Genndy Tartakovsky Talks Hotel Transylvania
Sometimes on a show you get lost. 80% of the struggle of movie making is knowing what you’re making. If you know what you’re making, you can point everything in that direction. But sometimes, we were just trying to find out exactly what we were making. So when I came onto the project, I said, “You know, we’re making a broad comedy with strong emotional undertones. It’s a funny movie.” We just started pushing the train in that direction and everybody jumped onboard.
DS: Your instincts as a director, coming from TV, are, “Okay, I understand the medium, I understand what we need to do, this is what we need to do, let’s do it.” On a feature film, there are more people involved, more discussions about the film’s direction and how you’re going to get there. How did you handle the jump from TV to features?
GT: Yeah, definitely, the jump was both positive and negative. Coming from television, I had an advantage going into the feature world. In TV, there is no time. In TV, before I finished writing a thought, as soon as I finished making a drawing, it was pulled away from me and it was on TV six months later. It’s that kind of dynamic. So, all you have and all I’ve ever had is my instinct. Right from the very first Dexter short, I said, “I’m just going to do it the way I want to do it, and if it’s wrong, it’s wrong, if it’s right, great.” You learn from your mistakes. “I shouldn’t have done this - it was good I did that.” You learn to go with your gut. You learn to make quick decisions with confidence. You learn to trust your decisions. Because sometimes as a director, that’s all you have.
Everybody always has excuses. “Well, the executive made me do it their way.” At Cartoon Network, I had a great situation. The executives really trusted me. There was a trust in the friendship between us. And so, they let me develop and they let me make mistakes and at the same time I was able to learn. So, as I came in here at Sony, I had probably too much confidence. Making stuff on TV for almost 20 years, I developed a very strong gut about what I thought was going to work.
So I came into Sony very bullish about everything. Then I found there was a committee of stuff that you have to work through. But I definitely found a good place and I was able to prove myself. Like the art of taking notes, listening and digesting things. The truth of it is, there is more than one way to tell a story. That’s when you have to learn those give and takes. But if I believed in something 100%, and that was very important to me, I would fight for it tooth and nail. But if it was something that I thought, maybe it could go a little this way, a little that way, it won't make a huge difference and it will make everyone happy and I’ll still be happy, I tried to accommodate.
What’s really interesting is in TV, if you make an episode that’s not so great, usually people will forgive you. They’ll say, “Oh, the next episode hopefully will be better.” But with features, you get one shot. You get 85 to 90 minutes to setup the characters, setup a story, make people fall in love with the characters, have some laughs and an adventure. Nowadays, you have an opening weekend. If the story doesn’t land, you’re done. So, that kind of pressure made me really question what I did much more so.
DS: Where there any major differences between directing a feature film versus directing a TV series? Was it easy for you to slip into the feature directing role?
GT: Yeah, I mean, I feel like I’ve been directing for 18 years. You’re guiding a story, you’re setting up animation design, guiding it all the way through production, communicating ideas, coming up with characters and telling a story. Here, we’re doing the same things. So as far as directing goes, it was very similar.
The one thing that was a lot different for me was, when I first started directing, I wanted to make sure that I knew how to do every part of the process. I used to shoot my films on film, so I knew all the camera work. I knew all the technical things. I could draw a background. I could paint a background. Not very well, but I could do it if I had to. I could do a character design.
The key to directing is surrounding yourself with people who can do the job better than you. Then you guide those people based on your sensibility. So, I’ve always tried to surround myself with the best, because I’d rather hire somebody who draws better than me. I don’t have any ego issues like that.