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A little over a week ago, Nuke the Fridge got invited to Disneytoon Studios for a “Planes: Fire and Rescue” press event. So as part of the NTF team, I got the honor to check it out. I told you how great the event was. Now here are interviews I got with director Bobs Gannaway and producer Ferrell Barron, followed by an interview with writer Jeffery M. Howard and director of creative development Paul Gerard.

Bobs Gannaway and Ferrell Barron Interview:

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Ferrell Barron, myself (Chris Salce), Bobs Gannaway

Q: How fun was it to make a film like this, that was a family film, where you can have laughs and different emotions all in one?

Gannaway:

“Well the best thing about making these movies, especially under the creative leadership of John Lasseter is that we do our research. So once we find a world that we are interested in, in this case the world of firefighter air attack, we go out and learn about the world and meet the people and do all that before we come up with the story. We were led into this world because in real life the plane Dusty Crophopper, that plane (crop-dusting aircraft) is in real life used in wildfire air attacks. It’s built for that and so that’s what led us into this world. Once we figure that out, we got to go out and explore that world. One of the most fun things is you get to become a temporary expert on that world and in this case, the world of the people we met (firefighters) are so gracious and giving of their time, folded us into their world, with love because they wanted us to see what they do everyday. It was great, so that was one of the most fun things. I mean, obviously making animation is very labor intensive and hard but a lot of fun but really it’s getting to go and learn about a world and share that with everyone, and make a film those people will be proud of.”

Barron:

This is a world that neither of us or anyone on our crew had any experience with or had any family in, so this was us meeting these guys and gals for the first time. Like Bobs said, it’s all about the relationships you build and we really became friends. They didn’t just become consultants. They all became our friends. We are still in touch with them now and it’s been months that we’ve wrapped this movie and we still email each other. For this movie specifically, it was so fortunate that we hit it off so well and we had great experiences joining in on the exercises. Going to all these places that we really never ever got a chance to go see and that’s what made it such a great joy. It’s something that we are gonna miss.

Gannaway:

Great films show you a process, take you into a world that you don’t know anything about. Whether it’s a bank heist or whatever it is, it takes you into a world that you don’t get to see everyday. Now because you don’t get to see it everyday, you can just make it up you know, but what’s more fun is to go out there and discover it, be true to it and have their everyday problems, situations, emotions and thrills and inform your story. Many of the story points in the movie are based on true firefighting events. There’s a scene when Blade Runner takes Dusty into the mines to protect him and that was based on one of the most famous firefighting stories, Pulaski, who took his men into a mine to protect them from a fire. So it’s fun to put those real life events into your story, in addition to building the world. It’s fun to interpret our world into their world.

Q: How challenging was it to take the real world and put it into this existing world of planes and cars that can talk and have emotions, while also adding new characters in it?

Gannaway:

“Well the characters are the fun element because again, you look at when we cast, you get to look at the vehicle, then you look at the type of person that drives that vehicle. So what does that sort of vehicle do? It’s a camper so it’s a traveling vehicle and then who would drive that type of vehicle. The RV couple in the film, we wanted a married couple so Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were my first choice. Let’s get a comedy couple who have been married for fifty years to play the comedy couple that have been married for about fifty years. That’s the fun of doing that. The choice for the vehicles would be like what sort of vehicles would be there. We have to get off-road vehicles. Ol’ Jammer is based off of the tour buses that are used to get up the hills at some national parks. It’s just fun to place all these characters in the movie and who would really be there, things like that.”

Barron:

“One fun thing which we like to tell the story on is the smoke jumpers. For the planes, they are pretty much loosely based off of different real wildfire attack planes and helicopters, and so that sort of thing but smoke jumpers, those are the guys that jump out of airplanes and hike into the fire and fight the fires. So they have tools on their backpacks and they’re raking and cutting down trees and have chainsaws and that sort of thing. When we were first in development we were thinking that all the smoke jumpers should be all atv’s cause they’ll be going off road and we will just kind of attach different tools onto them, but that sort of thing seemed forced and it wasn’t really real. Then it hit us like the bobcat, the construction vehicles cause if you look at them in real life, all of them have these different attachments. So we thought ‘Oh, they should be like a bobcat!’ Sometimes you have to sort of think outside the box, like this is a very specific job but there isn’t a vehicle that does this. So, let’s come up with a vehicle or something like it so they can become that job. That was a lot of fun. They were one of the big hits of the movie that everyone loved.”

