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Director Chris Miller & Producer Aron Warner on Shrek the Third

By B. Alan Orange — May 13th, 2007

The creative duo discusses all the hard work that goes into creating a contemporary classic

In Shrek the Third, Shrek and Fiona become the reluctantly rulers of Far, Far Away. Their wish is to find the rightful heir to the throne so that they can return to their home in the swamp.

The film finds Shrek, Donkey, and Puss N' Boots searching for the future King Arthur in a medieval high school. All the while, Fiona and her army of princesses must protect Far, Far Away from Prince Charming's impending, fairytale villain-laden attack.

Both director Chris Miller and Producer Aron Warner have been with Shrek from the very beginning. In fact, Miler was groomed from the ground floor up to act as director on the latest installment of this franchise. Here is what they had to say about the creative process that goes into making something like Shrek the Third.

Q: Since you've been on Shrek in some capacity since the beginning, is there a real sense of grooming that takes place at the studio to turn you into a director?

Chris Miller: Yeah, of course. It's really simple. It's helpful to have continuity. It helps preserve the quality of the series.

Aron Warner:: The hardest thing about the series for us is that the tone is really specific for these films. The line is something that is really hard to teach somebody. The more experience they have being part of the family, the easier it is for them to get that. The better off we are.

Chris Miller: It's staying true to the premise, which is fairly specific.

Q: You said that you've grown with these films personally, and some of the beats of your own life match what we see on screen.

Chris Miller: Yeah, mimicking Shrek's life. I'm no stranger to fatherhood. There's a certain apprehension that I share with Shrek. We have had a lot of the same life changing experiences.

Aron Warner: You ran away?

Chris Miller: I totally ran away and found a different father for my children. And it worked out great. No. You know, there's that base insecurity. Okay, I'm having a kid. Am I good enough? Do I have something of value to pass onto this kid? The answer was no, but I did it anyway. The train left the station. And it's not just me, but a lot of our crew was also having babies. Everyone got to put a little something in from their own personal lives.

Q: Beyond that, how do you advance the storyline?

Chris Miller: I think the first thing we do is go, "What's organic to the development of these characters? What's the next natural step for them?" What's real about that? What parts of that world have we not explored? It comes piece by piece. And we put it together.

Q: What is next for the Shrek character? Divorce?

Chris Miller: Yeah, that would be a good one.

Aron Warner: Actually, not everyone in the camp says divorce. Only certain people say divorce. It is still being worked out. It could be many things.

Q: Where did the idea of the villains in the bar come from?

Chris Miller: We just felt like Charming needed an army. He had been rejected. He thinks he's one of them, but he isn't at all. He's always been this privileged guy, and he is going to use them just like everybody else did. I think they realized that by the end.

Aron Warner: I think, phonetically, they fit in really well. Their stories are very similar to Shrek's. Its taking a look at your life and not basing it on what you are told you are. You can make choices for yourself.

Q: Can you tell us about the technological advances.

Chris Miller: I think the biggest breakthrough for us is taking the world to another level of believability. And the characters to another level of believability. Giving the animators this tool to take these actors' voices and bringing even more out of what they do with the characters. We wanted to stay within the Shrek world, but also change it just a little. Some of the stuff you would never notice, like two pieces of clothes moving against each other. Or hair. We've done hair before, but now it is more natural. And the facial expressions have been improved. We can do a lot more with that.

Q: Is there a concern that you go too far with being realistic to where the audience is asking, "What's the point?"

Aron Warner: I think in our world, it is caricaturized. Our world is slightly off.

Chris Miller: There is a difference between photo-realistic and photo-real. We prefer to go towards the realistic, because the audience can run up to it and embrace it.

Q: Your movie is the second of three movies expected to bring in huge box office here in the next month. How do you cope with that?

Aron Warner: Look, it's hard not to think about it because people bring it up to us all the time. When we see Spider-Man doing so well, it bodes well for us. It means that people really want to go to the movies. And they want to be entertained. That's what they are going to get from us. And that's what they are going to get from Pirates as well.

Q: And your film is an hour shorter than Spider-Man 3.

Chris Miller: Oh. Okay. I don't know if that will help. The most important thing for us to do is hunker down and make a film that we like. We don't try to worry about expectation.

