"This movie is showing us that people just want truth and believability" - Inside Out director Pete Docter speaks to hmv.com
Inside Out, the latest massive hit fresh off the Pixar assembly line, was both a box-office and critical smash-hit.
The film tells the story of a little girl called Riley and personifies the emotions she feels into actual characters who live within her, all of whom have her best interests at heart - at least most of the time.
As the film hit DVD shelves (it's out from Monday and you can pre-order it on the right-hand side of the page) we with the film's director Pete Docter and producer Jonas Rivera to find out what makes them tick...
I think one of the things that unites a lot of Pixar’s output over the years has been the myriad emotional layers contained within the films – particularly with Inside Out. How do you make sure that you don’t go too far in one direction, for example to make it too sombre or too happy?
Pete Docter: "I think you just go for it and correct later. I find it’s easier to pull back from something that to baby-step towards it. We have sequences that I wouldn’t say are sadder, but they are longer. One of the processes is honing it. Iteration is a real key for us, because you’ll try something and it’ll be wrong – and sometimes you just throw the whole thing out. Other times, well it’s 50% right but not quite there so you work on it over and over. And then, hopefully at the end, it fells just like ‘Well, of course! It should have been like this all along!’"
Jonas Rivera: "It’s hard in animation. You have to force yourself to look at it as an entire motion picture, as opposed to a sequence, or a scene or even just a character design. What we do is we pull ourselves out of the story room or the art department and cut reels and we look at it as a movie. The minute that you start to see it as a movie, it gets a bit easier to start seeing that this part is too loud, or that part is too long and so forth. But you’re making this a frame at a time, so it’s difficult to do that."
This isn’t the first time that you two have worked together. Is there a Lennon & McCartney thing developing here between the pair of you?
JR: (Laughs) "That’s exactly what’s going on. No, we are good friends and we’re cut from the same cloth in terms of the movies we loved growing up and we’ve done pretty good work together and I think the studio sees that. They haven’t pulled us apart yet and we haven’t punched each other in the face yet, so we’re going to keep going…"
Obviously you’re still very much within Inside Out at the moment but if we fast-forward a couple of years, could we expect some more output from you together?
JR: "We hope. This movie was borne out of us finishing the film Up and asking ‘What’s next?’ We’re now thinking that we’ve got another one in us and we’re going to try something."
This is the first Pixar film released in some time that’s an original concept, as opposed to being taken from source material. I imagine working on a Pixar movie is intense enough as it is, but is there an added element of pressure when it’s your own storyline?
PD: "I don’t think so. From my own observation, sequels and original things are both difficult for different reasons. When you’re doing something original, of course, it doesn’t exist so you have to pull this world together in some way that seemingly makes sense. Whereas the sequel, the challenge with that is you are now piggybacking on a world that already exists and characters designed for a specific arc that has already happened."
Is it more creatively liberating to work on an original project?
PD: "I think it depends on where you get your jollies. There’s are real satisfaction to cracking a creative solution and that would be true of sequels as well. It’s almost like working on a puzzle; it’s satisfying knowing what the pieces are and how they fit together is up to me to figure that out. For me personally, and I think Jonas would agree, discovery of the worlds is the fun of both watching the movies and making them."
JR: "The thing that’s fun to me about sequels is that it unlocks a different level of writing. It’s a bit like long format TV writing like Breaking Bad. You can explore things that otherwise you might have run out of time on – and that’s pretty cool."
How did you come upon the idea for Inside Out?
PD: "During the end of Up I was coming up with a few ideas and we pitched it to John [Lasseter]. The concept hasn’t changed as much from the very beginning. How it was executed, which is what it’s all about, that changed multiple times. What do the characters look like? How many are there? What’s the world? Where do they go? How do we visualise it?"
