BFI 53rd Opening Film – Fantastic Mr. Fox Press Conference
What for you is the particular appeal of Roald Dahl’s story telling and characters?
George Clooney: I just showed up for the pay cheque [laughs]. No, this is a well known book over a long period of time for a lot of us, and it was an opportunity to not only work on a fun and interesting story but also the chance to work with Wes, so I was excited about the whole process, and it was a very different process than what most people go through on an animated film, we were out in the middle of no where, on peoples farms, doing sound effects, running around in fields so the whole process was exciting for me, it was fun to do.
What brought you to this project? Were you a big Roald Dahl fan and why did you choose this particular style of animation?
Wes Anderson: This was the first book I ever personally owned, that was officially my property that I loved as a child, and it was the book that introduced me to Roald Dahl’s work in general so it made a big impression on me. About ten years ago, I approached Liccy Dahl (Roald’s wife), for permission to do it, so it had been a long process, I had always intended for it to be stop motion, I wanted to do a stop motion movie with animals with fur, cause I always loved how that looked, that odd sort of magical.
Can you talk about Mr. Fox, what you thought of him? It’s a remarkable performance and very Clooneyesque even without your face?
George Clooney: For me this guy was such an optimist and I really thought this was a fun character to play, I remember saying to Wes after I read the script ‘I love it, and I’m thrilled, excited to do it’. I don’t know who will see it cause it’s sorta made for adults and sorta made for kids, he said ‘don’t worry about that, let’s just make the movie and have some fun’ so I thought that was a great way to approach making the film. So for me it was the process of working with Wes and working with these guys.
Back to the stop motion, did you intentionally approach the cultural history of that form and specifically Chech film maker Jan Svankmajer, and did it have any anarchic link to Roald Dahl’s novels?
Bill Murray: That’s the type of question we’ve been hoping for [laughs]
Wes Anderson: It was one of the inspirations for me, I hadn’t thought of the political links. I do think the movie and Dahl are anarchic, and the movies a bit of a Robin Hood story, so it’s a bit Communist I think. But you know there’s another animated film, a French one that’s called ‘Le Roman De Renard’, and that was a great influence on us, the animation in that one, one of the techniques was to have multiple sized, multiple scaled, there are puppets that are normal size but also puppets that are tiny that are meant to be the same character for big wide shots, it’s quite charming. That was something we stole for our movie.
What is the moral lesson from the film?
George Clooney: Stealing is good [laughs].
Wes Anderson: It’s a celebration of stealing.
George Clooney: It’s honouring thievery, it’s been a long time since people have honoured that.
Jason Schwartzman: Be true to your animal nature.
George Clooney: Be true to your animal nature? That’s the answer you want me to give?
Has this film made you want to do more animated films in the future?
George Clooney: No! [laughs] You know, I have to say, that we worked together out on a farm for a few days, ran around and played in barns and fields. Wes worked for a year and a half or two years on this project so us being up here is a little silly cause it was all Wes’ job, and so certainly I would do any of this again, it was incredibly fun, I think the real question I would imagine would be to him, if he wants to do it.
Wes Anderson: One thing I learned over the course of the movie, is how much the voices these actors here give to the animators to work with, you record the voices first, and the animators spend all this time animating these puppets, their inspiration comes from the moments with the actors.
I’d like to ask about your experiences voicing these characters and whether it’s a new experience for you and how you found it?
Jarvis Cocker: Well I don’t know if I’ve actually got a line anymore.
Wes Anderson: You do.
Jarvis Cocker: That line I put everything into, [laughs] I hope that when people see the film, they’ll sense the preparation and the pain that went into it.
Wally Wolodarsky: Having had some experience with animation, mostly on American TV with ‘The Simpsons’ we used to record theatrically for all the actors there. Subsequently, for feature animation that never happens, so this was a very fun, dynamic experience, we got to run around and when we were running we ran, and when we were hiding behind bushes we hid behind bushes, I’m not really an actor, but working with these people was a really fun experience.
Jason Schwartzman: I loved being part of this movie, and I think we’ve talked a lot about running around and digging in the dirt and making eating noises and growling noices and how much fun that was to do together. But I can’t, I really can’t tell you what a thrill it was to work with everyone, and being able to, and this is weird to say, but often at times when you’re working with people that you really admire, you’re working with them and you can’t really stare at them and take it in just how amazing the whole thing is, and because there were no cameras rolling on this one, George would get to do a scene and make a speech and it was nice cause I would get to just look at him. I admire him, not only for those reasons but to just watch the work, and watch Bill, watch the work there also, and Wes, it was just nice to have that privilege. I know it sounds like an odd answer but that’s what I really loved about this experience.
