Now that Andrew Stanton has broken his silence about John Carter, maybe this is a good time to share a piece from John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood from the chapter: “Pre-Production: Fateful Decisions”. This is the result of exhaustively combing through the record of anything about John Carter of Mars from the online (or other) media from the time Stanton signed on in late 2006, until actual Disney-generated publicity began in 2009 with the announcement that Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins had been cast. If anyone is aware of, or can find, significant interviews by Stanton or articles about him/John Carter in this time-frame (2007, 2008, up to the cast announcements in June 2009), please share. (To be clear, I’m not talking about replays of the ones cited here…..I’m talking about new interviews or articles that are unrelated to those quoted here.)
I will also note something from an earlier chapter, and that is this. Other than Disney’s announcement that they had acquire the rights to A Princess of Mars in January 2007, the first indication that Stanton was involved and that things were moving forward was an article that appeared in none other than Erbzine on October 2, 2007:
Pre-production for the Disney/Pixar “John Carter of Mars” film is gathering steam
Tarzana, CA: October 2, 2007
The Pixar creative team spent Tuesday morning exploring the massive Edgar Rice Burroughs archives in the ERB, Inc. offices on Ventura Blvd. Pixar’s Jim Morris (vp), Andrew Stanton (director), Mark Andrews (script) discussed the “John Carter of Mars” film project with Burroughs representatives, Danton Burroughs, Sandra Galfas and Jim Sullos.
All six members at the meeting expressed a deep commitment to the project, acknowledging that they had been inspired by Burroughs’ creations from a very early age. This is evidenced in the excitement held for the John Carter property and the plans for a film trilogy faithful to the Burroughs books. Projected release date is sometime before 2012.
Danton Burroughs presented the creative team with a wealth of resources, including art samples and books by ERB scholars such as Irwin Porges and John F. Roy. They noted that their major resource to date had been the thousands of official ERB, Inc. Webpages and Webzines.~ Bill Hillman
This was picked up and and repeated by a half dozen entertainment sites.
Pre-Production: Fateful Decisions
In the earliest stages of pre-production, Andrew Stanton indicated in several interviews that he was unsure as to whether and to what degree John Carter of Mars would be live action, animated, or a combination of both, nor was it clear whether it would be brought into the marketplace branded as Pixar, Disney, or something else.
Stanton’s first comments on the project came in Toronto in June 2008 at a June 8, 2008 roundtable interview promoting the June 29 release of Wall-E. In that session, Stanton provided the first acknowledgment that John Carter of Mars would be his next film, and that he was in active development of the project.
The reports across the internet spawned by this first article all described the upcoming John Carter of Mars as a Pixar film, although there is no indication that this was any more than an assumption, given that it was, at this point, an all-Pixar operation consisting of Stanton, Pixar writer Mark Andrews, and Pixar General Manager Jim Morris as producer.
On June 19, 2008, Alex Billington, writing in FirstShowing.net quoted Stanton on the issue of whether John Carter of Mars would be live action of animated:
One of the biggest questions surrounding the project is whether they’re planning on staying CGI or integrating live action. Stanton starts off by saying that “we honestly don’t know,” but adds that “it’s clearly got to be a hybrid of some sort.” As for what to expect, I suggest you don’t even begin to start guessing what that might mean. Pixar always tends to push the limits of our imagination and I think that’s what we can expect here. He explains that this first year is all spent “worrying about the story” and asserts that thinking about the visuals and figuring out how the film will look is a distraction from the actual writing. Instead, “this year is just about writing the script to make it as good as it can possibly be.”
Stanton’s next comments came in a June 25 interview with “Capone” of Ain’t It Cool News, also part of the Wall-E roll-out. In that interview Stanton said:
We’ve learned from the Pixar Methodology: don’t get distracted about how [you are going to do it] and all these things everybody wants to ask; just make a great story and everything else wants to fall into place. So in all other specifics we aren’t even going to decide upon until next year, once we have a script that we think i worth making.
As to how it would be distributed, Stanton told Slashfilm’s Peter Sciretta in an interview published June 27, 2008:
There’s been no discussion about exactly how it will be distributed or what moniker it will be under. Everything is going to be derived based on whatever we end up with script-wise, so this whole year is just about the script. In 2009 will be much more involved in the OK, exactly how is this going to get made? And exactly how are we going to present it? Nobody is worrying about that until there’s a script.
By January 2009 Stanton was certain enough of the answers to the questions about live action versus animation, and distribution label, that he was able to give an interview to Sci-Fi Wire’s Fred Topel, after which Topel wrote:
Stanton confirmed that Carter, based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, will be live-action. “Yeah, I think that’s the only way,” he said. “I mean, there are so many creatures and characters that half of it’s going to be CG whether you want it to be [or not], just to realize some of these images that are in the book. But it will feel real. The whole thing will feel very, very believable . . .