JR: "We couldn’t lean on anything as a starting point. Cars, for example, you can look at actual cars for research. When Pete said that he wanted to personify the mind, where do you even begin? That was actually a blessing and curse because there was no right or wrong. We were kicking ideas around the team and the minute he said, ‘What if we could tell a story about a little girl but she’s not the main character, she’s the setting – her mind and her emotions are the main characters’ I just sat forward. We pitched it to John and I saw him literally sit up. That’s what you want audiences to do, right?"
Speaking of pitching to John Lasseter, we spoke to Don Hall who directed Big Hero 6 and he told me that John asks for a handful of pitches when he’s contemplating a new project. Was it the same process for you both with Inside Out?
PD: "There are no real rules but a lot of times he looks for three pitches. It’s useful because as artists you tend to fall in love with one thing, so you really put all your eggs in this basket and then, only too late, you realise it’s not working. By doing multiple ideas you borrow some things from other projects. For example, Doug from Up came from a totally different project that got scrapped. The three ideas we’re working on right now all circle around the same idea and what that does is clarifies what’s compelling us to tell these stories."
JR: "It’s an organic way to make sure that the best ideas rise to the top. It gets there honestly as opposed to trying to force something. Mark Andrews, who directed Brave, was practicing pitches on me. He had three and I asked him which one was his favourite and he said ‘All of them’. I said to him, ‘What if your hour with John gets cut to ten minutes, which one do you pitch?’ He picked one and I told him, that’s your favourite!"
Inside Out must have caused a few headaches during the planning process. Riley, for example, is one of the principal characters and she’s also the set and she never directly meets with any of the other principal characters in any direct way. How do you get around those problems?
PD: "That was one of the most difficult things. We need to have an emotional connection between Joy and Riley. Ronnie Del Carmon (co-director) was very clever in coming up with ideas to try and bridge those two worlds. We had one in which Joy has this ability to close her eyes and transport herself out into the real world and we would show her sitting on Riley’s shoulder and she could stroke her cheek, whisper to her, things like this. It ended up being more complex: is she actually here? Does she see her? So then we pulled back and used the screen as a way of doing a similar thing."
JR: "I remember we were talking about it as if E.T. and Elliott could never meet."
PD: "In the end I feel like I grew a lot as a filmmaker in leaning on cutting to cause these connection for the audience. It was a real learning experience for me."
Whose idea was it to cast Lewis Black as Anger? I can’t imagine anyone more perfect for the part.
JR: "Pete, you mentioned Lewis in your very first pitch. There’s no one else who could have played that part. He actually mocked us when we called him and said (sarcastically) ‘Yeah, brilliant casting guys’."
What’s so great about Lewis Black is that a sense of anger permeates his comedy but it’s more a cartoonish style of anger than an offensive one.
PD: "That’s a good observation. Some people, when they get angry, you get scared. His is funny."
JR: "The whole cast, we worked really hard and feel really lucky. Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Bill Hader and Phyllis Smith who completely steals the show. All of them were in character even off mic. Lewis would give us a line and say, ‘You got it. That was the best one’."
PD: "With character actors – and Billy Crystal was like this as Mike Wazowski in Monsters Inc. – he is kind of that character but he just turns up the volume. All of them are like that; exaggerated versions of themselves."
Finally, what is it about the environment in Pixar which allows you and your colleagues to continually pump out amazing work time after time?
PD: "There’s a couple of things. One, we have very smart people – except for the two of us. Two, we have a culture that allows for mistakes. And we expect them. The first version of every movie is pretty lacklustre. Inevitably it’s a C- but then we get everyone together and try to improve it. At those moments of difficulty, everybody is in."
JR: "All the films are coming from a personal place. We believe that there’s a reason to make each movie, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. This movie is showing us that people just want truth and believability, even when they’re fantastic animated movies that are clearly fantasies. I think people crave something that’s real. Amy [Poehler] aid something really nice, she was happy that her sons had a movie that didn’t have characters that were unattainable, like superheroes or robots. This is about a kid. All of our movies come from a point of observation about our families, so – even if people don’t like them – they’re truthful."