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The Polar Express - Robert Zemeckis Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. Mr Zemeckis, was it always obvious which way the movie would be made or was it a topic of much discussion?
A:
No, it wasn’t obvious. We realised that it shouldn’t… as a matter of fact, one of the conditions Chris [Van Allsburg] had on the sale is that he didn’t want it to be an animated cartoon and, at the same time, I didn’t think it should be done as a live action movie because all the charm and magic of the beautiful illustrations that were in the book which I think are so much the emotion of the story would be gone.
So, yes we had to decide how to ‘do’ the movie and I basically presented the dilemma to Ken Rawlstein at Sony Imageworks and said how do we get these Van Allsburg paintings to move and how do we make them moving paintings and that’s where he came up with this process of doing it ‘virtual’ using motion capture.

Q. What would you like for Christmas?
A:
I would like those Bose noise reducing headsets and a riding mower.
Hanks: A riding mower?
Zemeckis: Yeah.
Starkey: Are you gonna travel across the United States on your riding mower?
Hanks: Yeah, let’s do that. Whose is this? [Gestures to iPod] I’ve left you a secret message for later on.

Q. During the course of the film each of the main children learns a valuable life lesson. I was wondering if you could tell me what the most valuable lesson you learned making the film was?
A.
I have to say when I make these movies it takes me a couple of years to actually understand what I got out of the process of making the movie.
I couldn’t answer that right now, all the pain and suffering is just too close. Knowing what the themes of the movie were that we intended to make I agree with these guys I know what we were trying to do. How this has actually sort of affected me as a person and as a filmmaker I really won’t know for three or four years maybe.
Hanks: Make sure you get that quote: "The Polar Express: Pain and Suffering." If you could put that in the first paragraph of all your stories, that’s really what we want [laughs].
Starkey: Now if you’ve been on other press conferences with Bob Zemeckis then he probably said the same thing at the end of every movie: "After I get over the pain and suffering." [Audience laughter]
Hanks: Because this movie was about the Christmas Spirit and believing I think the pain was a little bit more painful and the suffering a little bit more insufferable.
Zemeckis: I don’t know whether anyone in this room has asked me this question, I’ve had it asked thousands of times, they say: "It must have been so much fun making that movie."
And I know that their reaction was that the movie was fun to watch so it must have been fun to make and I always have to go, 'No, there was no fun, there was no fun making that movie' [laughs].

Q. Robert, pain and suffering apart you always give us something in your movies that we haven’t seen before. Has, in this film, technology finally caught up with your imagination?
A:
It certainly has allowed me to basically create any image that I could imagine.
The movie is only limited by my imagination because I was exactly able to do that. If I said I think we should put a tree here, there it was.
So it was a really fantastic experience in that regard and I think it was the most relaxed and the least compromising I’ve ever had to do on a movie because I could in fact get the camera where I wanted it to be without being limited by the physical world.

Q. The film is very magical, do you remember seeing any movies when you were younger that you found very enchanting?
A. You mean a Christmas movie?
Q. From floor: Any movie really.
A.
Well, yeah, you know when I saw The Blob. No seriously that was one of my very first film going memories. And I loved the fact that…
Hanks: …it sucked guys up and spat out their skeletons? [laughs].
Zemeckis: And the fact that all the parents thought all the kids in the neighbourhood were crazy and Steve McQueen and they had to heroically break into the school to grab all the fire extinguishers to finally freeze the blob. That was like very powerful stuff.
Hanks: You were probably anticipating like The Potemkin or Citizen Kane. But no, The Blob. B-L-O-B is the way that’s spelt.

Q. You said the technology on this particular film takes away all boundaries and everything for yourselves. Where does it stop? Are you guys ever going to retire?
A:
We’ll eventually be forced into retirement, that’s not going to be a problem. I’m not quite sure… where is it going to stop? Where does anything stop? Who knows? We always seem to underestimate the future.

Q. Robert and Tom, before you retire have you got any plans to work together again?
Zemeckis:
I certainly hope so, but we don’t have anything that’s anywhere near a movie anywhere.
Hanks: I haven’t caused Bob nearly enough pain and suffering. I’m going to keep going at that given an opportunity.

Q. What is it between the two of you that really works?
Zemeckis:
I think we love working together because our sensibilities of what should be in the movie I think are very, very similar. That’s how I look at it. In the three films that we have done there hasn’t been a single situation where we didn’t see eye to eye, not one.
Starkey: If you’re on the set with Bob and Tom it’s amazing. Nothing is ever said. All they do is they just go out and work.
Zemeckis: Here’s how it works. Tom’ll be doing a scene and I’ll say cut and I’ll say, 'Tom maybe you should'… and Tom says, 'yeah I’ll do that'. That’s how we work together. Like an old married couple.
Hanks: We get to resemble each other after a while which is quite scary. We were down in Cast Away and we had this big three page scene, you know it was hot, it was miserable and we were looking at it and I said: "Bob, you know can’t I just achieve that by looking over there?"
And he said, 'well yeah'. So I said, 'why don’t we cut all of this nonsense and I’ll look over there and we will have saved three minutes?'.
"That’s great, let’s do it!" So we have that kind of collaborative give and take.
Zemeckis: Yeah and it’s great. Trust me, I do not have this experience with any other actors I work with so there are these scenes with these lines and I’ll go into Tom’s trailer and I’ll say, 'Well you know Tom, I was thinking do we need this line here?', and he’ll say 'cut it out! Get rid of it!'.
"What about this line?"
"Get rid of it! I don’t want to say of this. As a matter of fact Bob, I think we should cut this whole page out." And we do.

Q. What does Christmas Spirit mean to you and do you still believe in Santa?
A: Well, I think that you know, Santa is a symbol of the Spirit of Christmas, and I think that it’s really interesting that a large part of the world feels the necessity to actually visit this holiday and want to feel those feelings that the holiday brings each year.
So I think it’s an important thing that we do to reflect at what’s been going on and out place in the universe. It’s an important holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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