I never realized how much went into making a movie until I attended the Cars 3 Press Event in San Francisco. During the time there, I was able to interview numerous people who made this wonderful movie. One of my favorite interviews of the time I spent in San Francisco was with the Director and Producer of Cars 3. We sat down with Brian Fee, Director; Kevin Reher, Producer and Andrea Warren, Co-Producer to chat about Cars 3 and all that it took to make this movie.
Q: The writer said at the beginning of this project the obstacle faced was that Lightning didn’t have a problem. How tough enough was that to crack, to find a problem for him to have to solve?
Brian: Well, with Lightning or Woody or really with any of our characters, you will find that by the time you get into a sequel, they have learned a lot of lessons. It is hard to have a movie if your main character does not have actual problems to deal with. So, we allow our characters to be imperfect because that’s where we find stories. With McQueen, it just took a little research, we started talking to Jeff Gordon, we started to talking to other athletes and we started seeing people who were at the top of the game who were big celebrities, who had it all and what they’re facing. For example, all athletes have an expiration date. We also felt like as an artist, young artists and interns come into the studio and they can draw better than I can and better than I could when I was their age. I think everybody in the world probably has that feeling that they know what it’s like for someone younger to come in and you can start to feel like you are no longer valid anymore. So, we felt like this was an honest thing to latch onto.
Q: You said the movie evolved like the new generation that comes and the old generation goes. How does this story talk about the franchise itself? Like for how long do you think this franchise can last?
Brian: I think we’ll just have to wait and see. You know, that John Lassiter always says we won’t make a movie if we don’t have a story we think is worth telling. I don’t know how long it’ll last but we always want to make sure we have problems that people can identify with. I think we’ll just have to wait and see on that. Right now, I’m just focused on Cars three getting out the door.
Q: Can you take us behind the scenes? Like having Owen in a sound booth, how many sessions does he have to work on his own?
Brian: It was a pleasure. Before we get the real actors involved we do scratch acting, just folks around the studio as we’re trying to craft a story and experiment with a story to try things. So, we’ll just grab somebody to say the lines. Then we get Owen in the booth and now it’s actually McQueen. McQueen is saying those lines, it’s really great working with Owen. He’s very collaborative. One of my fondest memories with Owen is him looking at the lines and stopping and saying, ‘This doesn’t make any sense to me. Wouldn’t the character do this?’ He’s not talking about just something he wants to say, he’s also a writer, so he wears his writers hat when he’s in the booth. We’ll talk about a scene and he’ll start giving me new options and, and we’ll play around. Often what ends up on the screen is something that wasn’t necessarily on the page that we started with. That’s exhilarating! It’s as close to improv as you can get in the animation world.
Andrea: We get him in there, not because he didn’t nail the acting on the last time but that we’re rewriting and changing things and so we have to keep going back with line changes and that sort of thing.
Brian: Yeah, we did a lot of sessions but I don’t know how many.
Kevin: We always say the movies aren’t done, they just come out.
Brian: Owen has recorded for us, many versions of this movie that are not on the screen. We bring the actors in fairly early as part of the experimentation process so finding out story.
Q: What about Nathan and Kerry? What did they bring to these characters?
Brian: Nathan’s very charming and he kind of charmed me the moment that he walks in the room. He sits you down and he starts smiling at you and you’re like ‘yeah, you’re the right guy.’ He is, he is a pleasure to talk with in, he’s one of those guys that he’ll give you seven takes and they’re all perfect and they’re all different, but they’re all perfect. So, whichever one you use, you left six great takes on the floor that you can’t use. He is a fast worker, he’s very high energy and he’s very gracious. We’re out on break, we’re out sitting in his Tesla, he’s like I’m gonna show you my Tesla.’ He opens up the doors and it’s, ‘go ahead and sit in.’ Nathan is just very personable. Kerry comes in for her very first audition and she’s never done animation before. She comes in for her very first recording session, she drove herself. She’s running a little late and apologized because traffic is bad. She comes in and she apologizes to us again for not having memorized her lines. There’s no need to memorize your lines. That was just very sweet and then so she’s never done animation before. So, she steps in front of the microphone and starts throwing out all the lines as if she’s a veteran. There’s a certain way we work in animation, it’s a little different and she kind of instinctively had it down.
Kevin: She loves it ’cause she doesn’t have to wear hair or make up. Nathan loves animation, he flew himself up to PIXAR to meet us before we even cast him in Cars 3, just ’cause he loves animation and wanted to come and see PIXAR.
Brian: There was a moment where we’re recording Kerry and I try not to look at their faces when they’re saying the lines ’cause I just want to hear it. That’s all we have to work with. We’re recording their faces and we refer to the videotape so that they can take cues from what the actor really did. I just want to hear the words and see how well the phrasing is cutting through and hear how well just the sound of it is working ’cause that’s the only way you really know if you’ve got it or not. So, I don’t tend to look at the actors while they’re delivering their lines. There was one part where Kerry was delivering something kind of intensely and I was just looking down, listening for the intensity and then I couldn’t help myself, my eyes went up and I caught her right in the middle of her line. She was playing to me, and she was just giving me the eye daggers. I actually felt her eye daggers going through my head. I said, there it is.’ Yeah, she was wonderful.
Q: When McQueen first meets Storm, Storm’s very terse with what he has to say. Who came up with that line right there?
