Jon Heder and Zooey Deschanel Interviewed – SURF’S UP

     April 13, 2007

Yes I meant to post these interviews last weekend. I had a plan to get a ton of stuff up on Sunday and be caught up with everything. Then I got sick for a few days and I’m just now catching up. So to get you ready for the interview, here is what I posted when I did an article recently about the film.

What is Surf’s Up?

It’s a CGI animated penguin movie that Sony is putting out this summer. Now I’m sure a lot of you are thinking another penguin movie…didn’t we just see Happy Feet? The answer is while it is another penguin movie it’s nothing like Happy Feet, or for that matter, anything that’s been done before in animation.

When filmmakers make an animated movie they follow certain rules. The biggest one is to never have two actors recording their lines in the same room. They always record each voice actor separately, and sometimes two people who are acting in the same scene never meet until the day they’re doing press for the final product. It ends up that the editor of the film has to find a way to get an emotional performance out of the voice tracks, which can be quite a challenge.

What the filmmakers of Surf’s Up did was highly unconventional. Instead of having each actor record their lines separately, they would get everyone in a scene together and have them record their lines at the same time. What would happen is people would go over each other’s voices and the end result was a much more organic scene, one that sounded real.

Now with certain animated films this might not work. But Surf’s Up could allow this process due to what the film is about. The film is done like you are watching a documentary. You have characters talking to the camera, getting interviewed, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen from a big budget CGI film and I’ll say it looked great.

For the first time when watching an animated movie I thought the characters sounded real. The way they recorded the voices absolutely added to the actor’s ability to craft a performance.

Also when I interviewed the directors they said that tons of the movie was improvised and they would only tell the actors the outline of the scene, allowing them to bring their own ideas to the characters they were portraying.

One of the great stories they told was when Shia LaBeouf was supposed to be at the recording session with the people who played his parents and family. It ended up he was a bit late but the rest were already in the booth recording. When he arrived they sent him in and told the actors to act like his character was late for an interview that they were all supposed to do in their family home and what would they say to him. That scene was one they showed us when we saw some footage and it’s one that absolutely used the way they recorded the movie as an asset. You had voices over one another, yelling, it felt like a real scene rather than an animated one.

While we only got to see about fifteen minutes of the film I was really impressed with not only the animation but the way they are going to tell the story. Having the frame act as a camera is a great stylistic choice and it’s also quite original. Also some of the shots went in and out of focus as the person who was supposed to be filming was running to try and catch up with a character. Another great shot was when Shia LaBeouf’s character was on a surf board and the camera was mounted on the board with him so it couldn’t move but sometimes water would splash on the frame. It was a little touch but it worked quite well.

Sony has posted a trailer for Surf’s Up and it shows what I’m talking about with the camera and how they’re going to tell the story.

Now about those interviews….

If you’d like to listen to the Jon Heder and Zooey Deschanel interview click here.

I also have two interviews that I won’t be transcribing but you can listen to them as MP3’s. The first is with the Chris Buck &amp Ash Brennan (the Directors), Chris Jenkins (Producer) and the second is with Mario Cantone &amp Diedrich Bader. Each of them plays a character in the movie.

And without and more words from me, here is Jon and Zooey.

Is this the first time you’ve seen footage of the film?

Zooey: I’ve seen the whole movie. Once was good for me.

How does one go about playing a chicken and a penguin?

Jon: That’s the hardest question.

Zooey: I spent three months alone in a penguin cave, alone, unreachable.

Jon: I went to Antarctica and then realized I was a chicken so I had to go back to Michigan and check it out there.

How do you find the characters then?

Jon: Well, he’s a surfer dude and I don’t surf and I’m not a chicken so I had a lot of work ahead of me.

How long ago did you finish the voices?

Zooey: We’re still continuing.

Jon: I still have next week to do some more. It’s always broken up like every three months and you’ll forget like ‘okay, what’s goin’ on again?’

Zooey: And they’ll send you the pages.

You had a unique opportunity to work with other actors in the room recording voices. Have you both done animation before?

Zooey: I haven’t.

Jon: The other animation I did was motion capture so all the experience I’ve had was working with the other actors so I haven’t experience normal animation.

Did you just do a lot of ad-libbing?

Zooey: Yeah. There was a lot of improvisation.

Jon: It was supposed to be in that style of a documentary..

Zooey: Spinal Tap.

Jon: So, you had ideas and little lines but it was more like ‘okay, say this line and then just kind of riff’. Sometimes there was complete silence. I don’t know what to say.

Zooey: How was working with Jeff Bridges?

Jon: I didn’t get to work with him.

Zooey: Oh, yeah you had to work with all the little guys.

Jon: I got to work with all the little Penguins.

Zooey: working with Jeff was amazing. I’m such a huge fan of his. It was like a dream come true. It was even better because he’s so rad.

Did you have a backstory that you thought up for your characters?

Jon: They had a backstory. You’re a chicken from Michigan who surfs on a lake. I remember when I first came in to start practicing with the character, it was just more making stuff up so we kind of wrote it as we went. But, it’s so weird that it’s a chicken.

Growing up, what were the favorite animation movies for you two?

Zooey: Little Mermaid.

Jon: I loved Robin Hood and all those Disney ones.

Zooey: Sleeping Beauty, Snow White

Jon: The Secret of Nimh was pretty cool.

Did they sell you guys on the different documentary style here or how did you pick this one over any other animation choices?

Jon: I honestly loved the character design of my guy. Alright, penguins, that’s cool but I liked the chicken. I just liked the design. He looked reminiscent of a lot of old school animation. I just thought he looked so cool. ‘I’ve just got to do him’.

Did you guys go back and add any additional dialogue?

Jon: We added a whole musical number.

