All Wool Be Revealed! Interview With ‘Shaun The Sheep Movie’ Directors (The Hollywood News)

Richard-Starzak-Mark-Burton-Shaun-The-Sheep-MovieShaun The Sheep Movie is about to be released on DVD and Blu-ray after a baa-rilliant reception on the big screen. In many ways the original farm heroes saga, its story follows Shaun and the gang as they head into the big city to rescue their gibberish-speaking custodian, the Farmer.

The film was praised for its echoing of old school slapstick comedy and hopes are high for a follow up. So while the gears of the studios whirr in contemplation over that, we sat down with writer/directors Richard Starzak and Mark Burton for a good old bleat…

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-2Shaun The Sheep on TV is only a few minutes long. How did you go about expanding the concept to feature length?

Richard: That was the big challenge. That’s why I think me and Mark work as well together. Mark’s had much experience of writing feature scripts and we had to find a story that could sustain that long. We had to dig deeper into the characters, a lot deeper than we do in the series. The series could be quite surface, you know, one of the episodes could be just the characters getting stuck together with a tube of glue. We had to think of a bigger story for this…

You needed a bigger tube of glue almost.

Mark: Massive tube of glue!

Richard: A tube of emotional glue…

Mark: The other thing was taking characters out of their comfort zone, take them into a few worlds, so we took them into the big city.

I use this word in inverted commas, but what was an “average” day like on the set?

Richard: Me and Mark got together at 8 in the morning, and we’d go through all the shots we’d be shooting that day with our production team. Make sure everyone knows what’s happening… and then we’d go onto the studio floor, see the progress of the shots. We treat the animators like actors, so we brief them on the set, tell them what we want. We want to know what the character’s thinking. We go through all the detail when everything’s set up and lit, like a live action shoot. But at the same time we’re also having to deal with music, with editing, any other story issues that come up… the day lasts from 8 till 8 at night.

Mark: And weekends as well.

Richard: And a few weekends. So it’s a very intense time really.

Mark: It’s not really a 9 – 5 job. You’re very involved and engaged in everything. Like all directors we’ll say we’re power mad and trying to keep an eye on all aspects of the film, right up to the marketing really.

Omid-DjaliliMoving onto the cast, you’ve got a lot of comedians in the film, notably Omid Djalili. What dynamic did they bring?

Richard: Omid was great because he’s a comedy star, he’s been in some Hollywood movies… and we wanted him to grunt and make some noises!

Mark: He rose to the challenge because he got the point, which was that it’s not really about the dialogue in that sense, it’s about non-verbal communication. So he brought a lot to the character of the baddie, Trumper. He was totally up for it, and not just in terms of being funny. He’d have that range where he’d go from these very small little verbal things we could use, right up to big, Omid-type screaming. But he could bring a level of subtlety to it.

Shaun-The-Sheep-Movie-Trumper-Omid-DjaliliThat’s what he brought, and I think John Sparkes (Absolutely) – who obviously works on the series – and Justin Fletcher (Mr Tumble)… they kind of rose to the challenge. Like a big Hollywood movie we were were going to take these characters’ emotions very seriously, so the comedy worked and the emotion worked… we stretched them out. It was a slightly bizarre process sometimes as you can imagine, but ultimately it was quite a rewarding and illuminating one.

Talking of dramatic intrigue, how did Nick Park’s cameo appearance come about?

Richard: The joke came about first I think. We had the idea of the bird spotter, the twitcher, getting revealed and attacked by the birds he’s spying on. He’s a bit of a voyeur. Then we remembered that Nick Park’s a very keen bird spotter.

Mark: He had a great sense of humour about it.

Nick-ParkAnimation gives you more free rein than in reality, but was there anything you wanted to do that you couldn’t achieve?

Richard: The story went through lots of iterations, but it was quite meticulously-planned so we knew what we’d be doing…

Mark: There’s a little bit of begging and bartering that goes on. Obviously we’ve got a production crew working to tight deadlines. So sometimes when we’d want to do a shot at the end, maybe we weren’t quite happy with it, or if we wanted to see more characters… to be fair, what’s great about the Aardman team is that they’ve done it for so long they can accommodate that. It was very rare you’d get told “no”! A bit of chin stroking sometimes, a bit of “hmm”. But they always try to facilitate the directors.

