Chris Wedge and Bill Joyce Talk Epic
BJ: The summer we were finishing Robots, in the backyard of the house we were renting, the pasture was filled with fireflies. It was like, “Here’s our movie!”
CW: Well, we had been thinking about it quite a bit.
CW: We had been working on the first draft of the script. We were having a barbecue. Bill stayed up in Westchester County near Blue Sky while we were finishing Robots and as summer evenings go up there, the sun is out late, the nights are balmy and beautiful. We were having a couple of beers in the back of this house and Bill said, “Come here guys I got to show you something.” We walked down in the twilight into the dark woods, into a little glade of trees. There were so many fireflies in the trees, on the leaves and in the air that they were lighting the woods up! You could see by the light of fireflies…
DS: Wow! That sounds spectacular.
CW: …it was so magical. We just stood there, staring and thinking about how magical this movie could be. I have to say that was just one of innumerable moments where over the course of this movie, either with Bill, or Jim or with people at Blue Sky, when we’ve had these little moments, these little revelations about how cool things could be. We put the first draft of the script up on reels and we watched it. It was a movie, but unfortunately, or fortunately, it didn’t convince Fox it was worth making at the time. So we went back to the drawing board. The film you’re seeing today is two stories evolved from where we started. But everything we thought of contributed to what we ended up with. It was just a very long development process followed by a pretty traditional animation production process.
BJ: Yeah. Once we got that first version up on reels, we realized we had too much movie. We had too much story. It was like…we got some babies to kill. It wasn’t that hard to kill them. Each time we simplified the story, there was a sort of collective sigh of “aaaaah.” But it’s always hard to kill babies.
CW: Just making a joke.
BJ: Just making a joke.
DS: Of course…
CW: Because the original story had a baby in it.
DS: Got it. What made Fox finally say, “OK, let’s do it?”
CW: This has been a passion project of mine for a long time. Fox knew it was. There was a moment where I was trying to decide what I wanted to do next and with the options that I had in front of me, I was able to leverage the movie into production, with the full support of Fox. But it took a bit of doing from me to express…
DS: How much you wanted to do it?
CW: The completeness of my passion for this thing.
BJ: A very, very diplomatic way of…
DS: That was fantastically diplomatic. Bill you’ve worked for so many years in so many different mediums, from books to television to film to interactive. Is it difficult to watch your ideas worked on, adapted, morphed by other people into other projects? Tell me a little bit about that dynamic.
BJ: Well, from the start, this project was really about the idea of this world. I’d explored that world a little bit in the Leaf Men book. I was never interested in doing an adaptation of that book. I was just interested in the world and the idea of these miniature Robin Hood figures that we don’t see, that guard and take care of the forest. That reverence for nature and the ancientness of the civilizations that are just right under our nose, that was what was compelling.
Of all the adaptations that have used my work, this one had the most freedom to sort of go in any direction without me feeling like it was losing the essence of the book or idea that I had started out with. Chris and I agreed very much on the idea that something’s gone amiss in this fantastic world. Nobody has really explored that in the movies before and that’s what we wanted to do.
Our reverence for nature, the awe that we wanted to convey, the sense of adventure, we were always in agreement on that. The specifics and the particulars work themselves out over time. Jim and I wrote the screenplay and the first, I don’t know how many drafts. I worked on designs for several years. They were just little doodles. It’s interesting to put them together, a bunch of art from the production process. There are things I doodled on napkins at the very beginning, ages ago. Since then we’ve gone through 10,000 iterations in the designs and the development, the way things looks. In essence, they are just elaborations on these basic ideas that we had at the beginning and that we agreed upon. This project was really pleasant in that regard.
In a couple of the movies I’ve been involved with, early on it would be like, “The characters don’t look this way” and I would get overruled. They would end up looking somewhat different than I wanted them to look like. But on this, it was very much, we are working together to find a look. So there weren't any of those encumbrances [of source material]. It was awesome. It’s not always easy. We are trying to make up a world. There were a lot of different people that came in, a lot of different artists and talents that went into this. That’s part of the fun of animation. Bringing in lots of different people.
You pick up bits and pieces from hundreds of people over the course of these projects. But this one was very pleasurable, because it didn’t come from something that I had thought of myself. It came from a story and a world that we all greatly wanted to do.
There were 10,000 little “Eureka!” moments along the way where somebody else would draw something or somebody else would do something and I was like, “Awesome!” For me, this has been one of the most pleasant and rewarding experiences. It took a long time. But you know, these things tend to take as long as they should, no matter what you do. If it takes 11 years then pretty much you needed those 11 years to get it figured out.
Movies are simple. The hardest thing sometimes to remember is that stories in movies are a lot less complex than you realize. In the 90 minutes we usually have for an animated feature you can’t do The Lord of the Rings. But you can evoke that feeling...
BJ: I wrote on it, I drew on it, I was an executive producer. Sometimes I told Chris I thought he was nuts. A lot of times I told him I thought he was awesome and perfect. Sometimes he told me to shut up and sometimes he’d tell me, “God I am really glad you’re on this.” That’s the way it works, the way we’ve always had fun working together. We crack each other up. We like the same stuff. That first day, sitting in that hotel room, when Chris and I were looking at this little book from the Frick, the feelings we had looking at those pictures, that’s what this movie is.
CW: That’s what started it that’s for sure.