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'Up' And Away With Pixar's Pete Docter

The latest from the Monsters, Inc. director is an adventure story featuring a grouchy old man, a chubby boy, a 13-foot-tall flightless bird and a house set aloft by balloons.

32:48

Other segments from the episode on May 26, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 26, 2009: interview with Pete Doctor; Interview with John Powers.

Transcript

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'Up' And Away With Director Pete Doctor

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. The new Pixar/Disney animated movie “Up”
opens Friday. Earlier this month, “Up” became the first animated film to open
the Cannes Film Festival. My guest is the director and co-writer of “Up,” Pete
Doctor. He also directed, “Monsters, Inc.”

“Up” is about an unexpected relationship between an old man and a boy. Carl is
a 78-year-old whose beloved wife has died. Carl and his wife dreamed of being
adventurers, but they were really homebodies. He made his living selling
balloons.

Now his neighborhood is getting rebuilt around him, and the developers want him
to move to assisted living so they can tear down his house and put up a high-
rise. Carl refuses. His way out of the problem is to tie thousands of balloons
to his house so he can fly the house to South America, where he once dreamed of
making an expedition with his wife.

But as he’s getting ready, a chubby eight-year-old named Russell knocks on the
door. Russell is wearing his Wilderness Explorer uniform that has a sash
covered with badges.

(Soundbite of film, “Up”)

(Soundbite of knocking)

(Soundbite of door opening)

Mr. JORDAN NAGAI (Actor): (As Russell) Good afternoon. My name is Russell, and
I am a Wilderness Explorer in Tribe 54, Wet Lodge 12. Are you in need of any
assistance today, sir?

Mr. ED ASNER (Actor): (As Carl Fredricksen) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) I could help you cross the street.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) I could help you cross your yard.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) I could help you cross your porch.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Well, I’ve got to help you cross something.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) No, I’m doing fine.

(Soundbite of door closing)

GROSS: After Carl slams the door, he cuts loose the hot-air balloons and starts
piloting his house to South America, not realizing that Russell is still on the
porch. So Russell and Carl become companions on this fantastic adventure.

Pete Doctor, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Mr. PETE DOCTOR (Director, “Up”): Thank you.

GROSS: I love the image, that a lot of our listeners might have seen in one of
the ads, of this old man walking through this exotic jungle landscape, you
know, Paradise Falls, with his house attached to a string that he’s carrying,
as if the house were a balloon, but the house is being held aloft by all these
balloons. And it’s a beautiful image because it’s him trying to take his past
with him, and at some point it becomes too heavy.

It becomes a burden, and he has to figure out if he should let go or not. And I
thought, like I don’t know how that image came to you or if you originally
meant it to be, like, a metaphor, but it is such a beautiful image about
carrying the past and how it can sometimes become too heavy, too much.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah, it kind of evolved, I mean, as all things do. You know, we
started with something about balloons themselves are very poetic and evocative
to me, and more than just helium and vinyl or whatever they’re made out of, you
know, they become this almost metaphor for life in a way.

I remember as a kid having a balloon and accidentally letting the string go and
watching it just float off and into the sky until it disappeared. And there’s
something about that, even, that feels very much like what life is, you know,
that it’s fleeting, and it’s temporal.

So something about balloons were really appealing and also the idea of escape
and floating away. And so as we developed the whole story, it became a lot
about trying to preserve the past. You know, this guy, the whole world has
changed, everything around him is different now. The only thing he has, this
feeling a connection with his wife, is his house. So he can’t just leave that
behind. He has to take it with him.

GROSS: It reminded me a little of “Fitzcarraldo.” Did you ever see
“Fitzcarraldo”?

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah.

GROSS: It’s a Werner Herzog film…

Mr. DOCTOR: Sure.

GROSS: …in which this explorer who wants to build an opera house in the South
American jungle, in order to get to where he’s going, he has to carry his steam
ship over a mountain. and the burden of that reminded me at some point of the
house being dragged through the air across…

Mr. DOCTOR: Absolutely.

GROSS: Did you see the movie? Did you think about that?

Mr. DOCTOR: We watched it along the way, yeah, and it was very similar in the
sort of preposterous nature of this. You know…

GROSS: Yes, right, and surreal, yeah.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah, absolutely. Sounds like a laugh riot, doesn’t it?

GROSS: Well, it’s really funny, and I’ll tell you, you had me from the start
because very early in the film, the young version of the older man – because it
starts earlier in time, like in the ‘30s in the prohibition era – so he’s
watching like one of those old newsreel kind of things about this adventurer
who goes to Paradise Falls, a forgotten land. And you see like the scientists
and the explorers with a protractor.

Mr. DOCTOR: Oh yeah.

GROSS: And I thought oh, that’s so funny, a protractor.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, it was high-tech back…

GROSS: High-tech. Yeah, so you had me right at the start. Did you watch a lot
of those newsreels and shorts before making your movie?

Mr. DOCTOR: Absolutely, yeah. It was a lot of fun to not only try to pick up on
the film grain and – you know, we noticed that when they would, say, be in the
jungle, they’d have to develop the film themselves, so it would have less
contrast and may be a little washed out and then versus the film they shot in
New York, that would have really striking blacks and whites. And so we tried to
mimic all that in the film, as well as even the way we recorded the music, you
know, working with Michael Giacchino.