Q: With the cast, you guys had a wide arrange of generations there cause there are people that were popular in the 70’s, the 80’s, like Curtis Armstrong to Julie Bowen. How did you guys come up with just a great cast like that?

Gannaway:

“Well it’s basically like I said, the vehicle, someone that embodies the vehicle and the character. We wanted to be true to the character such as Windlifter who is Native American so we got Wes Studi, who also informed us. Then you get Ed Harris who is a tough fantastic actor, playing the part of our tough no nonsense character. Dale Dye was a Vietnam veteran and was a consultant in so many movies who ultimately became an actor. You bring actors that you worked with before. I’ve worked with Hal Holbrook before. Curtis Armstrong, this was the third time I worked with Curtis. We actually wrote that part for Curtis because I already knew I was going to have Curtis play Maru cause Maru is like the waterboy. He’s the one that can’t fly, he has huge respect for the planes but what’s great about Curtis is that no matter how angry he gets, you just laugh at him because it’s funnier when he’s angrier. Curtis has that lovable crankiness. You want all the characters to be appealing. Even the bad guy needs to be appealing. It’s fun casting the movie cause you get to and seem to find people who embody that character and give them their souls…”

Barron:

“And you recognize their voice because that, they’re embodying the character. You don’t like people to put on voices. It’s not like a Warner Brothers cartoon, you don’t want something goofy. You want people to be themselves like Curtis, that’s how he naturally talks in any role he ever does but that’s exactly what you want, which is why Bobs wrote Maru. He knew Curtis was perfect for this.”

Gannaway:

“With Julie [Bowen], we knew we were going to have a character who was such a big fan of Dusty’s and was such a big fan that felt as if she already had a relationship with him and so we wanted someone who was just on the edge of crazy and Julie who is just right there. (laughs) She was pre-caffinated, she was so much fun, she’s so good at add libbing, she gave that character so much life.”

Q: Going back to the research, when you watch the movie, you realize how much detail is in it and how much it looks familiar to certain places that you seen on TV or that you’ve been to, and you said that you started research for the film about four years ago. Is that a general timeline that it takes to make a movie like this? 

Gannaway:

“Well for production, four and a half to five years is about right.”

Barron:

“From concept to delivery, it’s that long.”

Gannaway:

When you first start, you first think of a world that we would like to explore and that we believe will have a story in it. We do spend a significant amount of time just researching it. Then ultimately when you start to form your story, you’ll forge a relationship with certain people that come to help us make the movie. So the script ultimately, we would have Travis Alexander who’s chief at Cal. fire, Travis would go through the script and make sure all the radio chatter was accurate. Then after he saw the movie, he would change it based on the height of the trees in the film, he would realize ‘oh, those are one-hundred and twenty foot pines. Okay, so we would do different coverage level on that. We would change the dialogue. When you’re watching the movie, you won’t know the difference in what a coverage level one or a coverage level six is but a firefighter watching it might know and that’s part of the fun is making it accurate.”

Barron:

“It goes beyond even Cal fire. From all the consultants we’ve met with, we talked to various mechanics and pilots to be sure that the problem that happens to Dusty’s engine is accurate and again, flying through his engine like talking to one of the mechanics on how that engine is built you know, that’s a real engine. The National Park Service, we spent so much time with them cause we researched Yellowstone and Yosemite. We want to be sure that the aspects of the parks were real.”

Gannaway:

“People go like ‘oh, well it’s a family film, what difference does it make?’ It makes all the difference. You know, people talk about Disneyland, ‘well at Disneyland, why do you use real trees? It’s real steam trains, why don’t you use an electric one?’ Well, let’s put in artificial flowers then. No, because it’s those little details, it’s the details that you would notice them if they weren’t there. That’s sort of the Disneyland theory. It makes the world real. Let’s face it, they’re talking vehicles, everything we can do to make you forget that and get invested into the character emotionally, have the world feel like a real and true place, you’ll start to forget that they are talking vehicles.”

Q: What sort of story are you planning on telling next? What type of story do you want tell?

