Published at: Oct. 29, 2007, 6:09 p.m. CST by headgeek
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here. A couple weeks back, Jerry Seinfeld brought about 25 minutes of clips from BEE MOVIE to Chicago as part of a joint presentation with the films co-directors Steve Hickner and Simon J. Smith. After the presentation, I got a chance to sit down with the directors (that interview is coming soon) and well as take part in a small-ish roundtable with Mr. Seinfeld himself. During the presentation, Jerry also answered a few questions from the audience and described how the idea that sparked his doing the movie in the first place was nothing more than a title that he shared with Dreamworks head Steven Spielberg, who in turn told Jerry to start writing. So the first question relates to that initial conversation. Jerry did a little comedy during his presentation in front of a mixed audience of writers and the public, but during tour interview, he was pretty serious about the process that went into getting this movie made. That's where we begin…
Question: So, how seriously did you take Steven Spielberg when he suggested that you take this idea and run with it? The origins of this whole movie just screams “Hollywood urban legend.”
Jerry Seinfeld: It does sound like one of those made-up stories, I agree, but it actually happened. I did not take it seriously; I didn’t think that I’m going to make a movie about bees. Do they really want that? Could I do that? How would I do it? I’m not moving back to L.A. Then they explained it to me. When you go to that studio and you look at these images and they show you how they do it and what they can do to create this whole world and create characters that look any which way that you want--I think what got to me was that you could let your imagination run wild here and do anything you wanted. You can’t do that really even if you are making KING KONG--there are limits to what you can do--but there are no limits animation.
I thought, “Gee, what would it be like to bring my kind of humor into that kind of visual environment?” That was when I started to get interested and that is when I wanted to make it. I wanted to see if I could do it because it was a very different challenge from anything that I had done before. I knew I could make a regular movie--that is basically a TV show, only longer--but with this, could I create the visual elements that you needed and could I do something that I wanted to do that kids would get and like? Also, these movies are works of pure imagination. You aren’t even dealing with a known universe; you have to invent the entire universe. What does he know? What can he do? What can’t he do? Can he talk to just her, or can he talk to anyone? How far can he fly? Every single thing is something that you have to decide, you know? The sheet of paper was so blank that I just couldn’t resist it.
Capone: You said that you could make a regular movie. How did you know that since you haven’t made one since the end of the TV show?
JS: Well, I thought that I would know how to go about it--I would take the same approach that I took with the TV show. But I never wanted to; it just wasn’t exciting or different enough. I was just tired of looking at scripts and auditioning actors. I know that maybe that sounds silly, but I don’t think people knew how involved I was or they didn’t know what it is to work on a television show seven days a week for nine years. You just kind of get tired of the process of it because you know it so well. It just didn’t excite me. I had made 90 hours [of the show]--90 hours is a whole career and to make another hour and a half for what? To prove what?
Question: Why do you think that bees have been so under represented in movies, at least as heroes, and why are they so misunderstood?
JS: I think people didn’t know how to handle the stinger aspect--I think that is what is intimidating about them. They are carrying a weapon and they will not hesitate to use it. They do have a very dark side, and there is a fear of bees along with a fascination, and that is what made them interesting characters for me.
Question: One element of “Seinfeld” that people enjoyed was the fact that the characters were not nice most of the time, that was the thing that made them funny and made them real. Are you enjoying reversing expectations with this movie?
JS: You mean because the bee character is nicer than the guy I played on the show? Is that what you're referring to?
Question: Well, people normally see bees as a negative thing while TV sitcom heroes are usually nice people. What interests you about taking that normal perception and inverting it?
JS: See, I wouldn’t say that I’ve inverted it. Maybe I have a slightly different version of the character that I played on the show--this character is more innocent and altruistic. He does care about the other bees and wants to help them and wants to do his part. He isn’t selfish.
Question: He does go a little Che Guevera there at one point. . .
JS: Yes, but that is in the middle part. In the middle, he decides that they have been wronged and that he is going to fight for what he sees is justice. However, it doesn’t lead to where you think it is going to go. That's our favorite thing about the movie--you can’t get ahead of it. There is no way that anyone can get ahead of it. It takes a series of left turns, and that was what was fun to create.
