IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Chris Miller Talks 'Puss in Boots' on Blu-ray and DVD

Tuesday, 21 February 2012 11:52 Written by  Dana Gardner
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Chris Miller Talks 'Puss in Boots' on Blu-ray and DVD

Puss in Boots is up for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film next week but this Friday, February 24th, it arrives on Blu-Ray and DVD. Puss in Boots director Chris Miller is a man of many talents. He worked his way up the ladder at DreamWorks, cutting his teeth as a story artist on Shrek (2001) while also writing additional dialogue and providing the voices for such characters as the Magic Mirror and Gepetto. For Shrek 2 (2004) Chris served as head of story production, which allowed him to work amongst different departments interfacing with the directors, writers, and the story department. He co-directed Shrek the Third before helming the franchise’s spin-off, Puss in Boots.

Puss in Boots
is a prequel to the Shrek series that focuses on the character Puss in Boots (voiced by Antonio Banderas) and his adventures prior to his appearance in Shrek 2. Accompanied by his sidekicks, Humpty Dumpty (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and Kitty Softpaws (voiced by Salma Hayek), Puss attempts to steal magic beans from the murderous outlaws Jack (voiced by Billy Bob Thorton) and Jill (voiced by Amy Sedaris).

The movie will be accompanied on the BluRay/DVD release by a 13-minute short film, entitled Puss in Boots: The Three Diablos. The short is directed by Raman Hui, Chris Miller’s co-director from Shrek the Third and will pick up where the film left off. The Three Diablos focuses on Puss’s quest to recover a Princess’s stolen ruby from the notorious French thief, The Whisperer. In order to help the Princess, he teams up with three little kittens, Adorable, Fuzzy, and Deadly, who prove they might be more of a hindrance than an asset.

I recently had a chance to speak with Chris Miller about Puss in Boots. The director discusses his new film, getting a creative boost from executive producer Guillermo del Toro, collaborating with his crew, the importance of his past jobs at DreamWorks, working with his wife, his philosophy on narrative-driven comedy, and a Puss in Boots sequel.

Here’s what the talented director had to say:

IAR: To begin with, you’ve been engaged in almost every aspect of animated filmmaking throughout your career: story artist, voice actor, writer, head of story production, etc. Out of all the positions that you’ve had under your belt, what helped the most when you undertook the job as director?

Chris Miller: Definitely being a story artist! It was the thing that took care of me the most. Working that side of the process was a great training ground because the story artists have a ton of freedom in terms of writing dialogue, creating content and when you’re a story artist you’re getting the first shot at visualizing every scene. So it’s a great training ground because it’s blocking, cinematography, composition, writing, and editing. You get to be a mini filmmaker. There’s no better training in animation than being a story artist. Having been a story artist made my transition to being director a lot easier. We had a great writer on Puss in Boots, Tom Wheeler, who really is an exceptional screenwriter, but so much of what you see on screen and what you hear on screen is really coming from a team of about five story artists. That’s really where the story comes from.

There was a pretty big crew on Puss in Boots, about 400 people or so. Do you ever find it difficult to find your own style and voice when working with that many talented people, or has your prior experience working across departments helped you collaborate with your team while still getting your vision across?

Miller: I think it was closer to 600! Well, it’s always tricky, you work closely with that core group: your cinematographer, your producer. My producer, Latifa Ouaou, and I are just really creative partners in the whole process; but you’ve got your cinematographer, your writer, your story team, your production designer, and that’s a really tight-knit group. A clear message is communicated there in terms of what we’re looking to accomplish. It feeds itself out and, as big as the crew is, they’re all involved, they’re all aware of where the film stands. I’m a big fan of screening the movie once every two to three months. I’m big on everyone seeing it. It’s important that they see the film. It helps in that it allows the crew to understand where you’re coming from and what your intentions are. It’s extraordinary to me how 600 people can just feed a singular path naturally. It’s great when it works; it’s horrible when it doesn’t. I’ve definitely been on the other side of it. I’ve been on movies where it feels like there are twenty different voices driving something, and that’s a tough place for a crew to be.

