I’m The Incredibles 2 director Brad Bird’s last interview of the day. Bird and Incredibles 2 producer John Walker are holed up inside a nondescript media room in the Steve Jobs building of Pixar’s sprawling Emeryville, California campus.
As I wait my turn, I watch as other journalists disappear behind the door and without fail moments later I hear Bird’s voice booming indistinctly through the plaster walls. Bird isn’t yelling in anger or frustration as far as I can tell, he’s just yelling because…well, that’s what he does.
Bird is passionate about The Incredibles 2, the work he does at Pixar, and seemingly everything else in the world. There’s no topic too myopic or too broad to generate an excited, enthusiastic response. Eventually it was my time to enter the yelling chamber containing Bird and Walker in the Steve Jobs building. Here is what we chatted about.
Den of Geek: In this kind of modern era of streaming, you don’t often see very many DVDs packed to the brim with special features. Is that something that’s always been important to you guys and to Pixar in general?
Brad Bird: Yes. It’s something that’s hard if you don’t get as much time to do them now because the windows are so short, and usually you have to start producing that stuff while you’re doing the movie, and you’re already exhausted. But you sort of have to make yourself available to record things. I think that we had more time on The Incredibles disc to do all these weird things. There’s even the superhero files on The Incredibles Blu-ray that a lot of people don’t get to, but it actually … we reward you if you get to it and just listen to the sound of all these other superheroes that died in the film. There’s actually interviews. But absolutely. People ask, “Where do you aim these films?” And it’s like we aim them at ourselves. We’re not trying to entertain kids or some group out there. We’re trying to make something that we would want to see. And I think that goes for the Blu-rays too. Everybody here loves movies. All kinds of movies. That’s why we bring in filmmakers all the time to talk about their movies, and they run the gamut from the tiniest budget independent film to gargantuan Hollywood things. And people also here … most people here are Blu-ray fanatics who love their discs, and they want to have the kind of disc that they would want to see. So we do put a lot of effort into them.
John Walker: One thing that we’ve always tried to do on those things is to make the documentaries or the featurettes about making the film more like what it really is to make the films, which is chaotic and angry and weird.
BB: Yeah. And on the first film, the Pixar making-of films, we were kind of watching them, and they’re fine and they’re good and they’re informative, and they’re the films that people wanted to make. But I saw it and I felt like it isn’t us going around on scooters and saying, “Good day, so-and-so. Have a happy day. I’m just hap-hap-happy to be here at Pixar.” I mean, it is that. We are happy to be here. But these films are hard and people have opinions, and they are smart and they are passionate, and they don’t agree a lot of the time.
The films are people asserting their creativity in a way that is sometimes confrontational. And everybody’s friends at the end of it. But everybody cares and they all have different perspectives to bring, which is the strength. But it also means that doing one of these movies is a little like a war sometimes, and we wanted to show that on the first film. So we showed some arguments happening and stuff like that. At first, people were really nervous here about it. But we said, “Look, by the end of it, we’re all still friends and collaborators and want to work with each other again. But the proof is in the end result. It’s good that we disagree. It’s good that we fight it out. It makes the stuff stronger.”
With that in mind then, what is your favorite feature that’s going to be on the DVD? Which one do you think hews closest to that, that final vision of getting the realness out there as it were?
JW: I mean, I like the one about the parents (“The Paths to Pixar”) I think it is. People talk really honestly about how difficult it is to have a young family and to be working here, and how they try to balance that. I think that that’s really honest about … and that that’s something that’s thematic for the film. I mean, we’re talking about parenthood in the film to a large degree.
BB: And work/family balance.
JW: Work/family balance. And here are people that are going, “Jeez, we’ve got these two kids at home, and we’re both working here.” I think there’s one married couple that talk about one night she would stay late, and the next night he’d stay late, and they’d figure out how to make all that work. And that seems honest.
BB: Yeah. And how difficult it is to do your job as well, and you are passionate about it. But not suck as a parent. Also give your parents what they need. I think that’s good. I think there’s a thing on there with Sam (Jackson) that is Sam talking about how he relates to superhero movies, and that’s, I think, a really touching little film. He’s got a very unique perspective on it. We do some things where we break down certain scenes, and you just see a bunch of us who worked on the thing kind of just shooting the shit on …I shouldn’t say… well, you’re Den of Geek. You’re okay.
You’re good. I can do whatever I want.
BB: Okay. So shooting the shit about the challenges of a scene, and it’s done in a way that’s casual. We’re all friends and collaborators
JW: We want it to be honest – as honest as we can make it. I really like that about the DVDs that we’ve made. I mean, some of the stuff I can’t watch because it’s so embarrassing. It’s like, “I actually did that?” “I just said that?” And it’s going to live. But it’s true. It’s like we’re not always at our best all of the time, and I like seeing that. It makes me feel-
BB: You mean we’re human?
