Up - Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera Interview
Casting in Pixar films is done based on who is thought to be right for the part; and it all grows out of the story
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Director Pete Docter: "Yeah, I hope not. Basically I think the key to our success is that at some point or another every one of our films is an absolute disaster. And we allow ourselves the time to fix it and so that's what… I mean, this film is certainly a great example of that. We've had plenty of screenings where things are not working, they're struggling. And so we screen it for Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton and John Lasseter, and then it's a collaborative process where we all sit and discuss how do we fix this. How do we make things work? And that's been the case for all of our films."
Are those discussions usually pretty friendly? No punches are ever thrown or anything?
Pete Docter: "Well, the truth is told, definitely."
Producer Jonas Rivera: "We haven't gotten physical, but yeah, they're brutal. They're brutal."
How do you decide if there is this collaboration and all these people are throwing in their opinions, how do decide which one is right, which way you're going to go?
Pete Docter: "Well ultimately it's a director-driven studio so no matter what John or Brad or Andrew will say, it falls – in this case – on my shoulders to figure out do I agree with their points, their comments, their suggestions. How are we going to implement it. We have to think it through. I think it through with the rest of the team and we figure out what we feel is the best."
How important are the advanced screenings and getting the audiences' reaction?
Pete Docter: "Well for us they're very crucial. I mean I think the audience reaction is ultimately the most important. That's why we're doing the films. We're not doing them just to have some artistic expression of my deep inner thoughts. I mean part of it's that. Part of it's that but I want to make sure that it's actually landing with people. I might say something and it just kind of goes over people's heads because of either the way I've said it or what I'm saying, or whatever. And so having these screenings, first for ourselves inside and then ultimately for places like this, are really key."
Jonas Rivera: "Our screenings, we try to find that balance. We do them internally. We pretend we're the audience - that's who we make these films for is ourselves - and we do it over and over and over and pretty soon you're not really reacting as an audience might. So that's when we go out and we'll do the same thing for a real audience. We'll just channel all of that. We'll take all of that information…is it working? Is it landing? Are people laughing at the right [moments]? Are people understanding it? And we'll adjust and fine tune all the way to the end . It's all about the audience."
That makes sense. Where did Up come from?
Pete Docter: "Up came from the idea of getting away from the world. I mean there's some days at the end of the day I just go, 'Oh, I've had enough of people and stress and meetings and the chaos that seems to everywhere.' And just the idea of getting away and sitting on a nice tropical beach somewhere or floating away in your house, that's kind of where it developed - the idea of escaping."
And how do you decide which film is next in the whole Pixar universe, because I'm sure there's a lot of ideas, right? Who gets the next one?
Jonas Rivera: "It's like a great mission control question – which plane is coming in to a landing? It's really John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Jim Morris running the studio just looking and lining up all the directors, all the projects and trying to find out the right timing for the release. And you know these take four or five years. Sometimes we'll develop along the way before we even decide what's best for what time and who's available and so forth."
Pete Docter: "Sometimes we'll switch places here and there."
Jonas Rivera: "It's different every time. It's one of the cool things about Pixar is yeah, there are very few rules. I mean the rule is make it great, give it all you've got, and make it what you'd want to see but what you'd want to see on the screen and they'll kind of figure out the rest."
Is it actually the coolest place to work because as an outsider it looks like the coolest place to work?
Pete Docter: "It's definitely the coolest place I've ever worked. But there are days when it's definitely work. Don't get us wrong, it's not all like riding scooters around and having paper airplane contests. We have to… There's a lot of sweat that goes into it. I mean, right now there's guys at work on Saturday evening working on our film trying to finish it up. We have four weeks left to get this thing in the can. There's a lot of hours, a lot of sweat poured into these. But I think it's love for most people that are here."
Jonas Rivera: "It is a cool place. We work very hard, but it is a cool place. I can't lie. I tell my family, 'Oh, I'm working really hard,' and whenever they come, that's when we are doing things like having airplane fights. But we do work very hard and we love it. We're proud of it."
Some of these movies don't use real star names as the voices, but Up has some big names in it. How did you guys decide to do that?
Pete Docter: "All of our casting is based on what we think is right for the part. It all grows out of the story organically. So when we came up with this grouchy, curmudgeonly old man who has kind of a…you can understand has a soft spot and genuinely cares about people underneath, we cast a wide net and just looked at a lot of films, looked at a lot of actors. And of course Ed Asner is a natural. We went down and worked with him just to test it out and it worked great."