Q: When you talk about making a film that you like on a personal level, how do you strike a balance between making the film too much for adults or too much for kids?

Chris Miller: Its instinct. You go with your gut. Really, we are just trying to make a film that would entertain us. Something that we would go see in a theater. Something that makes us laugh. Fortunately, it services both sides.

Q: Is there ever any discussion on when you think it's too adult?

Aron Warner: Occasionally we'll show it to an audience, and there is an uncomfortable silence. But that is so rare. We don't screen the film very much before it's released. We do internally, but not for audiences. We kind of know where the line is.

Q: Why do you think animation has gone on to be a juggernaut over the last few years?

Chris Miller: I don't really know. I don't think it has anything to do with animation. I think it has to do with the actually films being made. They are good films. Toy Story was a great film. In the case of Toy Story, it was a new medium, and it was cool. Now the medium isn't so new anymore. You have to tell a good story or its just another animated movie. They are a dime a dozen.

Q: How do you think voicing characters yourself has helped in directing the actors when it comes time for them to do their voices?

Aron Warner: It's humiliating.

Chris Miller: It does help, working with any performer. They have very little to work with in that room. So, they get me. I'm a bonus. I will feed them every other line in the movie. Unfortunately, I play Fiona to Mike's Shrek. I profess my love to him. Then he'll ignore me. And I have to do it again, and again.

Q: What does Mike Myers bring to this franchise?

Chris Miller: He brings a lot. Mike is a filmmaker in his own right. He understands telling a story. He understands comedy. And he understands the process. Most of all, he understands Shrek. He has a lot of opinions on who the character should be. It really helps us shape Shrek's path in the story. There are times when we may veer, and a conversation with Mike gets us back on track.

Q: He claimed that he didn't have much input into the writing and development of the story.

Chris Miller: I'd say he did. We had him in early on the process. We used everyone's expertise to work on the film.

Q: Was it daunting for you to move up to director on this film?

Chris Miller: There was some apprehension and some uncertainty. But I was mostly excited. It was a good challenge. I had a lot of support from everyone. When you have that core group, it makes for a pretty easy transition.

Q: Is there someone on the Shrek 3 crew that may be directing the fourth film?

Chris Miller: There are a lot of people who will have supervisory roles when and if Shrek 4 gets made. We haven't figured it out yet.

Q: What about the Puss N' Boots movie?

Chris Miller: I don't know anything about it.

Q: Can you tell us about the Christmas special that's coming up?

Aron Warner: A little bit, yeah. What do you want to know?

Q: What is it about? What are you guys doing with it?

Aron Warner: All I will say is that, imagine Shrek trying to put Christmas together for his family. And he doesn't even know what it is really.

Q: Are the babies going to take part in it?

Aron Warner: Yes, of course.

Q: Is that a separate production, or is it being built into Shrek the Third?

Chris Miller: It's a separate production. It's a lot of the same animators and the same crew, really. They are forgoing their vacation to finish Shrek the Halls.

Q: Do you know what Network that will be on?

Aron Warner: It will air on ABC.

Q: How does that work? How did you get them to show it on a Disney owned channel?

Aron Warner: I think we asked that question, but it never went further than that. It's a great project, so I'm sure that's why.

Q: Do you guys ever get involved in the merchandizing?

Chris Miller: Not really.

Q: Visually, where do you see animation going?

Aron Warner: It really depends on the stories. We've just scratched the surface of what CG animation can do. I think photo-realistic is just one street in a city full of roads.

Chris Miller: I'd love to see it seen as a film. Not just an animated film. They need to open up the different genres.

Aron Warner: The cool thing is that you can create a world where the laws of nature don't even exist. That kind of stuff has barely been scratched. I'm really looking forward to it. It helps that we are at the forefront of this technology. It opens our minds as screenwriters.

Q: Who picks the songs for the film?

Aron Warner: we do. It is very collaborative. Very time consuming. We go through hundreds of songs, sometimes even more. We just need to find music that has a lot of integrity.

Q: Was it difficult to get the rights to Live and Let Die?

Chris Miller: No, it wasn't. I think people want to be associated with Shrek. They come to it.

Shrek the Third opens May 18th, 2007.

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