Producers Jennifer and Suzanne Todd talk Alice in Wonderland
Tim Burton's latest blockbuster film Alice in Wonderland is arriving on DVD, Blu-ray and three-disc Blu-ray June 1st, 2010 and we recently took part in an innovative virtual junket for the new release. Producers Jennifer Todd and Suzanne Todd both answered questions about the new film and here's what they both had to say.
Suzanne, are you planning to bring another other classical novel to the cinema in the near future?
Suzanne Todd: We do have a number of projects currently in development that are based on literary works - we are big fans of classic literature and have always been avid readers.
Suzanne, can you tell us about how you entered the project with Tim Burton?
Suzanne Todd: We had developed the project with the writer, Linda Woolverton, and had sent it to Tim to consider after the script had been written. Tim was a first choice, a dream choice, and we were thrilled when he decided to sign on for the project.
Suzanne, I would like to know if the character that emerges from the film, that is an Alice/Jeanne d'Arc was the intention of the director or developed along the way...?
Suzanne Todd: Many people responded to the Joan of Arc style costume and liked the comparison.
Jennifer Todd: Only in homage to her armor, not from a character point of view.
Jennifer, having both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (along with other talented cast and crew members) involved in the film, you literally struck gold. How was the experience working for both of you working with Burton and Depp?
Jennifer Todd: It was amazing - they are both ridiculously talented and watching their creativity - and their friendship- was very special.
Jennifer, what would you say was the biggest challenge in producing this movie?
Jennifer Todd: The special effects were incredibly difficult. Combining Motion Capture, CG characters, animation, and 3D made this the most challenging film we've done.
Suzanne, how did you manage the green screen-scenes? Did you give the actors something by the hand that they can act to something?
Suzanne Todd: Yes! We had green everything! Green props, tables, walls, teacups, platforms - so much green everywhere all over everything!
Jennifer, please talk about the decision to make the film in 3D and also your thoughts on the post-production conversion process versus shooting in 3D, from both a budgetary standpoint and an end-user standpoint.
Jennifer Todd: We chose not to shoot in 3D because of the difficulty of all the special effects we were doing. It was also more cost-effective for us to convert later.
Suzanne, by any chance, did the both of you have to immerse yourself in the Lewis Carroll classic prior to working on the film?
Suzanne Todd: Yes, we all re-read the novels and we also reviewed all the many ways that works of Carroll have been seen in other movies, art, music videos and all forms of pop culture.
Jennifer, how was the experience of working with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp?
Jennifer Todd: It was incredible. Their friendship is so unique and special and I think really adds so much to the creative process.
Suzanne Todd: Working with Tim was literally a dream come true! He is truly a visionary, artist and genius! Plus, a really nice and funny guy.
Jennifer, Team Todd has produced a good number of box office hits. But with Alice in Wonderland, it's your first film that utilized special effects in such a grand scale, what was the most challenging part for each of you in producing the film?
Jennifer Todd: Definitely the special effects. We have worked with effects before but never at a scale like this. The combination of CG, animation, and motion capture - along with Alice's character shrinking and growing made the filming very difficult and intense.
Jennifer, how do you manage to work with relatives, sisters, in particular? Is it fun? Is it hard to separate family and the job?
Jennifer Todd: It's a real gift to work with my sister. We obviously have such a shorthand communicating with each other, that it makes the process easier. And from growing up together and watching so many films together, we ended up with pretty similar taste.
Suzanne, please talk about the decision to make the film in 3D and also your thoughts on the post-production conversion process versus shooting in 3D, from both a budgetary standpoint and an end-user standpoint.
Suzanne Todd: Tim had the genius idea to make the movie in 3D and it's been interesting to see how 3D has become so incredibly popular in the years it took us to make this movie. We did not have the time or money to actually shoot in 3D, but our film was planned for 3D release so there were lots of things built in along the way to make that movie going experience satisfying. From an end user standpoint, I think the planned shots in 3D movies like Avatar and ours will continue to be better received than 2D films that make a last minute decision to convert.
