Mark Andrews tells a round table of interviewers “I was born and raised in California, I’m as Californian as you get. I just don’t surf or have blond hair.” Andrews is in town promoting the new Pixar film Brave (distributed by Disney). Typical of Pixar productions there’s a duality to the story that’s not apparent in other animated movies. Issues of matricide are raised and traditional male female roles become reversed. The hero’s journey becomes internal. Look for the wink-wink nod to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away in the portrayal of the witch. Andrews was candid and animated as he related his own journey, from Iron Giant, to Spiderman, to John Carter to Brave.
Free Press Houston: There’s three directors listed in the credits. On a project like this how are the duties divided?
Mark Andrews: We don’t all work art the same time. Brenda Chapman was the original director. Steve Purcell is the co-director, which is like your wingman. Co-director is really the hardest role on the picture because you’re not in a supervising capacity but rather right there with the director helping them enforce their vision. When I came on as director I took over from Brenda, 18 months ago in the Fall of 2010. When I came on I kept Steve as a co-director because of his connection with everything that went before. Steve co-wrote with me. At the end of the day it’s the director who’s making the final call.
I took over for Brenda mostly due to creative differences. Brenda came up with the idea for the project in 2004 and pitched it to Pixar and John Lasseter. They loved the story that is at the heart a parent child conflict. The film was in its development phase where enough work has been done that it’s green-lit into production. Then you start designing the sets and characters, getting them ready for animation. The process is we build the story in story reels, we look at the whole movie and look at it and go this isn’t any good. Then we take it down, change elements around because the story is really alchemy. We’re trying to change lead into gold, find all those directions and characters and themes and line them up and tell this great story. Brave was running into story trouble. At the 18-month deadline, where you have a year-and-a-half before the movie comes out, something’s got to happen. That’s when Pixar approached me to take over for Brenda. It’s unfortunate to have a director change, but it happens; and it’s all done to get the best story. We did it on Ratatouille, we did it on Toy Story 2. It happens all the time on live action. Films get stuck and they need that kind of change. I’d already been loosely involved with the project since the get-go as a consultant on all things medieval, Scottish and Celtic, all the research books came out of my library. I’m friends with Brenda, I wanted to do right by her story, and all the bones of her story are there.
FPH: Are there times when you get executive notes to tone down the darkness, the film has a very dark color scheme for instance?
Andrews: The great thing about Pixar is that they constantly continue to push. When John saw this, and we’re getting dark, he thought it was fine. It served the purpose of the story, it raises the stakes of the tale. You can’t pretend that there’s a lesson to be learned unless there’s real consequences. It’s why in The Incredibles Bob gets hurt fighting the big robot. We could of gotten PG-13 with the violence and level of scariness, but we wanted to get the whole audience so we made it properly scary. Then balance that out with the humor and the action and the heart.
FPH: How does someone get a gig as storyboard artist on Spiderman?
Andrews: You know that old saying, it’s all who you know? That’s pretty much it. My boss at the time, the head of story on Iron Giant was Jeff Lynch. Lynch went on to work with Sam Raimi doing storyboards on A Simple Plan, For the Love of the Game, The Gift and then Sam got Spiderman. When that happened Jeff called me and said, ‘Dude, Spiderman.’ And I’m like ‘I’m totally there.’ The same day I got that call, Brad Bird called me to ask me to come work with him as head of story on The Incredibles. I said sure as soon as I’m through on Spiderman. It’s all about reputation in the biz, if you do good work, word gets around like wildfire.
FPH: You were one of the writers on John Carter, along with Andrew Stanton (also one of Brave’s executive producers), and Wonder Boys author Michael Chabon. It’s so rare to have a full-blown romantic fantasy sci-fi film. It was also a case where most people seemed to review the film’s production history and not the film itself.
Andrews: We were all in the same room, me and Andrew for the first … okay, there are dates in making a movie. Once you get the rights, you have 18 months to get a script, then it’s approved, in this case by the Burroughs estate, then you have 18 months to get into principal photography. So for the first 18 months it’s just me and Andrew writing the script, adapting the story. Once we got the approval Andrew wanted to get Chabon on board because of his literary sense. He came in and put the dialogue and characters in that period. Between me, Andrew and Chabon we make the perfect writer: we all have our own individual super powers. Chabon has that beautiful literary language; Andrew is the editor supreme, he can take all the pieces and go boom boom boom now we have it; and I just shove out material like you wouldn’t believe, I can write a 120 page script in under a month. There was a lot of yelling in the room, it was a fun process. What I’ve just recently found out, is that John Carter is the most downloaded ripped off movie in film history. Beyond Avatar, by a factor of ten. I saw a graph and it’s like way over here. So all the bad press has actually sold it to where people want to see what the fuss was about. [In its first week on DVD/Blu Ray John Carter moved over 648,000 units.] How does Chronicles of Riddick keep getting remade? Or Underworld, or Resident Evil? And you don’t want to see another John Carter movie? We have the whole story all plotted out over three films, but the first one was designed to be a stand-alone film.
– Michael Bergeron