Richard: What was interesting with the city was that the size of the sets, and the size of the shots, were kind of prescribed by the physical size of the space. We were in this crazy warehouse down on the outskirts of Bristol, where the production is done. And sometimes the camera would hit the ceiling! That’s as far as it goes. It’s like, you want to get a nice, big, swooping top shot and we literally hit the sky, so that’s it. But that’s okay, you kind of work into that…

Why do you prefer working with stop motion animation? I like it, but it seems quite laborious compared to CGI…

Richard: I don’t know whether it is any more laborious. I think you have to go through all the same processes as other forms of animation. I just love the way it feels, the way you engage with it. It’s visceral, you go down on the sets, you’ve got real sets, real props, real lighting cameramen up ladders… it’s great, like doing live action very slowly. I think the audience likes to know that the things are real. The exhibitions are very popular as well, we’ve got one in France at the moment and it’s very successful. People love to see that stuff.

Mark: I think the audience gets more out of that. I mean, we love CGI, don’t get us wrong, you can press a button and have huge crowds and great big swooping shots of giant cities and everything, and you can’t do that in stop-motion, you’ve got to think about it another way. But that can also be quite empowering!

What are the pair of you working on next? Shaun The Sheep was a spin off from Wallace & Gromit – are there any characters in the movie you think could have their own spin off…?

Richard: Slip the dog has proved to be very popular…

Mark: It would be nice to do some more Shaun The Sheeps, if possible.

Richard: There could well be a sequel. We’re planning for it just in case! The signs are good, I’m currently working on a Shaun The Sheep half hour, called The Farmer’s Llamas, which I’m overseeing. That’s going to be out at Christmas and will be fairly global…

Mark: You may know Nick Park’s working on a new movie. I think he’s unveiling it at Cannes.

This turned out to be Early Man, a prehistoric tale and another collaboration with StudioCanal. Here’s the teaser poster…

Early-Man-Aardman-Animations-Nick-Park

This interview appeared on The Hollywood News.

Men, Motors & Meltdowns – A MAD MAX: FURY ROAD Feature (The Hollywood News)

mad-max-fury-road-590x366 It is a truth universally acknowledged that if you stick cars and explosions in a movie, men will go and see it. The FAST & FURIOUS franchise has clocked up a ridiculous number of miles at the box office and now another series is about to join the fun, set in the future but resurrected from a seemingly-dormant past.

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD takes us back to the dusty, post-apocalyptic world of Max Rockatansky, a man as burned by tragedy as by the relentless Outback sun. Originally played by Mel Gibson, this time round rising Brit Tom Hardy adopts the mantle (and indeed the accent) for a blistering thrill ride of machine-based mayhem that has had even the most genteel critics foaming at the mouth.

Though Charlize Theron provides equal star power as Imperator Furiosa, it’s safe to say this film is largely one for the boys. So with that in mind, THN are taking a less-than-leisurely trip along the highway of man-angst. Hot engines and noisy exhausts are the order of business as we get under the hood of this staple genre that shows no signs of conking out…

DENNIS WEAVER – DUEL (1971)

Dennis-Weaver-DuelOur first choice is a man who starts off as just another traveller on the road, and winds up a hunted animal pursued by a relentless truck which doesn’t take kindly to being overtaken in the heat of the California desert. I mention the truck as a character in the movie because you never find out who’s driving it, making the monstrous vehicle a key player in the tense battle of wits and wheels.

Star Dennis Weaver was familiar as the affable father in bear-based kids TV classic Gentle Ben, so for audiences to see his nerves literally shredding onscreen became an increasingly traumatic experience. Weaver’s David Mann is a salesman who’d have difficulty saying boo to a goose. By the end he’s capable of snapping its beak and pulling eggs out of its butt.

Based on a short story by Richard Matheson, DUEL is best-known as the film that launched the career of a certain Steven Spielberg. Beginning life as a TV movie, it soon gained the momentum to be released in cinemas. Unlike Weaver, Spielberg never needed to look back.

RYAN GOSLING – DRIVE (2011)

RyanGoslingDriveWeaver played an innocent man caught up in a motorized death match not of his making. Ryan Gosling’s character in the next selection, however, lives his life in the driver’s seat of danger and excitement. Working a dual life as a movie stunt driver and ace getaway jockey, his nameless figure is up to his neck in crime and fantasy.

