Brad Bird Says Passion and Taking Risks Are Keys to Pixar's Success
That's a headline no one in Hollywood wants to hear. Well, no Hollywood executive, that is. No matter who's gawking at the headline or what Brad Bird has to say, I love hearing it and I'm grateful he mentions it. It's something we don't hear enough of in this town, and though taking risks doesn't always guarantee success, I think it's necessary to create profound work that pushes the boundaries of cinema (or even just rethinks the way we watch movies). Hero Complex recently interviewed Brad Bird, mostly talking about his work on The Incredibles while at Pixar, but the filmmaker had great things to say about Pixar's creative process.
A lot of people seem to always wonder what the big Pixar secret is to so much success, but Brad Bird says their isn't really one, besides of course having passion and taking risks. Though with the Pixar movie being Cars 2 this year, maybe it's a bad year to discuss exactly this (just think about Toy Story 3 instead), but I still think his sentiments hold true and we don't see as much risk taking as their should be in Hollywood. Bird mentions exactly what I've been thinking all along, and I couldn't agree more with him. He explains:
"Everyone in Hollywood says they wish they could do it like Pixar, but they really don't. There's no secret at Pixar, but there is a belief in letting people pursue something with passion and take chances, and most of Hollywood, really, doesn't like that. It's too scary. Some studio executives will say they love obsessive creators who take risks, but really most of them would rather play it safe. Projects cost a lot of money and people would rather follow patterns they know and make things safe and accessible. Hollywood wants there to be a math formula for making hit films. To make something really great and different and interesting means taking risks and following these ideas in your head."
Exactly. Now the debate, as any executive will tell you, is that taking risks is a bad idea. That's why we have Battleship next summer, and that's why Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is the biggest box office earner of 2011 (it was a safe bet). But I think taking risks are exactly where great cinema comes from, even in Hollywood. Just look at Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, for example, or any of Pixar's past work. Did anyone think Toy Story 3 was going to be as good as it was, or that Lee Unkrich could pull off a great movie? They believed in him and his passion, and it paid off. Bird continues his discussion jumping back to The Incredibles again, referring to how he's not a superhero expert despite making that movie.
"If you worry too much about that, you're just bound to fail. You have to kind of go into stories with a strong sort of 'I'm doing this' sort of attitude, or else it comes off as sort of tiptoeing. I didn't know that much about superheroes, and the funny thing is when I go to things like comic book conventions, I get asked a lot of questions by people who assume that I do know, so they refer to things and the chances are probably 999 out of a 1,000 that I have not read it, you know, issue No. 47 of 'Atomic Man.' I got my superhero stuff secondhand from movies or television, which is practically heresy to a comic-book guy. But I did have affection for superheroes." Read more on Hero Complex
I've loved every film that Brad Bird has made so far - The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille - and I'm already very excited to see his leap into live-action with Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, as we've been hyping up quite a bit recently. But before we continue on with Ethan Hunt, I have to feature one of Bird's other quotes about The Incredibles, because I think it really shows exactly why Brad Bird is such a talented filmmaker/storyteller. He references one of the earlier scenes from the animated movie and explains why it's important to add little things that make the audience connect directly with all of the main characters.
"In the prologue of the film, there's a moment when Mr. Incredible positions himself in front of a hurtling train and, for a fleeting second, he winces. It's quick, maybe a second long, but it's a shot to tell everyone that 'This is going to hurt.' Those little touches, if you are diligent about them, they get the audience really involved, because that's the reality that they know. This is blown often with superheroes. There was some movie with Will Smith where he kind of deflected things that have real weight behind them; you can do that, you can deflect them, but don't discount the weight or the fact that your inertia is going to be affected by it. What that does is announce to the audience that this is a special effect…"
"I know that sounds funny coming from me, because on The Incredibles this was a movie that was announcing its cartoon-iness the whole time, but we were really trying to get people worried when the missiles were surrounding the jet plane, for instance, and that was a challenge the animators were really into. We loved that it was difficult, because we knew if we did it right, it would be something amazing and unusual."
As always I'm inspired by the vision that everyone at Pixar has. And if there's any key statement(s) to take away from this interview (and print out and put in your pocket) they are: "There's no secret at Pixar, but there is a belief in letting people pursue something with passion and take chances." And: "We loved that it was difficult, because we knew if we did it right, it would be something amazing and unusual." If you're a filmmaker on the rise, even an established filmmaker, or simply someone look for some inspiration from Pixar, I think that's how you find it. Taking risks is hard for many people to do it and it's always, always a challenge, but the end result is always worth it, and it shows with Brad Bird and his Pixar work. Let's hope that carries over to Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol, because I'm hoping that kicks ass, too. Thoughts?