Question: In your fantastic short video message at the 2011 Annie Awards Ceremony, we could see you held in captivity by kidnappers Tom Cruise and Simpon Pegg and you had to read a prewritten statement in favor of live action movie making. How was this experience?
Brad Bird (laughs) Oh that, it was touch and go, you know... They made sure, that I got fed and I survived the process.
Question: Did you find the wonder and the magic as well in live action as you did in animation?
Brad Bird: Yes! But may be in a different way! Spontaneity is something that animation does not excell at. And you kind of have to imitate spontaneity rather than “have” it. So that part of life action was really fun having things happen right there on the set in front of the camera and hopefully you had it rolling to capture it. But both of those worlds are magical to me, even so I know all about the technology involved there, and there is still something very mysterious about that process to me!
Question: Many fans of your animated movies wonder, if you will come back to animation or if you will stay in live action. What so interesting in the one thing and the other?
Brad Bird: I think they are both great, they have different strenghts and different weaknesses, but they are both film and both storytelling and I would hope to do more of both of them. I hope that I have not to choose because I don´t know what I would choose, if I had to. I htink I do. Ideally I work on whatever project that is most interesting at the moment and whatever medium is best. I think what is wonderful about animation its a sense of caricature of being able to capture the essence of something and push it a little further and make it a little bit more so whatever it is. That said I think you can tell any kind of animation I don´t think its a children´s medium the way so many people think that it is. I don´t believe that it is. You know, film is film! As I said before spontaneity is something that happens in live action films. You get all those wonderful actors together and things can happen. So I love both of them and I think it is the medium of film that I am interested in whether its live action or animation.
Question: But you choose to be animator in the first place, you did your first animation in the age of fourteen years...
Brad Bird (proud): Actually it was earlier than that!!! I started animation at the age of eleven! And I finished my first film when I was fourteen! It took me three years to make, it is about fifteen minutes long. And that´s the film that brought me to the attention of the Disney studios!
Question: Why didn´t you choose to go into live action there and then, right from the beginning?
Brad Bird: Well, I didn´t figure this out until much later, but I started drawing at the age of three. And the very first drawings I did were sequential. One picture would show some creature, and it would be very simple crude drawings. They were not really great drawings! But they were meant to be viewed in a certain order. You know, a guy would be coming into the room and then on the next drawing the guy would sit down and the next drawing the guy would eat a meal and then the third drawing it goes on, something like that. They were meant to be seen in order. I think from the very first beginning I was trying to make movies. So I kept drawing and I loved animated films and around the age of eleven we knew this guy who had done animation in college, he explained how you did it. So my parents got me a camera that could shoot one frame at a time and I started making films. As soon as I started making animated films where I had to decide which shot has to be in a close up, I had to decide which shot has to be wide. Which shot would pan from one thing to another, I started paying attention to filmmaking in live action films. And I became very interested in thta! I started reading scripts and I tried to educate myself about film in general . Because I started noticing that this is a very basic thing, but you know it was a revelation to me that certain directors were making better movies all the time and that it was not a mechanical process, it was a artistic one. You know, Hitchcock: Why did a chill always go up my spine when I saw a Hitchcock film? He was doing something that was particular to him. And then I started noticing that certain directors were great at comedy, certain directors were great with action, you know, and I started really paying attention to the whole medium of film.
Question: Do you have any favourites?
Brad Bird: Oh yes, but so many favourites, this would become a very long talk if I would describe them all.
Question: When you went to study animation at CalArts, you ended up in classroom A113 together with John Lasseter, Nancy Beiman, John Musker and many other later famous people.
Brad Bird: That´s right. I even was the first guy to do A113 in a movie. I put it in the first film that I directed, it was called Family Dog, which was an episode in Steven Spielberg`s Amazing Stories and that was the first time that the classroom number ever appeared in an animated film. And than John (Lasseter) started doing it at the Pixar-Films and then some other friends started joining in. It was funny, you know, its become kind of “the” thing!
Question: So what did you learn in A113 and brought it over to Mission Impossible. The way you direct an animated movie is quite contrary to shooting a live action movie, for instance you edit the film before you start animating it.
Brad Bird: I think, the advantage to do animation is that you have to very clear on what you really want because you can´t shoot things a number of different ways and decide later. You have to say the camera has to go “here” and we go “here”. You have to know when your cut will fall and you have to time things out in advance and it really makes you think about what you want. So when I got on “Mission” what was a very large film with not enough preparation time and a very tight budget, even so it was a very large budget, it was a very tight budget for the size of movie we were making. I think the biggest Mission Impossible film physically! But we were not the most expensive. We had to be very ready to move and we had to move very quickly. I think to being able to previsualize stuff in my head was a great advantage because I could see it before we did it!
Question: Can you compare Animators to Actors?