We identified, I want heroic, I want drama, suspense.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: I want this. And so we just did all those like library music, and
then we did really bad music edits between them. So it’s going along – da da da
da da da - you know, so it’ll have these awkward transitions just like, you
know, the real newsreels.

GROSS: Just in talking about the old man, one more thing about him: like the
way he sits down in a chair, it’s like he slowly lowers himself, and when he
gets within plopping distance, he just like lets go and plops into it. And I’ve
seen so many older people have to sit that way. It’s like you really got it.

Mr. DOCTOR: That’s great you noticed that. The other thing we did is he pulls
his pants up, like he grabs right above the knee and kind of hikes up his
pants. I have no idea why older people do that, but you notice that a lot, you
know, I guess so it doesn’t get hooked on your heel or something.

Anyway, we did look at a lot of folks, our grandparents, and we went to an old-
folks home. We kind of came in under the auspices of being a band because I
play the bass, and a couple of the guys played the ukulele.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: And so we were playing for these guys and secretly kind of taking
little notes for ourselves.

GROSS: Oh, that’s really funny. What do you play, what kind of music?

Mr. DOCTOR: It was sort of like Tin Pan Alley-type stuff.

GROSS: Oh, that would be perfect because it’s the kind of music a lot of
people, like, in assisted-living facilities would have grown up with.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah, they said oh, you were the greatest band we’ve had in here

for a long time. So it was great. It was a fun time.

GROSS: My guest is Pete Doctor, and he directed and co-wrote the new
Pixar/Disney animated film “Up.”

You created a great creature for the movie, this exotic 13-foot bird named
Kevin.

Mr. DOCTOR: Right.

GROSS: That’s because Russell names it Kevin.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah, exactly.

GROSS: But I want you to describe the bird that you created.

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, Kevin is a 13-foot-tall flightless bird, very iridescent
plumage, sort of based on a crane that I saw at a zoo. The attraction for me
was that these birds, when you see them in the zoo, they almost have no
expression. You can’t see what they’re thinking. They give you no kind of
advanced warning of are they happy or sad, or at least to me. I’m sure bird
experts can tell, but they’re really unpredictable and quirky and funny. And I
just – the animator in me was like I want to animate that. So that’s kind of
where Kevin came from was just the joy of seeing these quirky behaviors.

GROSS: So but you gave Kevin emotion, the kind of emotion you couldn’t read in
the real bird that you based him on.

Mr. DOCTOR: Right.

GROSS: So what kind of methods did you find for giving your bird emotion?

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, the cool thing was we did the same thing that I described,
where there is no facial expressions. And the Muppets do this wonderfully,
where you know, you’ll have like Fozzie, who has no facial – other than he can
open and close his mouth, the rest of it’s just movement.

So the bird has a great deal of expression and range of attitudes, but it’s all
through movement. It’s almost like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, which of
course all animators study, and those are our roots. So you know just through
the movement and the posing, the speed at which they move, we were able to get
all this attitude.

GROSS: So did you go to South America?

Mr. DOCTOR: We did. Yeah, there was a group of 10 of us, and this is the great
thing about working at Pixar. You know, “Toy Story,” we got to go to the toy
store with the company credit card.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: And on this one, since we set it in South America, a group of 10 of
us flew down to South America, to these amazing table-top mountains. And we
hiked up there - it took us three days just to get there by plane, helicopter,
Jeep - and then we hiked up.

We slept up there, we drew a lot, we took tons of pictures of course. And there
are fantastic, weird plants found nowhere else in the world, these weird rock
shapes that are just windswept, strange, bizarre shapes - some of them look
like people or animals. And a lot of ideas from the film came from that trip.

GROSS: So what’s in your sketchbook that you took back from there?

Mr. DOCTOR: Well there’s a lot of pictures of – myself, I’m usually drawn to
drawing people. Like I love to go to the airports and just put on like dark
glasses so nobody can tell I’m staring at them and just draw people.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: It’s a lot of fun and just endless hours of entertainment, just
watching the way people do simple things, even like eat a meal or, you know,
wipe their kid’s face or whatever, just great behavior stuff.

But up there, of course – and even there I ended up drawing a lot of my co-
workers, but the reason we were there was to draw the landscape, and I
struggled as best I could to capture that.

GROSS: Now we talked a little bit about the bird that you created for “Up.”
There’s a bunch of dogs. There’s a pack of really, like, mean dogs, and then
there’s a really pleasant, companionable dog named Dug.

Mr. DOCTOR: Right.

GROSS: First of all, I think it’s kind of interesting that, you know, they go
to this, like, exotic place, and usually in adventure films, especially in the
old ones before people were very kind of politically aware of what they were
doing, you know, adventurers would go to an exotic land in Africa, and then the
natives would want to cook them in a big pot. And it was just like the most
kind of insulting image of indigenous people that you could ask for, and you
made it possible to not deal with that at all by having the villains, with the
exception of one person, be dogs.

Mr. DOCTOR: Right.

GROSS: So you didn’t – and there’s a good-guy dog, too. So you didn’t have to
worry about, you know, offending anybody or…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah, and of course, that is one of the staples of adventure films,
so I won’t pretend we didn’t at least discuss that. You know, we had some ideas
about that. But yeah, it just seemed, again keeping on the sort of isolation
thing, and there is something – for those of us who have dogs as pets, I mean,
I’m sure most people have the same experiences I do is we make up dialogue for
the dog.

