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SBIFF: Quint has JOHN CARTER OF MARS info from Andrew Stanton! Plus words from writers McCarthy, Knott and Black!

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with a quick recap of the Writer’s Panel at this year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival. These have typically been my favorite things about this festival. Unfortunately, the sheer number of writer/directors out here this year negated the need for the director’s panel, which was the source of great entertainment and the origin of the word “Schnabelicious” last year (click here to read all about it!). The writer’s panel was smaller, but very fun.

Left to right: Wonder Woman of Variety and Moderator Ann Thompson Writer of APPALOOSA, Robert Knott Writer/Director of THE VISITOR, as well as actor in his own right, Tom McCarthy Writer/Director/Genius behind WALL-E, Andrew Stanton Young Writer of MILK, Dustin Lance Black Let me get the newsworthy stuff out of the way and then I’ll hit up some of the more entertaining tidbits gleaned from the panel. I was able to attend a luncheon before the panel and sat with Tom McCarthy and Andrew Stanton. Of course John Carter of Mars had to come up. He also elaborated on the panel, but here’s what’s going on with JOHN CARTER OF MARS: - It is live action. - “It is huge, it is exciting, it scares the crap out of me. It’s either going to make me or break me.” - It is NOT a Pixar movie, rather a Disney film. However Stanton’s creative team from Pixar are all still involved. - The style is going to be very real, not highly stylized. He said that 20 some years ago that version could have been made, but since Star Wars and a whole glut of science fiction and fantasy films have ripped off giant portions of JCOM over the years the only option he sees is doing a straight up, realistic version of the story. He described it as if it was a National Geographic crew that stumbled across a preserved civilization while exploring a cave. Very real, but awe-inspiring. - He is not planning nor wanting to shoot it 3-D (thank God… I love James Cameron, and I think AVATAR is going to be amazing, but I’m getting tired of every big event movie being 3-D), but thinks Disney might want to push him towards it. - Stanton has been a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs since he was a kid, so while he won’t have the same kind of development time on this one as he had on his animated movie he looks at it as him living with the story in his brain for 40 plus years instead of the 6-8 of his animated films. - He has his second draft done and will be casting soon. - John Carter WILL be a Civil War soldier. That’s about all I can remember about John Carter. Let’s move on to the rest of the panel.

Knott said that he is working with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen now on trying to get started on another movie based on Robert Parker’s characters in APPALOOSA, that there are Parker books left following Cole and Hitch. There was a lot of talk about character vs. plot. What’s more important? Stanton said the his motto is plot is the way to get to your character, recalling coming in to save TOY STORY 2 a year before release. It took four years to write the first one, but because he knew the characters so well by the time he was called in to do a complete rehaul on TS2 a year from release that he was able to nail down what we all know was a great follow-up in under 3 months. On THE VISITOR and the casting of Richard Jenkins, Tom McCarthy said he talked to Richard and said he wrote the role for one of two people. It was either going to be Richard Jenkins or Young Gene Hackman… and Young Gene Hackman wasn’t available. The dreaded “advice for aspiring writers” question came up and there were actually two really good answers. One, from Stanton, was “Be wrong as fast as you can.” He obviously subscribes to the “nothing good is written, only rewritten” philosophy. Robert Knott had an equally great answer: “Drink a lot.” Dustin Lance Black, writer of MILK, was asked about Prop 8 and if he had any regrets on the movie coming out after that vote. Black said that both he and Gus were pushing for the movie to be released earlier, but it just realistically couldn’t happen with the post schedule.

He said his bigger regret was that they couldn’t have released the film this time last year. Black thinks that there wouldn’t have even been a vote if they had, that it only succeeded because the gay and lesbian community didn’t think it could happen. The response from people having watched the movie is nothing short of shock as they realize that as much as they think the times have changed, Harvey Milk in 1978 was able to do more in a time everybody assumes is radically more homophobic than today. And Stanton will close out this article as well, with some WALL-E trivia, which might be super known, but they were new to me (forgive me for not combing over every disc of the Blu-Ray). The reason for the humans in WALL-E came down to a simple decision for Stanton. He was dead-set on keeping HELLO DOLLY, having WALL-E watching the actual movie, which meant that it would not have made any sense for the president of that era to be CG. So the decision was made to have any human from the HELLO DOLLY, pre-launch, era. He acknowledges that it’s a divisive aspect to the movie, but that was his thought process. The original title was TRASH PLANET, but Steve Jobs really put pressure to change the title. Stanton stood his ground at first (McCarthy shot in: “Yeah, what does Steve Jobs know about marketing?”), but eventually realized that calling the movie WALL-E made much more sense since it was all based on one idea for a character to start with.

On the fat humans on the Axiom, Stanton said his original concept was more PLANET OF THE APES that the humans had evolved (or de-evolved in this case) into more gelatinous, green beings that didn’t remember they were humans. He acknowledged that wouldn’t work as well, so he kept them humans, wanting the ability they’ve forgotten was love. They’re all very childlike and innocent, which was the initial idea of the grown babies. He said you’ll see the small ears, peach fuzz, etc. All babies. That idea was solidified by the NASA expert consulting on the project who said that the main reason NASA isn’t gung-ho on sending a man to Mars is because the trip would greatly and permanently reduce bone density, literally resulting in the same effect as described in WALL-E. The NASA expert also said that Kubrick had it right, needing a constant spinning device that keeps the pressure of centrifugal force, but that would cost too much to actually execute and that NASA is currently working on a chemical short-cut that would trick the body into stopping the bone density loss. This wasn’t enough for Jeff Wells, apparently, who was first at the mic to ask why Stanton is keeping the political answer when it’s clear to anybody that the “big, fat Teletubbies in the third act” were a commentary on modern middle-American culture. Stanton seemed calm in his response, saying that he honestly never intended that, that he never regionalized it in his mind. He thought of it more as a representation of the human condition. It does imply a state of complacency if mankind forgot the point of living, but it was always universal. Stanton believes the only point in living is love and he was enamored with the poetry of a piece of metal, a machine, being the last thing in the Universe that was keeping that flame alive. He followed that up saying that the only conscious commentary was in how technology can be used, so easily and unconsciously, to distract people and disconnect people from simple human interaction. Stanton concluded saying that he didn’t have any agenda with the movie. People accuse the film of having a green agenda, but that aspect of the film was written almost 8 years ago when the country wasn’t on this kick, where the headlines were all concerned about global warming and obesity. He’s happy that these issues are being explored, but he was nervous when the headlines started aligning to the movie he wrote because he says he hates being preached to in movies and didn’t want anyone to think that’s what was happening with WALL-E. There was even a period of time where he thought about changing some of the movie, but he decided not to because he didn’t want to make any cuts out of fear. He got a huge round of applause. It was a really entertaining panel, yet again. Although I did miss Julian Schnabel, I have to be honest. Stanton was great, articulate and passionate, McCarthy was hilarious, Knott was gruff and funny and Black was very intelligent and a fresh voice being so young.

Hope you guys enjoyed the discussion! Be back soon with some reviews! -Quint

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