The New Yorker had a great write-up on Andrew Stanton, which I only recently got to read. Stanton was the second person to be hired as an animator at Pixar, and has gone on to direct two Pixar films, Finding Nemo and Wall-E, as well as co-directing A Bug’s Life. The New Yorker did this write-up in 2011, just before Stanton’s first live action movie, John Carter, was released.
My favorite thing that the article reveals about Stanton is how willing he is to ask for help. As a company, Pixar has always been willing to try new things, to learn, and to outdo themselves. It looks like Stanton may have contributed to that company spirit. Some of the best bits of the article are included below.
On preparing to direct:
To ready himself to direct [John Carter], Stanton dropped twenty pounds, ran fifteen miles a week, and, once on set, vowed not to go to his trailer or even sit down unless absolutely necessary: “I didn’t want to look like the privileged animation geek who’d cheated his way to the top.”
On directing live action versus animation:
Juggling weather and stunts and light and green screens—it’s like trying to do synchronized swimming with aircraft carriers.”
Stanton’s precepts are often invoked at the studio, particularly “Be wrong fast” or “Fail early.” He explains, “It’s like every movie is a kid, and no kid avoids puberty. Just dive through it—get that outline that should take three months done in one, so you get the inevitable bad stuff out of the way and have more time to plus the good stuff.” Another Stantonism is “Do the opposite”: if a woman is going to spurn a marriage proposal, Stanton will open up possibilities by wondering, “What if she said yes?” He urges writers proposing a fix for a balky scene to “finish the sentence”—to follow their change’s consequences to the end of the movie, to insure that it works throughout.
On the Pixar world:
“We’re in this weird, hermetically sealed freakazoid place where everybody’s trying their best to do their best—and the films still suck for three out of the four years it takes to make them.”
“Pixar is the healthiest place to be because our movies got famous, not the moviemakers…”
I couldn’t get up in the morning or get to sleep at night if I thought perfection was possible. In between, though, you have to trick yourself into believing it is possible, which is dangerous.”
His father Ron, on his son’s gifts:
There are some people who have a knack for creating confidence where no confidence is justified, who can inspire a solution to the problem simply by believing a solution can be found.”
On distilling movies:
He read and reread Lajos Egri’s “The Art of Dramatic Writing,” which taught him to distill movies to one crisp sentence before making them. For “Finding Nemo,” it was “Fear denies a good father from being one,” and, for “Wall-E,” “Love conquers all programming.”
On asking for help:
Stanton told me, “I just felt, I suck, I suck, I suck, and they’re going to replace me.” One morning over the Fourth of July holiday in 2001, while he was visiting his parents in Rockport, Stanton woke before dawn and wrote a mission statement. He admitted to himself that he’d been at once stiff-necked and craven. “Try to get fired,” he wrote, as a corrective. “Don’t be concerned about box office, release dates, audience appeal, Pixar history, stock prices, approval from others.” He added, “You have a gift for looking at the world with a child-like wonder. . . . You lose that and you lose it all.” After this reckoning, he began to ask colleagues for help, and the main thread of the film, Marlin’s quest for Nemo, finally came together: kids thought it was hilarious, and adults found it almost unbearably poignant.