Eric Anderson: My experience started off with all these people standing in for Jason, cause he wasn’t there right at that moment, and then my part began to grow afterwards, so once it was all over, so it was a series of transatlantic phone calls with my brother which were sort of like visits cause I wasn’t talking to him that often cause he was working very hard. So it was kinda like when we were kids making movies only there were no cameras and Wes was on the end of a darkened booth wearing headphones, and occasionally it was such an abstract experience he would say ‘Eric remember you’re an animal’, ‘Oh yeah I forgot’ I had to remind myself of that, but it was magical.
You can now be described as foxy, what other attributes do you think you share with Mr. Fox other than foxyness?
George Clooney: Well I try to daily wax [laughs], I seem to be considerably taller than this character.
It seems you had a good time with the actors, how did you find the whole process?
Wes Anderson: I did have a wonderful time with the actors, that was a very exciting process and very free. Animating is a very slow, painstaking process and the animators become the actors at that point, at the most during this movie we had about thirty units going at once, so we kind of created a system. I was not in London for the whole shoot, I was sometimes here and sometimes in other places, but it’s very consuming, you have to work on it the whole time while shooting and we had a computer system where I could look through thirty different cameras at once and see what’s on each set and work with all the different people, hundreds of people, designing, preparing and executing the shot. Getting the systems to do it was as much part of the process as actually doing it, but I loved making this film, I feel that stop motion is now part of my arsenal for things to use with making my movies now. I really enjoyed it.
Roald Dahl enjoyed scaring children, did you make this story a little darker than it was and do you enjoy scaring children?
Wes Anderson: I remember being scared by Roald Dahl, I loved that. I don’t think we made it any darker, but we tried to keep it as dark, and as we were writing the script we tried to imagine how Dahl would’ve expanded the story into a movie that was our ideal. This a movie where they’re not in danger of getting hurt, they’re in danger of getting killed and that’s the way it is in the book. Mr. Fox’ tail is shot off and doesn’t grow back so we tried to keep that.
This is more of a British tale than anything else, why was the decision made, although this is a great cast, why is it mostly an american cast?
Wes Anderson: Noah Baumbach and I adapted this screenplay togeter and we’re American, and I feel we were better writing American voices so we decided to make all the animals American and the humans would be British so that’s the way we did it.
Bill Murray: Cause their the bad guys!
What was the main difficulty you faced and what was the thing you learnt most?
Wes Anderson: The big adjustment that you make when making an animated film for me is the pace of it, it’s a lot slower, but what I enjoyed was that we had a lot more opportunities to work on different aspects of the production, you find more things that are funny and that relate to other parts of the story. It was the fact that it slowed down so radically that it opens up a whole new series of opportunities. Then what animators themselves provide is very mysterious and interesting, they take a list of the frames, they have instructions of what’s going to happen in every single frame, but two animators will interpret those very detailed instructions quite differently and their personality comes into it so that was the surprise. To answer your question, I think I shot this movie the same way as I shoot live action movies, I enjoy doing it that way. People who were used to making animated movies were a bit throw by it at first, but we found a way to make that work, I enjoyed doing it that way.
How important would you say the London Film Festival is on the calendar of festivals?
Bill Murray: You know we kid about the English being bad guys, cause that whole revolution thing is still with us, but the reason I think the London Film Festival is important is because festivals are fun and you go with your movie to support your movie. This film couldn’t have been made anywhere in the world but London.
To me one of the most exciting days that I’ve had in the film business is when I spent the day with the artists and designers on this movie, there’s more talent in one little factory than I’ve ever been with in one place. They do things with sets, designing and building here that America can only dream about, we could put a man on the moon but we could not make this movie. To me it’s the celebration of everyone that has worked on this film and they’re fun after work too.
George Clooney: There’s a level of pride in film here that’s really fun and they truly enjoy it, and so it’s a great place to bring a movie and find out whether it’ll hold up or last not just for an opening weekend but whether it’s going to work or not and that’s part of the fun of the festival.
This is not designed to be just a film that opens, it’s designed to see how a film will last at the festival.
You have three films showing at the festival this year, would you say you are the hardest working actor in Hollywood today?
George Clooney: Or have the worst timing for three films coming out at the same time? No, this film we did a couple of years ago really, most of it, you don’t necessarily want your projects coming out at the same time but I’m very proud of all three. When we first did the voice over bit, we were all staying at a friends farm house, I know that’s got nothing to do with the question.