INT: Shrek 2 directors
I'll let you in on a little secret: when critics, journalists and other pretentious people see a hugely commercial, blockbuster film that they enjoy, they'll use words like "fun" or "entertaining" to describe it. It's their way of admitting they liked it without compromising their intellectual, artsy credentials. More fawning adjectives are reserved for more serious, "relevant" fare.
That said, I thought the first SHREK film was entertaining and fun. And I was happy when Dreamworks announced plans for a sequel. Unfortunately, movie sequels traditionally suck, and animated movie sequels really, really suck. They're usually straight-to-video deals that feature none of the original players, meant to cash in on the brand recognition created by the first film. Anyone remember The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, or Aladdin 2: The Return of Jafar? Didn't think so.
With SHREK 2, however, most of the major players are back, including Cameron Diaz, Eddie Murphy and, most importantly, Mike Myers. This is Dreamworks' big summer release, and they've poured a lot of effort into assuring it matches people's expectations. We'll find out this Friday if they've succeeded.
Trusted with the bulk of the responsibility of making sure SHREK 2 didn't suck were directors Kelly Asbury and Conrad Vernon. Here's what they had to say about their experience bringing the loveable green ogre back to the big screen.
Did you feel pressured to "take it to the next level," story-and character-wise?
Asbury: I'm not quite sure we were necessarily looking to better it, but to logically take it to the next place emotionally and character-wise.
Vernon: And tell a good story.
Asbury: We weren't looking to repeat what we had done on the first one.
What was the most difficult aspect of making this sequel?
Asbury: Well, in the first film, our villain was eaten by a dragon. Our hero and our heroine rode off into the sunset to live their happily ever after. The story ended, and the only jump off point that felt logical was, well, one thing we didn't see in the first film was, how would Fiona's parents react to her decision to marry this ogre and that her curse is not reversed. Now she's an ogress all of the time. What would they feel about that? And so that presented a whole new story to go on, and a whole new place to go.
Vernon: Based on what the characters learned in the first film about themselves, make sure they don't make the same mistakes.
Asbury: So the first film is a quest. We go A to B, and you kind of get to know the characters, who they are, what their fears are, etc. With the second film, we kind of wanted to mix up the story a little bit, make it a little bit more twisty and turny, give you a few surprises and see how these characters that we know react to these new situations.
Can you compare the cultures at Disney and Dreamworks?
Asbury: So many of the people I work with at Dreamworks were at Disney when I was at Disney nine years ago. It's a small industry, and we all know each other. I've worked at Pixar, I've now worked at PDI, I've worked at Dreamworks. I think right now it's just sort of supply and demand, unfortunately. The industry is in a little bit of a lull in the 2-D world, and there's just right now there's not as much demand for as many people to be working there. CGI doesn't call for that many fewer people to make a movie, but it is a little bit less, so it's just a job market, unfortunately.
Do you feel that 2-D animation is finished?
Asbury: I love 2-D animation, but I think that it's really a different medium completely in a lot of ways. It's really about storytelling to us, as filmmakers. I mean, I want to do a live action film next, so it's really about what's appropriate to the storytelling.
Vernon : If you have a story you want to tell, it's just as important to come up with the type of medium you're going to use to tell it as it is, you know, certainly there have been films made where the medium does not match the story that's being told, and there are certainly more films, luckily, where the medium does match the stories that are being told. And 2-D, I think it's in a lull right now, and that's because people look at a 2-D commercial on TV and they kind of know what they're going to see when they go to the theatre. So it doesn't capture their eyes or their fascination as much as something in 3-D on TV. What's going to tell people to come back is the story and the characters. That's what it all really comes down to in the end, so it's going to take someone coming back into the industry to make just an outrageously fantastic 2-D film to bring it back up to where it belongs. And as long as it's great, and new-looking, and has great story and characters, people will follow it.
Asbury: And there's going to come a point when someone's going to make a CG-animated film that's not going to be successful, and people are going to go, "Oh my God, is CG in trouble now?" It's just trends. There are so few animated films that get made and are put out there that every one is under some kind of microscope. If a live-action film comes out and bombs, you don't worry about the live-action industry, but in animation, every film is scrutinized. And okay, animation has had a little bit of a bad run, but that doesn't mean that it's never going to happen again. Lilo & Stitch was not that long ago, so I have hope for it.
Can you talk about the film's casting decisions and working with the actors?
Asbury: Eddie Murphy was always going to be the donkey, I
think. Jeffrey just had that in his head that Eddie Murphy was perfect to play
this donkey. But over time, you just kind of workshop the characters and
storyboard and just look at the characters in the writing that you are doing and
when you put it into AVID and you start watching this film come together, you
start looking at the characters and their personalities, and people start coming
to your mind. And certainly there's just a general approach to it where you
start listening to different voices and everything, but there's always someone
who just comes into the picture and just embodies that character and
Eddie Murphy was already decided upon because you know him, but Cameron Diaz, when she came in, boom! She nailed that character. She had this certain thing about her voice where she could be headstrong and know exactly what she wants and be confident, but also have this touch of sweet naivete and all make it completely believable.
Myers' voiceover originally wasn't Scottish, right?
Asbury: The Scottish accent came a little bit later, if that's what you're referring to, yes. I think it just, again, you start workshopping the movie, you start looking back and stepping back from the canvas, and you start realizing, something else needs to be injected into this.
Vernon: And as we're doing that, the actors are doing that. I think that was part of his exploration of the character, where he said, is he this type of person. He tried a big gruff voice like Jackie Gleason, is he this type of person, he just tried his own voice to soften it down. And we found that the accent he gave it, in the way he does it specifically, gave the character what basically he was, which was he can be gruff and angry, but at the same time have this vulnerability inside him that allowed him to come down and talk without always seeming like he's on one level, or always seeming way up here. He could break in and out of it with his own personal acting abilities. He could break in and out of that accent, and be really angry and really big, or come down and be really tender or dramatic.
