Here is what he had to say:
IAR: To begin with, I really liked the premise of this film and I’ve referred it to as the Justice League (or The Avengers) with holiday characters. Do you think that is an accurate way of describing the movie?
William Joyce: That’s actually how I use to pitch it and refer to it so that’s just fine.
As a comic book fan I think that is a brilliant idea, can you talk about how you first came up with that concept for the initial books?
Joyce: Yeah, thanks. Well, when I first had kids and I realized it was my turn to share with them these characters of our childhood and myth, because that is how kids find their way into these characters is through their parents. So since I write and illustrate children’s books I thought this would be a great thing to do. Then I thought, what is the mythology here? Just remembering back to when I was a kid, I thought the mythology was lame and that there was barely any at all. For some of them it is just this hodgepodge of stuff that has come from pop culture over the years, and some of them have no mythology at all, like Sandman. So I thought it was odd that nobody had thought of this. The Justice League of America has a common origin and we know their mythology and where they came from, so why don’t we have that for the guys that we are actually supposed to believe in? They are the ones that we actually do believe in when we are kids. I was looking around and thought that surely someone had thought of this but no, they hadn’t. So I would tell my kids stories of these guys and how they knew each other. I was like, this is pretty good stuff, and maybe I should do something with this? So I began to work on the books and made a short film illustrating what I thought it would be like. Then Jeffrey Katzenberg (DreamWorks Animation) saw the short film and said to me, “I really like this. Can we make a film out of it? You can work on it however you want.” I said, awesome, as long as you stay true to the mythology because I didn’t want them to become Shrek characters. I wanted them to have deep, mysterious, fantastic, adventurous, larger than life quality. He said, “Yep, I see it that way too,” and away we went.
When you were developing the characters did you also see them as Justice League archetypes, with Santa Clause as Superman and the Easter Bunny as a Batman type of character?
Joyce: Absolutely and that was the fun part because I kind of thought back to when I was a kid and whom I equated different characters with. In my mind I always saw Santa Clause as Sean Connery because that is when James Bond movies were first coming out. Sean Connery was so mysterious and cool in my mind, and that is what I thought Santa Clause would need to be. He judges you, and he decides if you are naughty or nice. James Bond had that same quality and he had all those cool gadgets. He was a little bit removed and you liked him, you worshiped him, you wanted to be him, and you wanted to be around him. I used to fantasize; you know if my parents ever die I really hope I get adopted by Dianna Riggs from The Avengers (the ‘60s British TV series) and James Bond. They would be such fin parents to have. So that is the way I thought of Santa as Sean Connery in the ‘70s when he was making those swashbuckling movies like The Wind and the Lion, and The Man Who Would Be King, and even the Russian character that he played in The Hunt for Red October. When I was writing it, it came to me that it would be natural if he came from Russia and in doing a little research on the origins, Santa came from Eastern European folklore, and I mixed that in with Thor and different Nordic stuff. I also wanted him to seem younger and more vibrant. Even if he had grey hair and was almost bald, if you give him dark eyebrows he would seem elderly but more youthful, and it was a very simple thing to change in his design. The same thing went for the other guys. I always thought that Sandman seemed like a benign cross between Laurel and Hardy, pushed together, with a little bit of Harpo Marx. I always saw Jack Frost as a little bit like James Dean. Early on in the development, the character designer watched a lot of James Dean movies to help mold the performance of Jack and I think it paid off. So they all had their own origins but they came though the movie quite well.
I think what also helped bring the characters alive in the film was the vocal performances of incredible actors like Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman, Chris Pine, and Jude Law. You must have been just delighted when the cast began to come together, correct?
Joyce: Absolutely because its really a lot of characters to cast. It was interesting at first because we originally thought of Alec as being Pitch, and at one point we thought he could be Pitch and Santa Clause, and sort of be the flipside of the coin. Then somebody suggested Jude Law for Pitch and I was like … whoa! But then what do we do with Alec Baldwin? Well, he could still be Santa. So you go through that in your mind and the casting thing is so much of a crapshoot anyway. But we pretty much got everybody that we wanted, and it turned out to be sort of miraculous and awesome. Everyone was perfect in their parts and did a beautiful job.
I thought the 3D, as well as the look of the film was very stylized and extremely well done. I imagine you were equally delighted when you heard that celebrated cinematographer Roger Deakins would also be working on the film, right?
Joyce: Oh, YES! I mean he is one of my heroes, and in fact, when we were doing my short film we looked at a lot of Deakins’ work and he’s such a gentlemen. It’s interesting working with him because he doesn’t say much but when he does you go, oh, okay. I mean it’s clear, and it clean, and it gets the job done. The movie has such a beautiful look and I’m so bummed he didn’t win (Best Cinematography) for Skyfall. It’s just so sad. Come on? He should have won for so many films! It was a real pleasure working with him, it was really exciting, and it really helped the movie look great. From the beginning I said to Jeffrey that I wanted it to look like a film and not an animated film. I think we are entering a time of when animated films are going to start being taken as just films and not as “animated” films. I’m not denigrating animated films but I it feels like we are in this excellent realm of when animated films are going to be taken more serious as just films and they won’t be seen so much as a separate entity and be taken a bit more seriously. Because there is nothing more handcrafted than animated films and I feel like people just sort of still look at them as a “cartoon” when they are really “films!” Part of Deakins working on this helped with people thinking that way.
Did you ever consider writing the screenplay yourself or did you always plan to just be an executive producer and creative consultant on the project?
Joyce: You know, I’ve written screenplays but I don’t really like do that, so that was never part of what I wanted to do. I had just started my own production company so I was sort of torn between that and my duties on this. So in the course of production on this film I had started my own company and made my short film (The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore), which won an Oscar not this year but last year. So I wanted to do smaller scale stuff. Working in the giant realms of humongous studio films takes a long time. There is so much anxiety and tension that I wanted to do something small where I can wake up in the morning and say, this is what I’m going to do today, and not have to ask thirty-five people if that is okay. So I had the luxury of doing both during this period of time and going in and saying, I think Jack Frost is like this. Then Peter (Ramsey), Jeffrey, and everybody would say, “Yeah, that sounds good, or maybe a little like this.” Then at the same time I could go into my office and say, this is what I think we’re going to do today, and everybody goes, “Okay.” A little Yin and Yang.
Finally, has there been any talk of making a sequel?
Joyce: I am in talks … well, I’m not supposed to talk about it. So I’ll just say, I hope so. There is something that we are proposing that we hope they will want to do.
Well, it’s a great concept for a franchise and it seems like you could make as many sequels as you want.
Joyce: No kidding! My God, all day long, absolutely!