Darla K Anderson interview: Toy Story 3, Pixar, test screening and sequels

Toy Story 3 producer Darla K Anderson talks to us about the pressures of Pixar, Toy Story 3 and the growing strength of the competition...

Ahead of the glitzy London premiere of the film last weekend, we had a chance to chat with Toy Story 3 producer Darla K. Anderson. A veteran of Pixar productions such as A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc. and Cars, Anderson filled us in on the how Pixar approached the big hitting sequel, as well as the appeal of franchises, and the pressures inherent in toying with beloved characters.

Financially, the idea of a Toy Story sequel is a no-brainer, but was it an easy project to handle from a producer’s point of view?

Both Lee and I felt a lot of pressure to make a good movie, because neither of us wanted to be attached to anything that wasn’t of the highest standard in this Toy Story line. So, yeah, we worked so, so hard to make a movie that would be worthy of standing alongside the two films.

How did Pixar go about crafting this sequel, as opposed to creating an original film?

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We went about it in exactly the same way. Each film that we do is about story, and so the advantage that we had on Toy Story 3 is that we had the protagonists. We know who Buzz and Woody and Jessie and the gang are, so it’s really hard to figure out a really interesting protagonist.

But, we had a huge challenge in that we had to make a film that was worthy of this franchise. And then because of the story we chose to tell, there was a ton of characters. And each of those characters had to be brilliantly portrayed, and not have it feel belaboured in our filmmaking craft. There was quite a complex story to tell to make it seem effortlessly told.

There’s definitely a move in the industry towards sequels, or franchise development, or a focus on bankable properties like remakes and reboots. And Pixar has a production slate that is, at the moment, sequel heavy. Do you think that will harm the creativity or originality that the company has become known for?

I mean, we don’t do any film if we don’t have a producer and a director who is really passionate about it, and they’re really excited about the project. And that’s critical.

And, obviously fans love sequels, and in a perfect world all sequels will be better than the last, because the audience is there for them. And I think that the onus is on us, as filmmakers, to take care of our audiences, and make sure that we’ve given them a quality experience.

But, surely the fans’ appreciation of the films puts a lot of pressure on you. And critics must contribute, too. There’s a lot of goodwill and adulation heaped on Pixar and there aren’t many creators, or creative teams, and certainly no production companies that get such recognition in the industry.

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Sure, there’s pressure, whether you’re doing Toy Story or any film. Everybody at Pixar… we’re victims of our own success. Pixar does have a lot of goodwill. And it’s a little scary.

We’re very high profile, so it’s like we’re living in a fishbowl, so people can see what you’re doing. But in an interesting way, with Toy Story 3, it felt very much like the original Toy Story, in that it was an underdog. And maybe people weren’t expecting it to be as good as it turned out to be.

And when the reviews started coming in, and almost everybody reacted to it in the way we wanted to, it was very similar to me as that Toy Story experience.

You never know, even if you like the film, how people are going to react to it. You cannot control it. So, it was a very satisfying, and similar, experience.

It is interesting that you say it is similar to the first Toy Story, which was a very innovative and pioneering film. In the ensuing fifteen years, Pixar has been at the forefront of animation, while other companies have been either inconsistent or slow to catch up. However, the Academy Awards last year had a very strong Animated category. Are you aware of your competition when you make films at Pixar? I think that quality has improved, and that’s great. Personally, I have a very expansive view about film in general, and animation in general. I am happy when I see other people succeed, and I think that there’s room for a lot of good art, and a lot of good film. And I think that when you make a good movie, people come and see it. I don’t think you can crowd the market with too much excellence in any way.

People seem to think that Pixar has a golden touch, and have a special knack in creating polished films. Do you test screen work-in-progress films? And make changes based on the reactions?

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We do. It’s a part of our process. And mostly because we spend four years on these films, and you get so close to it that it’s hard to find a fresh audience within Pixar.

I think it’s really healthy to get the film out there in time to change something if the audience isn’t connecting with it.  But we won’t compromise our story. We won’t pander to people. We just want to make sure that they’re understanding what we’re trying to do. And that the pacing is right.

It’s more along those lines, getting exact feedback from people. It was interesting with this film. We debated whether we should test it or not, because it was going well, and everybody at Pixar is overly pure about everything. We just really didn’t want the plot out there, and the minute you show it to a preview audience, the fear is that, now, a year ahead of time, the plot’s going to leak, and it’s going to spoil it for people! We really want people to have a fresh experience.

But somehow, that didn’t happen. We asked people not to talk about it, and they didn’t.

Darla K Anderson, thank you for your time.

Toy Story 3 is out now.

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