IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Denise Ream talks 'Cars 2'

Friday, 01 July 2011 19:10 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Denise Ream talks 'Cars 2'

Last weekend the number one film in the country was Cars 2, the sequel to Pixar’s 2006 computer-animated automotive-themed smash hit. The movie has made $133 million worldwide to date and is about to take “the other automotive-themed summer film” head-on at the box office this holiday weekend. One of the many people responsible for the film’s success is producer Denise Ream, who also worked on Pixar’s award winning film Up. Ream began her impressive career working in the visual effects department on feature films and collaborated on such high profile projects as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, and Mission: Impossible III, before joining the team at Pixar.

I recently had a chance to sit down and speak with producer Denise Ream about Cars 2, its differences from the original, the origin of its new spy-thriller theme, working with Sir Michael Caine, director John Lasseter’s ability to inspire those around him, and making Larry the Cable Guy a leading man. Here is what she had to say:

To begin with, while it’s certainly still a sequel to the original, Cars 2 really is kind of a standalone movie, isn’t it?

Denise Ream: I hadn't thought about that until recently and I really think it is. I don't think you have to see the first movie to watch this one. I think that would be really interesting because obviously most people have seen the first one and are going to compare it. There was a trilogy of movies that I remember being really frustrated with. I saw the first one, I went and saw the second one and I felt like wait a minute, I should've watched the first one again before going to watch the second one. I feel like that is frustrating, so I'm glad this one hits all the right beats.

Can you talk about the decision to reinvent the franchise and turn the sequel into an espionage thriller as apposed to the coming of age story that the original movie was?

Ream: That idea actually came from the very first movie. That was the very first scene they boarded. Sally and Lightning were going to go on a date and they were going to be watching a spy movie. But I didn't realize it was quite that long ago, that was ten years ago. They obviously fell in love with the character and they kept working on it but it just didn't fit with that movie. It's fun and only John Lasseter could take the spy genre into this global adventure with cars and make this new movie. He's just amazing that way. We watched a lot of spy movies, the story artists did. It's a popular genre I think with all walks of life.

Obviously the movie is a family film and children love the franchise but because of the spy genre aspect there are a lot of bullets in Cars 2, were you ever concerned that the movie might be too violent for its audience?

Ream: There was a scene that we actually dialed back quite a bit, that we felt sort of went a little bit too far. There were actually a couple of people on the show that came in and expressed concern. It was actually in what we called the minion's lair when the American agent, that's Bruce Campbell’s character, is being tortured. So then we dialed that back, we made him more of a tough guy. That scene was definitely dialed back. John looked at it and he was like, “You're right.” There were little Jiminy Crickets around to be honest that kept an eye on that. But you know it's a spy movie, it's hard to have a spy movie without you know some bullets. Then like John always says … cars can get fixed.

Can you talk about the choice to make Larry the Cable Guy’s character Mater the main focus of the storyline, as apposed to Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen who was the star of the first movie?

Ream: That of course came about when John was doing the press junket and kept thinking about Mater outside of Radiator Springs, and going to London and Tokyo. For him those would be very different environments and I think that he just thought it would be a fun way of exploring the world through Mater's eyes. I think that Mater getting caught up unwittingly is a brilliant idea on John's part and only he could have come up with that idea. The other thing I've been struck by a number of times is that he is a character that has really expanded through the years. He's become wildly popular. I think that his character has evolved and developed through. I was really impressed when Larry would go to recording sessions, how much he really added to the character. I mean really with all the actors you expect that, but he was really fun to watch. He's hilarious and he's a good guy. We just love him.

What was it like working with a living legend like Michael Caine? Did he get the humor in the script right away?

Ream: Right away. He was not able to go to the very first recording session. But I was there in London and he walked in the room and it was amazing to be honest. He has massive charisma. Just he himself as a person, I mean he's a tall man, he's handsome, he's extremely charming, and self-deprecating. I was pretty impressed with him. He was prepared, incredibly professional, and nailed it on the first take. He's an amazing actor. I mean really all of our actors I have to say were pretty phenomenal. We had a really great cast. You know, John Turturro, I'm personally a big fan of his work.  I didn't know what to expect when we were going to meet him because he went to Yale and just seems like such a serious guy, but he is incredibly funny, a great storyteller, absolutely hilarious and I think he's a wonderful actor. I hope Pixar works with him again.

