7 time Acadamy Award winner Director Gary Rydstrom was nice enough to sit down with us to talk about the new movie Strange Magic.
We met with Gary Rydstrom during our visit to Skywalker Ranch and it was fantastic!
Tell us a little bit more about what it was about the movie Strange Magic that attracted you as a storyteller and filmmaker?
The karma and the irony of this movie for me is that I did have a long career, in this building mostly, a career as a sound designer, doing sound effects for movies. Then I found that I often felt at odds with the composer, so it was kind of a fight between the composer and I to, you know, have our stuff heard. So I thought of it as karmic revenge from the universe that I get to direct a feature film here and it’s a musical.
I was really attracted to it as George is, and American Graffiti is one of my favorite movies and the use of song to help tell a story was really attractive to me and, this was such a great idea to tell a love story. If you think about the songs in the movie that are love songs, there aren’t that many positive love songs, which I always like to point out, you know, because love is hard, it’s not, it doesn’t always, it’s not always happy. But I love that part of it and- and making a musical was really fun.
If I make another movie, it has to be a musical. I’m stuck now, that’s all I want to do is musicals, the hell with sound effects really
Did you have a character that was a muse to you, that you were most engaged by?
I actually like the Bog King, because that thing we talked about earlier about having your heart broken. And I think we all go through a thing that’s a completely natural thing, it’s when you get your heart broken, you say that’s it, I’m not going to, I’m not going to let myself be vulnerable ever again.
He goes to an extreme but it’s something that I can relate to, you know, it’s so painful to go through something that makes you feel hurt and less than you should be, and you just don’t want to do it again. So your solution for it is to put up this shield and never let anyone in again. I know we all, we all do that, and I thought he was someone I could relate to. So once you get past that veneer and let your real self come out, it’s, it’s so much more satisfying both for him and for the one he falls in love with.
Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to work with the actors and actresses in Strange Magic and what they brought to their characters?
Casting is pretty key for a movie like this and as George said, you have to find people who both act and sing and that the whole Alan Cumming, both actor and singer amazing, Evan Rachel Wood is as good a singer as she is an actress.
Sam Palladio who plays Roland is an amazing singer, as well as a very funny actor. Kristin Chenoweth who is funny and as I have said before, I was in the room with her as I was with all the actors when they were singing their songs and when she hit some of those high notes in Love Is Strange, it was like my glasses broke but it was amazing.
I really love it animation is the same thing, animators are actors too, but I love being in the room with actors and it’s really hard for them, because they’re acting alone, they’re not acting with other actors, it’s be great if they did but it just doesn’t work out so it’s them. You describe the scene as best you can, you do line readings with them to set up the scene. Elijah made me work the hardest, because I would line read with him, but he’s very active and it requires a lot of energy, so I was often playing either the Sugar Plum Fairy or Dawn.
I was actually pretty good at it. Luckily none of those videos exist. But it’s part of directing then actors for animation is, is taking on that role and working with them, that’s why it’s fun, you know, since I don’t really act, I’m terrible at it. But it’s fun to, to help draw that out from, from the actors and be surprised by what they brought to it, and they all brought their own personalities to the characters once we cast them, they all brought something of themselves to it.
Simple things, like Alan Cumming is Scottish and the Bog King has, you know, we talked about it, give it about a twenty percent Scottish accent, so it’s a twenty percent Scottish accent. Evan Rachel Wood is very much like Marianne but she’s the sweetest, she’s got the most amazing happy laugh. And she’s the sweetest thing but she can be tough as nails if she needs to be and, you know so they all brought something of themselves to the role. I love that part of it, I love what the actors brought to this and I’m, I’m actually most proud, as George said, and I’m going to quote this, I’ve never heard it before, but it’s a great idea.
It’s that it takes twice as many actors to make an animated film, that’s brilliant. I’m really proud in this movie of that combination of the animators drawing on what the actors do with the voice and creating that side of the acting, and together creating a character that it’s still magic to me when that works.
Why do you think that message in Strange Magic is so important?
Well if you think about it, we are really surprised I think by how we fall in love and who, and it comes at us, I hear this over and over from people, it comes at us as a surprise. Oh, I didn’t expect that. And what I think the steps when that happens, if analyzed falling in love, is that when you reveal your true self, then the other person falls in love with that true self. Often we try to hide that true self, because you think it’s odd or different or just- it’s not in the norm, or it’s not what other people our age or group should be like.
And you hide it because you think, who would fall in love with that. But then we fall in love with that what makes you unique. So in this story, I wanted Marianne to essentially be told by her father and everyone else in some ways that, you know, you’re being a little odd, you’re just acting a little, you know, what you’ve done now- after her heart’s broken, what she becomes it’s her version of what the Bog King becomes, this kind of Goth protective tough girl.
Bog King likes that, I mean that’s part of her too, and that’s the real her. So being, being different is not only okay, it’s what’s required. And learning what’s different about each other is what’s required for falling in love.
How hard was it to let go of the sound design aspect? Or did you kind of help them along or give your input? Is that difficult to let go of?
The producer will tell you that I gave lots and lots of input, the mix might have gone on a little longer than it could have. It’s funny that in my directing career, directing shorts at Pixar films and things like that, the hardest thing for me to do is the mix, it’s weird, you’d think it’d be the easiest thing but it is hard, you’re right.
To not be able to physically do what you know you can do, but in this case I worked, Tom Johnson who is the lead mixer, the re-recording mixer on this movie, I went to school with, you know, he and I went to USC Cinema School together. And he mixed my first movie when I made a, a sixteen millimeter film at USC, he was my mixer. So, and that was like ninety five years ago. So that was, uh, but Tom, the fact that he was able to mix this, was, it just kind of makes me teary even thinking about it. So if you can, you know, lean on someone that you love and trust, then it’s not so bad. But I still, the mix might have taken a little longer than this.