I was invited on an expenses paid trip to CA by Disney to cover the #StrangeMagicEvent and #PixarInsideOut in exchange for my posts of the trip experiences. All opinions are my own.
I always love being able to talk with the creative minds behind movies. When I was visiting Skywalker Ranch for the #StrangeMagicEvent I was lucky enough to sit down and hear from Gary Rydstrom the Director of Strange Magic and get some insight into the making of the movie. He was really funny and interesting to talk to. THE BELOW INTERVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS.
You’ve had an incredible career. You’ve received seven Academy Awards for sound design and editing.
Gary: And if I win three more, I can open a bowling alley.
What was it about this story that attracted you as a storyteller and filmmaker?
Gary: The karma and the irony of this movie for me is that I did have a long career, in this building mostly, a career as a sound designer, doing sound effects for movies. And then by the end, I found that I often felt at odds with the composer, so it was kind of a fight between the composer and I to have our stuff heard. So I thought of it as karmic revenge from the universe that I get to direct a feature film here and it’s a musical.
But I was really attracted to it as George is. And American Graffiti is one of my favorite movies. The use of song to help tell a story was really attractive to me and this was such a great idea to tell a love story. If you think about the songs in the movie that are love songs, there aren’t that many positive love songs, which I always like to point out. Because love is hard, it’s not always happy. But I love that part of it and making a musical was really fun.
Did you have a character that was a muse to you? That you were most engaged by?
Gary: I actually like the Bog because of that thing we talked about earlier, about having your heart broken. And I think we all go through it, and it is a completely natural thing. It’s when you get your heart broken, you say that’s it, I’m not going to let myself be vulnerable ever again.
He goes to an extreme but it’s something that I can relate to. It’s so painful to go through something that makes you feel hurt and less than you should be, and you just don’t want to do it again. So your solution for it is to put up this shield and never let anyone in again. And I know we all do that, and I thought he was someone I could relate to. Once you get past that veneer and let your real self come out, it’s so much more satisfying both for him and for the one he falls in love with.
You assembled an incredible cast for the film, we have Elijah here, but can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to work with them and what they brought to their characters?
Gary: Casting is pretty key for a movie like this and as George said, you have to find people who both act and sing. Alan Cumming, both actor and singer amazing. Evan Rachel Wood is as good a singer as she is an actress. Sam Palladio who plays Roland is an amazing singer as well as a very funny actor. And then Kristin Chenoweth who is funny and as I have said before, I was in the room with her as I was with all the actors when they were singing their songs and when she hit some of those high notes in Love Is Strange, it was like my glasses broke, but it was amazing.
For years I was doing sound effects as a career and I hadn’t really worked with actors much. Then as I started to for animation, I really love it. Animation is the same thing, animators are actors too, but I love being in the room with actors. It’s really hard for them, because they’re acting alone, they’re not acting with other actors, it would be great if they did but it just doesn’t work out so it’s just them. You describe the scene as best you can, you do line readings with them to set up the scene. Elijah made me work the hardest, because I would line read with him, but he’s very active and it requires a lot of energy, so I was often playing either the Sugar Plum Fairy or Dawn. I was actually pretty good at it. But it’s fun to help draw that out from, from the actors and be surprised by what they brought to it.
Gary: They all brought their own personalities to the characters once we cast them. They all brought something of themselves to it. Simple things, like Alan Cumming is Scottish and we talked about it, give it (Bog King) about a twenty percent Scottish accent. And Evan Rachel Wood is very much like Marianne, she’s got the most amazing happy laugh. And she’s the sweetest thing but she can be tough as nails if she needs to be. So they all brought something of themselves to the role. I love that part of it, I love what the actors brought to this. As George said, and I’m going to quote this, I’ve never heard it before, but it’s a great idea. It’s that “it takes twice as many actors to make an animated film”, that’s brilliant. I’m really proud in this movie of that combination of the animators drawing on what the actors do with the voice and creating that side of the acting, and together creating a character. It’s still magic to me when that works.
One of the key things in the film is that it’s okay to be different and that your uniqueness makes you special. This is a theme that you really integrated into the script, can you speak to that a bit, why you think that message is important?
Gary: Well if you think about it, we are really surprised I think by how we fall in love and who. I hear this over and over from people, it comes at us as a surprise. Oh, didn’t expect that. When that happens, if analyzed falling in love, is that when you reveal your true self, then the other person falls in love with that true self. Often we try to hide that true self, because you think it’s odd or different or it’s not in the norm. Or it’s not what other people our age or group should be like. And you hide it because you think, who would fall in love with that? But then we fall in love with that what makes you unique.