Can you talk about casting actress Emily Mortimer as the new female character Holley Shiftwell?

Ream: Well Holly is sort of a breakout character and one that I actually am really proud of. Originally she was going to be a pretty small part in the movie and then Emily's performance was such that it just kept growing and growing. I think she brings amazing warmth and intelligence to the role.

While we are speaking of actresses, Bonnie Hunt returns in Cars 2 as Sally, but unlike the first film her character is only in a few scenes. Is it difficult to get a voice actor from the original film to return for the sequel when their role is not as prominent as it was the first time around?

Ream: A lot of times we didn't know. At one point Sally was going to Europe, at another point she wasn't. It goes through so many iterations, that you can't know how big the part is. She's obviously really important to the movie; She's a great actress and is also hilarious. You know at a certain point the movie becomes to long. You have to make some hard decisions about what stays and what goes. Her character went through quite a bit of evolution throughout the process.

Also unlike the first movie, the film leaves Radiator Springs and travels all around the world to places like London, Paris, Italy, and Tokyo. Can you talk about the difficult job of making all those locations look real? Did the artists and designers actually travel to those locations for research?

Ream: Our production designer went to London on his own personal vacation, then Paris, Italy, and he took a trip to Japan. He went to numerous car shows. We originally had a race in Germany which got cut. We did very extensive research. He was also the production designer on Ratatouille so he knew Paris fairly well, but then came up with this inspired market place scene. He and his team had a really hard job and were just phenomenal. I still am seeing bits and pieces that I never saw and I was in all of the art sessions. I've watched the movie a hundred times, and just the signage alone is incredible. To me it's a beautifully designed movie and could stand up to any live action movie out there. People do forget that everything that you see does have to be designed and then of course built, rigged, and shaded. It's a very long and laborious process and requires a lot of people. So it was a pretty robust art department to be honest. It had more sets than any Pixar movie by quite a bit. This is probably the most complex and biggest movie Pixar has ever done. We go to all these races so we had to populate the countries. It has way more characters, there are way more effects that we do in this movie, more crowd shots, more locations, and with all those numerous locations, those are all different lighting set ups. So it's not like you can reuse them. When we shot the house in Up, that covered quite a bit of actual running time. So what people don't realize is that all these new places are new lighting set ups that you can't reuse down the road. It would be the same if you were going to any live action movie. It's time consuming to go out to all these places and have to light it and shoot it, so there's definitely a correlation there.

You were an associate producer on Up and worked with John Lasseter who was an executive producer on that film, so what was it like to work with him on Cars 2, where you are the producer and he is the director?

Ream: I mean it was phenomenal. Five years ago if you told me I was going to produce a movie with John Lasseter I never would've believed that. He's great. He is enthusiastic, he's passionate, and I learn something new from him everyday. He just is a phenomenal storyteller. I always feel like I learn something new from him. The thing that was really fun as a producer was that I really felt like we were partners. He did value my opinion. I occasionally would just say, “I think this, or I think that.” Sometimes he would agree with me, sometimes he wouldn't. But he was always very respectful of listening to me as well as anyone else on the crew. The thing that I admired was that he was so enthusiastic about everyone's work and respectful. This was a hard project in that you can see the scope and we had less time to get it done. We were supposed to come out in 2012 and we came out in 2011 largely because they felt that the story was in good enough shape that we could come out sooner. The thing that I loved about John is that he implicitly trusted his supervisors and leads to set the tone. He articulated what was in his mind for the movie and by doing that he was able to really empower people to sort of move things forward. He ultimately looked at everything, but he was able to collaborate with so many of his team. At a certain point they could just move work along and he had a hundred percent confidence in them. That really helped the process because we didn't have a lot of time. That enthusiasm really spurred people to do great work. It's always lovely to see someone so appreciative of people pouring their heart and soul into these movies because they really do.

Finally, now that Cars 2 is finished and in theaters, what are you working on next?

Ream: I'm going into development, which I've actually never done before. I'm going to take a vacation and then I'm coming back. There are actually a lot of interesting things in the pipeline that I'm pretty excited about. I'm going to help a couple of directors try to get some momentum for their projects at Pixar. It's something I've not done before, which will be fun because I think I'm going to learn a lot. I'm a little apprehensive about it just because every project I've done at Pixar has had momentum and this is pretty far down the story pipeline. But I look forward to trying to help these guys out.

Cars 2 is currently in theaters everywhere!

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