Interview with ‘Brave’ Directors Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian #BraveCarsLandEvent

From the moment they speak, you know that Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian are people that you really want to pay attention to. As the creative genius and directors of the Disney Pixar movie BRAVE, Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian have once again given us an animated masterpiece for the entire family to enjoy. Along with a group of 24 fabulous bloggers, I had a chance to participate in an interview with BRAVE directors Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian. Here are some highlights from that interview. They were a lot of fun to speak with!

interview with brave directors

Photo Credit: Louise Bishop

Q. What kind of age group are you seeing for this film? Is six a good age?
Mark: I think it’s everybody. I mean I think that’s, you know, that’s the parents’ prerogative, I mean. As parents know our children so we would know whether it would be good for them or not. I mean I have my five year old. He can watch, you know, Lord of the Rings PG13 movies, Ghost Rider. The face is melting off.

Katherine: You took him to Ghost Rider?

Mark: Oh, yeah, that’s what they want to see so, so, you know, now they’re talking to me about seeing, you know, Friday the 13 movies and all this stuff. I’m all okay. So, they can definitely take it. I don’t know about some, uh, you know, other children but I think it’s up to the parents.

Katherine: You know, I think it’s a good question. There’s no specific age we would say start it, but, I would say it’s a real PG movie. It’s a PG movie for a reason. We’re advertising it as PG because this is, you know, I mean even in the classic G rated like Disney tales they’re usually killing off a parent or shooting somebody in the woods or whatever. So this, you know, those had some dark elements. This one though it is a PG for a reason for that kind of scary action that’s in there and every, I think every parent will have to make the choice.

I’ve got a three year old and a three month old. They’re not gonna see it for a while. They’ll see it when they’re ready but, you know, it’s too — the three year old can’t even sit through a movie yet. He’s twitchy.

Q. Was it always going to be a Scottish princess?
Mark: Yes, no it was from the get go, from the original pitch. The three things that John Lasseter and Pixar look for is they look for, uh, you know, a great character, a great story and a great setting. And so Brenda Chapman who, uh, my fellow director on the project, her original pitch was about that parent child relationship based off of her own experiences with her own at the time six year old daughter who’s very precocious and independent and talked back. And she kind of projected ahead going oh, oh, what kind of teenager is this little girl gonna be if she’s already a teenager at six, you know.

And then she has a love for Scotland. It’s just a land that’s rich with legends and stories and stuff so why not put it there in back in the past to, you know, call from that environment, you know, a story and, and that’s what she pitched to John Lasseter at Pixar and they said, yeah, that sounds great, let’s do it. And then the details of how it worked out, you know, those are things that we were hammering out for the next, you know, five to six years.

Q. How did you get the emotions from the talent?
Katherine: They’re amazing. First of all you start with hiring amazing, amazing actors. Emma Thompson and Kelly McDonald in particular for that mother daughter relationship, you know, you don’t want to mess around in that casting process. We really knowing that Emma Thompson — we went after her. She was very much the first choice for the role because you needed the stature of a queen and yet the warmth and humor of a mother. You need to be able to make this character appealing and likeable because you really could have gone too far the other way if you’re not careful. So they brought a ton to the role. But, unfortunately like you were saying they were working separate from each other. You can probably speak more about how you crafted that.

Mark: So, so what we do is animation is this — it’s very unique in the film world because we’re working out of context because we have to build everything from scratch, everything. I mean the air, the mist that I put in is from scratch, right? So we’re building our characters from scratch and every sense of the design to help support the story. So even with these performances we’re building from scratch from the actors aren’t there to feed off of each other, right? So I have to get them to say the lines in very subtle different ways a lot more because I don’t have them in the room and I can’t say okay, Kelly, Emma let’s do the scene again and Kelly you’re not gonna give up inch of what you want and Emma, you’re not gonna give up an inch of what you want either and be even more aggressive and let’s see what happens.

You know, you can kind of work in those, that chemistry and find those happy accidents. Animation is devoid of happy accidents. Animation is devoid of organics. So how do I get that in? I have to construct that as a director by projecting ahead and I give them enough to feed the scene because I know about what it’s going to be about. For example, the argument. I know they’re pleading their case because it’s a desperate time so they go in with that but there’s so much little subtleties in performance that I can get out so I have them say the lines differently so that when I’m back in editorial and I have now Emma next to Kelly and I can say oh, that was a great line from Emma.

This one from Kelly that I got doesn’t work anymore. Let’s go through all her lines and find that one that’s just combative enough or, or weakening a bit and things like that and that’s how you build upon, build a performance out of it.

Q. Do you go back and redo certain parts?
Mark: Sometimes. I may find, you know, because we get them in the studio. We have so many sessions with them and we’re doing rewrites all the time just in the story. It’s not like it’s locked. Like movie done. Now, record. Recording, done. Now, animate. Animation, done.

Katherine: That would be nice.

