I was provided an all expense paid trip to cover the #Cars3Event including this interview coverage with Cars 3 Director and Producer Brian Fee and Keven Reher. All opinions are my own.
I loved getting to talk with Cars 3 Director and Producer Brian Fee & Kevin Reher. Yes, getting to talk with the talent is awesome but you truly get the heart of of the movie when you talk to the director and producer. And heart is definitely what we got with this interview. Both Brian and Kevin shared such touching stories.
Cars 3 is more emotional than the first two. We see how Lightning McQueen is getting older and is now faced with trying to keep up with the younger, faster cars. Yes, it’s an animated movie but this issue is what we all go through.
Read on to get the background and heart behind Cars 3 Director and Producer Brian Fee & Kevin Reher. Here’s some of my favorite moments from the interview.
Cars 3 Director and Producer Brian Fee & Kevin Reher
First question was about animation and how real it looks.
Brian : Well just the graphics themselves. We have a new renderer, I don’t know if that means anything to you but we can do things that we couldn’t do on the first film. We can make things look- we can go wholeheartedly into a sense of realism, you know, we try not to say photo realism because I think photo realism, that would actually be kind of boring, we almost want like a hyper realism. We want to be able to control how you feel but we want you to feel like you can smell the air.
I remember sitting with the production designer and that was kind of like one of the main things I kept saying because he’d be like how about this how about this I’d just- I want to make sure you can smell the air. I mean we can’t smell anything, but make me think I can. So we went for a lot of atmosphere, you know, like you’ll see a lot of fog and things that are at a distance are so faded- just like the atmosphere between you and the thing that’s miles away, we just kind of dove into those things and we can now, because we can do these things.
And our movie, you know, being a Cars film, more than maybe other Pixar movies lends itself to that, you kind of have to be careful with other movies, because they’re cartoon characters, and we have talking cars. I don’t know if you can get any more cartoon character than that but we want them to look real, we want the car to look like it’s four thousand pounds. We want it to look, because everyone sees cars every day, everybody knows in your brain you know there’s reflections on cars.
You don’t necessarily look at these things when you’re on the road but you expect to see it, and we wanted to just lean into what we can take advantage of, and really go for it.
What do they want families to walk away with after watching Cars 3?
Brian : You know, I originally came at this film and for me it still is the most important part for me personally as a parent, my mother passed away, my father is getting older and I looked at McQueen’s and Doc’s relationship as a father and son relationship. You could see it as a mentor/mentee, however people plug into it in their own personal lives. And I have that moment- middle of my life, my mom’s passing away and you kind of feel that safety net that you’ve always had.
That moment where you get just a little scared that everything you’ve ever known is kind of dropping. And then but I have two daughters and I realized I’m their safety net, like they look up to me, I’m playing that role for them and it’s kind of- it kind of erased the fear I had of losing my parents, not that I don’t want to see them go, but it gave me new strength that a sense of purpose in life. So to me I look at McQueen’s on that same transition and that there’s something – You may think you’re losing something, but the best thing is still in front of you- have yet to come.
I also tell the story… I went to art school and have an illustration degree and my daughter has been drawing these little sketches with her crayons and stuff like that, but they don’t have very- you know, their patience is short, to say the least. And they would look at professional illustrations in books and stuff and I didn’t want them- I wanted to demystify that. I wanted them to, you know, that’s just a person, a person just did that, the only difference between those and their little doodles is that they took longer at it.
They went to school and learned how to do it and they spent more time on it. So I set up their- one of their American Girl dolls and I was going to paint it, I’m going to paint this girl’s portrait and I want you to see all that goes into it and it takes a while, you’ve got to put some time in. And, you know, I don’t know after about twenty minutes, they’re gone. And I was going to stick it out, I’m going to stick it out, and I’m going to show them that a little perseverance and a little time so I spent hours on a Saturday doing this, I didn’t get quite done but I got almost done.
