A Dreamer Walking

The Storm

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on September 28, 2011

In almost every Pixar film there has been a time where the film looked like crap. I have heard both Pete Docter and Andrew Stanton talk about their storms during the production of their movies. Maybe the most notable storm in Pixar’s history was during the production of Toy Story 2 when John Lasseter looked at the movie nine months before is was supposed to be released and thought it was below Pixar’s standards and needed to be completely redone. During the storm the director is usually the one who is the most emotionally attached to the project, so he or she has the most to lose if the storm destroys the ship. Yet, the decisions made during the storm are the most crucial to its success. It is easy to do well when everything is going your way. However, the great directors are the ones who are calm in the storm and lead their crew to the destination on the other side.

As a director when starting a project you need to make sure your ship is in shape to survive the journey. I am using an analogy obviously, but think about the ship as the studio or investors supporting your project. You and your financial support need to be in agreement on what your movie is going to be about so you both know exactly what you are getting into. If the red lights begin to flash before you begin your journey, that may be the time to bail. There have been many great directors who have been out of work for a long while because they did not feel their ship was ready for the journey he or she wanted to take. Peter Weir (director of Dead Poets Society and Master and Commander) has left Hollywood because none of the studios he brought projects to in the last half of a dozen years or so have been in sync with his vision.

When you get a good ship it is time to find a good crew. Usually filmmakers try to stick with the same key members of their crew all the way through their careers. Steven Spielberg is an excellent example. John Williams has been doing the music for Spielberg since Jaws (1975), Michael Kahn has helped cut Spielberg’s movies since Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Janusz Kaminski has been the director of photography for Spielberg since Schindler’s List (1993). With this core staff of followers came understanding and commitment to Spielberg. Yes, everyone will follow when things are looking good. But, it is during the stressful times when you are trying to capture a shot all day, trying dozens of times to hit a key note during a high budget recording session, or working until the very last minute with hardly any sleep to get the rhythm of your film just right, that you need those people who you know are 100% committed to you and your vision.

So, you have a good ship and you are confident in your crew, now it is time to go on the journey. Making a movie is no easy task. You might need to work with a lower budget then you originally expected, you might run into really bad weather during production, or you might run into a problem with the script and completely change the story. The storms come in all shapes and sizes. The director is the key man when it comes to making it through these storms. He is the captain of the ship.  The director might have the most to lose but he needs to stay calm. Andrew Stanton pointed out that when he as the director is calm during the storm the rest of the crew doesn’t freak out. The last thing you want to do is create a ripple effect. When one person freaks out another is sure to follow. Being calm allows for clarity and clarity is what is needed to get out of the storm. You can solve almost anything if you are calm and are able to work together with the rest of the crew.

The storms in filmmaking give us perspective. How can you really appreciate the good times if you have not experiences the bad? It is important to understand that the storms will pass. The question is, will your ship survive? Rebooting Toy Story 2 nine months before the release date was a daunting task. Yet, the Pixar crew believed in their director John Lasseter and were up for the task. The movie opened to both public and critical acclaim. Pixar made a statement with Toy Story 2. They showed they were willing to face the storm head on and proved they were able to come out on the other side with the vision still intact and thriving. What it required was a studio that was willing to invest in the crew, a crew who was dedicated to the leader, a leader who was devoted to a vision, and a vision that was worth the journey.

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