Last Thursday, Rob Minkoff, Director of the film Mr. Peabody and Sherman, was in town promoting his new film. I had a chance to sit down with him to chat about the upcoming release.
It was a bitterly cold morning in Minneapolis. I was expecting to meet Minkoff for a round table interview with other journalists from the Twin Cities. For whatever reason, a handful of other journalists missed out (frozen into ice, I suspect), and I was granted an eight minute private interview at the elite Graves Hotel downtown.
Minnesota Connected: Hi, I’m Angie Newgren.
Minkoff: Hi Angie. How are you?
MNC: Good. How are you?
Minkoff: I’m good, and cold.
MNC: Oh, not used to it?
Minkoff: Not used to it? Are you kidding? I’ve never been anywhere that’s colder in my whole life.
MNC: What drew you to work on Mr. Peabody & Sherman?
Minkoff: It was about twelve years ago. I was working on a movie called Stuart Little, which you may know, and the producer of it, Jason Clark, literally asked me the question, “What do you think of Mr. Peabody and Sherman?” That’s really where it all started. My response was that I love Mr. Peabody and Sherman. And he suggested the idea of making a film out of it. We didn’t know what the story would be, we didn’t know who would do it, or how we would do it, but it just seemed like a good idea because the characters were so strong. I grew up with them, I loved them on television on Rocky and Bullwinkle, and it just seemed like a good idea with the Way Back machine, the time travel, and the historical figures. All that stuff sort of felt contemporary even though it was 50 years old, it felt like it could be fresh. So that’s really where it started. We ended up taking it to DreamWorks in 2005. We developed a number of different approaches to the movie. In 2011, we finally hit on the version they all liked and were willing to make. Then I started working on it full-time for the last three years.
MNC: You mentioned you did Stuart Little, what is the difference in your creative freedom when working on something completely animated versus with live actors?
Minkoff: Well if you don’t like the actor’s performance in an animated film you can erase it. You can’t do that with a live actor. Hugh Laurie said to me once, when shooting Stuart Little “You must be very frustrated with me that you can’t come over and erase my eyebrows.” I said, “I’m not that frustrated about that.”
MNC: What was the most enjoyable thing about this production?
Minkoff: The team with DreamWorks was super talented. Getting a chance to work with them and collaborate with them was fun.
MNC: What was the hardest or least enjoyable?
Minkoff: I don’t know…. Work, when you take is seriously, always has struggles, challenges, and obstacles. There is always something about it that you have to push through, but not different than any other project. It’s just the ups and downs of making movies.
MNC: Do you feel your process at all has to change now that movies are in 3D?
Minkoff: It’s entirely different because you know going into it that it’s going to be in 3D. You want to make the most of it as a storytelling tool so it emphasizes the things you want it to emphasize. It enhances the experience. It doesn’t just seem as an afterthought, but something that you actually considered going into it. Many of the choices are made with that in mind. It can’t help but affect everything; particularly when making a movie that is considered “native 3D” where you know going into it, unlike a post 3D like they do on some live actions.
MNC: How much input did you have to the aesthetics of the animation?
Minkoff: As the Director it’s sort of my job to start with the blank page. To work with the production designers, the character designers, and all of the talented crew, and shepherd the creation of the production. Typically the director’s job is to communicate to the various people involved, whether it’s the actors, the animators, all the team leaders, you sort of have to articulate a vision. I don’t create every frame but I have to explain it well enough so that other people understand what to do and how to do it. Imagine it’s a giant jigsaw puzzle. Everyone has to do a piece. It’s an enormous factory of six or seven hundred people working on the movie, but somehow when all the pieces are made and put together they all fit together seamlessly so you never have to think twice about it. It’s my job as the director to make sure that all those pieces are going to fit together.
MNC: Do you work hand in hand with the voices and the animators? Or do you do one at a time?
Minkoff: We start with the screenplay. So the first thing was to hire the writers, meet with them, and discuss the storytelling. We had to pitch the story because I was involved in the creation of the story. The writers do their work, and I work with them; giving them notes, make changes, and sometimes write myself if necessary. Then the story goes to the storyboard artist. They take the script and break it down to individual frames like a comic book and show it to me. Then I can give them notes, feed back, and say “This is good,” “That’s not good,” “We need to fix that.” So it’s my job all the way through. Then we go to the editing room and cut it all together. We have to time it with the editor, select music, and put the sound effects together so the story is real. Then we go in to work with the actors. Again, we show up and the actors walk into the room. They have a script prepared but they need to know what’s happening in the movie, what it is about, what is the story, what are the important things, and what the character is thinking– sometimes that’s not really indicated in the script. It’s my job as well to work with them.
MNC: I’m too young to know the story, but when I told my mom I was going to see the film, she told me she really wanted to see it.
Minkoff: That surprised you?
MNC: Yes. So were you anticipating a wide genre of demographics, and not just children?
Minkoff: That’s really the thing. Since you’re not familiar with the original, one of the hallmarks of the original was that there were always jokes for adults. It was something that kids wouldn’t necessarily get. There were a lot of references. It is pretty archaic but kids later in life might see it again and go, “Oh my god, I get that joke,” so we definitely wanted to make that a part of the film. We wanted it to work on two levels. One for the fans, the people that remember and know it. The other was for the kids, and you have to keep that in mind as you make it.
The interview with Rob Minkoff was no doubt successful. Minkoff’s exertion for the work he put into Mr. Peabody and Sherman was attested by his enthusiasm in our discussion, and of course the accomplishment of a film for all to enjoy. Whether a fan of the characters from before, Mr. Peabody and Sherman can resonate with all who appreciate cleverness, witticisms, and humor — whether you are five or fifty-years old.
Photos via: Google and Angie Newgren