So the dog is sitting next to the dinner table, and we make up things that
she’s talking about, which most of the time is are you going to eat that
because I could help you with that. If you need help, I am happy…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: So that’s kind of where the talking dogs came from, and Bob
Peterson, who did most of the dialogue in it, and actually did the voice of
Dug, just has this great mind for thinking like a dog.

GROSS: And explain how it is that Dug can speak, the dog.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah, the invention we came up with was this collar, which allows
the dog’s thoughts to be translated. So the dog in behavior is acting just like
a normal dog, panting or doing whatever, but you’re hearing the dialogue from
the dog’s brain.

So that allowed us to focus on things that a real dog would focus on, which is,
you know, food and sniffing – squirrel - you know, things like that. So…

GROSS: And the collar has adjustments so you could change the language?

Mr. DOCTOR: Absolutely, very important.

GROSS: Let’s hear a clip of Dug, the dog, and listen to his voice, and the two
main characters are in this, too. And Bob Peterson, one of the writers, is
doing the voice of Dug.

(Soundbite of film, “Up”)

Mr. ED ASNER (Actor): (As Carl Fredricksen) (Shouting) We have your dog.

Mr. JORDAN NAGAI (Actor): (As Russell) Whoa.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) I wonder who he belongs to.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Sit, boy. Hey look, he’s trained. Shake. Uh-huh. Speak.

Mr. BOB PETERSON (Actor): (As Dug) Hi there.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) Did that dog just say hi there?

Mr. PETERSON: (As Dug) Oh yes. My name is Dug. I have just met you, and I love
you. My master made me this collar. He is a good and smart master, and he made
me this collar so that I may talk – squirrel. My master is good and smart.

Mr. ASNER: (As Carl) It’s not possible.

Mr. PETERSON: (As Dug) Oh it is because my master is smart.

Mr. NAGAI: (As Russell) Cool. What do these do, boy?

Mr. PETERSON: (As Dug) (Speaking foreign language). I use that collar.
(Speaking foreign language). I would be happy if you stop.

GROSS: That’s a clip from the new Pixar/Disney animated movie, “Up,” and my
guest, Pete Doctor, co-wrote and directed the film. Pete, what are some of your
favorite talking animated animals?

Mr. DOCTOR: Huh. Well I mean, of course the Bugs Bunny - and there’s a dog
named Charlie Dog that I always think of. It was a Chuck Jones character. Let’s
see, other favorite characters. Well, I mean, I tend to drift over to the
Warner Brothers characters as my favorite just characters because they’re so
rich and funny. As movies, I tend to drift over to the Disney films, you know,
as stories and things.

“Dumbo” is one of my favorites. It’s just a simplicity, a wonderful simplicity
to it. And as a kid, you know, I saw certain things about it, all the fun and,
you know, pink elephants on parade and flying with the crows and things. And
now looking back on it, it’s got this added dimension to it as a parent that
you know, when you have a baby and ma in the scene with the trunks, and they
can’t even see each other. They can just kind of hold trunks. I have yet to
watch that without crying, you know.

And “Cinderella” is great, too. It’s got a great sense of pacing. I hadn’t seen
it for a while and watched it again a couple of years ago, and it’s just got
this great rhythm where you allow for moments – and we tried to do this in this
film, as well. In a way, this film was trying to hearken back to some of those
films where you set up a situation, and instead of having to go what happens
next, what happens next, move it along, move it along, you can allow the
characters to just behave and react. And to me some of the greatest animation –
Miyazaki does this, Hayao Miyazaki in his films, these just little
observations, and that’s all they are. They don’t further the plot, but they
are beautiful, little glimpses into real life, of somehow captured and
distilled and made even more real through animation. And that’s what we’re
trying to do in this film, as well.

GROSS: My guest is Pete Doctor. He directed and co-wrote the new Pixar/Disney
animated film “Up.” Let’s take a short break here, and then we’ll talk some
more. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Pete Doctor, and he directed and co-wrote the new
Pixar/Disney animated movie “Up.” You know, I read that for the voice of
Russell, the boy in the movie, that you cast the brother of a kid who actually
came to audition.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah.

GROSS: The kid that you cast didn’t come to audition. He was the brother of the
kid who came to audition. How did that happen?

Mr. DOCTOR: Well yeah, and hopefully that hasn’t caused a rift between them.

GROSS: That’s what I keep wondering. Like what’s it like to be the actual
acting brother and not get the part?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: I know, well…

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DOCTOR: His brother, Jordan’s brother, Hunter, still does quite a bit of
acting on his own. So I think he’s…

GROSS: He survived, yeah, okay.

Mr. DOCTOR: But yeah, we were looking for somebody - and you know, this is
always a treacherous area to walk into as you’re approaching something like a
kid because it’s so easy to be cloying and sappy and/or just, like, bad acting,
you know, and we wanted this to be authentic and real-sounding. And when we
heard this kid, he came in, and like you say, he wasn’t even planning to
audition.