Question: Did you have any particular cinematic inspirations for how you structured the film?
JS: A little bit. I started with “The Graduate,” which is my favorite movie--you can see that we imitated it in one scene. There is some similarity in the situation--he has graduated from college, and his parents are expecting him to go to work in the factory like everyone else does but he isn’t so sure about it. There are some similarities there. The other movie, thematically, was “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying,” which is a story about how the company is everything. That is the bee life–they live for the company and die for the company. I guess those would be the inspirations.
Question: Can you talk a little about the actual process of writing the screenplay? In terms of structure and narrative flow, writing a screenplay is, after all, much different writing stand-up material or a sitcom script. What was it like to adjust to this different form of writing?
JS: Here is the problem with writing a movie, which is the hardest thing that I have ever done and something that I don’t think that I am really cut out for, to tell you the truth. I had to struggle quite a bit to make this thing work the way that I thought it should work. It was extremely challenging, so I think I do have to go back on my statement about how I knew I could do it. It was much harder than I thought it would be and I now have much more respect for filmmakers than I ever had before. I will never walk out of a movie and go “Ahh, junk!” These things are so damn hard to do that anyone that does one accomplishes a lot.
To answer your question, the challenge of making a movie vis a vis a television episode is that with a movie, you are making the pilot episode and the series finale all rolled into one , those are the two hardest episodes of any TV series. Those are the killers. The ones in the middle are actually pretty easy--people know the characters, you know what it is, and you are kind of putting out another issue of the same newspaper. A movie takes on the challenge of introducing you to the characters, involving you with them, telling this whole story and then leaving you in the perfect place. It is absurd, and I don’t know why anyone does it.
The other thing is that we have found that kids like it and grown-ups like it. I didn’t write it for kids. I wanted to make a comedy and use the look of CGI and whatever happened would happen. I don’t know how it happened but I feel that it has an across-the-board appeal to it. The last thing I wanted to do was make something totally accessible because that is always the trademark of something that stinks--if it works for everybody, it works for nobody. I don’t like those kind of generalized things like a ride at Disneyland that is totally broad-based but somehow, I seem to have stumbled into it.
Question: When you got involved with the film, what did you have to shift--what muscle was dormant that you finally had to use?
JS: The story muscle, which is my least favorite muscle. My favorite muscle is the joke muscle. We need this character to say something funny in this moment--that's when I want them to call me into the room. That's not the hard part of the movie, I found out. I didn’t know that when an audience goes into a darkened theater, they have a different investment than they do in a nightclub or in front of a television screen. It is a different mindset that they bring. They’ve gotten into their car. They’ve parked and walked. Maybe they’ve paid a babysitter. They’ve paid to get in. When people pay to get in, they are looking for a different story; they want a story that totally holds their attention. I am not by nature a storyteller. I am a stand-up comic. I like things short. It took me years on the TV show to learn how to tell a 22-minute story and I didn’t really like doing that either. I just like doing the lines in the scene. Larry [David] was great at doing the story, and that's why we were great partners.
Capone: I've been really fascinated with the marketing campaign for the film. First you had the live-action teaser trailers, then you showed up at Cannes in the bee costume, and now you have the TV Juniors on NBC. Whose ideas were these, and why are you doing the marketing in these unconventional ways?
JS: Because I can. They will let me do it. [laughs] The teaser trailers were expensive. We built a 90-foot windshield for one, and we got Spielberg for the second one because he owed me the favor. He made me make this movie, and now I'm going to make him do something that I want. I am in this unique position from the TV show where people will let me do things. I always like to give the audience different things. I’m really excited about the TV Juniors--the two we showed you were very early, and as went on with making those, we got better and better and some of them really work very well. I just think that it will be an interesting new quantity on television, a minute-15-second comedy show right in the middle of the commercials. I just like to see how different things hit people.
And as soon as it began, our time with Jerry was over. My interview with the directors is actually much longer and more informative, so stay tuned for that later this week.
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