Zooey: [playing along] We had to take it out. Thanks a lot, Happy Feet. It used to be about dancing penguins.

Jon: And they made it about surfing. We’ll just switch it around, spend billions of dollars and make a change.

Did they put that line about ‘I don’t sing or dance’ in after Happy Feet?

Jon: I don’t’ know. That was Shia’s character.

Zooey: It could have been that they put that in but they didn’t talk to us about it.

Jon, what about your own animation projects with your brothers?

Jon: I’m not involved in any right now but we hope to get involved with some.

CGI or old-fashioned animation?

Jon: We’re not sure. I love CGI. I, technically am much better at CG myself, doing it on my own but we love.

Zooey: Are you an animator? No way.

Jon: Yeah, that’s what I originally did.

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Would you like to ask each other some questions? [Jon grabs my tape recorder and holds it over to Zooey].

Zooey: Okay, Jon, how did you get into animation?

Jon: Growing up I was into art and I loved movies and, when I got into college, I figured..

Zooey: It was a perfect marriage.

Jon: I loved it. And, then getting into acting, that’s really what animation is. It’s really just bringing a character to life whether it be through motion, or through your acting or your voice or whatever. That’s what really drew me into that world.

Are you guys doing Three Men Seeking Monsters? It’s live-action?

Jon: Oh, yes, it was just announced today which I didn’t know about. A book was optioned at Universal. It’s in very early development. It’s a cool book and we’re just trying to figure out what to do with it. Is it Three Men Seeking Monsters?

In Variety somebody optioned something for you?

Jon: I don’t know if I’ll be in it.

But you guys are producing?

Jon: Yeah

When you saw your characters did you come up with the voices right away? Did they show you pictures.

Zooey: You probably saw the wave test? That was very impressive to me. The wave was so beautiful. That kind of got me in.

Jon: Just seeing the character, the voice was already there.

Zooey: And they wanted it to be very natural. It wasn’t voicey.

Jon: [in high voice] Come’on Cody.

What was the most surprising thing you found about doing voices?

Jon: That it’s hard.

Zooey: How fun it was. It was so fun and relaxed. It was very laid back.

Jon: Especially when you don’t have a hardcore script. You just say whatever lines you get ..

Zooey: And then you just have fun.

Jon: Here’s your situation….now go!

Zooey: We had more time to work on the characters than any movie I’ve been involved with. Over three years.

Jon: And you start getting into certain territory and they like it so much they call you back a week or so or a month later, with ‘okay, now expand on that’. It was weird because, the weirdest thing was no script. After I signed on to the movie, I still didn’t see the script. I’m like ‘Can I see the script?’ and they’re like ‘we don’t really have one’.

Zooey: Yeah, they just formed it. It evolved. There was one character Arnold that I just started talking to. He wasn’t really even in there.

Jon: The little kid?

Zooey: Yeah, then they’re like ‘yes, we love Arnold’.

Jon: Did you make him up or was there a kid there?

Zooey: I think I called him Arnold. They’re like ‘there’s this little kid you have to save all the time’ and I just started calling him Arnold and they’re like ‘okay, yay, he’s Arnold’.

Jon: Do you remember the scene with the duckies behind me? That got cut out but I said stuff about ducks and I think they’re like ‘horrible but we like the idea of the ducks. Let’s put those in’.

So Chris and Ash would just say ‘here’s a situation, just make it up’, basically?

Jon: Yeah, and they played the interviewers. I think that’s their voices in the movie too.

What were the most people in a booth a one time?

Zooey: It wasn’t a booth. It was a big room. Kind of like a recording studio size. I think we had three at most.

Jon: The most I ever had was us three.

Zooey: I did a bunch of stuff with Shia and Jeff.

All day sessions?

Zooey: A couple of hours.

Did you just come in your jammies? You don’t have to dress up or put make-up on?

Jon: Did you just ask if we came in our jammies? It’s true. Although she comes dressed up and I’m in my jammies, sometimes naked.

Zooey: Pajammies. They’re cute.

Do you think penguins are cute?

Zooey: I think penguins are cute.

Jon: Sure but they smell. The last time I saw penguins was at an aquarium and they reeked. They smelled bad but they seemed cute. They’re cool.

Zooey: There’s a little penguin over there that’s so cute. Oh my god.

What is the obsession with penguins?

Jon: I don’t know. Is it because they walk on two legs.

Zooey: I think penguins were designed really well. They look good.

What’s next for you guys?

Zooey: So many. I had two movies at Sundance and a movie at South By Southwest and I’m about to do a mini-series “Tin Man” and Jesse James. Tin Man is on the Wizard of Oz. I play Dorothy.

On the Sci-‘Fi channel?

Zooey: Uh-huh.

The book was dark.

Zooey: Yeah, it’s kind of dark. Everything is sort of nods to but isn’t exactly. I’m leaving in three weeks to do it in Vancouver. The new Hollywood. I hope they’re ready for me.

Jon: To rock their world.

Have you and Emily ever done anything together?

Zooey: Many plays that we wrote as children. A movie would be fun. I would love to do that but she’s so busy. She has to schedule her time like three months in advance. She’s like ‘I can see you on May 27th at 4:30 PM’. I have to work out with her if I want to hang out with her because she has to do so many things at once because she only has a couple of hours a week. We’ll have to run and chat.

They filmed you as you were doing the voices. Do you see yourself in the performances?

Jon: You always try to look so cool. I’ve seen so many animation and watching the behind-the-scenes. Zooey didn’t even think about it because she’s that cool and I get totally self-whatever.

Zooey: I forgot that that video was on and then I watched it and I was like ‘oh my god. She has my posture and a lot of things that she was doing.

Jon: He moves a lot like a chicken and I kind of forgot that while recording.

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