What was it like with a three person directing team?
Asbury: It didn't come down to fisticuffs or anything, but it's relay race. It really is, and you hand off the baton to each other at different times. Conrad and I, to make a long story short, most of the time we were up north in Northern California working with the animators and the lighters and the surfacing department and the effects artists. We both had been involved with story; Conrad was involved a year before I was. Andy was involved from the very beginning; he wrote the script and a lot of the outline, and it just really, when he had to peel off and start working on The Chronicles of Narnia, Conrad and I took the baton and went up north to start working with the animators.
We were up there, Andrew would be here sometimes to work with the actors in the studio, sometimes I would direct the actors in the studio at various times, it just, really, wherever you are and whatever's needed, you do it. Our job was to stick together and have a shared vision and try to keep the rest of the team on the same page.
Vernon: And if one of us was there and the other one wasn't, we would fill in one another exactly as to what happened. If there was any disagreement, we would work it out right there, and then we kind of set everything on track. And there was rarely anything horrible. I got used to seeing Kelly sometimes go "sigh," but then I would be the one who sat there really quietly and pouted.
Are you working on the third one?
The DGA is notoriously sticky about directing credit. Did you run into problems?
Asbury: Well, we're not in the DGA, for one thing. We're in
the animation guild. In animation, if you look back at Pinnochio and Bambi,
there were five to seven of what they called sequence directors at that time,
where, an individual person was in charge of a sequence in a movie, and they did
it themselves, and somehow they managed to collaborate and make cohesive
stories. We don't do it that way, because we're all over everything. We're more
an umbrella, but we are sort of the keepers of the visions of the movie, and
We're not the only ones who have the vision, we have to make
sure the vision that is put together from all of these committees is made
correctly, so we stick with it and we stay with it. Sometimes it's very helpful to have collaborators. I actually have found that to do it alone would be a huge task, and it's possible, but animation takes a long time and a lot of years.
Vernon: It's not necessarily grueling, but over time, it just gets repetitive if you're doing the exact same thing, every single day, at the exact same time, as the production keeps marching forward. You're seeing different stuff, and you're always entertained by that, and the film coming to life in front of you, but at ten AM, every single day, we were at the animators. At five PM, we were at the animators again, and this happened every single day for a year and a half. If you don't feel very well, too bad; you've got to be in there to direct these people. If you've got a doctor's appointment, if you get a flat tire, too bad, you've got to be in there, because there's no one else.
There's been plenty of times when Kelly and I would switch off and say, "I'm a little bit late, go ahead and start without me. I'll be right in." And that's what the benefit of having more than one director is.
Are they developing an idea for Shrek 3?
Vernon: They are developing the idea for Shrek 3, but we
physically can't work on it right now.
How do you decide which jokes will be placed more prominently, and which one fill in the periphery of the story?
Asbury: Well, that's all about layout and composition.
Vernon: And the story kind of dictates that, where if any of the guys ever create a laugh that covers up a line or something important in the story, you obviously have to take it back and take it out. Now, with all of the stuff on Rodeo Drive, and all of the storefronts and all of that, we kind of looked at it and said, it's just part of the world, and the main story point here is Shrek looking at this world and saying, "Oh my God, where the heck am I?" and just being really nervous. It was more about looking at this world through Shrek's eyes, so you didn't want to go "boom, boom, boom" on every store front, but while Shrek was a little nervous, if you saw one pass in the background, it was just, you got a little laugh while getting exactly what Shrek was supposed to be feeling.
What are your plans for the DVD?
Asbury: There have been talks about the DVD. We've only been involved very lightly. Like I said, we're still, involved in this movie. We haven't had time. There's a whole department that does DVD materials.
Will you be doing a commentary?
Asbury: Yeah, I do know that much. I don't know when, sometime in June, I guess.
Are there any fairytales you haven't inserted into this world you'd like to highlight?
Vernon: I remember looking through books of fairytales, and there are some weird fairytales. I know I read one specifically where there was a little boy who sucks his thumb, and some guy came in this fairy tale and cut the little boy's thumbs off. And he's like running around without his thumbs and I'm like, "Well, that would be real nice to put into Shrek, some kid with bloody thumb stumps going 'aaahh!'"
What was your greatest frustration, or your moment of greatest satisfaction, working on this project?
Asbury: I can say what my opinion is, and this is kind of tooting Conrad's horn a little bit. He storyboarded the Puss in Boots sequence, and when Puss in Boots throws up the hairball, that was Conrad's idea. The noise on the film of him throwing up the hairball is Conrad.
Antonio Banderas said he was the one who did the hairball noise.
Asbury: Well, maybe they did use it. They augmented it electronically, but Conrad pitched the story a million times, and all that coughing, it was his idea to do it.
Vernon: I can see how he'd throw his voice out, definitely, because I had to pitch it, and it wears on you.
Antonio said that someone acted out the whole movie for
him. Was that you, Conrad?
Vernon: Yeah, definitely that sequence, because when he first came in, I pitched him the whole Puss in Boots sequence, just to see him jump out of his seat and go, "Fantastic! I want to do it!" It was great.
Do you perform any of the voices in the film?
Asbury: I'm a lot of side characters. He (Conrad)'s a very important voice.
Vernon: I'm the gingerbread man, and like some other sidekicks. I do, when you see the knights parody, I'm the announcer. And then there's the king's cook. There's just a couple of voices.
Asbury: I'm the guy that delivers the invitation at the beginning.
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