Turbo - David Soren interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
DAVID Soren talks about bringing Turbo, about a garden snail who is obsessed with becoming a racing hero, to the big screen and the thrill of working with people like Ryan Reynolds and Snoop Dogg.
He also talks about choosing LA as a setting because of its legacy, working with Samuel L Jackson and why his snails originally started out with arms!
Q. Animation is an exciting format because of the blank canvas you have in front of you. This is an out there idea, right? So, where did the idea of turning a snail into a racing hero come from?
David Soren: It came out of two things. The first being my now six-year-old son who, before he could even talk, has been obsessed with anything fast and zooming his little race cars around my living room. And then my front yard, which had a snail problem. We had snails crawling all over the place, devouring the tomato plant in the corner of the yard. It wasn’t long before I started to see these two contrasting worlds of slowness and speed converging into the idea for this story and this character of a snail obsessed with racing glory.
Q. Although you’ve worked extensively in the film industry for many years, this is your first feature as writer and director. So, how was working with such a fantastic voice cast?
David Soren: It was a complete thrill to have this cast. It really came about because we made a wish-list when we were starting. Many of the cast members I was actually thinking about as we were writing the screenplay, from Snoop Dogg to Luis Guzman and Michelle Rodriguez. It helps when you’re writing to have actors in mind, whether you can actually get them or not. And then we made the rest of our wish-list. The thing about working with a studio like DreamWorks, which has such a great reputation, is that we made the offers and we got pretty much everyone we wanted. So, I was pinching myself. I couldn’t believe it.
Q. That must be strange writing for Snoop Dogg? How was working with him?
David Soren: He was great. He came in the first time and I was pitching him the story and I had a big flip-book full of images. And he was nodding in appreciation. And then I showed him his character design. And he said: “I love it! I love it!” And I said: “Well, what about the name?” It’s a little bit of an out there name, Smoove Move, and I just wanted him to have some input on that. But he was like: “No man…” He told me right off the bat that he loves being directed and he welcomed the whole experience. He loved the idea of doing something for a younger audience and exposing himself to a new generation. It was amazing at our previews, once the character’s names came up, no matter how young the audience, they all knew him. It actually shocked us how young his fan-base is!
Q. It’s rare that the actors get to meet when doing voice-over work. But with Turbo, some of the main characters did get to meet…
David Soren: Yeah, we managed to get Paul Giamatti and Ryan Reynolds, who are the two brothers, together. We really wanted to have them connect on that level and help create the chemistry between these two, and friction and comedy that could come out off it. It was great to see them plating with each other and figuring out who the character really was. They both really appreciated it too, to have that opportunity.
Q. How difficult was it to animate a snail and creating a personality from eyeballs on stalks?
David Soren: It wasn’t easy. Initially, I did a lot of drawings. I had some of the character designers do a lot of drawings to experiment with arms. But it turns out they’re creepy. A snail with arms is not a great look. So, we abandoned that fairly quickly and just embraced the limitations that we had and having seen the movie now, it was probably the right call. It forces you to find different opportunities of having them emote and interact with other snails. So, it really was a case of creating a more original type of character because of the limitations it posed upon us.
Q. The transformation that Turbo undertakes, being sucked into the engine of a street racing car, was great. When you were developing the story, was that always how you saw it go?
David Soren: It was actually, during the development process, one of the later things that I cracked. It was one of those things, initially, where we struggled to find a viable way to make him fast… and just how fast to make him. So, this idea unlocked the potential and, ironically, our head of story created that as the very first scene he storyboarded and it’s almost exactly as you see it now. So, that was our showpiece for a while to get our talent involved.
Q. Indy 500 and Indy Car Racing are also heavily involved. Was it always Indy 500 as opposed to F1?
David Soren: It came on as I was developing the character of Turbo. He was obviously obsessed with speed but that obsession I felt needed to be specific rather than just any form of speed. And I liked the idea of him going into the garage at night to escape the reality of working at the plant and watching TV and car racing. When you think about car racing, at least growing up in Toronto, we were surrounded by the Indy 500. It’s the gold standard, in North America, of auto racing, so for any race fan, be it human or mollusc, it seemed like that should be the thing.
Q. You said you had a wish-list. Was there anyone else you had in mind you couldn’t get hold of?
David Soren: No, I think everybody that I wrote with in mind we got. There were others… obviously, when you’re putting a cast together and it’s an ensemble and voices have to be in sync with one another, there’s a certain amount of casting process that happened throughout the remainder of the parts. For instance, we always had the character of Smoove Groove in mind, but then thought the leader had to be a more rambunctious intimidating type, that could specifically freak Chet [Paul Giamatti] out as much as possible. So, Samuel L Jackson came to mind. And then the others kind of fell into place. I wanted a female voice, but a distinct voice, so Maya Rudolph came in and was so gifted. And we had a storyboard artist working at the studio, named Mike Bell, who was a big, husky voiced fella, and we used him for White Shadow. But after he did it, we didn’t need to bother finding anyone else. He was perfect.
Q. Strangely, I would never have placed Samuel L Jackson as the voice of a snail… But his lines seem to be tailor-made for him…
David Soren: Well, when you have Samuel L Jackson in your movie, you don’t want a tame version of Samuel L Jackson [laughs]. You want the unhinged version.
Q. What made you choose Los Angeles as the setting?
David Soren: Well, I live there and the snails in my yard live there. The thing about LA is that there’s a great history of automotive movies, racing movies, and car culture in general. So, it seemed like kind of the perfect set piece. I didn’t want our snails to live in Indianapolis and make it easy for them. But I think mostly by virtue of the fact they were in my yard. If I had to do it again, I might pick Hawaii so that I could get to go there.
Q. Will there be a sequel?
David Soren: We will see. I think Turbo would be very excited to have another adventure. I’m certainly very invested in these characters now. And there’s a wealth of different characters who could go on different adventures. But beyond that, I’m taking a little mental holiday from snails.