Every film starts its life with a script. Whether it's an original idea or one taken real life events, or even an existing property, the story needs to evolve and be developed into a full script
In my experience, in animation, the script goes through many draughts, its gestation period seems longer to me, and the writing stage continues through to storyboarding, where we have the potential to yet change the script.
I always see the storyboard stage as another stage of the writing process, albeit one with images.
It's only when you see a scene or sequence as a storyboard, edited into a videoboard with voice-overs, that you can fully see if all the elements, the character dynamics, the beats and the staging work well.
I've read scripts that on paper looked sound, then when storyboarded simply lost something in translation. At times this is down to the story artists' interpretation, at times by the script writers lack of a visual eye, being unable to see ahead the scene in animation; being aware of the space-time aspects of a setting that hasn't even been designed yet is very difficult, and at times writers simply lack the knowledge needed of the animation processes, possibilities and potentials.
With Yellowbird we were blessed with a writer who not only understood these key points, but had already worked in animation.
Antoine Barraud had already worked with TeamTo as a writer on two of their TV series, and with experience at different levels of film and television production (director, producer, cinematographer and even actor) had a unique view which helped the development of our script deeply.
As director of live action films, Antoine has been at the helm of films like Les Gouffres and Le Dos Rouge
Yet Yellowbird is his first animated feature film.
In this post Antoine gives us a little insight in the backstory about the film's story, the script and its development, while in the following post I will talk through some of the major changes I brought to the script in terms of cuts and alterations which I felt necessary when I came on board.
AB: The idea of the film came to me in July 2004 after Corinne (Yellowbird's producer) and I were very sad not to be able to finance another film we had developped together called the Candlelight Circus. What came to my mind was very simple : how about birds taking the migration backwards ? Corinne immediatly loved the idea and asked me to go deeper into it. Which i did. From that point on we never discussed the potential of this concept. It felt very obvious, very funny.
CDV: You are also a live-action director, writer and producer, as well as being an actor, which is all very eclectic; how do you compare working in live-action with animation, where the schedules are much more extended? Do you find the prolonged development, and lengthy production time frustrating?
In animation we tend to spend a lot of time exploring various possibilities in a story, trying out different narratives, and developing and redeveloping characters? When you write for live-action or direct do you tend to overwork these aspect in such a manner, or do you opt for more instinctive choices to focus your direction?
AB: I love cinema in general. Always have. I love to go from How To Train Your Dragon to a film by Apitchapong Weerasethakul or Bergman. And then to a horror flick and back to Last year in Marienbad. That's who i am as an audience and also as a filmmaker. Eclectic. I feel curious and hungry for new things and different kind of films. Little films, big budget films, stars, unknown actors, documentary, experimental, animation, anything. I only want it to be good and well written no matter the genre or the budget. I would love to write more animation though now I will mind the length because the cuts were very painful for me. Now in terms of instinct, yes, live action is a lot more based on instinct, from the location scouting to directing the actors. It’s always (at least for me) well planned but still open. It can always change even as we are doing it, and change again completely in the editing room. That happens all the time. It’s closer to how I do things, that’s for sure.
CDV: How do you feel about the stylized designs and look for Yellowbird?
AB: I love the bird family, Darius, Karl, Maggie, etc, I think they look great. Also I am totally nuts about the sinking ship sequence. It looks incredible !
CDV: How would you compare the experiences in terms of the artistic choices you made, between Yellowbird and past projects?
AB: Oh dear. I don’t know. Everything is so different. Animation wise I had only done TV series which are so much more industrial in terms of their production management. This time I felt creative freedom in the writing, to a certain extent. Some choices were driven by economy but not that many. The thing is that people financing it make you try everything and then we all agree to go back to what it was. More or less. We do get some improvements here and there in the process but it’s very tiring and you tend to lose perspective and objectivity. It’s exhausting. It’s an expensive movie to make so people want to be sure. I understand that. But trusting would also be an option, though you need to be a big name to get that from people. The really really interesting moment of the writing process was with Corinne alone. Working with her alone really improved the story. Now the minute we were in production all the rewrites were mostly painful and useless really. For instance at some point I was asked to create a villain. Which was very violent for me as I specifically wanted to write this story without the classical good v/s evil outline. I hate that. I think about the kids who will see the film and I don’t want to convey that kind of message. I want things to be more complicated than that. But anyway I had to do it and for some time we had these villain characters and it was awful. We all agreed to go back to the original story but we had them for at least a year.
