J. Paul Peszko takes a look at Blue Yonder Films independent production of Hoodwinked, from its creation to its distribution by the Weinstein Co.
Back in April 2004, I wrote an article on a fledgling group of independent animators trying to do the impossible produce a feature-length animated film that would gain wide release. The company was Blue Yonder Films and the feature was entitled Hoodwinked. And guess what? They did the nearly impossible. On Jan. 13, 2006, the Weinstein Co. releases Hoodwinked across the U.S. There was also a limited release in Los Angeles before the end of 2005 for Academy Award consideration.
The film had been scheduled for general release on Christmas Day, but the distributors decided to move the date back to January to give the film a better spotlight rather than have it tossed amid the jumble of features trying to garner a share of holiday moviegoers.
I caught up with Cory Edwards, who, along with his brother, Todd, and long-time friend, Preston Stutzman, started Blue Yonder Films. Cory was in the midst of a dreary cold wave on his way from Toronto to Philadelphia, winding down a cross-country trek to screen Hoodwinked, a tongue-in-cheek view of Little Red Riding Hood set up like CSI meets Rashomon. I asked Cory what he had learned from the screening process.
Ive learned that I cant trust anybodys individual criticism, because theyre always different. Everybody always has a different favorite character. Every screening I hear something different. I will hear: I didnt really care for the songs. That was a weak spot for me. Then Ill hear somebody else go, The songs were the best part. Or, I didnt really care for the Wolf. Then somebody else will say, The Wolf was my favorite character in all of animation history.
So, did he gain anything positive from all of this? Cory believes he did. There are so many working parts that everybody has a different favorite part. So hopefully everybody will find something they love (about the film), but we havent had a bad screening yet.
The producers have an all-star cast doing the voice-overs, including Anne Hathaway from Ella Enchanted as Red Riding Hood, Glenn Close as Granny, James Belushi as the Woodsman, Tara Strong as Zorra, Chazz Palminteri as Woolworth the Sheep and rapper Xzibit as Chief Grizzly. I asked Cory how that came about.
Some of the voices, like Patrick Harburton (as the Wolf), came on in the beginning just from reading the script. Then, with the more animation we got done, we were able to get bigger voices. As the scope of the movie got bigger and bigger, more of them (name actors) jumped on board. Then when the Weinsteins (Bob and Harvey, the distributors) came on board that got us Glenn Close.
Speaking of the Weinsteins, I asked Cory about the changes or compromises that he and his co-producers were forced to make. Overall, he feels he has had a very satisfying experience working with the Weinsteins.
He (Harvey Weinstein) made a few edit suggestions that, frankly, were good ideas because the first 20 minutes was dragging. There has not been anything (suggested) that I have felt like theyre ruining the original vision of the movie. It was 80% done when they looked at it. And so far they have been championing what they saw, giving it that kind of Toy Story treatment as far as the marketing campaign goes.
Cory explained that there are only two paths that independent filmmakers can take as far as seeking distribution. One is to show people along the way what you are doing, and hopefully get a distributor when youre half-way done. And the other is not to show it to a single, solitary soul until it is completely done. Then you show it to everybody at once, and hopefully you get a bidding war.
How did Blue Yonder decide to go?
They took the first route, showing the film in various stages and received terrific notes and encouragement and even referrals to studio heads. But the response was always the same: Looks great. Well see it when its done.
However, Cory feels that some executives in Hollywood are not as visual as they claim to be. There were a lot of unfinished parts in the movie that made some studios nervous. They couldnt see what it was going to be like at the end. The other thing that the producers had to contend with was the fact that studios with large animation departments were always going to give priority to their in-house projects. After they had made all the rounds, the process finally netted Blue Yonder an offer from DreamWorks. But according to Cory, it wasnt a very good one.
Then that old adage about, In Hollywood, its not what you know but who you know, again came into play. Tie it into that other adage about, being in the right place at the right time, and Hoodwinked was on its way to gaining distribution and making animation history. It seems that the entertainment attorney for Blue Yonder Films also works with Robert Rodriguez and his wife, Elizabeth. Hearing about Hoodwinked from their attorney, Elizabeth Rodriguez, in turn, mentioned it to Harvey Weinstein. Two days later the Weinsteins were screening the film. Two weeks later Blue Yonder had a deal on the table.
So how come after months and months of frustration and not knowing who was going to take their project, did a deal just suddenly fall into place?
The Weinsteins came at a time when they needed us as much as we needed them, Cory observes. They were looking for new product and had a new company. Frankly, leaving Disney, they (the Weinsteins) loved the idea of picking up an animated film and giving Disney a run for their money.
The three-and-a-half years that he spent working on Hoodwinked have taught Edwards to keep his focus and keep up his intensity over the long run. It has also taught him when to stick to his guns as a director and to know when to back off and listen to someone elses idea and realize it is better than his own. Both are very important lessons indeed!
But what lessons can other animators who might want to go the independent route learn from the groundbreaking inroads made by Edwards and his co-producers at Blue Yonder Films?
What you lack in budget or technical expertise against somebody like Pixar, you can make up for with a great story and great characters. Story and characters will always win out over technical expertise.
No truer words were ever spoken.
J. Paul Peszko is a freelance writer and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He writes various features and reviews as well as short fiction. He has a feature comedy in< development and has just completed his second novel. When he isnt writing, he teaches communications courses.