That’s all well and good, until his cool, controlled Eighties-inspired existence is rocked by an entanglement with Carey Mulligan’s working mum Irene. Getting involved with her and her convict husband (Oscar Isaac) leads to the unravelling of The Driver’s knife-edge world. In the second half of the film he’s getting all Travis Bickle’y on the asses of the Jewish mafia as blood spurts and gaskets blow.

Nicolas Winding Refn brought James Sallis’s book to the big screen, establishing himself as a helmer of notoriety. He created a stylish universe where chaos was just around the bend, light years away from the rusty, dusty carnage of the MAD MAX franchise.

TOM HARDY – LOCKE (2013)

VIDEO-Festival-de-Venise-Tom-Hardy-en-pleine-course-contre-la-montre-dans-Locke_reference-1Weaver and Gosling had some extreme experiences, but at least they got to get out and stretch their legs. Concrete expert Ivan Locke spends the duration of his story stuck behind the wheel of his car with only voices for company. Over the course of an hour and a half his life is reduced to roadkill when he learns the woman he had a fling with is giving birth and decides to head for the capital to be with her.

Only trouble is, he’s supposed to be supervising a major construction project and returning to his wife and children. Attempting to negotiate this perilous road over the phone leads to him using the vehicle as a makeshift office for his tortured soul. Everything except the new arrival is demolished by the time he reaches his destination.

Mixing the atmosphere of a road movie with the intimacy of a radio play, writer/director Steven Knight crafted a memorable trip into one man’s embittered pysche. And look who played the central character – rebooted MAD MAX Tom Hardy!

GUY PEARCE – THE ROVER (2014)

The-Rover-Guy-Pearce

Our penultimate man whose mental tailpipe is a little clogged takes the malnourished, feral shape of Guy Pearce in THE ROVER. Eric lives in an Australian wilderness which plays host to the remnants of society following an economic collapse.  When a gang of thieves steal his car he gives chase. There’s something in the boot that’s precious to him, though quite what isn’t revealed until the closing moments. Whatever it is, he sure is determined to get it.

Of all the entries on this list, Eric is the closest to the character of Max. Obviously he’s from The Land Down Under, but the setting clearly echoes the fuel-famished wastelands Rockatansky patrols. Eric used to be a civilized guy, until a tragic event shaped his life in the maelstrom of the financial crash.

Writer/director David Michôd gave Pearce a human dimension of sorts by making him a father figure to Rey (Robert Pattinson), the wastrel the criminals leave behind. But redemption isn’t marked on Eric’s road map, and before long he’s surrounded by violence yet again.

TOM HARDY – MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015)

movies-mad-max-tom-hardy

When Michôd was putting THE ROVER together, he probably didn’t suspect a new chapter of his movie’s spiritual ancestor lay ticking over in a layby, just waiting for the chance to screech into view. Thirty years in the offing, this fresh if mucky batch of skull-cracking petrol-incinerating action seemed like it was never going to happen. Yet director George Miller has managed to get his show on the tarmac, with Tom Hardy sweating it out amongst the fumes and foes.

It’s been a hell of a journey for the leather-clad dark knight of the roads so far. Beginning his saga of scorched innocence in 1979, Max saw his family slaughtered by a maniacal, ever-so-slightly camp biker gang. This turned him from law enforcer to revved-up vigilante. Having visited venegance on the murderers, 1980’s THE ROAD WARRIOR found him protecting a ragtag community from the nastier elements of the unforgiving four-wheeled dystopia. 1985’s troubled BEYOND THUNDERDOME had Max look after a group of filthy-faced moppets whilst encountering Tina Turner’s Auntie Entity in the no-holds-barred arena of the title.

FURY ROAD looks to take the brand back to basics, with a generous helping of spectacular old-school stuntwork that’s been knocking the fanbelts off reviewers’ frazzled minds. The plot concerns Rockatansky’s skills being utilized by Charlize Theron’s Furiosa, who is fleeing the might of Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) in order to save five “brides” who the villain intends to use as breeding stock.

By all accounts the movie is a triumphant comeback for Max after a lengthy period where it appeared he’d never get his engine going again. Judge for yourself – it’s out in cinemas now!

This feature appeared on The Hollywood News.