89th Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: Animated Feature Film

CATEGORY: Animated Feature Film
SPEECH BY: Byron Howard, Rich Moore and Clark Spencer



Q. Congratulations, guys.  The film is timelier more than anything, more than any other era because of the diversity theme.  So can you talk about animation as the most, probably the most international of all ‑‑ among the divisions in filmmaking because it requires many talents from all over the world, especially, you know, from the Philippines, Josie Trinidad, and [inaudible] this story and other nations. 
A. (Rich Moore)  Well, our studio employs artists from all over the world.  There's no way that we could make these films without the talent of international artists.  And they bring so much from their countries.  And like someone like Josie, you know, who has a very unique point of view, and she's our head of story on this film.  And I really see a person like Josie as someone that she's a future director, a potential director at the studio in the times coming.
A. (Byron Howard)  Definitely. 

Q. Hi, guys.  Congratulations again.  I'm wondering, what do you feel that animation can do?  How can animation tell a story in a way that others can't?
A. (Byron Howard)  Well, for us in particular with this film, we got this idea about five and a half, six years ago to talk about bias with talking animals.  And the great thing that that allowed us to do was allow the audiences around the world not to sort of prejudge the characters.  Like we wanted the animals to serve as stand‑ins for any of us.  No matter what's your cultural background, what's your ethnic background, whatever your, you know, gender, it doesn't matter.  Like if you can find yourself in these animals.  Like Aesop knew this hundreds of years ago, and that was something that animation is very uniquely equipped to do, especially with a story like this.  And we were surprised at how timely the film became as the world started to blow up, and it was very comforting to us no matter what country we visited.  The people who saw it in those countries would tell us that this seems very like a Belgian movie, a movie for Belgians, or this seems like a movie for Brazilians or for, you know, different people in the United States.  So allowing people to find themselves in the characters is a great, powerful thing that animation can do.  And we are so happy that our company backed us from the beginning.  Like there was never any hesitancy in doing a movie about bias or discrimination.  There was only support.  So we're very grateful for that. 

Q. Congratulations.  I just wanted to ask you guys about the culture at Disney and you know this year with your guys' movie and even with MOANA, you know, touching on the South Pacific Islanders, but what has Disney done to get into this diversity and all these other issues that's allowed you guys to prosper and make these type of projects right now?
A. (Clark Spencer)  I think the great thing is John Lasseter.  He really encourages people to tell stories from their heart, and when it came from Ron and John who created this great film with those [inaudible] MOANA, they really wanted to tell the story of the South Pacific and so they did an incredible amount of research down there in the islands to really understand that culture.  And the same thing here, we actually worked with an incredible expert on bias named Dr. Shakti Butler for two years and she really worked with us and looked at the script and talked about this idea of subconscious bias which is what made it into the film.  And so I think for us, we're realizing that animated films don't need to be just for kids.  They can truly be a film for everybody.  And if we do our jobs right, we can entertain kids and adults, but also cause a reason for conversation and hopefully inspire.  I mean, the interesting thing about ZOOTOPIA and MOANA is they're both stories that talk about female protagonists in a very, very strong way and that's a great thing put out there in terms of storytelling. 

Q. Before I ask the question, I just want you guys to know that I keep it on loop to keep me sane in this current political [inaudible]. 
A. (Rich Moore)  Me, too. 

Q. So the question is to all three of you.  What do you love about being storytellers?
A. (Byron Howard)  Well, you know, what I love is that we're a community at Disney.  This is true at Pixar, too, our sister studio.  I think we know that these films have great impact on the public and on generations that will watch them over and over again.  So we take what we do very seriously.  And we're very tough on each other.  We are a family, but we push very hard in the stories to make sure that we get the message nuance in just the right way.  And this film is no exception.  We did 13 different versions of this film entirely different from one another.  And it's just amazing to be in a place where people will sacrifice their time and their creativity and just ‑‑ and give everything that they have for something that they care about.  And then when they knew that the message of the film was one of hope, especially as things started to go again, kind of go crazy, people gave even more of themselves.  So that's ‑‑ that's a really reassuring thing.  So everyday coming to work and seeing that, it made us feel like we are potentially doing something that could really help people in the future and never making a message movie by any means but just something that could provide someone with a feeling of hope and positivity at the end.
A. (Rich Moore)  I would say that when I would watch movies and hear stories as a kid, like I thought that they would just entertain me.  And as I've gotten older, I've realized, no, this is ‑‑ this is a medium in which we are giving back what the people before us gave us.  And I always loved as a kid the stories, that not only entertained me, but made me think after the movie was over, the show was over.  And that's what I really, really love about storytelling is to be able to make an audience laugh or cry, have an emotion, be thrilled, but then on the ride home or a kid speaking with their parents or as someone who's falling asleep before they ‑‑ when they're going to bed, that they're actually kind of thinking about how ‑‑ how do I see myself in that protagonist's shoes?  Like how ‑‑ what are times that I felt like that?  And that to me is, you know, I ‑‑ I think there's a real nobility in storytelling that like so many of the lessons that I learned in life were from stories, you know, and it feels very good as an adult to be able to give that back to the next generation.
A. (Clark Spencer)  And I would echo the sentiments.  But the thing that I love most is how hard it is.  It's really, really, really hard to tell a story and you watch the directors and the story artists and the writers try to craft it over the course of four or five years and then you get to that point where you see the final product and you think about how many versions, as Byron said, you go through and you realize everyday just how hard it is to tell a story that's cohesive and can have an impact.  And for me, the satisfaction at the end of watching the film come out, get released and then see it impact audiences is what I love so much about absolute storytelling.




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