Director Tom McGrath (Megamind) and Producer Ramsey Ann Naito (The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie) collaborated on the new DreamWorks animated film The Boss Baby. With a little over 50 years of working in animation between them, Tom and Ramsey shared their experience in animation, how The Boss Baby came together, and what their favorite animated movies are.
The goal for any animated movie is not to put a date on it, just to make it feel like you can play it 20 years from now.
How did you get involved with Boss Baby?
Tom McGrath: After Megamind I was looking for a new project? Development at DreamWorks is great; they acquire really interesting books they think would be fun for an animated project. There was a pile of books and in it was a book by Marla Frazee called ‘Boss Baby’. A baby in a suit? That sounds interesting. It was a really charming book that had a metaphor for when a baby comes into your life and takes over. The writing was really clever and I thought it would be a unique idea for an animation. There was a writer at DreamWorks, Mike McCullers, who had written for Austin Powers movies. We both had a similar take – if we told this story through the point of view of an older sibling, we could expand this world. We started playing with the idea that every kid’s worst nightmare is getting all your parents love and someone comes in and takes it. That’s a great theme – Is there enough love for everybody? Is here enough love to go around? What connected to me personally was that I’m the “boss baby” in my family. I have an older brother who I tortured. We were very competitive but it was great because in family you can look alike and act alike, but you’re often alien to one another. As you grow older, you go through the trenches with one another and that’s a bond that cannot be separated. My brother is my best friend now and I love him so much. In a way this is a love letter to my own past and my brother. Ramsey comes at it very personally as well…
Ramsey Ann Naito: Tom and I have known each other for almost 20 years. We were child prodigies. [laughs]. I think we were always looking for a project to work on together. 3 ½ years ago he sent me the script and when I read it, I thought it was a mirror for my life. My son was 7 when my second son arrived and he was jealous just like Tim was. It was great reading this story about two characters falling in love with one another and understanding what family is. Understanding that no one is going to get replaced and there’s enough love to go around. Personally I was very moved by the material and jumped at the chance to work with Tom because I respect him so much as a director.
TM: I had to go find Ramsey in New York. I always wanted to work with Ramsey and this was the perfect project. You have to find the right producer because that dynamic is really important.
Is the scariest part putting it out once you’ve finished this thing you’ve worked on for so long?
TM: Because it’s such a long process, you have to love the process. You’re working with some of the greatest artist in the world, that’s the day-to-day fun of it. When the movie is done, you’ve seen it a thousand times. The great joy after that isn’t the money, it’s sitting in an audience and watching them react. The laughter is always good, but you know you have them when you can hear a pin drop in the theater. We know that it’s a comedy but our hope is that people will be moved by it.
You’ve both worked on animation for a long time. What is it about animation that draws you to keep working on it?
TM: Part of it is the collaborative process and you have control over everything. You have much more control than you would on a live action project. There are too many variables. I worked with Ron Howard for a while and he always explained it as “A serious of compromises”. With animation you can refine it and refocus it. Because you draw out the whole movie like a comic book and watch it, you can improve it. You can actually see it before you make it and make sure you’re making the best movie. It’s a very addictive process.
RAN: I love animation because of the art form. It starts with pencil on paper and you’re working with some of the best artists and storytellers. Producing an animated film is kind of like wrangling 400 hungry cats, but they’re all really good artist and it’s creative. There’s so many moving parts from development, script development, story development, story-boarding, editorial, recording, animation, and then there’s post production and scoring the film.
TM: It’s multifaceted and that’s what makes it fun. For me, it’s the devil I know. It’s not that everyone can make a live action movie, but animation is so specialized. When you’ve been doing this for 30 years or 20 years, you kind of know what to expect out of it. What you learn from previous movies, you can apply to new movies.
What are your favorite animated films?
RAN: My favorite animated movie is Lady and the Tramp. I love that film. Also Fantasia because of its relationship to music. It’s driven by music and it’s not necessarily a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
TM: For me, it’s not even animation. I liked all Blake Edwards’ movies like Pink Panther and Young Frankenstein. They were very physical but animated movies. Recently, a movie that got me was Iron Giant. I was so moved by that movie. It felt like a timeless classic. The goal for any animated movie is not to put a date on it, just to make it feel like you can play it 20 years from now.