Interview with producer Peter De Vecho.
The biggest movie of the crammed Christmas Holiday period was Walt Disney’s Frozen. Brilliant animation, memorable songs and as far as I am concerned, a throwback to the classics such as Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty. I spoke to the man behind Frozen from conception to screen.
Producer; Peter De Velcho. Hello Shane how you doing?
Shane A. Bassett – Good thank you Peter how was the UK?
Peter – It was good, had a great time talking up Frozen, happy to be back in the US now.
What is the main role of a producer on an animated film, is it different to a live action feature and are budgets still very important?
Peter – Budgets are always important but that’s just one aspect of the job. I pretty much pair with the directors creatively to develop the story, assist in casting, bringing the writers on board. I see my job as an artistic vision that the directors want to see on screen then surround them with a team of people that will make that happen.
Sounds very busy. Considering the Snow Queen was in development at Disney for so long (around a decade) but never got made, how long did it take your vision of Frozen take to be an idea on paper to hitting the screens?
Peter – Chris Buck, the original director on the project pitched it about five years ago, but at the time when they (Disney) said let’s make this particular version of the movie, was two and a half years ago. That’s when I came on board.
Did you use any components from any of the earlier scripts in your final draft of the shooting script?
Peter – No we didn’t. The collective liked the original Hans Christian Anderson story and used many similar themes, some of the characteristics of the story but ours is an original tale. It changed quite a bit over the course of time. We screened the film for ourselves about every 12 weeks within that two and a half production year period and at those times we brought in other writers / directors within the studio and we physically critique the movie, what’s working, what’s not. Pulling scenes apart then go re-write it all again. You’re a film critic, you understand.
I’m guessing there were many scenes or even songs left on the cutting room floor?
Peter – For sure, there were scenes we story-boarded out and cut together in editorial but didn’t actually animate them. As you say, there were also songs written for Frozen that served a purpose at one point or another as the story evolved and changed, we realised that the song either did not work or became obsolete.
To me sound is extremely important. Do you believe the sound enhances certain moments in Frozen and I believe a new format Dolby-Atmos was used?
Peter – Very good Shane yes! We did do it in Atmos sound, it definitely enhances this film as with most movies actually. We went to great lengths to get the sound just right and crisp. We had an amazing sound engineer who went up to Canada to record the sound of ice cracking on lakes, also he got reindeer reactions. Anything he could find to make it authentic he recorded.
Is that right, so it was real sounds on film as opposed to fabricated?
Peter – It became a combination of both but always started with reality.
Was 3D always an option or any consideration against it?
Peter – We never went down the IMAX path as some people suggested but we always wanted 3D cinemascope to capture the essence of Frozen. This movie lends itself well to 3D.
With Awards season in swing are you hopeful Frozen will win and have you got a speech ready?
Peter – No, very really proud of the movie we made, the team is thrilled people are getting a chance to see it and ultimately love the movie. We think it’s something special to be shared. Of course it is an honour to be nominated, let’s let that process sort itself out for the coming months.
Were there any voice actors you wanted for Frozen but didn’t get?
Peter – We actually got all our first choices in terms of casting. We had many backup choices maybe 50 names per role, but fortunately every first offer we made came back as a yes. We couldn’t be happier with the cast.
Adina has such a superior singing voice. Was it hard to match her opposite Kristen Bell whom I know has singing training, but in a different league?
Peter – It was fantastic, what I love about Adina is her powerful voice so what we didn’t realise she has vulnerability to her speaking voice which lent to her character very well. Kristen although not known for her singing, she is classically trained as you say and I believe has a great singing voice. It was a nice surprise for us during the auditions and actually the voices complement each other very well.
Kristen surprised me too, Adina is amazing, her main song ‘Let it Go’ was a standout.
Peter – That song, when it did land, we liked it so much it told us so much who Elsa was that our writer went back, wrote an entirely new first act that lead to the impact of that song.
Another surprise was comedian Josh Gad, he’s becoming established in live action films, but as snowman Olaf, he’s brilliant. Did you know his work well before casting?
Peter – I did not, he was part of our original table read for the movie early on in production. We loved him, we saw him on Broadway in Book of Mormon. Some of us already had him in mind, he brings a great fun sense of comic timing but also, we played Olaf as being an innocent child, Josh was really able to capture that in his voice.
It seems like Josh didn’t keep to the script. As Olaf he talks so fast, were his lines straight from the script?
