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 feelings about how childhood is depicted on screen. Most of my interest has to do with the coming-of-age story as a way of surfacing emotional turbulence. Kids are a mess of contradictions, and there's drama in their raw, internal conflicts; they live in that space between knowing and uncertainty. Naturally, kids don’t know how the world works—they're just figuring out that it's both complicated and simple, joyful and painful, illuminating and confounding, hopeful and disappointing. And they don't know yet that that’s okay. 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 production quality, yes, but also 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 their holdings, I could seldom find what I was looking for: something that felt good. When I say good, I don't mean strictly comedic or romantic or for families, nor do I mean timid or conservative. I mean something that is positive, affirming. These films are hard to find, but they do exist. 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. I might even go so far as to say that today, more than ever, it's important to take on these big things. We have big responsibilities, and it's impossible for me not 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.