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Wednesday, February 11, 2009


The Coraline Interviews Part 2 - Henry Selick

Henry Selick got his start as a Disney animator before going on to direct films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Coraline. When I spoke with him during a round-table interview last week he discussed the impact of online media on independent films, why he decided to set Coraline in Ashland and what the average work week is like while filming a full-length, stop-motion animated movie.

APB: I'm the small fry of the group. I write a local blog called Another Portland Blog about stuff around town.

Selick: Well, Another Portland Blog, that's kind of like the whole concept of Coraline, the other world, the other version of things. The web is driving information exchange and knowledge. It's been interesting. Our distributors at Focus, they've done some other great independent films. They produced Milk with Gus Van Sant. But even those guys in New York and LA they're still kind of old school and use "tracking" and all this. When we see what's happening on the web for our film there's just a whole 'nother wave of information exchange. People get really excited about it. I think it's much more democratic and it's a much better way to find out what the hell is really going on.

APB: Coraline, the novel, takes place in the UK but for the film everything was moved to the states. Why was the decision made to have it take place in Oregon, specifically Ashland?

Selick: I got...the manuscript and took it to producer Bill Mechanic, an old friend, who was the executive behind Fight Club and some other really cool films. It was the second draft of the screenplay, I wrote the adaptation, where I found my own voice and started to tell the story and turn it into a film that I could really bring to life. I just wasn't comfortable with all of the British dialog. Neil's British, although he lives in Wisconsin and has for fourteen years, but it's set in England.

I had to transplant it and it's almost an arbitrary thing that I chose Oregon for the rainy weather. I wanted it to be a very atmospheric film and there's the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. I've been there. I wanted to keep a few of the characters British. I was just looking for an excuse and that was reason enough. It could have been a Shakespeare Festival in any state in the country but I happened to choose Ashland and I went there and I soaked it up. It wasn't until several years later that I moved to Oregon to make the film.

APB: How much involvement did Phil Knight have in the process of making the movie? Was it a situation where he said, "Ok, here's the money. Go for it"?

Selick: He wasn't heavily involved but there were lots of meetings, all the time. Once we finished Moongirl there were several projects in development. This was, absolutely, the dark horse. There was another project called Jack and Ben, which was much more traditional. It was much more reliable, it was so much more like so many other films. This other project, Coraline, well, it was strange and so there were a lot of hurdles created that I had to clear. A lot of rewrites. I tried some different things, doing tests in animation. We had one test where we put CG against stop motion. We finally got to a point where the only hurdle left was to find the right distributor.

I happened to meet someone who hooked me up with Focus Features and the head of Focus responded to the story. He knew Neil Gaiman, he knew my work. Instead of saying, "Well, this could work if you make it 'safe' and change this and this he said, "Wow, this could be great." Once we found the distributor, all the hurdles were cleared and we got our green light and incredible support for the film [from Phil]. The best since The Nightmare Before Christmas. What you see on the screen is, like, 90% of all of our efforts.

APB: On a movie like this where you're in one big warehouse, no location shooting, what is the workload like? Are you putting in 80, 90 hours? Or is it much more like Monday through Friday, 8 to 5?

Selick: I think a few people would have liked the later approach. We eventually did get to a point where we felt like we were dying because we were putting in so many hours. Live action shoots are much quicker but they're the shoots where you don't have a family. Your life is absolutely the film. On a stop motion film like this you get a little more recovery time. You're not working six days a week right from the start but you do ramp up into that. We start with a 60 hour work week and as we get into the final months of the film it ramps up.

APB: As you get closer to the deadline?

Selick: We also ramp up the production in terms of the number of animators and sets we have going so I just have to physically be there longer. Sure, we're not on location but I'm walking seven or eight miles a day going from set to set, to editorial to the arts departments. It's a surprisingly exciting, vital, kinetic place to be.


Coming up tomorrow: an interview with Laika owner and co-founder of Nike Phil Knight.


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