And I showed them and they just went, yeah that’s cool, yeah and I had this moment where I just thought oh if I was going to paint something on a Saturday afternoon, I didn’t think it would be an American Girl doll. There’s a lot of things I could do, I mean I don’t have a lot of personal time anymore. And I kind of walked away and that was a failure it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but a week later, I come in on my older daughter Lucia, I go in her room.
And she’s eleven now so this would have been several years ago and she had these papers on the floor and they were her stuffed animals and she had set them up, sorry I can’t tell the story without getting emotional, she set them up and she was drawing their portrait and it was- And in that moment, I felt like that might just have been one of the most important paintings I’d ever done. And well more important than anything I would have done for myself.
And so that was the kind of thing I was trying to communicate, I wanted McQueen to feel that- when he spends most of the film trying to do service to his own career, right, service, the thing that he thinks he’s most passionate about. And terrified of losing actually, actually terrified of losing the one thing that brings him the most joy. And then I wanted him to see that there’s helping someone else do it is actually not only just as powerful but can be more powerful.
Kevin : For me it was the Doc Hudson McQueen relationship and my dad died and I was the car kid, my brother was the sports kid. And he never got to see even Cars One, and so the whole McQueen Doc stuff just slays me.
Whew! Emotional stuff. I think they had most of us tearing up.
Now in talking of Doc, voiced by Paul Newman, what was the process of having Doc in Cars 3 since Paul Newman has passed?
Kevin : Well the Newman Foundation was very generous with us and we told them- we let them know that this wasn’t just a marketing trick that this was really integral to the story, and we had all these recordings of open mic kind of thing that John [Lasseter] had recorded when he was doing Cars One. And so we had a transcript of all this and tried to fashion the story- what was the story- what would serve the story- what line could help us serve the story. And it’s pretty emotional when you hear it- and then we used the old Doc line, ‘you think I quit? They quit on me!’ Which mirrored what had happened to McQueen.
Brian : Yeah we originally tried a sound-alike because you kind of want to write whatever you want to write, right? It just wasn’t working it just was no magic it just- and then we decided all right, we have to find the lines, cross our fingers that we’ve got the right lines to help us tell the story. And so it was just spending a lot of time and finding when we can give Doc something to say.
Kevin : We also did the same thing with Tom Magliozzi with Click and Clack and we actually went back to the producer… And so he helped us go back to the original Car Talk tapes and- Actually came from those Click and Clack tapes that we were allowed to use.
I always love hearing how they choose the cast for these characters. Do they have people in mind from the start and do the characters develop with the actor?
Brian: After we have a pretty good idea of the character, we know what we’re looking for, we just we start casting-
Kevin: So Natalie Lyon and I worked together and so we needed a really smart actress that- you know, one of the things about the side characters also is you have to get it right away. So when Natalie, when Kerry Washington opens her mouth as Natalie Certain, you have to get that she’s smart, accomplished, knows what she’s talking about…
And you have to get that because you don’t have the time or the screen time to do a backstory for her or how she got there and all kinds of things. And so and Armie Hammer who is the nicest man in the world could channel his inner jerk and he’s so terrific at being sarcastic and everything else and yet if you talk to him in person besides being very handsome he’s super charming and really nice and they- you just- they immediately got what that character was going to be based on a character description that we were given.
And we usually come up with probably three actors that we like, you have to kind of be okay with Plan B or Plan C and then we go to John Lasseter who still approves all casting and we take a picture of the character, who he’s going to be talking to. So Jackson Storm talking to McQueen and we do kind of nonsensical theater. And we have lines from the Lone Ranger or lines from Social Network talking to McQueen, talking to Owen and see how it’s going to play off so that you don’t end up with voices that are too similar.
And part of it is there is the aspect of you just want the quality of the voice to match the image, wouldn’t Jackson have a strong voice deeper than a kind of thin- a thin voice, we wanted him to be a powerful car, so there needed to be broadness to his vocal range. Other times I think for Fritter we only put one voice in the crowd, wasn’t Lea the only one we did.