Brad Bird: Absolutely! I think, this is a very apt comparision and one that for some reason a lot of people are resistant to. Particularly the Screen Actor´s Guild! (laughs) They always see animation as a somehow unfair competition rather than fellow actors. And I think that they should see the animators as fellow actors! Because its the same process in terms of thinking! It is just a different process in terms of realizing it on film. But really good animators think a scene through as thouroughly as really good screen actors do. And they think about what a gesture means! And how one character would walk versus another and how much the way somebody sits or the way they furrow their brow tells you about who they are and what they have been through! You know, there are a lot of bad animators as well as there are bad actors. But the very best animators are as thorough and serious about what they do as the best actors are.
Question: Can an actor be as precise in timing as an animator?
Brad Bird: Yes, I think so! Particularly when they have the kind of experience that somebody like Tom Cruise does, or Jeremy Renner. I think that they are incredibly detailed. In animation you are working toward refining an approach where as an actor may try things in different directions and you than you sculpt it in the editing room a little bit. And actors like Tom and Jeremy will give you several different variations of something that it is still from a single point of view but it has slightly different emphasizes. That is magic in the editing room because you can shape things in different ways. Film, even so it is technological, is a very alive medium, when they do that they are reaffirming the fact that is a living medium and it is constantly changing what it needs! When you are making a story in film, sometimes you sense a lager, or something is out of rhythm and the problem, the tendency is to go where you feeling the problem, but in actuality because all the scenes are interconnected, the problem maybe is five minutes before in some other scene that you thought it was working. It is almost like a living thing, a film. Because the needs of the film are constantly kind of changing in front of your eyes alittle bit. It is wonderful to have those options that really good actors can give you.
Question: Again you collaborated with composer Michael Giacchino. How important is music to your filmmaking?
Brad Bird: It is very important and I have a very good relationship with Michael and Michael also has a very good relationship with J.J. (Abrams), he did the last Mission Impossible as well and he did J.J.´s other movies and a lot of TV-stuff for J.J. Music is incredibly important and it is very nerve-cracking because it comes at the very end of the process and yet it is a very right in the heart of the film´s emotional center. So if it is a wrong music it can completely take down all the other work. But if it is great it can take all the work to a new level. Michael is a wonderful composer and he is doing a great job on this film as well.
Question: So he was the only guy, you could take with you going to live action. John Ford relied on his team in all his film, you now have been in new territory all the time.
Brad Bird: Yes, that´s right, but you know, on some level film is film. You still use close ups and medium shots and long shots and...
Question: You were never afraid?
Brad Bird: Oh sure, I am afraid. I am afraid all the time! I think, that is helpful. Don´t you?
Question: Sure I am!
(Big Laugh on both sides)
Brad Bird: But I had a lot of help! I had a fantastic experienced crew, I had a fantastic cinematographer and a great production designer Jim Bissell a first rate crew, Paul Hersh who edited Star wars and Empire Strikes Back, he also was the editor on the first Mission Impossible. Any given area you want to dsicuss we had a great team, so I had plenty of help and that eliminates some of the fear! The Cast and Tom himself is an amazing ressource for making movies, he knows so much about the process beyond the acting where he is brilliant at. He knows the entire process and was very helpful as well.
Question: How did you work together with ILM?
Brad Bird: I know those guys very well. We brought John Knowle over, who also did the first Mission Impossible and he is an effects genious but all of these guys live around me. You know, George Lucas started Pixar really, so it is all in the Bay Area community of filmmakers. So it was a great chance to work with John officially but I have known John for a little while.
Question: What is the Brad Bird touch to Mission Impossible? Certainly you have seen the old series, you have seen the other movies. What is your thing?
Brad Bird: Oh, I don´t know. I am probably not the best person to talk about my own style, whatever that is. I just do what I would want to see. I suppose my favourite setpiece of the Mission Impossible films was the black vault sequence from the very first film, when Tom Crusie is supending down in that room and has to get the computer files. But my favourite Mission Impossible was the last one, the one that J.J. did, because it got the personalities more of the characters it was more emotional. I hope I got some good influence there in terms of wanting set peices of the first film and the emotional quality of J.J.´s film. But I suppose I have a slightly irreverent tone may be. I really enjoy the humour in a movie I think suspense movies offers you different kinds of humour because of the pressure involved in that movies on the characters, but beyond that, I couldn´t tell you.. You have to tell me, what the difference is!
Question: I like the look Tom Cruise is giving to the broken high tech-glove while he is climbing this incredible skyscraper.
Brad Bird: (laughs) O, thank you very much. We have some more of those scenes in the movie!
Question: Those gloves look very like the Design from “The Incredibles”.
Brad Bird: I think that you can tell from that films that I enjoy spy films. I mean, even so “Incredibles” was a super hero film, you know there is the spy kind of vibe to that film. Absolutely, it is I guess not the biggest stretch between “Impossible” to “Incredible” (laughs) So, yeah I had definitely fun with those aspects of the film, those technological aspects having something difficult to for our characters to overcome. I responded to that. In this film the crew.. Ethan doesn´t pick the group, Usually he picks his team, this time he has the team thrust upon him. And then the team is isolated, you know they are going into ghost protocol, where they can´t talk to the office and they have no support, they have no safe house. The dramatic pressure was something what I thought would lend itself to an entertaining and interesting movie. And I think hopefully that is, what we have made.