Benjamin Renner Interview

Migration is the big family-orientated flick being release on Boxing Day here in Australia and I recently spoke to the director, Benjamin Renner (Ernest & Celestine), about the project…

Matt:  It’s the summer school holidays here in Australia which is always a big time for parents taking kids to the movies.  What do you look for in a great family movie?

Benjamin:  I always hope families are going to have fun and that was our goal here.  We wanted people to relate to these characters and come out of the theatre going “oh, that’s you” and “that’s me”.  We also wanted to share this idea of reuniting a family and teaching them lessons about getting out of you comfort zone and confront the challenges of life. 

Matt:  I do like a theme of this movie about getting out there are seeing the world.  These Mallards don’t have to worry about a huge mortgage but it’s still good advice to live one’s life by.  Is it a mantra you two subscribe in?

Benjamin:  Yeah, definitely.  Mallards actually have way more problems that we do in terms of quality of life.  The idea came from my producer who read an article about Mallards who, because winters are getting warmer and warmer, don’t need to go on migration any more.  Some of them decide to stay home.  The idea of being stuck in a routine is very relatable and we all go through it at some point in our life.  I’m important to travel and discover new things and open yourself to the world – it’s something we wanted to share in the movie.

Matt:  Mike White is one of the co-writers here who I’ve admired going back to his work on Enlightened.  He has a great, warped sense of humour and I was wondering if you had much to do with him in creating the film?

Benjamin:  He had written the script with my producer before I arrived on the project.  When I came in, he’d already spent a year on it.  I met him a few times and we discussed what he wanted to express so I could understand what the characters were feeling.  Unfortunately, he had to go shoot The White Lotus so I couldn’t have him through the whole production of the film.  That was a big disappointment but I also wanted him to do The White Lotus.

The biggest challenge was remaining faithful to the script and what he wanted to express.  Also, since the idea came from the producer, we were also able to bring new ideas along the way to make it even better.

Matt:  It’s a great cast.  Did you have any idea of the voice of each character before setting out or was it something that evolved?

Benjamin:  Some of them, yeah.  It was early in the process of the movie.  Kumail Nanjiani and Elizabeth Banks – I heard about them 3-4 weeks after I started working on the project and they were perfect for the roles.  They matched with the character in the sense that they have a similar spirit to the character.  Kumail could understand what it’s like to struggle to get out of one’s comfortable zone and Elizabeth was the same with someone who loves to take new risks.

It was really fun having the chance to work with those people.  They owned the characters so we could let the script evolve depending on what they could bring to the role.