Asked if it would be a Pixar film, Stanton answered:
Well, it’s not being done by the Pixar crew. It’s being done by Disney, and I’m sort of being loaned out. We’re sort of using any element that we need to to make the film right. We’re not being purist with Pixar, but Pixar’s a brand that you have to trust that’s for all ages. This story of John Carter is not going to be an all-ages film.
Perhaps Stanton’s most intriguing comments came in a lunch with “Quint” of Ain’t It Cool News and Todd McCarthy of Variety in Santa Barbara on January 24, 2009, where Stanton was to be a member of the “Writer’s Panel”. Quint reported in AICN:
I was able to attend a luncheon before the panel and sat with Tom McCarthy and Andrew Stanton. Of course John Carter of Mars had to come up . . . here’s what’s going on with JOHN CARTER OF MARS:
– It is live action.
– [Stanton]:“It is huge, it is exciting, it scares the crap out of me. It’s either going to make me or break me.”
– It is NOT a Pixar movie, rather a Disney film. However Stanton’s creative team from Pixar are all still involved.
– The style is going to be very real, not highly stylized. He said that 20 some years ago that version could have been made, but since Star Wars and a whole glut of science fiction and fantasy films have ripped off giant portions of JCOM over the years the only option he sees is doing a straight up, realistic version of the story. He described it as if it was a National Geographic crew that stumbled across a preserved civilization while exploring a cave. Very real, but awe-inspiring . . .
– He has his second draft done and will be casting soon.
Thus as Stanton moved from “the year of the screenplay” in 2008, to early pre-production in 2009, the focus shifted from the relentless focus on the story, to questions of design, technology, casting, and — ultimately and crucially — budget.
Why did John Carter cost so much to produce?
ADDENDUM: I don’t want MCR to think I’m ducking the following so I will include it here, although it’s not part of that particular chapter of John Carter and the Gods of Hollywood — it’s in the chapter “Adapting a Classic”. This is, of all the quotes from Andrew Stanton, the one that most closely resembles MCR’s view of the universe on the matter of Stanton’s respect, or lack of respect, for the ERB books. Please note that there are at least 10 or a hundred times that he talks about his love for the books. In this interview he was specifically being asked to address the adaptation process, and he was a little bit assertive in his statement. The context is this was a red carpet interview by MTV Movie Blogs at the Los Angeles Film Critis Awards on January 13, 2009, where Stanton was attending on behalf of Wall-E, which was up for awards.
Posted 1/13/09 12:18 pm EST by Eric Ditzian in News
In an exclusive interview with MTV News, “WALL-E” writer/director Andrew Stanton dished the most details yet about the progress of his next feature, “John Carter of Mars,” an adaptation of a nearly hundred-year-old serialized novel about a Civil War vet mysteriously transported to the Red Planet, where he encounters all manner of alien adventures.
“It’s real,” Stanton assured us. “We’re full bore on it right now. We’re over the hump of the writing phase, and we’re certainly far from rewrites.”
Before he could even get to that point, Stanton had to solve a problem that had stymied filmmakers for eighty years: How do you turn the six separate installments of the novel into a coherent whole?
“I don’t want to be dissing it,” he said, “but it almost had an absence of a story for a feature film because it was very episodic. In its day it was a comic book. I mean, this book was written in 1912. It was the comic book you got in the time before there was such thing as comic books. So, it was really just about the next fight, the next adventure, the next romance.”
“The key was putting a story into it and creating characters that had to grow and real basic stuff that we all know a movie needs,” he explained.
Messing with a classic of the fantasy genre is always risky, but Stanton believes the passage of time is on his side. “Fortunately it’s an old enough story,” he said. “There isn’t such huge allegiance to it that people won’t mind that we muck with it a bit to hopefully amplify the essence of what made me interested in it as a young kid and hopefully will keep me interested in it as an adult.”
Another vital realization, Stanton told us, was that “John Carter of Mars” could not be a strictly computer animated feature like past creations “Finding Nemo” and “Monsters, Inc.” “There’s so much in it that can’t be real,” he said. “It’s the perfect definition of a hybrid movie,” utilizing both live actors and computer-based animation.
With the script in good shape, work has now begun on preproduction, production and casting. The question of who will play the title character is still up in the air. “I know everybody wanted Hugh Jackman forever,” admitted Stanton. “But he’s only getting older and more exposed now, so it’s a tough call. I’m your typical filmmaker, I want to find the next best unknown.”