost like writing a paper or whatever. You start with way too much stuff and you slowly strip away and find ways to make it more economical. The other thing about that I think that it’s funny because people when they remember that section of the film I almost thing they sort of forget about the very beginning of the section of them as kids and I think it’s kind of in that section that you start to fall in love with them as characters, at least I do – I don’t know if everybody else does, but you start to really care about them and the personality and you bring that with you as you go into the sequence of their married life together.

I definitely agree with you. Every shot ties into each other. Was there like a longer version of it that was say 15 or 20 minutes or was it you always knew this needs to be like 10 minutes.

Up movie image Pixar (2).jpg

Pete: We knew early on okay the story doesn’t really start until Russell shows up until Carl floats his house up, so whatever we do and I’ve worked on enough movies where it’s generally something we get caught up on in animation maybe or just as storytellers at Pixar, our act ones always sprawl out. They become these big half-hour long things and you really want them to be like 10 minutes so you get the story going, you know? But yeah, especially in pitch version we had really long sequences of little snippets of dialogue and it’s like a collection of little scenes. It was more or less doing the same job, it was just including dialogue and more the way a traditional film would be shot. And as we developed it, I think it was Ronnie Del Carmen who’s our head of story, who had suggested doing it without dialogue and just letting the visuals tell it. And even there the first draft was, you know, 10 minutes or something and we just kept kind of honing it and crafting it and bringing it down to the bare bones.

I’m going to move onto a few other things. I’m going to try to get into a few subjects. I have to ask you this because you’re my guy I can talk to today from Pixar. There’s been a lot of conjecture on the Internet over the last 24 hours about something and I want to know if you can confirm or deny this information. Perhaps you know. There’s a character named Lotso from “Toy Story 3″ that’s this purple bear that was under the bed or whatever and everyone’s saying that he’s a major character in “Toy Story 3″. True or not true.

Pete: I’m not going to comment on that. Sorry.

Okay. Well so I’ll go with the no comment and move on.

Pete: All right.

It is funny though how things spread so quick.

Pete: Yeah, I know. I know there’s a lot of interest in that film. It’s turning out really fantastic. Lee Unkrich is directing it. He’s doing a really great job. It really feels like a part of the first 2, you know?

I love those movies. I can’t wait.  Now, I’m going to jump into what I want to call the Blu-ray section of our conversation.

Up movie image Pixar (3).jpg

Pete: Okay.

First thing is, when is “Monsters Inc.” coming to Blu-ray?

Pete: Shoot, I can’t remember now. I know they had a release date and they changed it. I think it’s next year sometime and I’m sure we could get that information for you.

Yeah, I’m definitely, as a huge Blu-ray fan, I’m definitely curious.  I love that movie as well and would like to own it.

Pete: Cool, yeah. We’ve already done a ton of work re-mastering it and finding new goodies for the Blu-ray so that will be really cool.

So now I want to ask you about the “Up” Blu-ray which I’m assuming will be coming later this year.

Pete: I would assume so, yeah. I don’t know if they’ve announced the date for it yet, but there again, the way these films work now we have to collect all of our material and put it all together almost concurrent with the film release of the film, so we have some really cool stuff on that as well.

Are there going to be any sort of deleted scenes or any sort of…let’s ask about deleted scenes on the Blu-ray.

Pete: We don’t have very many…on this film we were lucky enough to land the story for the most part in storyboards, so we don’t have other than one or two shots that were animated, we don’t have a lot that got cut, which is great because that’s all kind of wasted time in some sense, but we will be talking a lot about and we have a bunch of documentaries on different directions that the story went and show some examples of that from storyboards and stuff, so.

Up movie image Pixar (6).jpg

I next wanted to ask you about your feelings on IMAX. As I said, I’m trying to ask you some questions you haven’t been asked yet.

Pete: Cool.

And I wanted to know what your feeling about IMAX is as far as maybe Pixar doing one of their films or releasing it in IMAX and could you ever see yourself in one of your future projects using the large screen format?

Pete: I love IMAX. I think it’s a great way…it’s really like I don’t know if I’ve though I’ve ever had a theatre experience where it’s so-and this is kind of a cliché word-but immersive, you know?  You really feel like you’re there and the fact that the image stretches into the peripheries of your vision. It’s just really cool. It does, for me, affect the way films should be made. Like it’s such a huge screen that I think you’re cutting has to change a little. Maybe slow down and even your eye fix from shot to shot. Whereas in a regular theatre you’d be kind of moving your eye from one character 5 feet over to the right on the cut. In IMAX suddenly that’s like 20 feet. So I would love to do something. I think I would really want to take the massive screen into consideration so that it would be done properly.

