Andrew Stanton Talks John Carter
How do you tackle one of the most seminal works in science fiction history that is, well, ancient history? Edgar Rice Burroughs’ epic space adventure, “A Princess of Mars” and the ten books that came after it in a series known as the Barsoom Chronicles, was first serialized back in 1912, the same year the Oreo cookie was invented. Arizona and New Mexico were just officially becoming U.S. states rather than “gosh darn lawless turratoreez” and early sci-fi geniuses like H.G. Wells, Jules Verne and Mr. Burroughs began capturing the imagination of generations to come with their crazy tales of space travel and alien invasions. Let’s see you make an “oldie but goodie” century-old futuristic tale of morality and redemption into a movie a 12 year old will enjoy, a 12 year old raised on “SyFy” and vampires consorting with wolves consorting with shape shifters while texting.
Enter Andrew Stanton, his Oscar for WALL-E firmly in tow, with a distinct vision of how to distinguish his first live-action film from all of the other sci-fi movies out there. The Pixar veteran talks about how he grappled with the challenges of bringing to the screen Burroughs’ tale of how one man was forced to choose between right and wrong, on Mars, with green aliens and a ten-legged pet.
AWN: How have you handled the transition from animation to live action?
AS: It’s not as extreme as I thought. I knew that the stamina demand would be incredible and that there would be incredibly long days. You're standing in every kind of whether, in every kind of environment, for 100 days. I don’t think you stand when you animate at all. Maybe to walk from one room to another and that's about it. But I must say that I’ve gotten used to the groove. The translation from animation to live action has mainly been taking everything that I’m used to doing in about 2 ½ to 3 years and concentrating it into 6 months. But it’s not as hard as you think, as the conversations I have with my live-action crew are extremely similar to the ones I have with my team at Pixar. I have a DP at Pixar. I have a costume designer. I have props. I have sets built. The roles are basically the same in each medium; it’s how they execute their jobs that’s different. I don’t work with computers at Pixar. I work with 200 craftsmen that are the best at their job. And it’s really the same with live action. The luxury in live-action is that I can have the conversation with all of the crew in the same room and we can actually see the result on the same day instead of six weeks later.
A lot of people at Pixar asked me after I came back, what was it like? I said imagine every meeting that we have about every issue, over the three years we're in production, and having them all in six months. They're all overlapped, they're all truncated, and everyone is talking at once. The nice thing about animation is that you can't put anything on the screen unless you planned it. So you become an incredibly great planner and I've got to say that's the weakest link in live action. There's a lot of thinking, “Let's just fix it as we go.” And so you’re more triage oriented. It was fascinating. I kept trying to apply my Pixar overplan mentality so that you don’t get any surprises. You could just see it just didn’t fit well with people. Then, the minute something was on fire, something was falling apart and we had no time left, everybody suddenly became twice as smart, twice as good and almost giddy. You’re like adrenaline junkies. This is a lot of what live action movie making.