Chris Buck has returned to the director’s chair to helm the fantastic and highly praised Frozen with first time filmmaker Jennifer Lee.
Frozen is the fifty-third Disney film for the animation studio and is the second Disney project for filmmaker Buck.
We caught up with him in London to chat about the new film, the original story that inspired the film and how his work as an animator has helped him as a director.
- Frozen has just hit the big screen so what can Disney fans expect from this new film?
There is a lot of adventure. This is a big movie and there is an epic scale to it. There is also a lot of comedy in there as well; the comedy comes from all of the characters and not just from Olaf the Snowman.
- Frozen sees you team up with Jennifer Lee in the director’s chair, so how did this directing collaboration come about? Where did this project start for you?
I pitched it about five years ago and then started to work on the story; it went through many different figurations. Jen came in and she was one of the writer’s on Wreck It Ralph… what we do at the studio is that we have director and writers come in from other movies and we talk about each other’s movies and give notes.
So Jen would come in, when she wasn’t busy with Ralph, and look at the screening that we would have. She connected so well with it that we asked her to come on board as a writer. Eventually, she came on as a co-director.
- The story is inspired by the Hans Christian Anderson tale The Snow Queen so what was it about this story that influenced you? How much did the story change from the initial idea that you pitched to the film that we see on screen?
One of the ideas that did stay around - this is something that I always found fascinating in my own life as well - is this romantic vs. real love. For me, romantic love lasted about six months: the hearts and the roses and all of that. Then the real love kicks in and you start to have some arguments and some deep discussions and you start to have the real thing.
You can work through those tough times and by doing that you can become even stronger. That idea also became a real love and how that translates to true love and this act of true love. We asked ’can we do a Disney movie that talks about true love in a different way than we have done in the past?’
- Elsa and Anna are fascinating characters as Elsa is not your typical villain and both of them are perhaps more realistic characters compared to any Disney female characters we have seen before. Can you talk a bit about developing them and making them relatable to a modern day audience?
I think that we are both attracted to characters - not just in animation but it live action as well - that have flaws. I don’t think that there is nothing more entertaining than seeing believable characters; people like us and that we can really relate to.
We wanted to that with Anna and Elsa and all of the characters. Sometimes female characters might be portrayed as characters where you don’t want to show these flaws and they can be too perfect sometimes; but not this time. We really just went for it. The entertainment really does come from that.
- You have brought together a fantastic voice cast for this film so what were you looking for when you were casting these roles?
Kristen Bell was our very first audition for Anna, and we really did fell in love with her. We did audition quite a few people after that but she was always the one that we had in our mind. She created Anna with us in the recording room.
All of our actors had to sing because there are a lot of songs in this film. Idina Menzel (Elsa) we knew could belt it as she has this really powerful voice.
However, the nice surprise for us was that her speaking voice has such a vulnerable quality and it brings Elsa, who is a very strong character, back down to earth and you can relate to her and feel for her. That was just a great find there and was a surprise to us.
We like to work in the room with the actors. Sometimes you see the directors working on the other side of the glass and punching in and talking to the actors, but we like to be in there creating the character with them.
We also want to allow the actor to feel comfortable to go too far; they might think it is too far but we are like ‘no’. The safety of all of us creating it together allows them to go for it - sometimes that is where you find the gold.
- Jennifer Lee is not only the first female director of a Disney film, but also the first writer to move into the director’s chair. Just how useful was her writing background when it came to directing?
Absolutely. Jen had written the characters, and so she understood the subtext in the character’s heads when it came to the animation.
As a director, there is a bit of translation that goes on from what the writer was trying to do and what the director thinks that they are trying to do; here was Jen in the room as a writer/director going ‘no, I was thinking this’.
Sometimes it would not have been what I had thought but it was another layer to it all. It was really helpful and really wonderful.
- Frozen is your second Disney project after co-directing Tarzan, so what was it like returning to the studio?
I think it was great. When John Lasseter asked me back I was over at another studio working on a different film, but it really did feel like coming home. It was really wonderful. The difference was John Lasseter and Ed Catmull were in charge; I went to school with John at CalArts.
John brings something that I had never experienced at any other studio - even Disney when I was first started - he is an artist and a filmmaker and he works with us. He loves the films that we make together just as much as well do and just as much as the audience loves them.
There is such a collaborative feel when John is working with us; it is never someone telling us to do this or do that. He is in the room and he rolls up is sleeves and is like ‘lets me a great movie. And lets do it together’ and that is a wonderful thing to be part of and the environment is so collaborative.
- You have worked in the animation department and are now in the director’s chair, so how does your previous work inform you as a filmmaker?
Just rising through the ranks: I started as a trainee in the hand-drawn world of animation and worked my way up to animator. I would also do character design and storyboarding and wore different hats.
I understand all the different artists that are there at the studio, what they are going through and how they are feeling at different times. I think that there is an empathy that I have towards all of them and I think that makes me a better director in that respect.
- Finally, what is next for you?
There is a magazine over there and there is a nice island image there that I quite like the look of; there is no snow (laughs). We have no idea what is next, perhaps just a bit of rest. It is great to just enjoy this right now.
Frozen is out now.
Tagged in Frozen