So in this story, I wanted Marianne to essentially be told by her father and everyone else in some ways that, you’re being a little odd. After her heart’s broken, what she becomes it’s her version of what the Bog King becomes, this kind of Goth protective tough girl. Bog King likes that. That’s part of her too, and that’s the real her. So being different is not only okay, it’s what’s required. And learning what’s different about each other is what’s required for falling in love.
In the press package, it says inspired by Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Was the progression there away from Midsummer Night’s Dream or toward it?
Gary: Midsummer Night’s Dream, what I love about that story is that people find love in one night, and our story takes place in one night, one day, people find love and it’s a multiple love story. An unexpected love story, so I think that’s what’s inspired by Shakespeare and luckily Shakespeare’s lawyers I think are long dead so we’re safe.
We have that variable factor, that love potion creating chaos.
Gary: Yeah the love potion, it’s in our story, it’s the thing that you think you need if you want someone to love you, but it’s really not. You know, the true magic is when it happens for real without any potion and that’s more magical than a potion itself.
And the only thing stronger than the potion is, real love.
Gary: Real love. There you go.
When you first introduced the movie, you said that this movie is really about finding beauty in something you didn’t expect to find beauty in. What example in your own life did that happen to you, that you found beauty in something you didn’t expect to find beauty in?
Gary: Iin the movie, we do a place as a metaphor, a dark forest that you find beauty in. I love art. And yet there are some paintings that have kind of a horrifying or a kind of a darkness to them. But then you can still see the beauty in the darkness, there. Same thing with music, there’s sometimes music that feels very, especially modern music, which is a little more dissonant.
John Cage was always a favorite of mine but it took a while to kind of find the beauty in it. Some of that more modern music, you kind of have to get past the surface of it, in a weird way, and then you find the beauty. I don’t even know how to describe it. One of my favorite jazz artists, I love jazz, is Thelonious Monk. when I first heard them, I thought, this is not making any sense, it’s not connecting for me. But then when it does connect, and you kind of see the beauty in it. That’s the one analogy I can think of, of now.
And of course people, there’s always people that when you first meet them, you go, I can’t stand being around this person and then six months later, you’re best friends. It certainly happens with people. I think we do judge people at first and then once we get to know them, it’s amazing who we become best friends with or certainly amazing who we marry. So we always have to get past the outside, the cover of the book, to find out what’s great inside.
How hard was it to let go of the sound design aspect? Or did you kind of help them along or give your input?
Gary: The producer will tell you that I gave lots and lots of input, the mix might have gone on a little longer than it could have. It’s funny that in my directing career, directing shorts at Pixar and Studio films and things like that, the hardest thing for me to do is the mix, it’s weird, you’d think it’d be the easiest thing but it is hard, you’re right.
To not be able to physically do what you know you can do, but in this case I worked with Tom Johnson who is the lead mixer, the re-recording mixer on this movie. He and I went to USC Cinema School together. And he mixed my first movie when I made a sixteen millimeter film at USC, he was my mixer. So the fact that he was able to mix this, was, it just kind of makes me teary even thinking about it. So if you can lean on someone that you love and trust, then it’s not so bad.
What is your favorite song in the movie?
Gary: I’ll give two answers, one Strange Magic is my favorite musical moment in the movie because it kind of sums up the movie, it’s a beautiful song, an ELO song, Evan Rachel Wood and Al Cumming sing it beautifully. It’s a duet, and originally it’s not a duet, and it’s a beautiful duet. It says what the movie says. It’s also one of my favorite looking sequences in the movie. But the moment that makes me cry, with Elijah here, the song that makes me cry every time, is when Elijah sings Three Little Birds to Dawn at the end.
It was worth every penny buying that song, and when Bob Marley sang it, it also made me cry, it’s just, I don’t know why that gets me every time, it’s weird. To have a movie that you know so well and then I can still get moved by things. It’s Elijah’s performance, of that moment and when he sings it to her, it’s just the voice is breaking. And the magic of animation, which still astounds me, because I’m relatively new to it. But, you know, Meredith Bull who is the voice of Dawn, working in that scene. She and Elijah aren’t together. They’re doing this in two separate different times. And she’s crying and saying I love you. And they’re not together at all. The magic of it coming together with the animators. That’s why I do movies. That’s great.
It was so nice getting his insight into the movie. It is really a movie that I think all ages will enjoy and the perfect movie for taking the whole family to.
We got a group photo with Gary Rydstrom, George Lucas, & Elijah Kelley.
Strange Magic is NOW PLAYING in theaters! Be sure to take the whole family to see it!
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