Well, what do you think as, a company though, do you guys ever…I mean is this something that you guys are talking about possibly?

Pete: If they are, they haven’t talked to me about it.  So far, and this is just kind of the way we work, is that no matter what the technology whether that be something that we use with the computers to create the visuals or the projection as in IMAX or even 3D, we don’t really focus on it as in terms of driving the project. It’s really always the story and the characters that come first and the other things are kind of dealt with in time or in fact driven by the story. New technology of water or fur or whatever is developed as a result of needs for the stories that we’re making.

Totally.  I just kept on imagining when I was watching your film seeing it in IMAX 3D and I was almost salivating at the concept.

Up movie image Pixar.jpg

Pete: That would be cool. I mean some of those Vista shots of Paradise Falls and whatnot. That would be really cool.

Exactly. So I wanted to ask you about the use of 3D. One of the things I compliment you on is there’s no gag effects.  All the 3D is in the film to just enhance the story. And how complicated was that to find the right moments or how did you find the right moments to really use it in an expressive way?

Pete: We made a concerted effort at the beginning at the onset when we decided to do this in 3D to not have those sort of gags where you’re selling 3D.  The goal here was that this is a movie about Carl Frederickson that happens to be in 3D as opposed to the other way around, you know? And so, I can’t really say we ever thought too much about the 3D as we were crafting the shots-composing them.  There were certain rules that we realized early on that as things come forward and then move to the side if they break the frame you’ll destroy the sort of illusion on 3D and other things like that that we had kind of in our head, but as we went forward we just composed the images the way we thought we needed to to tell the story, to make sure that we were communicating properly. And then we tried to use 3D to push that in the same way we used color or lighting or composition. You’re always trying to think about, okay what’s the story point here? How is the character feeling? How do I communicate that visually to the audience? Carl is alone by himself. We squashed space to make it feel claustrophobic and small as contrasted to say Carl standing on the vista looking out. You want it to feel expansive and deep so just trying to use it as another tool.

I know that you obviously recently wrapped on this film and I know you’re enjoying the promotional process and taking a break, but are you already thinking what am I going to do next?

Pete: Yeah, for sure. And even towards the last couple months of the project, well throughout the project, just whenever I come up with something I just make a little note to myself and so I have a big stash of stuff I have to go through and see if anything still seems worth exploring now.

I know that…here’s another random question…I’m looking through the cast list and at the very end it says “very special thanks Alec Muradian”…Alec something or other? I wanted to know who that is and why they got a very special thanks?

Up movie image Pixar (7).jpg

Pete: That’s a good question. Who is Alec Muradian?

I don’t know.

Pete: I don’t know either.

Well my next thing is working with Michael Giacchino, who I think is the best composer working in the business today…

Pete: He is fantastic and Michael is such a collaborator. At Pixar, of course we have all these people and they’re just used to our process now where it’s a discussion, it’s a discovery. It’s not individual artists going and fussing off by themselves in isolation and then handing their work in. It’s very much a collaborative process and Michael is exactly the same. He had no sort of pride or…I’m searching for a word that I can’t think of…but as he would play us the demos he had no qualms about just saying “oh it doesn’t work? Okay, let’s change it”. He was always about what was right for the film and what I was looking for as a director, so a real pleasure to work with all the way down the line. Let me poke at stuff and make dumb suggestions that wouldn’t work. A couple of them did and would make things better so he was just a real joy to work with and wrote some amazing music.

I agree. I think his score in all of his movies is great but it’s really, really good in yours.

Pete: Yeah and we really I think gave him some opportunities to really let that music shine whereas in other films he might not have had that opportunity but we have two or three moments where it’s just basically music takes center stage, so.

No, totally.  Listen, I know you’ve got to go. I really want to thank you so much for giving me your time and say sincerely congratulations. The film is really, really good.

Pete: Well thanks, Steve. It’s good to hear. I’m glad you liked it.

I saw that 45-minutes-that preview in Burbank.

Pete: Uh-huh.

I was a little nervous about the talking dogs.

Pete: Yeah.

Up movie image Pixar (4).jpg

And then when I saw the whole film I’m like “and I was completely wrong”.

Pete: Well that’s good. Yeah there were a lot of kind of people that were thinking based on the 45-minutes that it felt a little scatter shot and disjointed but I think when you see it all together that there are enough elements that kind of ripple through back and forwards that hopefully it hangs together.

When I saw the screening in Burbank for the full movie, the audience was laughing so hard we missed things. You know we couldn’t hear the people talking and I mean that’s just a sign of how much people enjoyed it.

Pete: That’s great. Cool.

So listen good luck with the rest of your interviews today and thank you so much.

Pete: All right. Thank you, Steve.

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