Aardman’s First Feature Egg-stravaganza!
(continued from page 2)

Gripping a large, metal spoon, Ginger attempts to ride her way to freedom on a locomotive drill machine. © DreamWorks Pictures.

"The idea for an Aardman feature came up after The Wrong Trousers," says Lord. "It seemed a logical ambition, the next summit for Aardman to climb." There was discussion with Jeffery Katzenberg, who was with Disney at the time, but then things went cold until after Close Shave. The seed of Chicken Run was a doodle in one of Park's notebooks, showing a chicken digging under a wire-fence with a spoon, plus the idea of The Great Escape with chickens. "Armed with that, we started writing the story," says Lord. "Nick and I worked on it for the best part of a year before it became widely public. In that time we took the idea to sundry American studios and touted it around Hollywood style."

Ginger (center), Mac (in glasses), Babs (right) and Bunty (far right) plan their escape from Tweedy’s Farm. © DreamWorks Pictures.

And why chickens? "Chickens are perhaps the most humble creatures on our planet," says Park simply. "Just think how often they're ridiculed in our language. It seemed natural to make a film about them."

By now, Lord and Park were working with Jake Eberts, founder of Allied Filmmakers and former founder and chief executive of Goldcrest Films. Eberts has been involved with two past animations. In 1974, he arranged the development finance for Mortin Rosen's Watership Down; two decades later he executive produced the stop-motion James and the Giant Peach (1996). "Jake was our contact with Hollywood," says Lord. "He helped us stay independent until we had a film in place that we wanted to make, which was very valuable. By the time we did the DreamWorks deal, we had the film treatment quite developed. At that point DreamWorks came on board for the pre-production, serious model-building, the scripting, storyboarding... all that was three years ago."

More recently, of course, DreamWorks announced a $250 million 'long-term affiliation' with Aardman, committing the Hollywood major to not just Chicken Run but four future Aardman movies. "It's an incredible deal," says Lord. "We have full creative control. We can choose our projects, stars, subject-matter..." Park and Lord have nothing but praise for Jeffery Katzenberg, DreamWorks co-founder and contact. "He lands here in his private jet every month or two months," says Lord. "What amazes us is his commitment, which not many studio bosses have to a single film. He doesn't tell us what to do -- he's said this is an Aardman film first and foremost -- but challenges us to get it better. The important thing is that we deal direct with him, not with a bunch of department heads. He's accessible, experienced and the only person we need to listen to." A smaller bonus: if Aardman produces 90 seconds of animation in a week, Jeffery Katzenberg pays for staff lunch. (Which is why this visitor can truly say he had lunch on Katzenberg.)

Park says of DreamWorks, "They respect what we do; they seem to love our shorter films, the comedy in them. It's a learning process both ways. DreamWorks learned about the kind of films that suit us, but at the same time we learned so much about making a long-format film. Keeping an audience hooked for 80 minutes is a very different ballgame from making a short film. Once upon a time, we were making films primarily for ourselves, for our own enjoyment. But if you want to work with Hollywood, you need regimentation."

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