His brother stepped up, and they said thank you, great, well how about you?
Jordan, why don’t you come over here? And he just – I think he talked about
Judo or something, and his voice just made me laugh. He had this really
wonderful, sweet, innocent voice. And it’s little bit like you hear the stories
of the voice of Thumper from “Bambi,” you know, they were reading kids and the
director said oh, get him out of here, he can’t act, and the animator said no,
no, keep him, you know, because there’s something really charming and quirky
and kind of indefinably odd, and that’s exactly what we got with Jordan. He
just has this really great appeal to his stuff.

And then of course we did have to work a little bit to get some of the acting.
He covers a lot – a big range of emotions, and having never done it before, you
know, we basically did a lot of tricks where, you know, we tried to get him to
laugh, and it was just not really working. So I picked him by the ankle, held
him upside down and tickled him as he said the line. So as he’s being tickled
by the bird that’s what that is.

So yeah, it’s a tricky gig, especially here. You know, you’re in a room that
has – and we record the dialogue first, of course. So there’s no animation to
react to. You’re just in a grey room with a bunch of words on a page, and nine
times out of 10 no other actors, even.

We try to read opposite. Bob Peterson and myself would usually read opposite,
but it largely has to kind of come to life in their own heads, the actors.

GROSS: So you cast Ed Asner as the older man. So did you have an idea of what
he would look like before you cast Ed Asner, or like which came first in your
mind?

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, we had the story, and we even designed the character. He was
finished. We had him all – I don’t think he was quite finished being built in
the computer, but the design was there. And what we did, and we have done this
on all the films, is we grab little snippets of dialogue from other movies, and
so while we’re looking at these designs, we just listen. And some people just
fit perfectly, and Ed was one of those guys.

GROSS: Oh I see, you take their dialogue from other films and juxtapose it with
the image that you have and see if it fits.

Mr. DOCTOR: Exactly.

GROSS: So what did you do with him, like “Mary Tyler Moore Show” stuff?

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah, and then we got some of his more recent films, because you
know, some time has passed since “Mary Tyler Moore.”

GROSS: Yeah, a lot.

Mr. DOCTOR: But yeah, he just had this real sort of still - the gruffness and
the, you know, angularity to his voice with an underlying sense that oh, this
guy really does care, you know, which is exactly what we needed for the film.

GROSS: Now your daughter does the voice of the young girl who becomes Ed
Asner’s wife in the movie, who becomes the man’s wife in the movie. How did
your daughter – what a shock that you would find your daughter, but why did you
give her the part?

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, the way we work at Pixar is we write the script, but then we
quickly move on into story reel, which is basically like a comic-book version
of the film. And then we do our own dialogue and music and sound effects, all
in an effort to be able to basically sit in the theater and watch the movie
before we shoot it, essentially. And that way – you know, once you get into
animation, it’s horribly time-consuming.

It’s like animators do about four seconds a week, you know, and that’s not even
including all the shaders and the lighting and the modeling and all that. So we
want to whittle out all the stuff that we have any questions about first.

And so what we did when we got to that part - you know, the beginning of the
film takes place in the ‘30s, as they’re kids, and we knew that if one of us
tried to do the voice of a kid, people would be so distracted by that that you
wouldn’t pay attention to the scene. So we just got my daughter to come in, and
we thought well, this will work until we find a professional actor, but enough
people really loved it.

In fact, that was the first thing Ed Asner said when we showed him. He said who
does the voice of that kid? She steals the show.]

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOCTOR: So that was pretty cool.

GROSS: So did you have her redo it or just use the tracks that she did?

Mr. DOCTOR: No, we just used the tracks. Yeah, she was about seven and a half
at the time, and we worked with her much like we worked with Jordan, where you
know, kind of tricking her into things, or doing the copy game, where we’d say
the line, and she’d parrot it back. And we found with both kids that, you know,
physicality is a big thing. So standing stiffly in front of a microphone is not
really the best way to get a great performance.

With Jordan a lot of times, I would say okay, now you’ve memorized the line.
Before you say this next take, run back around that chair, run around three
times, jump up and down, run back to the microphone and then say the line,
ready go.

And so you’d just get them all worked – how many times do I need? Okay. And
then he’d be much more animated and lively, having run around the room. So that
was fun.

GROSS: Yeah, that sounds…

Mr. DOCTOR: It was pretty exhausting for me, too, by the end of the day.

GROSS: Pete Doctor will be back in the second half of the show. He directed and
co-wrote the new animated movie “Up.” It opens Friday. I’m Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with Pete Doctor, the director and co-
writer of the new Disney/Pixar animated movie "Up." It opens Friday. Doctor
also directed the Pixar movie "Monsters, Inc." and was one of the writers of
"Wall-E" and "Toy Story."

Now, "Up" is in 3D, and I'll confess, I hadn’t known that, but when I went to
the advanced screening of it…

Mr. PETE DOCTOR (Director): Uh-huh?

GROSS: …before interviewing you, I had kind of forgotten that it was in 3D and
I didn't see it 3D.

Mr. DOCTOR: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: So what did I miss? I really loved the film. I know it doesn’t have to
be in 3D to enjoy it.

Mr. DOCTOR: Right.

GROSS: But what did I miss?

