Interview: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Directors Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Mon, 14 Sep 2009 07:44:30
Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Videos
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs could've been called "The Perfect Storm."
Who wouldn't want to be caught in a torrent of cheeseburgers or a downpour of desserts?
In addition to being a heartwarming and hilarious fairy tale, Cloudy has enough high-octane action to compete with the most bombastic of Michael Bay flicks. It's the perfect modern kids movie, blending the right dose of adventure and fun.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller definitely did their homework in adapting the classic illustrated children's book of the same name. Not only were they fans since childhood, they spent a ton of time getting into main character Flint Lockwood's head—sharing a true affinity for the eccentric inventor.
As a result of all that time in the "lab," the filmmakers crafted quite the adventure. They sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor Rick Florino for this exclusive interview about stirring up this very special storm and so much more.
It's about as tasty as any interview it gets…
Catch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs in theaters everywhere Friday September 18th!
Is being a director similar to being an inventor?
Phil: Well, you certainly fail a lot, and you have to pick yourself up and reinvent things.
Chris: The 99 percent perspiration adage is true for movies as well as inventing.
Phil: There's certainly a lot of trial and error.
Chris: You're also trying to make something new that hasn't been out there in the world before that people will want to experience.
Phil: Flint Lockwood is close to our hearts because he's an outsider. He's more or less an artist in a town that doesn't have any other artists in it. That's a good analogy in a sense. He's simply a creative person, hoping people will appreciate what he's doing.
Flint's inventions are very unique. How did you settle upon the aesthetic for them?
Chris: For the town, there's an important back story. It's called "Swallow Falls," and we wanted it to be a depressed community. We wanted it to feel like it was stuck in the '70s, and we wanted Flint to be the progressive guy who's from the '80s for all intents and purposes. His aesthetic came from the idea that he was using found objects and things that other people had thrown away to create his inventions. Everything we'd grown up on as kids—Commodore 64, Tron and Fantastic Voyage—was a significant influence. Flint's aesthetic is like our aesthetic.
Phil: He loves all of the things that we love.
Was there a sense of boundlessness in the original material? It feels like you took the book's world and opened it up even wider.
Phil: We're really pre-occupied with playing out concepts as far as we possibly can. That's the general approach that we take in everything that we do. We try to push things to the greatest extreme. There's not a ton of restraint. That's why it goes to that ridiculous third act. We want to leave everything on the field [Laughs].
Everything eventually pays off. There's no stone unturned.
Chris: That's part of the process of making a movie like this. We spent three and a half years on it. We went over it again and again during storyboarding, while recording the voices and in the editing room. During every stage, we were adding a bunch of stuff, looking at it and going, "We can make this better." If you're willing to make changes and let the ideas of the 500 talented artists and filmmakers who are working with you make their way into the movie, you'll be able to give it a richness and have it all fold in on itself nicely.
Were Flint and Sam fun to live with for that period?
Chris: For sure! Especially once Bill Hader and Anna Faris came on board because they're such great people to work with. They're very funny and warm. It was our policy to try and cast the movie with people who had the characters in their wheelhouses. Bill is actually a cool, nerdy guy in the way that Flint is. Anna is one of these people who is a lot smarter than the audience thinks she is because she's constantly playing these ditzy characters.
Phil: She reads The New Yorker between takes! [Laughs] They both have such distinctive voices, and the animators really ran with that. It gave them a lot of inspiration. They added so much character to the animation as well.
Given how complex the characters are, do you feel like you had the opportunity to inject a deeper emotional sensibility into the material? That vibe grabs adults, and it'll keep kids coming back.
Phil: I'm certainly glad you feel that way! I don't know if you've ever seen Clone High, but some of our early TV work is very joke-y. The stories are like structures to hang jokes on—like a coat hanger. In an 80-minute plus film, you can't do that. The audience would lose interest too fast. The thing we learned the most in the last four years was how to create enough of an emotional underpinning to hold the viewer's interest. We're the proudest that the film actually works on an emotional level in addition to a comedic level.
That's integral to creating something that people will want to see again. I wanted to see it again.
Phil: Please do! I think it's good to buy every seat in the theater and sit alone.
Chris: Bring just a couple of friends and sell out the theater. The story with Flint and his dad was obviously very important. We wanted to play that as real as possible. I can't remember what I was going to say, I keep thinking about you alone in the theater with a pile of 3D glasses [Laughs].
Phil: I'm hoping the level of detail will bring people back to the theater. We tried to take inspiration from Ron Barrett's fantastic illustrations that have all sorts of hidden little details in them. We put lots of details in the backgrounds of shots that you notice on the second or third viewing.
Using "Fight the Power" was hilarious. How did you choose the film's music?
Phil: We're certainly the first children's film to use "Fight the Power" on the soundtrack [Laughs]. I'm pretty sure we're also the first movie to have Lesley Gore and Chuck D on the same soundtrack.
Chris: In the case of the internet video, we thought, "What would be the silliest thing you'd play something as awesome as 'Fight the Power' over," and that was a cat DJ and ducks with over-sized glasses [Laughs].
Phil: The Internet is a place for so many wonderful things, but there are also things that catch fire that are incredibly nauseating. So we tried to create the worst piece of entertainment possible [Laughs].
Chris: I was really happy with how Mark Mothersbaugh's score turned out. We wanted it to be epic and cinematic in the way that a Jerry Bruckheimer movie is. But it also had to be funny and touching. I think Mark did an amazing job with it. It's unique because it has a 100-piece orchestra as well as synthesizer, mood pieces on top of it that give it a science-y aesthetic. That makes a really unique score.
Phil: On the soundtrack, there's a slight hint of sarcasm to everything, so there's this crazy interplay between things that are genuinely emotionally moving and at the same time a little bit tongue-in-cheek. Chris: Even the Miranda Cosgrove song on the end credits, "It's Raining Sunshine," has a little bit of irony to it. Raining sunshine is a little bit ludicrous.
Phil: That was very close to the vest.
Were you drawing on any '80s action films?
Chris: When we found out that Sony had the rights to Cloudy, which was both of our favorite book growing up, we looked at the book and there were pickles smashing into buildings and giant pancakes on the school yard. We thought it was like a Jerry Bruckheimer, Irwin Allen or Roland Emmerich movie. We wanted it to feel like a big action packed comedy. Instead of dinosaurs or an asteroid, it's ice cream and hot dogs.