Barron:

“As Bobs said, it’s about finding something that you really feel passionate about. That comes from the directors. What’s different here at Disneytoon studios, Walt Disney and Pixar is that we don’t take outside pitches. The directors come up with a story that they want to tell cause like we said, it takes five years. You want the directors to really be invested into that story because it’s a long process and you want to be passionate about it. Even though Bobs doesn’t come from a firefighting background, there were still nuggets of that story like second chances, that he really can relate to.”

Gannaway:

“The vehicle world is a rich world. The aviation world is incredibly rich with the history of aviation, the different types of planes, the different types of pilots. It’s such a rich world, there’s a lot more stories you can tell just in that world and then you also have the different kinds of vehicles out there that we haven’t even touched yet. So there’s a lot of potential and that’s were we are in development right now.”

 

Interview with Jeffery M. Howard and Paul Gerard:

Q:  What inspired you to put the firefighters, out there? 

Howard:

“It’s interesting. Really, the very concept of the movie came out of research that Bobs was doing, when he was tapped to direct the second movie and this was only a year into when we were into production on ‘Planes,’ looking into what’s Dusty’s next adventure gonna be and he started investigating different avenues of aviation and he discovered that the first aerial firefighters were crop- dusters. There are small single-engine planes that are used for firefighting, they’re called single-engine air tankers. So, it seemed that it was an organic jumping off point, [just for me] a physical, external perspective of what Dusty’s next adventure would be. Like what if somehow he gets involved with firefighting? Cause that’s what those planes actually do and also, it’s an organic place to go with it. Once we started investigating it, we saw ‘oh, this is a really cool subset of aviation,’ cause we talk about a movie about planes, it’s such a wide field. There’s all different kinds of shapes and sizes of the planes and everything they do. We’re looking for something like what’s cool, what’s going to make a good opportunity for a character story and conflict and drama and emotion and humor and everything. That was the genesis of it, was seeing this is a real thing that crop-dusting planes do and then from there, once we started investigating the world and meeting the people involved and seeing what their lives are like, the whole thing just started to take shape.”

Q: Toby Wilson, the art director, was saying that the characters were based on certain actors they had in mind. When the actors change, how do you go about re-writing the parts for them? 

Howard:

“Well, it depends if it’s something where if they’re in it from the very beginning…most of the time, when you’re writing something, you might have an idea of who the actor is going to be but you don’t want to get too stuck on that because what if you don’t get that person? And you’ve written ‘oh, only Christopher Walken can pull this off and now we don’t have him,’ so now, what are you gonna do? But you do have people in mind for personality times and cadence and voice a lot of times. What invariably what happens is, you write a draft and go into your first recording session, we have multiple recording sessions with these guys. We bring them back several times over a course of a year or years, and once you had them in a recording session or two, you get to know them a bit and hear what these words sound like coming out of their mouth, then you start realizing ‘oh, they can pull of this’ or ‘you know what sounds like this guy or this girl, is that,’ sometimes there’s great talented comedians like Julie Bowen who can add lib really well. A lot of time it’s once you’ve started working with them, you start to tailor the lines and the character to their voice and what their strengths are. Sometimes you write a line and hear it come out any actors mouth and you’re like ‘I hate that line, it doesn’t sound right.’ And there are things I did with Ed Harris where there was one line I had written that actually is not even in the movie, it was an early version of one scene where he was giving this impassion speech and when I wrote it, I was like ‘ah, I’m not really convinced’ but when he would say it, I’m like ‘I believe it!’ When Ed Harris says it, I believe every single word! He’s a guy who is a great actor, very intense, very focused, a super great actor. It takes shape when you start working with the actors. Like when we got Curtis [Armstrong] into it, we were like ‘oh, we need more stuff with Maru in the movie.'”

Gerard:

“We always knew that with Winnie and Harvey, we always wanted actors who were actually married to each other because I think that led so much to their performance, like when they first kissed. There’s certain things like when you know, when we cast this, we really should find a couple or seemingly a couple. And that was true with Curtis Armstrong as well, we always wanted Curtis.”

Howard:

“Yeah, the cast is fantastic. It’s much easier to write stuff when you know it’s gonna come out of their mouths.”

It was great interviewing all of these guys and hearing the stories they had, about making the film. We even had a pretty lengthy discussion about the Nuke the Fridge name, which was pretty hilarious. “Planes: Fire & Rescue” flies onto Blu-ray today, so go pick it up!

 

 

 

 

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