Why did you decide to create a performance capture movie based on the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol?
Robert Zemeckis: I fell in love with digital cinema when I directed The Polar Express. Ever since then, I've been on a quest to think up movie ideas that can be presented in this new art form. A few years ago I got hit with the idea that A Christmas Carol would work perfectly in this format, so I immediately went back and read the book to refresh my memory on the story. That's when I realized that the story has never been realized in a way that it was actually imagined by Charles Dickens as he wrote it. I thought to myself, 'Excellent! This could be the perfect way to take a classic story that everyone is familiar with and re-envision it in a new and exciting way.' Charles Dickens is a great writer and it's as if he wrote this story to be a movie because it's so visual and so cinematic. I believe A Christmas Carol is the greatest time travel story ever written and I wanted to do the movie the way I believe it was originally envisioned by the author.
As the director of Back to The Future, you've certainly had previous experience with time travel stories...
Robert Zemeckis: I have. However, A Christmas Carol might be the greatest time travel story written in the English language. It's such a fabulous story and it has definitely influenced my own time travel stories from the past.
What made Jim Carrey perfect for the movie?
Robert Zemeckis:Jim Carrey was made for this movie because his face is so incredibly expressive and he's so great at creating characters. Jim is a great actor. In fact, I think he is the greatest working character actor that we have in films today. All of his talents as a performer and as a comedian come through in his performance of the various characters he plays in A Christmas Carol. He is a genius and I knew he would be a magnificent performance capture actor because every muscle in his body performs when he acts.
Why did you decide to give Jim Carrey so many characters to play in the movie?
Robert Zemeckis: We had the ability for the same actor to play different ages, so we went for it. It made perfect sense to us. Plus, I always thought the ghosts in A Christmas Carol were extensions of Scrooge's alter egos. When we took the idea to Jim, he loved it. He's always got a lot of characters in his head, so he might as well put them out there.
What do you think of Scrooge?
Robert Zemeckis: Scrooge is such an entertaining character. We all love to watch him because everybody has a little of Scrooge in themselves to some degree. That's why he's so entertaining.
Are you a fan of Charles Dickens?
Robert Zemeckis:I am a huge fan of Dickens. However, I didn't realize how much of a cinematic writer he was until I immersed myself in A Christmas Carol. Dickens was writing novels like screenplays 100 years before cinema was even invented. That's why his stories are so compelling.
How much time did you have for rehearsal before you started filming the movie?
Robert Zemeckis:I always do a table reading at the start of every project I work on. Well, I call it a table reading, but what I really do is I sit with my cast and I act out the whole movie. Everyone always gets a big kick out of it, so it's a great way to start off.
What happens next in the filmmaking process?
Robert Zemeckis: Next, we shoot the movie. When we work through a scene, we record everything because there is no film; it's all digital. It's just the hard drives running all day long. We do the scene from beginning to end just like you would do a scene in theater. And if someone says, "Gee, I think it would be a lot better if I walk in from the other side of the room." I reply, "Just try it." It feels like we're doing elaborate theatrical tech rehearsals and we hone each scene down until we all look at each other and say, "Is everybody happy? Does everybody feel good about the scene?" If everyone does, we move onto the next sequence.
There are some scary storylines in the movie. Would you call it a horror?
Robert Zemeckis:I don't think you can call A Christmas Carol. It's a ghost story, but not a horror. You know what? People seem to get tension and suspense confused with horror. They are very different and I feel the need to straighten this out for everyone. There is a very, very useful dramatic tool called tension and suspense. When it's used well, it's very entertaining and it's a lot of fun. It makes a film or a stage play, or a novel like Dickens' A Christmas Carol, a very entertaining experience. However, it's been polluted into the word 'horror' by slasher movies and the two shouldn't be mixed up with one another. I think I'm pretty good at conveying a sense of suspense or tension through my movies, but that doesn't mean I'm presenting horror to anybody. It's just that I'm winding up the audience a little bit because this is a ghost story. That's all.