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Timur Bekmambetov - Interview
You’ve got to respect a director who can take his sensibility for the paranormal and fantastical, from a foreign country no less, and make it work for the sensitive palates of his temporary home. To bridge the gap between two cultures hasn’t always worked for those from a different country but Timur Bekmambetov made it work with his breakout hit, WANTED. He gave America a stylish and slick actioneer that not only proved the Russian director knew American audiences it proved that he was a talent that wasn’t limited to films that involved battles between warring factions of “others.”
He sat down with me during Comic-Con this year and talked about how and why he decided to put aside his directing hat in order to help shepherd the first-time feature director, Shane Acker, as they brought the film 9 to the silver screen. The heady thematic elements absolutely put this movie in a class that has been unseen so far this year and it was nice to talk to someone about animation that didn’t have anything to do with talking toys.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Thank you for talking to me. I am a huge fan of your work, from the early work to the work you’ve done in the last year. How did you become involved in this picture?
TIMUR BECKMAMBETOV: I knew Jim Lemley, partner/producer and he found Shane. He sent me a DVD and in my room at the festival there was a DVD player with this DVD in it and within 10 minutes I decided I wanted to see more and I wanted to know more about this world and it was a reason for me to submit the project.
CS: After seeing what Shane had put together, what became your role in this project? What became your responsibility?
BECKMAMBETOV:To protect Shane to help him make this movie. I know how difficult it is to deal with people who have responsibility. And to protect him to be between him and the studio and to help him make decisions. Not to make his life more easy but more meaningful.
CS: Was that different for you? A new experience?
BECKMAMBETOV: No. I was a producer before. I produced Russian language movies. But I was a director. I produced and directed. With him, I was trying to remember myself, my bad days, and also to help him to be himself. What is exactly what happened to me. Other people helped me to be myself because you can lose your uniqueness. And it’s part of the job of a producer to help the creator to be himself.
CS: Was that a concern? I realize that that’s what a producer does – they handle the oversee and all that, how important was it for you to understand what Shane wanted to do?
BECKMAMBETOV: Just ask him. You just have to think and just ask. And just how to figure out his unique vision correlate with the audience. Sometimes we like something but the audience has a different experience and we have to figure out how to bring the two together.
CS: How was it that what you saw that got you signed on board and eventually became this movie, how much did you know how eventually this movie was going to look like?
BECKMAMBETOV: It was from the beginning. I really think that the audience tired of seeing a dozen animals in animation. There is an audience for this type. Coraline as an example. It was a bit more perverse.
CS: You are right. There is an audience that wants something more mature. They don’t want dancing zebras and talking elephants and what have you. When you look at a project like this and Tim Burton, of all people, was there ever sort of a collaboration of Shane’s or did you offer your input, did Tim offer his, or were you hands off and let him do his thing?
BECKMAMBETOV: Well, better if you ask him.
BECKMAMBETOV: Has to be delicate because we are directors too. It’s kind of unique. Two directors for a movie. That’s why we were trying to be very delicate.
CS: Was it difficult?
BECKMAMBETOV: No. No. I understand when I have to say something and understand when I don’t. I will say once and I have to take responsibility to continue. Because you are the director. If you force the creator to follow you, then he has to make a decision. Every decision has consequences.
CS: Did you find the actual production process smooth sailing?
BECKMAMBETOV: It was dramatic but it was very organic. There were a lot of problems and difficulties but it’s very organic. There were no people or factories producing separate pieces. Shane was involved. What was unique with this project is that Shane was involved in every area. He created the characters with his friends and he was the artist, director, he was the creator. It was very unique which is why it was difficult because ??? because we know limitations helps us to create unique ideas. If you have enough money to do whatever you want then like usual you will compromise yourself or somebody else. If you don’t have all the money, then there are obstacles. It helps you to figure out the unique way. It’s like a sculpture. When you don’t have money, every day you have to make a decision. By making good decisions you help the movie. That’s the role of the director – to figure out what’s more important and what’s less important.
CS: Is that one of the ways you helped Shane?
BECKMAMBETOV: Especially when the conditions were very bad. He didn’t have enough resources to do whatever. No specific things.
CS: I assume you have seen the finished film. When you saw it, what are you most proud of what you see on the screen?
BECKMAMBETOV: Visual. How beautiful it is visually. Every shot, every frame is a picture. You can frame it and put it on a wall. A masterpiece.
CS: And how was it being an animator? You are not from that world per se. Does everything translate very well?
BECKMAMBETOV: I don’t feel this movie is just animation. I feel like it’s an action movie. It’s action/adventure. The epic scale and tone of the movie and type of action in the movie, reminds me more of big action movies. It’s a huge epic piece, like War of Worlds. It’s good animation. No silly jokes. The animation itself is like real actors.
CS: Tell me about that. I have not seen the film yet but tell me about the style. What separates it from what people would think of typical Disney-style or DreamWorks?
BECKMAMBETOV: Our adults are real. They are human. They are not funny adults. They are adults and real. They have a soul. With this type of animation – it’s a new style – more grounded animation so that the characters are more realistic. Look how they move, how they talk, more subtle, more delicate, real, dramatic.
CS: Gives it more humanity?
BECKMAMBETOV: Yes, it’s the theme of the movie. What is soul for us? Can we transfer our soul to a machine? We really trust this machine and but people can make a mistake. And the moment you push a button, you stop the process. We take a picture and then we don’t remember because we know it’s there. It’s very dangerous because it can be broken, you can lose it, and we are losing. We are losing abilities. By Googling everyday, you don’t have to learn. Because you can Google all day long and our skills, our abilities to create everyday. And we make these machines and transfer our intellectual abilities, to remember, but there is no soul. And one day the star of the movie can try and explain this. I hope it will be not so soon.
CS: During the production of the film, because this is a different kind of film, was it a production that took longer than expected? Or, when you storyboarded it out and said “This is what we need to do” did you find that things went along according to plan?
BECKMAMBETOV: Yes. Perfect. Shane is very organized and because he was the creator and not just the director. Everything was under his control. That’s why it was cheaper because it was one person to make decisions and producing things himself. Instead of one person who is a director, another person is art director. It’s just one person and he is very organized and understands every single thing from the beginning. He created this world himself and he knows all the rules and was very logical.
CS: What do you hope people take away from it after seeing the film?
BECKMAMBETOV: That we have to save our souls and share with other people what we have. First of all we have to share with other people. It’s how we can save our souls.
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