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, I mean we tried to use 3D as just another element to tell the
story. So, for example, when Carl is alone in his house we really tried to
squash space to make him feel claustrophobic and locked in. And then by
contrast, as he floats his house off, we really tried to push the depth and you
know, make him seem free. And so it’s to us kind of another tool like lighting,
like color, cinematography, it's just another way of furthering the emotion
that we're trying to communicate to the audience.

GROSS: So did you work on the 3D part of it?

Mr. DOCTOR: I worked with - there was a separate group that we set up. So
initially, when we started the project, we had no thought of doing 3D. We were
just doing focused on story and characters. And John Lassiter came to us, I
think it was about a year and a half, two years in, and said, hey, we'd really
love to do this in 3D. So we set up a group much like, you know, we have the
art department, we have the animation department, and now we have the 3D
department, and they followed along sequence by sequence and would use 3D in
the way I described, really trying to further the story. But I’ll confess, it
was not really in the forefront of my mind. The things I was most focused on
were just story and character. And we tried to use it a little more like a
window that you look into as opposed to - I don't know about you, whenever I
see 3D movies and stuff it’s going booga, booga, booga…

GROSS: Yes.

Mr. DOCTOR: …in your face, I'm suddenly aware, oh, I'm sitting in the theater
wearing dopey glasses, you know? So we tried to use it much more subtly and a
little more like, you know, my father had a bunch of stereophonic test records
when I was growing up and you’d have you know, bongos on the left channel,
trombones on the right channel, and now it’s much more integrated and subtle,
and that's kind of the way we were trying to approach the 3D on this film as
well.

GROSS: The movie is dedicated in part to one of the Disney animators from the
early days. Tell us about him.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yes. Joe Grant was a guy, and this was really the great pleasure of
having worked on "Toy Story" and having that be as successful as it was,
suddenly I got to meet all these old heroes of mine that had made all the
Disney films. You know Frank Thomas and Ali Johnson, and Joe Grant was
basically second only to Walt in development, to the story development team
back in the ‘40s, ‘30s and ‘40s. He was head of story on "Dumbo," and designed
the Wicked Queen in "Snow White." He's a really, you know, amazing artist. And
he was still working in his 90s, that’s when I got to know him.

And he was just one of these guys who was always looking for new ways of
expressing himself, new technique, new pencils or pens. And one thing he talked
about a lot in, when I would pitch him things, was what are you giving the
audience to take home? And at first I was like, well, what does that mean?
Taking the audience - to take home? What he was talking about was what are you
putting up on the screen that's emotionally relatable that they will identify
with and think about not only when the movie's done, but the next day, or the
next week, or the next year? And you know, that's what we always try to do in
our films - and is definitely there in those great Disney films.

GROSS: When you started as an animator, were you given like the bottom of the
pyramid kind of jobs to do? And what are those jobs like?

Mr. DOCTOR: Well, yeah. When I started this is back in the ‘80s, I was painting
the backs of cells. Of course, cells are these celluloid sheets of plastic.
They’re actually made out of acetate, but they don't use them at all anymore.
It's all computers. So the animator would draw something on paper, it would
then be inked or Xeroxed onto the cell, and then my job was to paint the backs
the right color, you know, so that they would read against the background and
not just you couldn't see through them. So that's kind of like the bottom tier.
And then I worked my way up doing in-betweens, and this was all…

GROSS: What's an in-between?

Mr. DOCTOR: In-between is sort of - an animator does the key poses. He'll do
extremes, you know, like a character reaching out for a glass of water and then
another one of him drinking. And the in-betweener has to do all the drawings
that goes between those two. You know it could be 12, 23 whatever in-betweens.
And then that was all hand drawn, and that's kind of what I was picturing that
I would end up doing. And then I got a call towards my last year of school from
John Lassiter, and working at Pixar was great because they paired these amazing
people who knew - brilliant scientists with artists, each one ignorant in the
others work and yet both working towards the same common goal and produced some
pretty groundbreaking stuff.

GROSS: Early in the film you have to establish, since the movie is in part
about an older person's relationship to his past, you have to establish what
his past was…

Mr. DOCTOR: Mm-hmm.

GROSS: …before getting into the heart of the story.

Mr. DOCTOR: Right.

GROSS: And you, in just like a few minutes, establish this like beautiful
relationship with his wife. You know, they meet as children and they both share
this love of adventure and it’s a really kind of sweet but also sad
relationship. And when she dies you're so, you’re just so sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: And it’s so much to squeeze into, what, three or four minutes. Can you
describe a little what went into reducing a whole back story and a marriage and
a life into this little sequence?

Mr. DOCTOR: Yeah. That was probably my, the scene and sequence I'm most proud
of, that scene. It's just - and we started much like you would writing, say, a
term paper where you go way long. You just put in all this. We had a bunch of
scenes that were little - with dialogue and just little short little bursts of
life. And then we assembled all that together and we realized, oh, this is way
too long. And so Bob Peterson had written this great first draft of it and
Ronnie del Carmen, who's our head of story, started drawing it.

And he has this beautiful way of just kind of kissing the paper with his pencil
in wonderfully, expressive and very sort of poetic lyrical drawings. And we got
to that point and we kept and cutting and cutting. And we took out dialogue. We
took out sound effects even. And sort of inspired a little bit by - my parents
growing up took a lot of Super-8 films of us as kids. And looking at them now,
they’re just these almost more emotional experiences to watch because the sound
isn’t there. You know, all you have is the flicker of the projector. And I
think you as an audience member are sort of drawn into that and participate a
little bit more.

