We got to chat with the film's director, Chris Wedge about how he almost left and took the project to Pixar, action movies that inspired the film, and what it was like working with famous composer Danny Elfman.
Moviefone: You almost left and took this movie to Pixar. What happened there?
It's not a story any of us like to dwell on but it took a little bit of convincing to get the film on its feet to get a green light. I was crazy about making this movie and at the time Fox didn't see it. They very generously gave me turnaround rights, which meant they were alright with me shopping it to other studios. I don't think they thought that I would. But at the same time I was developing some live-action projects that weren't going anywhere. So I was getting pretty desperate. A handful of projects I had poured my heart and soul into weren't happening. So I did take the movie over to Pixar and I think they were eager to start.
How close did it get?
At that point I think the dynamic started to shift around a bit. To Fox's credit, I did need to do some work on the story. I'm sure it would have been a different movie if it had gone to Pixar. But I've got to say I'm pretty happy the way it came out. I was given an awful lot of creative freedom on this and I'm very happy with the outcome. I really didn't feel as though I made any compromises. What you see on the screen is the best I could come up with.
What about the story so captured your imagination that you had to get it made?
What captured my imagination was the notion that you can go into the forest and maybe if you looked a little bit closer than you normally do you could see something that you never knew was there. The notion that you could make a big fun heroic action movie was what was driving me. Finding the story and getting the characters figured out was the challenge.
I'm assuming that the William Joyce book the film was based on ["The Leaf Men and the Brave Good Bugs"] focused purely on the Leaf Men and the movie's human characters were invented?
There wasn't even that much in the book. Listen, I love Bill's book. I've always loved it. It's a charming children's book that's beautifully rendered by Bill and it's a cute little story that you can read at bedtime. But it was never anything that he had interest in making a movie out of. We took the notion that the Leaf Men were out there for this story but amped them up into these samurai warriors. I may have said this but I wanted to make an action movie. I wanted to make a kinetic, thrilling action movie.
Part of the way you made that kinetic feeling was in the way it was shot. There are sequences that are unbroken for seemingly minutes on end. Where did that come from?
I collected a lot of influences and opinions in my brain. I've got definite touchstones of references in movies that I brought to this. You just make this as you go. It's your movie, it's your story. Beat by beat you decide where to put the camera. If there's a long language shot it's because two characters are having a conversation. If the camera is moving it's to give it a little bit more excitement. If we're cutting quick it's because there's a lot of excitement. It's just a matter of how you choose to tell the story.
What were some of those touchstones?
At the very beginning it was "Robin Hood." "The Adventures of Robin Hood" with Errol Flynn. We thought it would be fun if we threw some swashbuckling in there. Some hands-on-hips, arms akimbo kind of thing. If you go back and watch that movie you might think it's old fashioned, but nobody writes dialogue that's snappier these days. It's just great stuff. I wanted an update of that feeling. But as we went along, I realized I wanted an update on the filmmaking too. I remember when we were just starting to think about this "Gladiator" had just come out. The first action sequence in that movie really struck me. That's why we start our movie out with an ambush -- I wanted to see our characters in that way, through action, and get used to the tone of the movie.
And lastly what was it like working with Danny Elfman?
Oh, it was fantastic. It was dreamy. He's a gentle genius. He made the movie twice as good as it is.