Genndy Tartakovsky Talks Hotel Transylvania
Last Thursday, in front of a packed and wildly enthusiastic Ottawa Animation Festival audience that had just sat through a raucous premier screening of his new film, Hotel Transylvania, Genndy Tartakovsky shared that early in production, after leaving a particularly frustrating meeting, he was ready to throw in the towel. “I almost quit,” he told the crowd, describing his frustration with a studio production system very different from the TV animation production digs he was so accustomed to.
But recognizing his unique position at the helm of a big studio animated feature, he found a way to “work it out,” to know when to dig in his heels and when to compromise. Soon, he found himself in a mind space where “It was all good,” and by the looks of the final film and the audience’s reaction, the results of those efforts are all good as well.
Over several interviews, I had a chance to talk to Genndy about the challenging transition from TV animation creative icon to “newbie” director on the block, taking over Sony’s troubled feature that after six years in development, finally hits the theatres tomorrow.
Dan Sarto: Hotel Transylvania had been in development for many years before you signed on as director. You come in, you’re new to the studio, new to the film. How much pressure did you feel taking over such a large production?
Genndy Tartakovsky: It was definitely hard because it was like being the new kid coming into the school mid-semester. It’s not even at the beginning of the year. Everybody is already settled in. So it was definitely difficult. But I’m one of these types of people that used to love the first day of school. I used to love meeting new people. It was always exciting for me.
And so, that part of it was okay. The pressure? The pressure was more about making sure I did a good job and really had an opportunity to show what I could do.
When you have a project that’s been paused many times, it’s always a challenge. That’s how I looked at it. It was less about the pressure and more about “this is a great challenge for me.” Can I pull it together, can I find a way to push it through and still have a decent movie at the end of the day?
Hotel Transylvania was a project they’d been working on for a long time that everybody loved from here all the way through the top at Sony. They always liked it, so they never wanted to give up on it, no matter how many story issues they had. Conceptually they liked it and they thought there was something there. They didn’t want to give up on it.
DS: Obviously you weren’t just brought in because they needed a new person at the helm. You’re brought in because of who you are and the stellar work that you’ve done for many, many years, both because of your comedic storytelling sensibility as well as because of your very distinctive creative vision and artistic style. So, how much did the story and design change since you took over?
GT: I think they changed a lot. It became a totally different movie than what they had. I think for me, when I came in, it was a big picture, a movie about a hotel for monsters. I didn't want the movie to take itself too seriously. It’s about heart and emotion, but it didn't need to have an epic struggle-type of feel. It wasn’t Lion King, if you know what I mean, which is almost Shakespearean. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to do a movie that has a really broad comedy feel? There aren’t a lot of animated movies like that.
So, let’s try to do a movie that’s really funny first and foremost and then secondly, has nice strong character, emotion and story. Let’s try to get a lot of good laughs. For me, I would always talk about movies like Dumb and Dumber, which is really funny. The story [in that film], you don’t even know what the story is. It’s really about these characters and a lot of great funny situations.