GROSS: Tell me more about the impact of those Super-8 movies that your parents
made of the family when you were young.

Mr. DOCTOR: Yes. I mean they're just films of us standing in a hole my dad dug
to plant a tree or my mom walking around pregnant with my sister. And you know,
these are - like I have probably fleeting glimpses in my own life, memories of
that, but watching them on screen, they’re kind of, I don't know. And there may
be something about the fact that they're projected as well, that they're just
kind of shadows of a past that - and as you watch it, it's like I say, I think
because there's no sound you're missing something. It becomes slightly more
abstract and yet almost more real. In the same way we have tapes, audiotapes of
my sisters and I talking as well, and that's almost more emotional than
videotape. When you get them both together somehow, it's almost - you can sit
back and watch it like TV. It's kind of everything's fed to you. Whereas by
taking one of the elements away you have to be more actively participating in
the experience.

GROSS: Pete Doctor, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. DOCTOR: Thank you. It was a pleasure.

GROSS: Pete Doctor directed and co-wrote the new Pixar/Disney animated movie,
"Up." It opens Friday.
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On The Ground At Cannes

TERRY GROSS, host:

The 62nd Cannes Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday. Cannes is the most
important festival showcase for new films from around the world. The festival's
held in the South of France. Our critic-at-large, John Powers, who is also film
critic for Vogue, just got home from Cannes and he's going to tell us about
some of the award-winning films he saw there, films that we'll get the chance
to see in the U.S. within the next few months.

Hi, John. Tell us what made this year's Cannes Film Festival different from all
the others you've been to.

JOHN POWERS: Yes. Well, Cannes differs from year to year in attitude and tone.
You know, a few years ago, during, you know, at the beginning of the Iraq War,
you could actually feel the hostility to Americans because Europeans in
particular didn't like the war. What was striking this year was what I would
call the existence of austerity Cannes. And you know, that may sound like a
contradiction in terms because during the festival Cannes actually is home to
the greatest concentration of wealth in the world, you know, because of all
those people out in yachts are worth billions of dollars.

But was striking this year was, first of all, from an American point of view,
how many fewer Americans were there. And that ranged from everything from movie
stars - there were just far fewer big stars this year - to far fewer American
journalists. I mean when I used to come, you were just packed with Americans
fighting against one another for the stories. Whereas this year, you know, lots
of papers didn't send critics. You know, lots of magazines that used to send
teams are now sending one person. And although the festival was still crowded,
it wasn't insanely crowded this year.

GROSS: Are European newspapers going through the same kind of cutbacks that
American newspapers are? Are European newspapers folding at the rate American
newspapers are?

POWERS: Well, European newspapers are suffering in the way American newspapers
are, but not to the same extent. And what you don’t have in Europe in the same
way is, you know, the steady drumbeat of papers actually going under. At the
same time, you - I think film criticism is taken more seriously in Europe than
it is in the U.S. Whereas here I think at many papers the film critic is now
thought to be a luxury, and so all across the country newspapers and magazines
have just gotten rid of the film critics. Whereas you know, in France, you
know, I think you'd probably get rid almost anything before you'd get rid of
the film critic for your paper.

GROSS: So let's talk about some of the winners at the Cannes Film Festival. The
film that won the festival's top prize is "The White Ribbon." Tell us about the
film. What'd you think of it?

POWERS: Well, it’s a film by the Austrian director Michael Haneke, who is sort
of known in America. He made the movie "The Piano Teacher" and a film called
"Cache." But he's a huge directorial star in Europe, and he's an Austrian
director who’s a bit of a moralist. His films are a bit like castor oil because
he's always trying to teach you a lesson. And I've liked some of his films and
haven't liked some of others. I like this one. It's set in a German village
before World War I. And in this German village some strange and unpleasant
things are happening. Someone sets up a wire and trips a horse as it goes by. A
little boy is beaten up. And the whole question is, why is this happening?
Who's doing this? That's the thriller aspect of the story.

Over the course of the next two hours and 20 minutes what you gradually get is
a picture of the culture of this seemingly idyllic village, where you realize
that all the authority figures and particular the fathers are imposing a
particular idea of what a good child is like, and that this idea is finally
going to be the roots of what gives you fascism. So that there is this sense
that all children should be innocent and good and that parents are particularly
sadistic and brutal both psychologically and physically in enforcing this idea.

So if a young boy - if you fear that your son is going to be masturbating, you
literally tie him to the bed. If your daughter's behaving badly, you make her
wear a white ribbon all the time, which is where the film gets its title,
reminding her that you’re supposed to be innocent and pure. And so gradually
what you get in this investigation of this village is a view of Germany before,
just before World War I, creating the generation that will ultimately lead to
the creation of Nazi, Germany.

GROSS: Now, the head of the jury which selected this film was the actress
Isabella Huppert, who starred in one of Haneke's earlier films, "The Piano
Teacher." Does she have to recuse herself?

POWERS: Oh, no. There's no such thing as recusing in film festivals. I think,
you know, that Wall Street people would be thrilled to have the rules of
insider trading that film…

(Soundbite of laughter)

POWERS: …festivals have. You know, so that going into the final weekend,
because when people are discussing what what's going to win, all the people at
Cannes become like criminologists or Vatican followers trying to figure out
what’s really going on. And most people who knew what was going on thought that
the Haneke film, "The White Ribbon," would probably win.

