IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producer Kathleen Kennedy talks 'The Adventures of Tintin'

Saturday, 17 December 2011 21:51 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Producer Kathleen Kennedy talks 'The Adventures of Tintin'

Film producer Kathleen Kennedy may have co-founded Amblin Entertainment with her husband, Frank Marshall, and director Steven Spielberg, but she is also responsible for producing some of the most beloved films of the 20th Century. Together, Kennedy and Spielberg are the most successful producing team of all time and collectively their films have grossed over $5 billion in domestic box office receipts. In addition to working with Spielberg, she has also collaborated with legendary directors such as Clint Eastwood (The Bridges of Madison County), Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future), David Fincher (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), and Martin Scorsese (Cape Fear).

Kennedy’s resume reads like a grocery like list of the greatest films of our generation including Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Gremlins, The Goonies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Jurassic Park, The Sixth Sense, The Color Purple, Munich, and the Oscar-winning Schindler’s List. She is currently in the process of promoting two new films that she made with Spielberg, which open only days apart from each other. War Horse, based on the popular book and stage play of the same name, and The Adventures of Tintin, which is based on the fan-favorite series of comics by Belgian writer and artist Herge and opens in U.S. theaters everywhere on December 21st.

While Spielberg directed the new movie, it took several accomplished filmmakers to bring Herge’s unique world to life on the big screen including producer Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings film trilogy), and writers Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block). It’s actually based on three of Herge’s original comic books,'The Crab with the Golden Claw,' 'The Secret of the Unicorn,' and 'Red Rackham’s Treasure.' The film utilizes performance capture 3D technology and was recently nominated for Best Animated feature at the Golden Globes.

The Adventures of Tintin tells the story a young journalist named Tintin (Jamie Bell), and his faithful sidekick; a very smart dog named Snowy. When our hero purchases a model sailing ship, the Unicorn, he unknowingly stumbles on to a mystery that spans back generations. The sinister Ivan Ivanovitch Sakharine (Daniel Craig) is now in hot pursuit of Tintin and needs the Unicorn in order to fulfill his plans of revenge on the unaware Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who’s ancestor Sakharine blames for his own ancestor’s death. Tintin and Snowy team-up with Haddock in order to unravel the mystery of the Unicorn and stop Sakharine’s nefarious plans.

I recently had the pleasure of briefly speaking to Kathleen Kennedy about The Adventures of Tintin while she was on the way to the New York premiere of the new performance capture 3D film. The producer discussed the new movie, Spielberg’s commitment to the material, similarities to Raiders of the Lost Ark, the choice to use motion capture technology rather than making it a live-action film, working with Peter Jackson, Spielberg and Jackson’s collaboration on the project, the status on the upcoming sequel that Jackson is set to direct, and which popular Herge character that did not appear in this film that will definitely be included in the sequel.

Here is what the accomplished producer had to say:

IAR: To begin with, I understand that this film is a project that you and Mr. Spielberg have been working on for a long time, is it true that he was first introduced to Herge's work after comparisons with Raiders of the Lost Ark?

Kathleen Kennedy: It's true. We were being interviewed during the time that Raiders was released and everybody kept talking about Tintin. We had no idea what it was and so that was really our first introduction. Then soon after that we had a chance to talk to Herge on the phone. We planned to try to go meet with him and unfortunately he passed away before we got there.

As someone who was actually not familiar with Tintin or Herge’s work, but obviously grew up on Raiders of the Lost Ark, when I saw this film I definitely felt that Raiders vibe, that sort of mood and tone. Was that intentional? Was it talked about during production, or do you think it’s just a coincidence because of the similarities in the source material and of course, Mr. Spielberg being behind the lens?

Kennedy: Yeah, I think so and frankly you said it all. I think it's all of those things. I think initially there was a comparison because when Raiders was made there hadn't been a kind of action adventure like that in quite a while. Then Steven sort of put his own style to that genre and that was partly what we brought into the making of Tintin. But also what was important with Steven was to find something that was unique to Tintin, that wasn't necessarily anything that felt derivative. But I do think what's amazing is that with this technology you still feel that even within an animated film essentially, you feel Steven's style. I think that's quite a breakthrough to be able to capture that.

Can you talk about the choice to use motion capture versus making Tintin into a live-action film? Also, obviously Mr. Spielberg is pretty much unarguably the greatest director of his generation, how did he adapt to this new technology?

Kennedy: Well first of all, I think Steven was actually very reluctant initially. It was not immediately his first choice to consider doing this performance capture until he saw what Bob Zemeckis had been doing. But he saw the real breakthrough in what Jim Cameron had done in Avatar. When he realized that Jim had taken a fairly significant leap in the technology he decided that he could use performance capture to actually capture what Herge initially intended in his artwork. That has always been kind of the assembling block in moving forward with his project to begin with because we didn't just want to put people in a lot of prosthetic makeup in order to exaggerate their features so that they look more like Herge's characters. By using the digital technology we knew that we could do something that was very much in keeping with Herge's characters and not something that we had to bring into the world of live-action. So initially when we realized that that was the way that we were going to make the movie, Steven was very reticent to really know how this was going work. How was he going to be able to direct a film along the lines of what he was used to in live-action? That was another amazing breakthrough that they did for us, they created a way in which Steven could hold the camera in the volume of space and he could still work with the actors. He could see in the viewfinder, and he could see on the video playback exactly what he was going see on film. It was of course rough; it was a previsualization of what the actual frame would look like. But he could compose the shot with his actors looking like the characters in the movie in real time. That was a significant breakthrough and that really allowed him to direct the movie much the way he would in a live action environment.

As a producer, what was it like for you working side by side with Peter Jackson, and as an acclaimed director in his own right, can you talk about how he was able to collaborate with Mr. Spielberg on this project?

Kennedy: At first it's a little mind boggling to think that the collaboration is going be with a director who's living in New Zealand. So initially it was odd to have Peter be essentially on a television monitor while we were shooting in Los Angeles, but very quickly we all got used to working this way. We're talking about months and months we were talking online together. We could see Peter and all the guys in the conference room, and then they could see us and we started looking at conceptual art and that kind of thing. Eventually those meetings became once a week and then right up to the last five or six months it became every day. We got so used to communicating that way. Steven and Peter, first of all they collaborated incredibly well, they had a very similar intuition as to how to approach the look and the feel of the movie. They could pretty much pass the baton between each other. For instance, when Steven was working on War Horse, Peter could oversee anything he needed to from New Zealand. If Steven was busy he could step in and vice versa. It was something that we had no idea what it would be like when we started out but then it became something we couldn't have imagined doing any differently. By the time we get to movie number two, everybody will think this is old hat.

Is it true that Mr. Jackson considered playing Captain Haddock himself at one point, or was that just a rumor?

Kennedy: No, what Peter did, and probably you’ve seen this online, was the initial test. I think that's where that came from.

Finally, you mentioned a sequel; I understand that the script is already in the works for a second film, is that correct?

Kennedy: Yep! We already had several meetings and we're probably going to take a look at a treatment in the next week or so. Then Anthony (Horowitz) will be writing the script in the month of January or February and I think by March we'll have something we can start working from.

Will it be based on a specific story like this film was or will it be a combination of a few different Herge comics?

Kennedy: Yeah, it'll probably be a combination, but predominantly what we'll do is introduce the character of Professor Calculus.

Mr. Jackson is set to direct it once he is done with his work on The Hobbit movies, correct?

Kennedy: That's right. He'll probably do the capture in between The Hobbit Part I and II.

The Adventures of Tintin opens in US theaters on December 21st.

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