Brian: We played around a lot with Storm ’cause we were trying to really hunker down, we never wanted him to be a villain. We never wanted him to be a mustache twirling bad guy, we just wanted him to be a younger generation that no longer has respect for the people that came before him ’cause it’s just all about them. We also put a lot of time playing with everything that Storm says is almost nice at least when you first meet him.
Q: Can you talk about following in the footsteps of John Lassiter, what if anything you wanted to add to this from your personal standpoint.
Brian: This was John’s world, he created it and John Lassiter allowed me to play with his toys, so to speak. I needed to hold tight to these characters that he created. I need to make sure I’m representing them. I cant just go off and do different things with them, they are not even ours any more. Right? They’re the world’s characters at this point, so the audience has a certain expectation of the characters that they fall in love with. I need to respect that and make sure that we stay within lines of that story wise. It’s very personal for me, so that part came really easy to put my thumb prints all over it.
Q: How much influence did he sort of exert over this film as opposed to the previous two?
Brian: We meet with him regularly. I mean, for all Pixar movies, John meets with regularly and so his influence is on the movies. We met with him a lot, I considered him a mentor so I called on him a lot. We had him involved a lot of during story, story points we’d bring him in, we’d talk, he’d have ideas, we’d try some stuff. It was a back and forth. He was very involved but at the same time, I was also impressed that he never got in there and elbowed everybody out of the way. Even though he probably wanted too. Just because he just loves it, his world and he loves filmmaking. He was very respectful, he kind of let us do our thing while, while helping us do it.
Andrea: We sort of went over the schedule and said, ‘so, this is gonna be one of our last meetings, John’ and he was like, ‘really? Okay.’ You know, so I think we all, we’re having a great time.
Kevin: He loves being brought in to the process.
Q: What is the message of this movie for you?
Brian: The message, for me, is buried in McQueen’s story. It is finding purpose in life. That changes throughout your life, what is important to you when you’re twenty is no longer probably necessarily what’s important when you’re forty five. We go through these changes where life does have new meaning and that’s the discovery he’s on.
Q: We kind of see the evolution of McQueen and Cruz, based off of what we saw last night, can we expect any evolution or growth in this film with Storm?
Brian: I don’t want to give anything away. Storm is a character that thinks he has inherited the world. The world owes him something because he was born a certain class, because he is who he is, therefore, it’s his day. Everybody else doesn’t belong here anymore and so I think Storm will be challenged and it will push him to places.
Q: What’s making Cars three different from the previous Cars? Will the children love this film any different?
Brian: I think what makes this one different is, with all of our movies we try to expand the world. Right? We don’t want to just go back to the same place and do the same things again. We want to expand the world, we also want to expand the characters. We want to take our characters and put them in deeper situations. You know, different deeper stages of life. So, I think there’s a lot for kids in this movie, I think our hope is that kids can relate to Cruz. Our hope is that everybody knows what it’s like to not feel like you belong. Of course you know, we’re just looking for humor whenever we can do it. So we’ve got more racing in this movie I think than we’ve ever had in any Cars movie. I’ve had people that don’t particularly like racing tell me that they thought this was the best racing they’ve ever seen ’cause it’s story, we just try to make sure everything we’re doing is story based. Even if you happen to dislike racing, we hope that you’re in the story. You’re not thinking about racing. So, I think we’ve just tried to expand the world and expand what the characters are going through and take them to new places.
Q: What lessons have you guys learned over the course of the three movies about the cognitive dissonance of people separating a car body from a human body?
Brian: Some of it’s just trial and error. Let’s try something out and see how we feel. We have crossed the line before.
Andrea: Yeah, it’s like our own sensibilities we have to rely on those.
Brian: We’ve done some stuff that we thought, ‘mm, okay, that was, that didn’t make me feel good. That was too far, that was too wrong.’ So, it’s just experimentation of our rules of our world. It’s how you handle it, we have moments where cars are crashing in the film but it’s handled rather lightly you never get scared. Then we have times where we want you to get scared, so we just, as filmmakers we just lean into it. So, there’s, there’s, the context can do a lot for you.
Kevin: After McQueen’s crash, we had it where his eyes open and Andrew Stanton goes, ‘no, they’re gonna think he’s dead.’ Because he’s just thirty seconds later you know, he’s okay, so. We got a letter from an eight year old, asking “Why are you killing Lightning McQueen?’ after the trailer.
Andrea: He said that he wanted to know who was responsible because he wanted the toy of the car that was responsible so every time he played with that toy he could kind of give it that toy.
Kevin: His mother wrote and said, ‘I just got him calmed down after Trump and now you’re killing Lightning McQueen.’ So, we sent him a bunch of stuff.
Q: One of the tradition in Pixar movies are the Easter Eggs. How many do the people have to find in Cars 3?
Brian: I will probably never know how many Easter Eggs are in the Cars movies because believe it or not, downstream, people put them in without me even knowing it. I was just watching the other day and we have a scene where the characters are going into the woods at night. I asked what something was -it’s a highlight bouncing off something back there, and they told me, ‘oh that’s a moonshine still.’ The sets department put a moonshine still in the woods. You’ll never see it, it’s dark scene, they just, were having fun. Of course we have Frisbees on the roofs like we always do in Pixar movies. I think I will probably be a very old man by the time I find all the Easter Eggs myself. So, I don’t know that anyone knows the answer to that.