Turns out he’s a bit of a softy at heart.
Well here it comes, the standard opener: What do you see Hotel Transylvania as being about?
The movie is essentially about Dracula as a father. It’s about a father and daughter and the father coming to terms with letting his daughter grow old and grow into who she is. Basically it’s about learning how to let go. It’s not a story about monsters but a story about a character.
How did end up directing your first full length feature?
I’ve been trying to sell an original idea for a number of years now. But you know, it’s difficult as it’s very competitive and there are a lot of movies trying to be made and so having something original is sometimes a little more difficult. I was working with Sony on another movie I was developing with them and this opportunity came up and it was about Dracula and it just connected with me – that idea of Dracula as a person, Dracula as a father and so the chance to redefine Dracula for a new generation was really interesting to me. The monsters merely gave me a great way to frame the comedy. I actually don’t like being scared so having to do monsters funny was really appealing and so I signed on.
And you’ve got a great cast for it too. How much influence did they have on the final script?
Adam Sandler is very hands on and we got a chance to work on the script quite a bit. He’s very particular as well he should be. Working with all these comedians is very interesting because they are so serious about the jokes. If they write a joke or tell a joke and it’s not funny they’ll keep working at it until it’s funny. This passion and commitment to telling a joke was really great and they’re very honest about what they like and don’t like which was refreshing.
You were also working with a huge budget, did that constrain you in any way creatively?
Yeah, the budget was fine but there were a lot of conditions. It wasn’t like I could go in and do whatever I want. You know when I started the project half of the sets were already built. So I came into a situation where I had my sets, my characters and I just had to figure out the story. It was a little backwards and so there’s a lot of limitations that I had to work with. I had to work within the box that I was given and just keep pushing things creatively. There was also a time constraint. I’m used to having a bit more time working on TV.
There is a great energy to the film and it’s very high paced and kinetic at some points. Was storyboarding some of the more complex scenes a big challenge for you?
It was yeah. Those kinds of scenes with the pacing and the energy just need to feel right. It’s the sort of thing that needs to be worked at a number of times to get it right and get in the right number of jokes. I’ve been so fortunate that I’ve been able to make so many mistakes working on TV. It was like a training ground for doing this movie because I was able to experience doing similar sequences to those in the film. From my career up to this point I’ve learned so much from doing things over an over again that when stepping into this role I have the confidence to deliver complex sequences in the right way – to create the great manic energy that we were after.
You’ve worked extensively in 2D animation and I saw a quote from you saying you wanted the film to have similar aesthetics to 2D. How did you convert such aesthetics across into the 3D realm?
The important thing is I wanted it to feel handcrafted. I didn’t want to just plug Dracula into a computer and limit the animators ask to what that can do. I wanted them to give the film some of their animation background, I wanted it to have a personal touch so that you could tell, “oh only that person could’ve animated that scene”. So much so that there are a number of scenes where I can tell who animated it and maybe it’s just me but for sure, it’s got that organic quality. Also I wanted to bring this 2D sensibility to the posing and the acting. I didn’t want any video reference, you know, a lot of time the animator will film themselves acting out and then use it for a foundation. I really discouraged that and I wanted them to draw the poses in a purely cartoon fashion, removing them from the live action sensibility, because to me it should be about the character and the character coming to life.
How did working in 3D effect your direction? Was it a consideration throughout?
It kinda did and in a funny way it was like a happy accident that when I first started at Sony I did this 3D crafts thing and learned what things do work in 3D and what things don’t work in 3D. Luckily the cinematic style that I chose to tell the story in fit with 3D well, very well. You know with 3D over the shoulder shots don’t look very good and we have barely any. We really staged it like a Warner Bros cartoon where there’s two characters and the animation gets to really shine. So the 3D felt really nice and there were some advantages that I discovered that I didn’t previously know about. These are most obvious when it comes to the invisible man and his floating glasses. It read so much better in 3D because you could see that the glasses were in fact floating in real space versus in 2D where they maybe get a little bit lost.
The one complicated thing is that you’re making essentially two movies in different levels of dimensionality. You’re making a 2D movie and then you’re making a 3D movie. If I was only making a 3D movie and it was only projected in 3D rather than 2D I would have done a lot very differently as you design the film with the media in mind. This leads to concessions that you just have to deal with.
In the film there’s some great physical comedy, did the 3D add an element to the physical comedy that you haven’t had open to you before?
I don’t think so, I think those scenes are equally funny in 2D. I think where 3D works really cool is in sequences like the flying tables sequence where you really feel the depth of the tables swirling around. Basically the things that looked good in 3D were floating things, where the thing was coming out of the screen or you could feel the depth going in to it, so some of the lobby stuff looked really good in the 3D. But if the timing and the posing and the joke works in 2D it should work just as well in 3D. I don’t think that 3D enhanced it.
Would you like to work in 3D in future?
For me the whole idea of going to a movie theatre is that I want to escape and I don’t want to be aware that I’m in a movie theatre. I want to escape and really get lost in watching a movie, you know, escape into that world. So the whole idea of wearing glasses kind of takes me out of it, because I don’t wear glasses so I’m very self aware that I have something on my head. So it’s a complicated thing for me, it’s all personal taste but I’ve been such a fan of 2D films that to all of a sudden switch was a little difficult. I’m still a bit old-fashioned that way.
In the screening I was in the film got laughs from both kids and adults, do you think adults will take something different from the film than kids will?
Yeah I think so but I also think it’s funny that they end up laughing at the same things a lot. You know it’s really interesting that when you’re doing both animated and physical comedy if you do it right both adults and kids can laugh at it. Yes, I think adults will laugh more at some of the one liners, some of the lines that are a little more sophisticated, but I remember watching Warner Bros cartoons when I was growing up and they’re funny but you know those cartoons were made for adults. There is a lot more reference humour in it than some things which are purely designed for adults. The line is getting blurred and I think kids are very savvy and they pick up on a lot of things that we think they don’t pick up on. But as long as we have the physical comedy I think that’s the true trick to getting the kids to like it.
So did you try to avoid the nod-wink adult pleasing references that many animations put in to please the parents?
Yeah, there’s nothing like being in a movie theatre with kids and then kids not laughing at some of the dialogue lines. It’s kind of like a slap in the face for the children and we don’t want to get too smart with ourselves because all of a sudden there’s not enough stuff for the adults either. Adults will only sometimes laugh or smile but what you really want is a really guttural laugh from the kids, there’s nothing like it. I’ve got kids of my own and when they laugh at something it’s such a great feeling, like a real laugh, like a belly laugh and so you really want that. We definitely worked on a couple of jokes to make them bigger, to make them funnier so that you get a bigger laugh.
Hotel Transylvania is out in cinemas on the 12th of October.