Roy Conli interview: Big Hero 6, reading & Tangled 2

Producer Roy Conli chats to us about the lack of guns in Big Hero 6, and the aborted attempt to get Tangled 2 off the ground...

We’ve chatted to Roy Conli a couple of times at Den Of Geek, and there’s always plenty to dig into. His current film, Big Hero 6, has just been Oscar and BAFTA-nominated, while as it turns out, Disney did start exploring a possible Tangled 2. And he tells us why it never happened.

Here’s how our chat went…

I’m the person who sits and reads end credits, and there’s a message in the ones for Big Hero 6 that says ‘Thanks Andy, we miss you’. We try, on the site, to talk about the stories behind such dedications, and I wonder if you’d mind talking about why this film carries such a dedication?

It’s a little emotional.

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We had a young man working with us, who we lost. It was Andy, and he was helping us in the marketing department. It was surprising and sudden. He was relatively young, and unfortunately we lost him.

We’re talking about a film about loss. One of the things in it that I wanted to make sure of was that the message we sent to him did not throw the audience. He was a lovely, lovely man.

You seem to have made a conscious point here to make a comic book movie without guns. It would have been easy to go the same way and get the same rating. So was that a day one decision? Were there any other boundaries that you set yourself?

It’s really interesting. I don’t think there was ever a discussion in the room that we were going to do it without guns. But I think there was a common awareness that if we could, it’d be really great. Obviously in America, guns are a different issue to how they are over here…

Well, American Sniper is the biggest January opening ever in America!

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Yeah. Which, you know…

We’re sat in the UK wondering what just happened!

Exactly.

There was never a discussion about it, though, but there was a common desire that it would happen that way, I think.

Was it an easy desire? Was there a point where it changed the film?

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Because of the construct of the film, it wasn’t necessary. It just wasn’t. Particularly as we were talking about a villain who was brilliant, and a superteam of heroes that was brilliant. You don’t need guns. The mind is the greatest weapon in the world.

We did a Q&A with you after a screening of Big Hero 6 the other week, and your advice to those audience looking to break into film was one word: “read”. Now that a lot of animation tools are far more accessible, are you getting a sense that people who are coming through schools, colleges and universities are far more proficient technically, but perhaps a little less proficient as storytellers?

You know, it’s funny, because I think storytelling is a craft. I think that one of the things you have to do to become a storyteller is spend a lot of time reading stories. I don’t get the sense that people are any less or more right now. I give that piece of advice because it changed my life.

So who gave the advice to you?

A guy by the name of Bob Gilbert, a great mentor who became a great friend. I was in my undergraduate year, I think I was a freshman. I was studying theatre at the time, and he pulled me aside and said ‘read more’. I was all about, at that time, performance. He just said ‘read more’.

It was the greatest lesson. I read, but I became really… once I started understanding structure, which only happens once you start reading, that changed my career, and the direction of it. It is the fundamental tool with which I work.

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Did it change the quantity you read, or the breadth?

Probably both. It’s interesting, because I can remember, for me, I took a renaissance literature course. I find now I read way more historical stuff than I do dramatic literature. I’m a big non-fiction fan. But that feeds me. When I was a kid, I loved history, because history to me was a big story.

This is the bit now where you tell me Big Hero 6 was based on a true story?

Yeah! [Laughs] You didn’t know that?!

Tangled

Appreciating you can’t talk specifics of unannounced projects, I do wonder if Walt Disney Animation Studios, as a broader entity, is a little less sequel-averse these days? In recent years there’s been a procession of films that could segue into other stories. Has the studio got its sequel confidence back, since the wrecking ball of the straight to DVD sequel era?

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Yeah, and those were so separate from what we were doing.

They weren’t even done in the same building.

Yeah. It was a different studio.

The film industry is kind of rife with [sequels] right now. The sequel is something that is very much in demand from certain business units. I think sequels are fine if there’s a story, so I think when there is a property that is worthy of a sequel, it could very well happen!

Would it be fair to say that conversations are more prevalent now than, say, five years ago?

In terms of sequels? No, not really. Five years ago?

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Tangled time.

Ah, talking about Tangled. Well Tangled, there was a desire to somehow take it into a filmic sequel. But the directors weren’t really interested in doing that. Her hair was gone! There you go!

But it grows back!

Not in my case!

At the moment, The Rescuers Down Under sits out as the anomaly amongst Walt Disney Animation Studio projects.

And that was a totally different era!

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Last question, then. Obviously you’re nominated for Oscars, BAFTAs, umpteen awards for Big Hero 6. If you win, are you going to put a random word into your acceptance speech?

A random word?

Yeah.

You’ve piqued my curiosity!

I tried this last year with the Frozen team. I think we came up with the word pineapple or something.

Did they do it?

No. To be fair, they had a far more appropriate acceptance speech. But if you win one, and get a keyword in, I’ll give a pound to the charity of your choice.

A pound? Excellent, excellent!

High stakes, I know. How about the word ‘sofa’?

I’ll get the word ‘sofa’ in there.

Definitely?

Okay. I’ll do it.

Roy Conli, thank you very much

Big Hero 6 is out now in UK cinemas.