You recently stated that you hit a wall at a point in the development of the film, but then Guillermo del Toro came on as executive producer and helped shake the tree. He’s not known for family-friendly movies, even though his projects tend to have many fairy tale elements. What brought him on to your film and what, creatively, did he bring to its production?

Miller: I wouldn’t say we ever hit a wall, but I will say that Guillermo came on at about half way in, we had about half of the animation done, and he saw the film and he just really loved it. But I have to say when he came on he absolutely gave us a huge boost because Guillermo tapped into where we wanted to go, the path that we were on, and he instinctively helped push us. He gave us that creative vitamin D shot we needed. Guillermo does this kind of thing every single day. He’s brilliant! I had never met Guillermo prior to this, and I was reading about how he had just left The Hobbit, which really bummed me out actually because I wanted to see his version of that movie. It would have been the most beautiful, dark version of that film. That same day he was at DreamWorks, he then saw Puss in Boots, and by that afternoon he was asking my producer and I if there was someway he could work on the movie. Literally, within a 24-hour period he was our Executive Producer. Suddenly we had this ace in our back pocket because any time we got stuck on the movie, whether it was a character, or an action scene, it didn’t matter, you could go to Guillermo. It was great! He was such a believer in the movie and such a boost to us.

There are some very strong comedic actors in this movie: Zach Galifianakis, Amy Sedaris, Billy Bob Thorton. Even Antonio Banderas brought plenty of comedy to the role of Puss by playing the character so melodramatically. How important is comedy in your work, and why did you not incorporate any pop culture jokes into the film, as DreamWorks films tend to do?

Miller: Regarding the pop culture thing, I think that there’s a tendency to do it too much. I’ve seen it work brilliantly. It depends on the project and on the moment in the movie but for me personally I prefer character interactions driving the narrative, therefore driving the comedy. There’s a bit of a trap with pop culture references, you runthe risk of snapping your audience out of the movie, immediately. You’re also dating your film. Hey, this film came out in nineteen hundred and eighty six! I think there’s something timeless about letting the characters drive that. Regarding the first part of your question, just in terms of comedy, I think comedy is huge. It’s what drives the entertainment and the tone of the film, and hopefully the charm behind the movie. As important as that is though, and comedy is vital, the story needs to really communicate on a personal level. It’s vital that the drama behind the comedy connects on a real, honest, emotional level. If that’s working then the comedy becomes funnier, the experience becomes more endearing and memorable. If it’s not then all the laughs, all the pretty pictures, they’re all utterly forgettable.

The movie is visually arresting, especially the dance-off scene. I understand your wife, Laura, choreographed it. How did you create and capture that scene? Was motion-capture used?

Miller: It was video referenced. We did one thing with the motion capture but it wasn’t for the movement of the dance. We actually did, at one point, break out the ping-pong suits, the unitards, and we did it for camera capture actually. That was our first sequence into layouts before it was going into production. We wanted to take our time with it as much as humanly possible. That was the scene that was going to really help set the style of the filmmaking and it was going to represent what the camera was actually going to be doing in this movie. So we did camera capture. It gave us limitless cinematography choices, but in terms of movement, it was all key-frame animated using video reference. It’s Flamenco, I wanted that to feel authentic, and that’s where Laura came in, she’s a modern choreographer, she has a dance company, she could deliver the authentic side of it while also giving it a twist.

Finally, the two features you’ve directed so far have been part of the Shrek franchise; however, you created a short for your wife recently which offered you the freedom to do something that was completely yours. What’s next? Are you ready to direct something new or are you interested in staying within the Shrek universe for one more?

Miller: We’ll see what happens. I have a couple of things in development. One of which is a second Puss in Boots film, if the studio chooses to do it. They’re still figuring things out in terms of whether it will happen or not. I certainly think whatever I do next will be in animation though. I just love the process!

To watch our exclusive video interview with director Chris Miller about Puss in Boots, please click here

Puss in Boots is available on Blu-ray and DVD beginning February 24th.

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