Brad Bird Talks Iron Giant 10th Anniversary
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Iron Giant (how time flies!) A week ago, ASIFA hosted a reunion with director Brad Bird and various crew members, so we thought we'd have our own celebration honoring his brilliant feature debut. We start off with an exclusive interview with the Oscar-winning director, followed next week by a crew reminiscence or two.
Bill Desowitz: How did you get involved with Iron Giant and what originally attracted you to the project?
Brad Bird: Iron Giant was brought to Warner Bros. by Pete Townsend of The Who, and Des McAnuff, who directed the stage version of Tommy. They wanted to do an animated musical. Pete had already done a musical adaptation of the original Ted Hughes story (The Iron Man) for the stage play as well as an album based on those songs.
I was at Turner developing Ray Gunn when Warners and Turner merged. Warners had even less interest in Ray Gunn than Turner did, and since there was three months left on my Turner contract, Warners asked me if I was interested in any of the projects they already had in development. They had a ridiculous number of projects "in development," but I picked three to read and one of them was Iron Giant.
I'd read the Ted Hughes book and loved it for its poetic simplicity... but I also had some new ideas of my own on what the film could be about. I'm a huge fan of Pete Townshend's work, but I really didn't see Giant as an animated musical. The meat of the story, to me, was the relationship between this little boy and the Giant. My main problem with the book was that it veered away from that relationship about halfway through, and became a contest between the Giant and this Giant Space Bat flying back and forth to the sun.
I came back to Warner Bros., said I was interested in IG, but wanted to a go a different direction with it. Then I asked them: "What if a gun had a soul and didn't want to be a gun?"
That kind of stuck with them, so I went further and pitched them my new storyline. Rather than setting the film in a timeless England, I wanted to set the film in America in 1957-- at the height of the Cold War. I added the beatnik character Dean and the government character Kent Mansley and the army and such-- none of which are in the book.
The Maine setting looks Norman Rockwell idyllic on the outside , but inside everything is just about to boil over; everyone was scared of the bomb, the Russians, Sputnick-- even rock and roll. This clenched Ward Cleaver smile masking fear (which is really what the Kent character was all about). It was the perfect environment to drop a 50- foot-tall robot into.
BD: What was it like directing your first feature and working with Warner Bros.? How had all of your previous experiences prepared you -- or not?
BB: Finally getting the chance to direct a feature film after so many years of trying was complete exhilarating. I'd been in the business for quite a while by that point. Many of my prior experiences in movies had been negative, meaning I had worked on several films with bad leadership, so an important part of my education was in learning what not to do.