Recently, a few of us on production were asked to write about our relationship to the film we're making: What was our stake in it? What was the appeal? What were we bringing to the table? This was my response.
My life in movies can be organized around a few key moments. The first was watching Aladdin as a child, which set me on the path to becoming an animator. Next, seeing Kids and Ponette in the theater—only three years later!—, which exploded my idea of what movies could be. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind inspired a fateful decision, giving me a sense of cinema’s power to change lives. Tokyo Story, La Libertad, and The Royal Tenenbaums were affirmational in the dark days of my early career. Up was my first professional credit as a story artist, and Explorers is my most recent.
The movie is interesting to me for a few reasons.
I’ve always been compelled by movies about kids, and I have strong opinions about how childhood is depicted on screen. A lot of my interest has to do with the coming-of-age story as a way of surfacing emotional turbulence. There's drama in children's engagement with internal conflict and their negotiation of the space between knowing and uncertainty. Kids are forced to reconcile events that are frustratingly contradictory: complicated and simple, joyful and painful, illuminating and confounding, hopeful and disappointing, and then, more often than not, have the forbearance to go on anyway. It’s nice to be reminded of this as an adult.
Our film is also an opportunity to make a ‘good’ movie, a movie of ethical quality.
In my early 20’s I lived above Suspect Video, an alternative video store in Toronto, where I spent hours picking out challenging things to watch. This is where I was introduced to directors like Catherine Breillat and Akira Kurosawa, and watched everything from Meet the Feebles to Show Me Love to Irreversible to Last Year at Marienbad.
But despite the breadth of selection, I could seldom find what I was looking for: something that felt good. Not comedic or romantic or for families, nor timid or conservative; just positive, affirming. These kinds of movies are hard to find, but they're around. Kiki’s Delivery Service is a great one; We Are The Best, Rushmore, and Nights of Cabiria, are others. Amélie might be the clearest example. I think that it takes a sensitive, compassionate voice to tell these kinds of stories—and the right kind of backing to produce them. It's a rare combination, but something we might be able to pull off.
Finally, it’s no small thing to be making a movie about black kids and people of color. (We have a Pinoy character!) It’s no small thing to be an arbiter of visibilities. It’s no small thing to make a movie that shows class strife. More than ever, it's important to take on these issues directly. We have sizable responsibilities, and I have to wonder: are we respectful, thoughtful, informed, and humble enough to meet them? My tenure at Pixar was a chance to uphold this kind of ethos, and that same opportunity presents itself now. It's up to each of us to take up the torch.
When we make something, we have the chance to add something good to the world. I hope that we do.