Peter Rabbit is one of the big family releases for the Easter school holidays in Australia. I recently had the chance to speak with director Will Gluck about the project…
Matt: What stood out and lured you into this project?
Will: My parents read me the novel when I was a kid and I loved it. My dad’s name was Peter which is another part of the reason we’re talking today. I read it to my kids and remembered why I loved it so much and I thought it would be great to make this into a movie that had never been done before.
Matt: You’ve made a few movies now and dabbled in a few genres but this is your first time with something that is part live-action, part animation. How was the experience? Was there a lot you had to learn beforehand and during the process?
Will: I should have learned it beforehand if I was smart. I had to learn as I went along but I had the huge advantage of working with Animal Logic which is Sydney based and probably the best visual effects house in the world. They took me by the hand and talked me through everything. I can think of no better teacher than them.
Matt: I was going to ask about that. It sounds like there was a bit Australian connection to this movie in terms of the cast, locations and production companies involved. How did all that come about?
Will: It started with Animal Logic who had the idea of making a hybrid film about Peter Rabbit. They spoke to me about it, we got the rights to the Beatrix Potter estate, wrote the script and went from there. The intention was always to do the filming and visual effects in Australia which was a new place for me but it now feels like a second home.
Matt: Was live action always the go here? Was there thought of a purely animated feature?
Will: Live action was always the idea with just the animals to be computer generated.
Matt: We live it a work where there are seemingly more animated films and family films as ever. When you come on board a film like this, what are you hoping to achieve? What are you looking to do to reel audiences in and perhaps find a point of difference to make this stand out?
Will: I never set out to make a movie to achieve anything in particular. I just want to make a movie that I like. This movie is a little special because I love that families can see it with both parents and kids enjoying it. It leaves them with the message of owning up to your mistakes and family is the most important thing. It’s a Trojan horse message in this funny movie we made.
Matt: I was surprised how much adult humour was in the movie. There were jokes I laughed at that might be out of the each of some children. Was that always part of the script? How do you balance up the laughs?
Will: I had a mantra that if there was a joke that the kids wouldn’t laugh at, we wouldn’t put it in. We wanted to make a movie that parents and kids would like just as people. Having two kids of my own, I think we sorely estimate how smart children are and even if they don’t understand something, they lock it away in their memory bank until they get it 6 months or a year later. The cool thing for me is my kids just figuring out the joke in something they saw 2 years ago.
Matt: So did you use your kids as a test audience on this film so to speak?
Will: Of course. As life progresses, you develop different interests and given I have kids now, I want to do things with my kids and for my kids. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown them scenes from this movie. They roll their eyes every time I talk about it now.
Matt: The houses in the film have a charm about them. Did they actually exist or did you have to build them from scratch?
Will: We built them from scratch based on houses we’d seen in the Lake District in the United Kingdom. Usually you can build a set on a sound stage but I really wanted to feel the district countryside so we built both houses in Centennial Park.
Matt: Oh wow. Did you have to deal with a lot of background noise there given its proximity to the centre of Sydney?
Will: Traffic and people weren’t that bad but every now and then the sound department would make us stop because of an Australian bird making a noise in the background. Centennial Park was a fairly quiet area and so most people went about their day without bothering us.
Matt: Did you have to knock all the houses down when you finished?
Will: Yeah. It took us 2 months to build the set and about 2 hours to get rid of it which is always the sad part.
Matt: It feels like a bucket list item for actors in Hollywood that they have to lend to their voice to an animated character at least once in their career. You’ve got a huge range of voices here. Is it a long casting process or is it easier than we think?
Will: It’s usually a long casting process but for this movie, because of everyone’s love for Peter Rabbit and Beatrix Potter, the first people we went for on every role said yes. We were very lucky. Throughout the whole project, everyone went above and beyond because they loved these characters.
Matt: We see the human actors talking and interacting with the animals and even cuddling them in their arms. It all looks so seamless but can you tell us how those scenes are created?
Will: They’re holding a combination of things. Sometimes they’ll hold a stuffed animal, sometimes they’ll hold sticks and something they’ll hold people in blue suits. It’s the genius of Animal Logic that makes it work. I had to give up so much control and put my faith in them. When you’re making the movie, it looks bananas as the characters are running around getting hit by sticks and puffs of air and then a girl in a blue suit would punch someone in the face. The outtakes from this movie are quite something. When the animation started coming in, I realised they knew what they were doing and it felt seamless to me too.
Matt: Obviously you do the live shoot first and then the animated stuff second but what are the timeframes for each?
Will: The live action was a normal movie shoot – about 60 days. The animation started during the movie and took almost 12 months. We finished it in early February and that’s actually a quick turnaround compared to other animated films.
Matt: Didn’t the film come out in February?
Will: We finished the film 6 days before it came out which was a crazy short period of time.
Matt: What are you working on at the moment? What will we see from your next?
Will: I’m making a TV show and then after that, I’m going to an R-rated dark comedy in Los Angeles to cleanse my pallet. There’s also talk of dipping my toe back into the Peter Rabbit world if this film does well.