I remember watching the Audrey Hepburn movie “Breakfast at Tifanny’s” around that period and I clicked. I think this is how I won the war against the villains. I showed up at a meeting with the producers, financers, and told them about the movie. Audrey Hepburn is her own villain. You identify with her but at the same time you know she is not doing the right thing. Which makes you feel even stronger for her. There is no evil or obstacle. The only obstacle there is is herself. And it’s a fabulous movie ! A classic. Audrey Hepburn saved the film and the complexity of Yellowbird ! :)
Now not directing was an experience for me. Both exciting and frustrating.
I never decided anything in terms of design or editing or sound or anything else really. It was intended to be a popular movie, a good mainstream film. I wrote it like that but then it wasn’t entirely made like that which I think created some distortions. Don’t get me wrong i looooove authors' movies, poetic authors' films, but Yellowbird was never intended to be like that. It’s supposed to be fast paced, fun and thrilling. It was Corinne’s request back in 2004. I think you brought that back to the film when it was drifting to something it was not. But over the many rewrites and first development I feel a lot of humor was lost; about 2/3 of my original gags are gone. At one point I had to let it go... But I never fully recovered from that. Though CoryEdwards (Hoodwinked, Escape from Planet Earth, Wish) did bring the laughs back into the writing. We had to ask him to do that as I was completely washed out from the rewrites.
CDV: You were also involved in the initial sessions of both the English and French voice recordings- Can you tell us a little about that experience, working with comedy greats such as Elliot Gould, Jim Rash, Richard Kind, Yvette Nicole Brown, Christine Baranski, Danny Glover? Who was your favorite to work with?
And how do the two versions compare in your view?
AB: It was a dream come true. Jim Rash is such a riot of talent and energy. I had loved his work for years. Richard, Christine, I had been following their work for so long ! Anyway I gave their names to the casting agent, never thinking for a minute they would say yes. They are all so willing to make you happy, to give their very best, to do it over and over again. Doing it in Hollywood also was part of the magic.
As for the major difference between US actors and French I have to admit I felt that the Americans are more giving, always willing to give you more and work to please you. All of them. When in France you get that mostly from the dubbing actors, the ones used to do that.
In the US, my favorite was definitely Jim. I adore Danny Glover, always have, but directing him over the phone was, of course, frustrating. You know, we did that together upstairs in the Parisian studio.
Yvette had incredible energy too. Boy can she laugh and scream ! Some of the kids were also very surprising and very professional. Like Joey King who’s a natural. She is in everything now, from White House Down to Oz to The conjuring. Even Conchata Ferrel (from Two and a half men)who was playing a very small part in the film was a real joy to work with. They were all so easy and talented. They like what they do and it shows.
In France like I said, the dubbing actors had that in them too. Pleasure I mean. Pleasure in working and trying to achieve something together. Nathalie Boutefeu had it too and I enjoyed working with her.
CDV: You created the concept of the film and its story several years ago now; how do you view the final look of the film now that it is complete, compared to your original concepts and designs for the film? Any regrets?
AB: Whoa, again hard to tell for me. It changed and mutated so much over the years. Like I said the ship sequence is absolutely amazing. Exactly what I wished and envisioned when I was writing it. It's perfect. The snow, the airport at the end, the inside of the plane, all that I love ! The beginning is not always what I saw in my mind. But that’s also related to the cuts and never ending changes I was forced to do and undo and do again and undo again and so on for so long. Though I like the sky over the freeway and some shots of Paris. Some of the tree hotel also but not all of it. The owl design I think is also a bit weak. But the hotel tree sequence is probably the most painful for me. So much of it was cut out of the movie. Especially the Maggie/Willy thing. Now I don’t think people catch their story line and I am sad of that. But, hey, I understand why it's like that.
CDV: What was your favorite experience on Yellowbird? Favorite scene/moment?
AB: Writing the very first draft was an amazing feeling of freedom and excitement ! That was back in 2006. I did the whole draft in 10 days. It all felt so obvious and fun. I had a great time doing it. We had worked hard on the structure before with Corinne, the outline was pretty solid so the process of writing the whole thing was very smooth. What a fabulous moment of joy. Especially because I write more serious films as a director and also because in animation I had only written short formats. TV series like I said. So this was like unleashing oceans of dreams and fun ideas. I am not saying they were necessarily good but that it was so exciting to express them. Directing the American actors was definitely another highlight. I would have loved to see more of the actual fabrication afterwards but I did not want to be a burden for you and your team ! :)
CDV: And is there something specific you'd like to add to the post about your work?
AB: I would love to meet the audience with you sometimes. Discuss the film.