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Mike Rianda Shares Manifesto for Making 'The Greatest Animated Movie of All Time'

‘The Mitchells vs. The Machines’ writer/director says he was ‘terrified’ of making his first feature, and writing these creative rules helped bring his vision into focus.

Even if The Mitchells vs. The Machines isn’t literally “the greatest animated movie of all time,” writer-director Mike Rianda’s debut feature has absolutely earned its place among the finest films in the medium since its release last spring. And now, filmmakers and fans can read the “manifesto” of sorts that he created to guide him through its production.

Back in 2015, Rianda decided it would be best if he had a strict set of dos and don’ts and a guiding philosophy to follow while working on his animated sci-fi comedy. Yesterday, he happened to dig up this crinkled document and share it via his Twitter account.

I found this wild "Manifesto" I wrote for #TheMitchellsVsTheMachines in 2015.

This is the kind of dumb stuff I wrote because I was TERRIFIED making my first movie.

Some of these we *almost* pulled off? Others we did not- like having robots kill people on screen. Lol.

— Michael Rianda (@michaelrianda) January 16, 2022

“This is the kind of dumb stuff I wrote because I was terrified [of] making my first movie,” Rianda says. “I remember spending a whole day making this and was too busy and/or embarrassed to pass it out to the team. I talked about this stuff constantly to anyone who would listen, though.”

Rianda begins his manifesto by likening it to the rules that Pixar followed when making Toy Story, and to the renowned Dogme 95 movement sparked by Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. “That sounds absurdly over-the-top - hahaha - but why not try?!,” he asks rhetorically before setting forth his guidelines.

Here are six rules from Rianda's manifesto for making an animated movie “thrillingly unique and amazing”:

  1. New Influences: “Animation can be so self-referential, just drawing from the same well over and over again. We should ONLY draw from influences NO animated film has ever used: ‘60s photography, Dogme 95 movies, Modern Documentaries, New Hollywood Films, Fine Art, Graphic Design, teenagers’ drawings, and most importantly, real life.”
  2. The Characters Have to Feel Real: “The characters should feel as varied and observed as real people! NO BRATZ DOLL women! We need our female characters especially to be varied and observed from real life, not made from a template. Not just visually, but emotionally, they should be as deep and rich and complicated as the people we know and love in our lives!”
  3. The Movie Should Push the Medium of Animation Forward: “This is a tall order hahahaha but why not TRY?! Animation has been in a rut for years. All the animated movies just look like ‘animated movies’ and if animation is truly a medium and not a genre[,] [w]e should prove it by doing things no movie has ever done! How can we use the formal qualities of animation to tell our story BETTER and do it in a way you could NEVER do with live action/ This movie is about humanity -- it should reflect that! It should be as HUMAN in every frame as possible! Maybe it should be 2D? Or a hybrid? Live action/CG? We’ll FIGURE IT OUT! I HOPE?!?!?!?!”
  4. The Characters Must Be Memorable and Honest: “The characters need to be SPECIFIC and REAL and MEMORABLE. Sometimes you couldn’t describe a character in an animated movie other than, ‘He was, y’know, like a dad or something.’ We should be shooting for Harold and Maude or Max Fischer or The Dude -- characters that people identify with so strongly, they want to dress up like them for Halloween. So, pull from real life, make the characters specific and layered and complicated, like real people.”
  5. Comedy Should Actually Make People Laugh: “A bold proclamation. Hahaha. Lots of great Pixar movies are actually funny, the best DreamWorks ones, but in a huge chunk of animated movies, there are TONS of moments disguised as comedy that don’t make ANYONE laugh. The best comedies - when you walk out of the theater [and] your face hurts from smiling and laughing - let’s shoot for that, and see how close we can get!”
  6. Real Stakes: “Most American animated movies seem like they take place within a marshmallow world where nothing bad can happen. (Brad Bird being an exception.) It’s like bowling with the bumpers on, there’s no drama. If this movie is about robots and AI they should be INCREDIBLY scary -- both physically and intellectually. We should have characters break arms and even have characters die to make the audience actually scared for our main characters. Play with conventions of animated movies and use that to surprise the audience!”
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Max Weinstein is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. He is the Editor-at-Large of 'Dread Central' and former Editorial Director of 'MovieMaker.' His work has been featured in 'Cineaste,' 'Fangoria,' 'Playboy,' 'Vice,' and 'The Week.'