You guys will probably have an interesting perspective on this then. I mean, one thing I’ve been talking with people a lot about this week is the concept of family So I think with you guys probably have a very solid perspective on what the concept of a family is. Would you describe your Pixar environment as familial?
BB: Yes, in all the good and bad ways that that is, you know. Making a movie is somewhat intimate because you are … if you’re doing something new and/or hard, people invest in it, they make mistakes, which is part of the process of making anything is making mistakes and finding a way to solve them. But it also means that you’re in a pressure cooker and you’re around people under stress. So how you treat that, I always try to have an atmosphere of humor on the film. Making jokes and stuff incessantly to let people know that this can still be fun. We have a relaxed kidding atmosphere because I think if you’re doing something important, it’s important to stay loose and to have fun. And so I think that you go through these things you get closer. Like a family, I suppose.
JW: As the company’s gotten bigger, we have a larger HR department. We have more structure about reviews. And one of the things … I was sitting in a meeting and we were talking about trying to get a scale for leadership, for leaders on different films and certain boxes that should be … It was very intricate and there’s lots of-
BB: Smart people trying to figure it out.
JW: Lots of little steps you’re supposed to take. And it was like, “Well, what about a sense of humor? What about courage? What about basic human things?” If you’re leading a group of people that are making some collective creative thing, you need those things. You need a sense of humor. You need courage. You need to be able to stand up and be heard. I think that those are two things that we really really try to model and push.
BB: One thing that you’re constantly told as a director is you never let anyone see if you are not sure. You don’t ever show that you’re not sure. And I thought about that a little bit, but I always felt like, “No, I’m wrestling with something. I want everyone to understand what I’m wrestling with. And I want to clarify what the problem is. What I like about where we are, what I don’t like, and where are we headed.” But admitting to the group sometimes I don’t have the answer and saying, “I don’t have the answer, but here’s what I know. I know it’s not this. I know it’s not that. I know there is where we want to be.” Opening it up.
Instead of ripping me apart and getting really insecure, I felt like it made everyone feel stronger because they privately have doubts, too, and we’re all in it together. It was actually a strengthening thing to say, “I don’t have it totally figured out right here. I have this figured out. I have that figured out. I know we need to do this. But I don’t know exactly how we get that, yet.” People bonded over that, you know. It made people feel included on the process because I’m not just in a room with the door closed, which sometimes I need to be. I need to not have everybody’s opinion for a bit because after a while it only confuses you because you have 100 different examples of how the movie could be great that is not what you’re doing now. And you go, “Great.” You make that movie someday. But this one is going to be like this. And you have to be very firm in yourself and know what you want. But I think it’s also okay to show people that you have some things that you don’t know the answer to, yet. You will, but you’re inviting them into that process.
How do you balance the challenges of being in charge of a big overarching story with big themes … with getting so specific, the little details?
BB: Yeah. Well, sometimes the difference between a scene working and not working is the tiny little thing. I remember when we first came on the first movie, the first sequence that happened to go through boarding in Incredibles was the argument between Bob and Helen. So here’s this stuff where they’re kind of yelling at each other, and Pixar doesn’t know what kind of movie I’m gonna make. I mean, they think they know because I pitched it and there were these cool superheroes and all this. But this is two grown-up people talking in their house, and where’s the super? Where’s the fun? Is he gonna do a two-hour Bergman movie?
And they said, “This is really … Bob’s really bullying her, you know. You gotta change the dialogue. You gotta rewrite it.” And I’m sitting there, kinda, “Okay.” They’re not buying it. They feel like Bob’s bullying her, and I gotta rewrite it. And I look at all the lines, and I go, “That one’s right. And that’s what she would say. And he would respond with this.” And I looked at it and I go, “I don’t see what needs to change,” and then I realized it’s because Bob on screen is massive, and she’s small.
So all I did was change when she says, “This is not about you,” she stretches and looms over him. I changed that one thing. I didn’t change one line, one comma, anything. I showed it again to them and they said, “Wow. What a great rewrite. You did a great job rewriting it. I totally understand it and I buy it.” And they said, “So, when I told you, what did you change?” I said, “I didn’t change a word. All I had her do is physically represent that she’s not intimidated by him and that she’s an equal.” By stretching. Well, that tells you their relationship.
He needs somebody like that, just like I needed … I’m a strong personality. I needed someone like my wife who is absolutely like that. If she has a different point of view and she feels like I’m not seeing it, she asserts it. That’s what I need. I need that. So that one change, which was not in the script, got one physical change, which is a tiny thing, made the scene work.
The Incredibles 2 is available for digital download now and will be released on DVD on November 6.
Read and download the Den of Geek NYCC 2018 Special Edition Magazine right here!