We were invited to Burbank last month to take part in a press day for the upcoming Disney animated film Moana. Moana will be the 56th Disney animated feature, coming off a very successful turn with Zootopia earlier this year. One of the links between those two films is Jared Bush, who co-wrote and co-directed Zootopia and is the screenwriter for Moana. He’s not only tremendously talented, but hysterically funny, concise with his words and personable. I’ve sat at two roundtables with him this year (and spoke to him about Zootopia in 2013) and while we’ve been interviewing filmmakers and such for years, I was taken most on this press day by the collaborative nature of animated films. I knew they were a team effort, but not to the extent for a screenwriter.
Jared Bush (left) in a roundtable format with bloggers and members of the story team
Before digging into that, I wanted to mention a little about Moana. The segments we saw of the film – which was not yet finished and probably still isn’t (Bush said that movies aren’t considered finished until they are released into the theaters) – was beautiful, lush, and very funny. I’ll be posting a couple of more articles in the coming months about Moana, which is about a 16 year old girl who wants to “find her true self”. She is drawn to the sea, but doesn’t know why – and the village does not allow for venturing out. Yet, she does so anyway, in an adventure to save her people, but she also finds her own identity.
Jared Bush (left) and Dave Pimentel (Head of Story) talk storyboarding Moana
Jared Bush has been in animation for five years, he worked with live action before that. He calls his work in animation, an “amazing, collaborative process”. While I’m honing in on Bush for this article, he said that the process was “usually 12-14 of us trying to bang out the story, figure out who the characters are, what the themes are and what we want the movie to say”. There were several others from the story process discussing it with Bush, and I will talk more about that in the future.
Bush said that he has written upwards of 700 drafts of Moana in the past year. Unlike live action where a script can be fully written and then worked through, the animation process is completely different. Over a 3-5 year span, the team would tear it down and then re-create it. Bush would write pages, and the team would debate them and decide what would stay and what would go. Every so often, they would screen what they’d worked on to get a feel for the story.
When Bush worked in live action, he said that “I would go off for two or three months and figure out an entire script”. In animation, he’d go off for two or three days and write a handful of pages, or one act. Then he’d bring the pages back quickly for the story team to talk about them. The pages would be rough, really just enough to get an idea of the scene and if it was on track with the rest of the film. As story artists would draw, he “finessed the dialogue”. The pages would be a template, as he said that John Lasseter likes to say, “Movies are never finished, just released”.
I was really struck by this method of collaborating. As someone who tends to like to work on my own, the thought of having my work dissected continually isn’t something I’d be able to do so easily. Yet, I talked with Bush for a couple of minutes and he seems to absolutely thrive on it. And not only did Bush and the team have to work within the framework of stories and character, but also of research and with the “Oceanic Story Trust”, a group of advisors from different walks of Polynesian life who kept the film true to its roots.
How does one follow up a wildly successful film like Zootopia? I really believe this is going to be another home run for Disney and for Jared Bush and the tremendous team at Walt Disney Animation Studios.