GROSS: Okay, second prize at Cannes Film Festival went to a French film called
"A Prophet." It's a prison movie. Tell us about this one.

POWER: Yes. The second prize winner, winner of the Grande Prix, was called "A
Prophet" by Jacques Audiard(ph), and it was probably my favorite film in the
festival. And it was all the more surprising to me because I kind of dreaded
seeing it. The little blurb when you went in said it's about a young French
Arab who's sent to prison. And I thought, that doesn't sound very good. I hate
prison movies. But what happens in this one, which runs two and a half hours,
is that this young French Arab guy starts off a pure victim and over the course
of the next two and a half hours gradually learns the ropes of the prison, how
to negotiate the power struggle between the local Corsican gangsters and the
Islamists.

And over the course of two and a half hours transforms himself into some sort
of crime boss, so that he starts off this loser guy who is a teenager and winds
up a bit maybe like Michael Corleone - in fact the final images of the film
have a real hint of “The Godfather” about them. And what’s great about the film
is not only that the lead actor is really terrific. His name is Tahar Rahim. He
is a new discovery, but that you watch step by step how the prison works, how
power is arranged, how you make your way in this world. And you watch the guy
grow bit by bit from being this bit of a loser to being this extremely powerful
guy. It’s a really, really terrific film, incredibly gripping.

GROSS: What was the most controversial film at Cannes?

POWERS: The film that people fought to get in to see and then couldn’t wait to
boo in many cases was a film called “Antichrist” by the Danish director Lars
von Trier. Now, people here will know him for “Breaking the Waves” and
“Dogville” among other films, and he’s a provocateur. This film starts off - it
looks like a family film in a way, or a domestic psychological drama. Willem
Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg play a couple whose child dies and the
Gainsbourg character goes into a great period of grief. And to help cure her
grief, Dafoe takes her to their cottage in the woods in the American Northwest.

So far, so good. But then what happens about halfway through is the film goes
berserk and Dafoe starts meeting foxes that actually talk to him. You get rains
of - the house is pounded by falling acorns and the Gainsbourg character
eventually gets crazier and crazier until you’re entering the world where the
suggestion is that Gainsbourg is herself, as an expression of femininity, the
Antichrist.

GROSS: Very nice.

POWERS: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

POWERS: A very nice, and…

GROSS: A woman as the Antichrist.

(Soundbite of laughter)

POWERS: The woman as Antichrist, you know. And it’s a kind of film where she -
where, you know, who plays on male paranoia. So she wants to make love all the
time and then when you refuse, she thinks you’re going to leave her. So she
actually drills a hole in your leg, and actually…

(Soundbite of laughter)

POWERS: …and puts a spike through it to keep you there. It’s an incredibly
entertaining, very crazy movie, filled with jokes and violent imagery. And the
Cannes audience, I think, was expecting something much more serious from Von
Trier, whose - many of whose films are, you know, weighty in a spiritual or
psychological way or making some important point, whereas this one seemed like
a joke in lots of ways. It has hugely booed Cannes. And you know, one of those
great Cannes experiences is having to literally fight your way into a screening
because everybody is dying to see it. And then at the end of the film listening
to huge parts of the crowd boo the film.

GROSS: So, I’m not sure if you liked it or not, I can’t tell.

POWERS: I didn’t like it but I really enjoyed watching it because Von Trier is
one of those art film directors who never will ever bore you. It’s such a
strange and crazy movie filled with stuff I can’t describe on the radio that
you sit there rapt. And what’s funny to me is that every year there is a film
or two like this that’s clearly designed to get attention and shake people up,
to be deliberately provocative. And what’s startling to me is how every year a
huge number of critics fall for it and then become outraged and get all
moralistic when it was clear that the whole point of the movie was to somehow -
was to wind people up and to be a bit of a lark or a provocation.

You know, it’s not unimportant that this film was going to open in France, I
think, next week in 130 theaters. So to have the entire world being outraged
and talking about this movie at the Cannes Film Festival is a great piece of
marketing. And you know, in lots of ways that’s what this film is. I’m trying -
there is no comparable American version of this, of some film that’s just there
to get you. You know, probably the closest thing if you can imagine this would
be something like “Snakes on a Plane,” where the concept seems so vivid people
want to see it. In this case, to have an art film called “Antichrist” with a
tremendous trailer that seems very exciting and you think, oh here’s this art
film director making a horror movie. You know, that’s such a juicy package that
people just couldn’t wait to see it. And then of course having seen it, most of
them were outraged.

GROSS: My guest is our critic-at-large John Powers. We’ll talk more about the
Cannes Film Festival after a break, this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

My guest is our critic-at-large John Powers. He just returned from the Cannes
Film Festival. When we left off, we were talking about controversial films at
this year’s festival. Now, I understand there is one film so controversial…

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: …and so maybe distasteful at the Cannes Film Festival, you didn’t even
go.

POWERS: I didn’t even go. It’s a Filipino film called “Kinatay,” by a talented
director named Brillante Mendoza. And what it’s about is basically a young guy
gets - you know, who is going to be - who is sort of, a young police cadet gets
told to go along with some friends on this job. And basically the job is
basically grabbing a prostitute, beating her up, sexually assaulting her and
then dismembering her.

