Much has been made of the fact that John Carter had what the industry call “reshoots”, with the implication in some reporting being that the “reshoots” proved that the original principal photography was somehow botched and that expensive, unplanned reshoots were necessary in order to correct the mistakes of principal photography.

As part of our effort to drill down into the “What Really Happened?” question, we found this quote from Andrew Stanton, made well before thefilm

It’s like me saying to you, you can all go and write a piece about what we talked about today, but you only get to write it once. You don’t get to change a word once it’s set down. And that’s how movies are made, and it’s fucked up. It should be that you should somehow be able to balance economics and let the artist be an artist, and not be afraid of failure or trial and error.

You do it with takes, right? Everybody gets 30 takes, 10 takes, five takes until we get it right. Why should I suddenly be omniscient and know that something will work, no matter how it’s written on the paper? It’s a different beast when it’s on the screen. Believe me, we know that at Pixar.

There’s a knowledge that doesn’t come any sooner until you watch it. So why not plan for that? If history’s shown that, for 70 fricking years, why aren’t you planning a process?

Why, if it’s so proven that way, don’t you set up a process that acknowledges it? It’s been so forever.

That’s what Pixar did. We didn’t know how other people made films, we just used logic, which it turns out, nobody uses.

I couldn’t correct the whole screwed up process of live-action movie making, but that’s certainly on my agenda someday. But by hook or by crook, I managed to get on screen what I wanted to see. So I looked and I learned a tonne on the way.

Elsewhere, in various interview, both Stanton and producers Lindsey Collins and Jim Morris say unequivocally that reshoots (more accurately called “additional shooting”, but no on in Hollywood calls it that) were always part of the overall production plan, and that a provision for reshoots was part of the approved budget.  All parties involved in the production maintain that once the budget was approved, with reshoots included, the production proceeded without going over-budget.

As for the actual creative process — Pixar’s process has been much written about, and there is a documentary film about it, and it is as Stanton describes it – an ongoing process of refinement and correction.  His observation that “it’s a different beast when it’s on the screen” as opposed to when it’s on paper is a point that virtually any director or editor would agree with — where Stanton differs from most live action directors in that he doesn’t accept the limitations that most live action directors live with.

Here is a link from the Pixar Website entitled “How We Do It” that sheds further light.

And here is a good article from Wired.com: “Animating a Blockbuster”

Stanton’s stablemate Brad Bird also has some interesting thoughts on the Pixar Process, saying in essence that he doesn’t believe that mainstream Hollywood “has the guts” to adopt the Pixar Process for live action film-making.

GB: Pixar has become the gold standard among popcorn films as far as storytelling, and I’m wondering if the process of animation — and having the story locked in before the animators get to work — is one of the reasons. What I mean is, Pixar creators need to tighten the bolts on its plot and character before the animation process starts, while today with live-action films it’s not unusual to see summer blockbusters start shooting without a finished script.   

BB: I don’t know if that’s exactly true. We’re still tinkering with the story at the start of the equivalent of principal photography, which is the beginning of animation, when we’re still trying to find everything. We usually have a sequence that we know has to be in the movie, because it’s one of the big plot turns, and it’s usually 20 to 30 minutes in and it’s the shift from Act 1 to Act 2 or something that’s crucial. That will usually go into production first, because any version of the movie that would exist will have that scene in it. But the stuff around it — and often the opening — is what you do at the end, because what the opening needs to be shifts a little depending on the movie you’re exploring. So I would not say that we ever have  have completely locked scripts [at the beginning of the animating work]; they are in the process of being remade as the film is in the works. There are some films like “Toy Story 2? and “Ratatouille”  where it is really last minute, chaos reigning, trying to get the stuff ready for the animators so no one was sitting idle and drawing a paycheck.

GB: Pixar is widely admired but, really, rarely copied. Why do you think that is?

BB:  Everyone in Hollywood says they wish they could do it like Pixar, but they really don’t. There’s no secret at Pixar, but there is a belief in letting people pursue something with passion and take chances, and most of Hollywood, really, doesn’t like that. It’s too scary. Some studio executives will say they love obsessive creators who take risks, but really most of them would rather play it safe. Projects cost a lot of money and people would rather follow patterns they know and make things safe and accessible. Hollywood wants there to be a math formula for making hit films. To make something really great and different and interesting means taking risks and following these ideas in your head.

Although my own personal experience in film-making hardly qualifies me to be included in a conversation where the main observations are coming from the likes of Andrew Stanton and Brad Bird — I have suffered through the production and completion of 19 movies and I think there are some aspects of the process that are not well understood by those who haven’t lived it.  A film continues to evolve through each of the stages — the idea in the scriptwriter’s head becomes words on a page  which in turn becomes the idea in the director’s head.  But in the process of getting from what the director had in mind, to what he actually got “in the can” with real actors, real locations, etc….the film morphs again and a huge part of the editing process under the traditional system is “listening to the film” — and instead of imposing the original directorial vision on the mmaterial that was shot, the process becomes one of  remaining reasonably true to that vision but also open to what the actors, cinematographer, production designer, etc have actually delivered.

Having the ability to go back and reshoot some scenes (or elements within a scene – sometimes it’s just a closeup of one actor), plus add a few scenes that were not originally envisioned as necessary but which have presented themselves as the film “speaks” to the director and editor, is an invaluable tool in the overall film-making process. In most live-action film-making, there is either no provision for reshoots, or a very small provision (an “insert day” is sometimes allowed).

My point is that anyone who’s labored through the making of a film would understand the Pixar process and the logic behind it.  The issue is not the creative validity of that process — it’s the applicability of that model to live action film-making where the economics of remounting the production are vastly different than in animation.