Kevin: We had one other one but Lea- I’m a big Lea fan I have all of her albums.
Brian: We could not find the clips for her for whatever reason because we were-
Kevin: … we couldn’t have obscenities. It’s really funny when you see animation swearing but we just-
Brian: We were so excited about her and then we pulled the clips and we would listen to it from Orange Is the New Black and then put her on and it just wasn’t – it wasn’t who Fritter needed to be. But she’s actually when you think about taking her visual off and you just listen to the voice, which is another thing we do, we don’t try to watch their facial acting, a lot of actors get a lot of it out of their being and their facial expressions.
We’re looking for the actors that do it with just their voice, or at least it jumps out. And we weren’t for whatever reasons, she’s really mild, her vocal performance in Orange Is the New Black is milder than you would think when you take her face and her presence out of it, so they weren’t going to work and we knew if we put this in front of John, he was going to say no.
Kevin : So we pulled up some of her standup.
Brian: Her standup is great, so she did her own audition, because we didn’t want to let it go, we wanted her to be in the movie. So we sent her some script pages, she read the script pages at home in her iPhone and did her own audition and so that’s what we used.
Kevin: And she’s actually on the sound track during Riding on the Freeway of Love with horns and backup singers because she’s a singer and then again Easter eggs and little eggs, she is Boo in Orange is the New Black so her first moment is when she goes Boo and then when she says- you’re going to feel the wrath of the Belleville Unified School District.
She actually went to Belleville High school and even then we get crazy like even license plates like the license plate on Natalie Certain is Kerry Washington’s birthday and New York where she was born and we- and we have production babies and we have Kerry Washington’s son and Armie Hammer’s son in the production babies at the end.
Brian: And Cristela actually transformed how we wrote that character, so one of the things we looked for when we cast Cruz was we spent a lot of time. Cruz might have been the hardest character.
Because we wanted to get it right, spent a lot of time on her for casting too but Cristela had that voice, you know, it’s kind of like you line up a bunch of people in a room that are going to audition and they’re all wearing gray sweaters, Cristela was the one who’s voice was like the bright red sweater and we went to her standup act and we were already in love with her humor and her liveliness and her she’s just this infectious laugh and she just she starts talking and you want to hang out with her.
And there’s a part in her comedy act where she gets, she stops telling jokes and she gets really serious and she talks about her mother, very touching stuff for her.
Kevin : Who passed away-
Brian : And there’s such a soul in her voice when she stops telling jokes, and that’s when we knew oh this is, she’s got to be the right one. And then we ended up rewriting the character because Cristela had a story about growing up wanting to be a comedian in a border town in Texas and her mother told her, we don’t do that, we clean houses, we don’t-
And she was trying to protect her, but just the fact that she had to break through that barrier, that actually transformed- after we cast her we went back and- because we’re always tweaking and evolving characters as much as we can and we rewrote Cruz’s backstory with that in mind.
Kevin: We also have to make sure that the voice, you’re sending ostensibly a young Latina on a road trip with McQueen, we didn’t want to it was great, we never got any notes like are they dating, are they in love- you know, we never- (got the questions) What about Sally, you know, we never got any of that, because you really got that they were mentor/mentee or that they were going on this journey together but it wasn’t about love or romance or any of that stuff.
I think we could have talked with Cars 3 Director and Producer Brian Fee & Kevin Reher for a lot longer but, unfortunately, we had to let them go to their next event. We ended the interview finding out that Cruz Ramirez actually started out as a male character. They decided to try a female character and it stuck.
It’s so interesting to me to see what really goes on behind the scenes from the conception of the movie, all the way through to the big screen.
If you haven’t seen Cars 3 yet, go out and see it now! It’s in theaters. You’re going to love it! Let me know what you think.