And the entire film is just that. It runs about 110 minutes and features a 25
minute sequence, shot almost in the dark, of them driving the prostitute along
in a van. You know, Roger Ebert when it - you know, wrote at the time, it was
the worst film ever in competition at Cannes. And, you know, even one of the
jurors who gave it a prize, because it did get the best director prize
amazingly enough, said he never wanted to see it again. And the festival is
divided between people who more or less saw it and hated it. And those who
heard about it from the first screening, and thought, I don’t want to spend a
110 minutes watching some prostitute being abused and then chopped to pieces.

So I was one of those people. And, you know, I feel no regret at missing it,
you know. There’s an intellectual argument that I heard from some very smart
friends to defend the film. And I shouldn’t believe it. I thought there was
nothing that film could show me that I didn’t already grasp. You know, are you
trying to prove the point that it’s wrong to grab people and chop them into
pieces? I already know most of the things the film would have, so why would I
subject myself to that? I mean it was no fun at all, just brutal nastiness. And
it won one of the top prizes, you know, go figure.

GROSS: Well, since it won one of the top prizes, did you regret it at all that
you didn’t see it? Did you feel any responsibility to see it, so that you could
inform your readers from a position of having witnessed the film, as opposed to
from the position of having refused to go?

POWERS: I do and I don’t. I mean I probably now will have to go because it won
this award, you know. And, you know, I saw things at this festival, Terry, you
know, that you wouldn’t otherwise see. There is, in one of the films - a long,
long film - there is a scene they shot from the inside of a woman’s womb. And
you watch the penis come towards you during a lovemaking sequence, you know.
I’m prepared to go with that. I watched, you know, I watched people bite one
another’s throats. I watched people shoot people’s heads off. I watched people
being scalped. I mean it’s not as if I’m squeamish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: My God, it sounds like such an endurance test.

(Soundbite of laughter)

POWERS: You know, this year was, I think in some ways, the nastiest festival
ever. And I…

GROSS: What is going on?

POWERS: I think it’s probably just happenstance. I guess it’s the first thing,
that they’re all there this year. I think the second thing is that the world’s
film audience is slightly more jaded than it used to be and is after a bit more
sensation. You know, in the U.S., you know, many of the most popular foreign
films now don’t come from Europe, but are very violent films out of Japan and
Asia. And some of that’s carried over I think also to Europe. I think also
violence has become a way of getting attention at a time when international art
movies don’t get the attention they used to.

I think the other part of it that makes it striking is that this year, because
Isabelle Huppert was heading the jury and she has a taste for extreme things,
is that all the films that got honored were films that were in one way or
another very intense, very violent, either psychologically or physically, often
highly sexual. You know, this must - this expresses her taste. And because her
taste then defines what wins that then carries over to everybody’s sense of the
entire festival.

GROSS: I know there are some films that you really liked at the Cannes Film
Festival that didn’t win any prizes. Tell us about one of those, one of the
films that you expect we’ll get to see in the United States.

POWERS: Well, one of the most acclaimed films in the festival, the film I
liked, is a Jane Campion film called “Bright Star,” which is about the romantic
relationship between the poet John Keats and a young woman named Fanny Brawn,
who is an early designer of clothes. And it’s basically about their love affair
- very, very muted love affair - during the last two and a half years of
Keats’s life. It’s a very beautiful, elegant movie, maybe a little staid. But
it normally would win if – would’ve won something at Cannes, I think.

But this was a year of extremity. And so all of its virtues - beauty, elegance,
restraint - countered against it in a film festival where films were cutting
people’s heads off and winning awards. Another film, very much like it, was
this Palestinian film that I loved called “The Time That Remains” by a guy by
the name of Elia Suleiman. And what it is, is it shows four five, you know,
four and – four or five different periods of Palestinian history, from 1948 to
the present day.

But it doesn’t do all the stuff that one fears that a Palestinian film would
do, which is essentially talk about grievance and be angry. Instead, the
Suleiman film shows these – shows the transformation of Palestinian life in his
hometown of Nazareth, through a series of comic and sentimental vignettes. And
as you watch you get sense of, oh this is what the actual life of Palestinian
people is like, where politics is the back drop to things that are going on,
rather than everybody being some sort of mad bomber or angry person.

Suleiman himself lives in Paris and you can tell that he is agonized, at being
cut off from his past life because somehow, if you’re in Palestine, you have to
care too much about all the politics. Yet he’s a tender, funny, gentle
filmmaker who is more concerned with you know, how his father changed over the
year. He’s watching his mother get older - the way his friends hang out in a
cafe and make jokes of one another. That’s what he is interested in. And so you
get that world.

And then in the background, you just see how Palestinian life has gotten harder
and harder over the last 60 years. It’s a film that makes all the points you
would want to make about what it’s like to be a Palestinian-Israeli. And yet at
the same time, it does it so delicately you don’t feel you’re being hectored.
It’s a really good film.

GROSS: John Powers, will tell us about more films from Cannes including Quentin
Tarantino’s new World War II movie tomorrow. John is FRESH AIR’S critic-at-
large and film critic for Vogue. I’m Terry Gross.
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