Peter – We certainly came in with a direct script, but because Josh can also write they evolved the character over a period of time with the director. A lot of the changes happen instantly in the recording room.
Edie McClurg, a voice actor Disney has used in the past (Wreck-it Ralph, Cars) I have to mention, she is a favourite of mine from Ferris Buellers Day Off, Natural Born Killers, Planes Trains & Automobiles and many more, she is just wonderful.
Peter – Yes, she is a great actress and we certainly had fun working with her on this project.
Are there any actors on future projects you would love to work with lending their voices?
Peter – Sure, there are so many great actors out there it really depends on the role. With Disney, we definitely cast for the role, not simply cast for the star status necessarily. We want the characters to be remembered for the characters, that is pivotal to me. There is a whole list of actors I would like to work with but if that happens, it depends upon the project.
On that note, what is coming up for Disney, anything you can tell me about currently filming?
Peter – There are two rather large films just gone into production as we speak and there are a couple more options in the planning stages which I would be more than happy to produce but it’s way too early to announce those as yet.
Would you ever consider directing a feature and do you think a Roger Rabbit style film mixing live action and animation would work again?
Peter – My skill is in producing then getting that director’s vision up there on the screen, I enjoy that process, so I do not have that aspiration at all. On the Roger Rabbit issue, I think anything is possible, that’s the beauty of working in this studio (Disney). A director can pass his vision and everything is considered. The ideas and what it is they want to bring to the screen, it could involve live action, 2D and 3D mixing, it really depends on what is brought forward to us.
During Frozen, I hear there may be a few hidden surprises, did I miss them or are they easter eggs (hard to find)?
Peter – There are a few so when you see it again Shane, I expect you to see them (Laughs) I’m not going to tell you as I prefer when people get a chance to find them but we have hidden a few gems in there.
Are they related to other Disney films or something else, can you give me a hint?
Peter – Yes one is related to another film that came out several years ago and potentially on a shelf somewhere there may be a Mickey Mouse.
Being part of such an epic film company, you must have to pinch yourself sometimes, what a job it must be walking around the back-lot of a Disney Studio?
Peter – It is amazing to be in the studio where it all started and realise the number of films that came before us. I am just happy we can make the film and continue on the legacy to make timeless films such as, I hope, Frozen is and something that Walt himself would have made.
How has the development of animation changed other than going digital? Are the basics similar and Disney really is gaining critical acclaim again which must be a team effort.
Peter – I would say the biggest change is when John Lasseter (of Toy Story fame) came to the studio and the fundamental change there is that the studio is now being run by an artist. He really opened up the studio to thinking differently that we are all responsible for each other’s films, a real sense of collaboration is around the studio. It’s much healthier than I have ever seen it before. The slump has gone, you can feel it, we feel like an entrepreneurial company, from Tangled, Wreck-it Ralph to Frozen, we believe we are getting better at what we do. Shane you hit the nail on the head. The studio has a voice again.
Will Frozen have a sequel, is one already mapped out or are you happy the way it has ended?
Peter – Right now, this is still fresh off the press for us and I’m kind of enjoying this ride, we always knew we had something special but we are not sure of beyond. We do love this icy world, the characters and happy the movie is finally getting viewed.
Were the scary scenes and themes in Frozen ever thought of as not suitable for children?
Peter – I will say we do try to balance scenes for all ages, however there is something great about having people laugh, then be scared or even be emotional over the course of an entire film. We feel like that’s what makes the movie memorable and experience a big event so hopefully we haven’t crossed the line, but certainly we like to go through the whole range of emotions.
I think Frozen is actually a musical but the trailers don’t indicate that, was that purposely done to hide the ten songs in the film until the audience watches it?
Peter – We tried to make the movie come across as a movie for everyone with multiple aspects, we want people in the theatre to feel the movie in its entirety. Anytime you advertise a movie, you’re talking 30-something ads, we can’t always get across the full scope and scale of the movie.
Congratulations on the success of Frozen, it will only keep making families who see it happy.
Peter – Thanks Shane, terrific chatting with you.
Shane A. BassettSydney Unleashed is one of Australia’s premier entertainment publications exploring the latest in lifestyle trends. From Sydney’s finest restaurants, cafes and bars to the hottest in gadgets, products, and home entertainment, Sydney Unleashed is your one-stop lifestyle platform.