Jennifer, everybody knows what Burton can add to Alice's history. But, what did Alice add to Burton's filmography that we didn't find before?
Jennifer Todd: I think Alice added a real female empowerment film to his filmography. I can't think of another film he's done with this great of a female hero, and with the theme of the film so strong. And Alice gave him his biggest hit ever!
Suzanne, why did Tim Burton adapt both Alice-stories, Alice in Wonderland and 'Through the Looking-Glass'?
Suzanne Todd: The writer, Linda Woolverton, had decided to use material from both books when she first came up with the pitch. The Carroll novels did not put forth a simple movie adaption and she found material in both books that would be helpful in crafting a linear three-act structure for the movie.
Jennifer, At which point of the creation-process did you make the decision that the whole movie is going to be cgi-driven such as it is right now?
Jennifer Todd: Very early on. I believe it was in our first meeting with Tim, he talked about creating a world from scratch using today's technology.
Suzanne, what do you think Lewis Carroll would think if he saw the movie?
Suzanne Todd: I hope he would be entertained! He seems to have been an out-of-the-box thinker and this version pushes the Alice mythology to a new level of both technology and storytelling. In my fantasy mind, he would leap from his chair and Futterwacken!
Jennifer Todd: I would hope he would appreciate our interpretation of his work - and I would think the effects would be amazing for him to see! There has been so much art inspired by his work I think he would be touched by the world's affection for his stories.
Jennifer, What do you think this version of Alice in Wonderland bring new as compared to other productions?
Jennifer Todd: Obviously this version takes advantage of the most cutting edge technology that none of the other versions were privy to. Tim was able to create a world like none other. We also took creative license with the characters, making Alice older, and incorporating elements from both books.
Suzanne, do you see any reflection in your own sister-sister relationship and the one between the White and Red Queens?
Suzanne Todd: Absolutely! Anyone that has a sister knows the agony and ecstasy of that relationship. Anne had really looked to get in touch with the family roots of her character - and the darkness and light that both sisters share - as a means of portraying her character with depth and realism.
Jennifer Todd: Jokingly yes. But thankfully no, I didn't other than that I understand how beautiful and complicated the relationship of sisters can be.
Suzanne, what is your favourite character in the movie? which was more fun to draw out?
Suzanne Todd: I love so many of the characters! I feel like a mother in the way you have love for all your children. But if I have to pick one, it would be Alice - for her strength and curiosity and bravery and compassion. The idea that a movie with a female teenage lead character could be this successful at the world wide box office is a testament to Alice and her muchness.
Jennifer, why write a different story of Alice?
Jennifer Todd: We wrote a different story to modernize it and to make it more universal. What's wonderful about the book is that it magically wanders, and that's what makes it hard as a film. It was also necessary to make her older, so she would have graver complications in her life.
Jennifer, how do you choose your movie projects, do you prefer a movie because of the script, the actors, or the director?
Jennifer Todd: We get involved so early that it is usually the idea and the material that gets us excited. On Alice, Linda brought us a pitch that we thought was a very exciting way in which to tell the story. Then after we all worked on the script it was incredibly exciting to get Tim and Johnny involved.
Suzanne, what is the international expectation that you have for this DVD and Blu Ray launch?
Suzanne Todd: We expect that the public will continue to respond to the film in the way we have seen thus far - with enthusiastic response! Anyone that has seen and enjoyed the film will be further entranced at a look behind the scenes into the magic of Tim Burton's Alice and the quality on Blu-ray. The shorter home entertainment release window should also ensure a healthy public appetite - we will see!
Jennifer, in the past you produced Austin Powers, Across the Universe and now Alice in Wonderland. Did you yourself push the colorful look of these films?
