Genndy Tartakovsky on ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’ and Why Test Screening Animated Movies Is Extremely Difficult

     July 17, 2018

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With Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation arriving in theaters this past weekend, I recently sat down with director Genndy Tartakovsky to talk about making the sequel. In the third installment of the very successful franchise, Drac (Adam Sandler) decides to take his family on an ocean-going cruise. The twist here is that Drac is feeling a little lonely despite the many monstrous companions that join him on this journey and he’s looking for a little companionship. But the trip turns into a nightmare for Mavis when Drac ends up falling for the mysterious captain of the ship, Ericka (Kathryn Hahn), who hides a dangerous secret.

During the interview, Genndy Tartakovsky talked about where the idea came from, the ever growing popularity of the franchise, what he learned from the test screening process, why testing animated movies before they’re done is extremely tough, how he got Mel Brooks to voice a character, why he loves storyboarding, and so much more.

Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation also stars Andy Samberg (Johnny), Selena Gomez (Mavis), Kevin James (Frank), David Spade (Griffin), Steve Buscemi (Wayne), Keegan-Michael Key (Murray), Molly Shannon (Wanda), Fran Drescher (Eunice), and Jim Gaffigan (Van Helsing).

Check out what Genndy Tartakovsky had to say below.

Collider: Being honest, the entire reason you made this movie was to work with Mel Brooks?

hotel-transylvania-3-posterTARTAKOVSKY: Always, yes. Working with Mel is … Look, I mean he’s my comedy inspiration. I grew up on his films, I’ve analyzed them, so it’s just the biggest perk in the world to work with him.

Is it one of these things where agents were involved or did you reach out direct about getting him in a movie?

TARTAKOVSKY: I’m trying to think what was the … We came up that who else could be Adam [Sandler]’s father but Mel Brooks, and so … I’m trying to think if Adam reached out. No, I think we reached out to his agents, and he seemed interested, and then he came in and we talked, and then yeah.

You’re like then you made that meeting go five hours because-

TARTAKOVSKY: Right. I mean, he’s pretty amazing at 90, 92, he’s just as animated. He tells all his stories, and it’s great.

Yup.

TARTAKOVSKY: Yeah.

So the first movie was successful, and then the second one was more successful. Were you a little surprised at the growth of the franchise?

TARTAKOVSKY: Yeah. I mean, I think it really grew internationally, a lot bigger. Here, domestically, it definitely did more, but not to the … I think it did like 20 million more or something, right. So there was still a thirst for it, but I felt like it wasn’t a hundred percent yet, like we still haven’t captured … it hasn’t clipped a hundred percent. Internationally it kind of did, and was I surprised? No, I go through these things by the seat of my pants, and it’s so hard to make a movie, and there’s so many ups and downs and ins and outs that I don’t think about … you don’t think about the big picture.

Sure.

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Image via Sony Pictures Animation

TARTAKOVSKY: You’re just like this, and then it’s done, and then all of a sudden it’s coming out, and you’re like, “Right. What did I do? Are people, are they going to get this at all, or is this completely from left field? What is it like?” You start to appreciate the reality of it, because even though we have test screenings with a recruited audience, it always plays differently when people pay to see it.

Of course.

TARTAKOVSKY: Right, and that was an interesting dynamic where I remember on the first one it would good reactions from the test screenings and they laughed at certain things, and then when I went to see it the opening weekend and I saw it with a paying audience, they laughed at different things. I can’t quantify it, but there’s a change.

I want to get into the test screening process, but because the second film is even bigger. It’s almost like 500 million worldwide, how often was Sony calling you being like, “So do you got that idea? So do you got that idea? Oh, do you have that idea?”

TARTAKOVSKY: It was a, now you gotta remember, the second one was finishing right at the time of the Sony hack.

Yeah.

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Image via Sony Pictures Animation

TARTAKOVSKY: So all of that was looming all above us. We would have these crazy meetings of people, you know, all the e-mails come out, and some e-mails where between like Amy [Pascal] and Adam, and we were in the middle of all that storm, and so you’re dealing with all that stuff. You don’t know who’s going to get fired when. Somebody’s going to go. You know that’s going to happen. Meanwhile, we’re trying to get this movie done, and so it was a very tumultuous end, and everybody got fired and replaced. Right. Almost at the very end, so Tom Rothman came in, Kristine Belson came in, and so all of a sudden everybody that you were making the movie with is gone, and now there’s all these new people, and the movie’s successful, thank god, and then now what. It was a tough experience making it, and so I was like, “Well, I’m just out. This will be easy. I wouldn’t do this under these conditions again.”

Then they start calling, and I say no.

Was it Tom? “Hey …”

TARTAKOVSKY: No, no, no. It was Kristine. She’s like, “Well, let’s talk about this seriously.” And I go, “There’s really nothing to talk about.” Then that year I went on a cruise with my family, and the idea came, and at the same time I was actually also doing started Samurai Jack, so that was right after Hotel Transylvania 2, and that was like a creative restart for me. Like, right, this is what I do, and this is really good, and I’m comfortable, and I’m like it just spewed out of me. Then I pitched her, because they had a whole different direction that they were going, and I pitched her this idea, just to see if they would even be interested in it, and everybody loved it. It clicked right away. Cruise, yes, of course. Dracula falls in love, yes. Then I got the opportunity to write it with Michael McCullers, and then it felt like it would be the right fit right after Jack.

Sure. I’m sure the studio was very happy when you said, “I think I have an idea.”

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Image via Sony Pictures

TARTAKOVSKY: Yeah, they were. But I mean, they were on their way to something different.

Oh, they were doing it no matter what?

TARTAKOVSKY: Oh, yeah.

What do you think it is actually about these characters that audiences like love?

TARTAKOVSKY: I mean, I only have my perception, but basically I think they love the silliness, it’s light hearted. The animation, there’s a physicality to it that you enjoy it on a visceral level, and it’s about a family, so there’s … and it’s a big family, and so there’s something accessible for everybody. Like, “Oh, that’s my father-daughter relationship” or “There’s our relationship as our kids …” So there’s something for everybody in it to kind of grab on to. And in our dark days of this world all over, sometimes it’s nice to go into movie theater and escape, and I mean that’s why I go to the movies, right.

I’ve had this conversation with a lot of people. Listen, I look at a movie like Stronger, which is excellent. Made no money. Deepwater Horizon, really well made film. Made no money. I think more and more people are looking for escapist fare.

TARTAKOVSKY: Right. And this is light, and humorous, and funny, and not preachy, and it’s-

Completely. I’m curious, you mentioned the test screening process earlier. What did you learn through test screenings that impacted the finished film, or do you really make a lot of changes during the test screening process?

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Image via Sony

TARTAKOVSKY: We do, we do. The problem, like it’s a love-hate relationship with me and test screenings, because I like seeing it with an audience, as a general sense, but now we’re testing them in storyboards.

Oh, that’s hard.

TARTAKOVSKY: Yeah. So, you expect, and for this third one, it was the worst experience in the beginning, because we had a hundred percent storyboard screening, right, and because you saw the movie, yeah?

Yeah.

TARTAKOVSKY: There’s a lot of physical humor, right?

Yeah, and also the animation, the way that the animation in this movie is a specific look.

TARTAKOVSKY: Yes.

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