Mark: That would be nice. It doesn’t ever, ever work like that because we’re building context. And as soon as we see it, we go oh, oh, this scene really blows. I gotta do this again. This doesn’t work at all. I need to go completely different direction so I have to get there and write up the other, the next scene. So we get back in there. We may have a perfect line from Kelly but Emma’s line in response I don’t have anything that’s remotely. But now that I know I can go back and pick her up and say, okay we’ll get this one again and da, da, da, da and this is where it’s coming from. Oh, yeah. And they’re great at doing that.

Q. Did you spend time in Scotland?
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. We spend a lot of times in Scotland. We had two different research troops there I mean ‘cause we can get a lot of stuff on line and pictures and things like that and I’m very read about the histories and stuff. So but that only takes you so far. The things that you discover when you’re actually in the place is invaluable and I know a lot of writers, you know, who write historical fictions and stuff. They go and visit these places to get to know them on an intimate level because there may be a bit of detail that they can pull from there, you know.

Uh, we talked to the people. You know, we were talking to gypsies and we were talking to, uh, they were these girls. Our waitresses at this one restaurant on the isle of Harris and Lewis who were singing Gaelic songs a cappella to us and making us cry.

Katherine: While serving us dessert.

Mark: While serving us dessert. I mean other people were eating going what the hell is going on?

Katherine: We were able to experience how open everybody was there. Like will you tell us a story? Oh, I’ll tell you a great story. Or sing a song. Oh, I got five songs. You know, just whereas here in the United States, will you sing me a song? Oh, I couldn’t do that, you know, I don’t wanna. You know, it’s very, very open storytelling culture and we tried to use every bit of that in the film.

Mark: Yeah, and that’s one thing that you discover as being there is not only how varied the landscape is, how unique it is, uh, there’s all the science that’s going on there right now in Scotland because of its unique ecosystem that doesn’t take place anywhere else in the world. You know, it was buried by eyes for millions of years and the way it looks is because when the ice were treated, the glaciers took all the soft rock with it and that’s why you have this very, you know, rounded shapes and deep rocks and trenches and, you know, on the forest and stuff. But it’s, it’s the stories that come out of there as well. It just, it just springs forth. It’s so fertile field of story time. You can understand why fairies and the King Arthur legends and all these things come out of this landscape.

Q. Was the bear always a part of the story?
Katherine: Yeah from the beginning. I mean we wanted to make sure that the transformation, this idea of wanting to change your family, change your mom, change your surroundings, change your circumstances. Obviously any teenager can probably relate to that but changing this mother into somebody who was huge and imposing and who could be hunted by father, you know, was a really cool concept to us and then changing mom into something that couldn’t speak. We never wanted to do a Scooby Doo type thing where you can kind of make out what she’s saying. Like all she can do is pantomime. She cannot speak. She has to listen and these two who don’t listen to each other are reached a point where they can’t help but learn from each other and keeping mom unable to communicate her voice was part of that.

Mark: I mean and what, what animal protects their child more than a mother bear? I mean I’ll get in front of a female lion and her cuts. Probably I’ll get killed but not as bad as a mother bear. I just need to see the cub in real life and go as far the other way as I can because that thing is gonna be relentless and that was kind of one of the themes …

Katherine: … protection …

Mark: … that we were working with is that the child misunderstands this love of the parent, you know. And then what Eleanor has to learn is, is a parent, you know, of this child who’s becoming an adult this is that last stage where we can’t parent. We have to back off and get our hands free and let them fall and get into trouble and get hurt because that’s what makes them — that crucible’s what makes them what we’ve become, you know, and have those life lessons. That’s what Eleanor has to learn.

Katherine: The term, mama bear, exists for a reason. You know, that really is that protective, you know, maternal bear thing.

Q. How long did the entire process take?
Mark: Principle photography? Two years. The entire process?

Katherine: The entire process? Eight years because the first pitch, because the process includes early development and pitch when there’s only two people on the movie, you know, a writer and a director. So 2004 Brenda Chapman pitched this story about her six year old daughter and the relationship that they were having. And it didn’t really get a green light until later in 2006 because she sort of works it and starts developing the Scottish setting. And I came on in the end of 2006 and Mark and Brenda and I and the team went to Scotland in August of 2006 and that was when production started so six years from there. Yeah, it’s, you know, what?

It’s a family. I think that’s why it’s good to start with a research trip because you better get a bond and you better love each other ‘cause you’re in it together the whole time and it gets hard, really, really hard. But there’s a lot of love and trust and a lot of collaboration so to see you through.

Mark Andrews and Katherine Sarafian were a pleasure to chat with. There is a great chemistry between them and at times they even finish each others sentences and thoughts. After speaking with them and seeing the film ‘Brave’ it is clear that these two are a film making team to be reckoned with.

Katherine Sarafian and Mark Andrews with the #BraveCarsLandEvent Bloggers

interview with brave directors

Photo Credit: Louise Bishop

Disney Pixar’s BRAVE is currently in theaters everywhere.

Also available in Disney Digital 3D!

Connect with BRAVEBrave on Facebook, @DisneyPixar, #BraveCarsLandEvent

Disney/Pixar provided me with travel and accommodations. All thoughts are my own.

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