Jennifer Todd: Not really, the directors are most responsible for the color of the films. I will say we are drawn to creating material that allows directors to create worlds, or push the palate of reality.
Jennifer, what is it like to work with your sister?
Jennifer Todd: It's great. We have been so lucky and I think it's partly because we truly support each other. It's very hard to get movies made, so it's nice knowing we are each here for the other.
Suzanne, if we look to use High Definition, does it mean the production has to be changed as every detail is now visible?
Suzanne Todd: Yes, as the technology advances there is more attention paid during the filmmaking process and the high-level of detail that becomes available to the viewing audience. Even something like the texture of the white pancaked skin of the Red Queen becomes subject for discussion, because you can see everything in so much greater detail now.
Jennifer, what is your favourite character in the movie? which was more fun to draw out?
Jennifer Todd: I really love the Red Queen - I love the reason she's so mean is that she's just a scorned woman. She says "is it better to be feared than loved" and even though she is so awful you understand that it's because she feels unloved.
Suzanne, what other projects do you have coming up?
Suzanne Todd: Our next release is a very small film entitled, The Romantics starring Katie Holmes, Josh Duhamel, and Anna Paquin. It will come out in Fall of 2010 and is the charming story of a group of close friends, ten years after their college graduation.
Suzanne, what kinds of discussions have you had about a sequel at this time, seeing how successful this film was?
Suzanne Todd: When a movie is this successful, there is always talk of a sequel! If Tim and Johnny both want to venture down the rabbit hole again - I'm sure it will happen. We have had some preliminary story conversations - but I'm not sure anyone realizes just how hard Tim worked on this film.
Suzanne, how long did the process of the postproduction last?
Suzanne Todd: We finished shooting the movie at the end of 2008, with our scheduled release date of March 2010 but it was a scramble to get it done in that time frame. That was a long post for a regular film but a tight post for a film with this many complicated effects.
Jennifer, Alice is a much bigger feature than all the other both of you have been into. What changed in the way you work to accomplish this one?
Jennifer Todd: Alice took over two years to make and took a great deal of planning, obviously much more than usual. We spent so much more time prepping the film, and that was unique for us.
Suzanne, were there any accidents because the actors had to walk on stilts?
Suzanne Todd: The actors actually became very proficient on the stilts - almost to the point where they hardly noticed they were wearing them. I became very used to thinking of Crispin as really, really tall.
Suzanne, are you fans of the original Lewis Carroll books? Have you read them to your children?
Suzanne Todd: Recently I had the pleasure of going through the very fun Alice for the iPad short version of the book. It's interactive and imaginative and entertaining and made me think how different the entire experience of even reading is for children today.
Jennifer, how would you say this movie has influenced you two, as producers and sisters?
Jennifer Todd: I think we are both so proud that we got to make a "female empowerment" movie on a scale like this. The movie has so many wonderful themes but Alice's strength is so wonderful to put out in the world to young girls.
Suzanne, what do you think of Johnny Depp as Mad Hatter? Could you imagine him in another role?
Suzanne Todd: Johnny was incredible and brought so much to the role, long before he began the acting part. The watercolors he painted of the characters, his ideas about the mercury poisoning from the hat glue - and so much more! Johnny is one of the most talented actors of our time and could play any role he wanted! There was an internet rumor that he was going to play EVERY part and I thought I would like to see that version of the movie!
Jennifer Todd: I think Johnny Depp could play just about any role - I'd love to see what he would do with the Red Queen!
Jennifer, is there anything in Alice in Wonderland that you can point us to and say "That is a Team Todd contribution?"
Jennifer Todd: Absolutely, Suzanne and I worked very hard with Linda on Alice's character arc and working on her "muchness". We also were proud to have developed a script strong enough to appeal to Tim Burton and all the talent attracted to the project.
Jennifer, what do you think about the current hype of 3D?
Jennifer Todd: I think it's great for the film business and I'm very grateful that it helped our box office tremendously.