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Interview with Brave director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian

Director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian were in Edinburgh to discuss their new film, Pixar's Brave.

Ahead of the European premier of Pixar’s latest outing Brave, Adam caught up with director Mark Andrews and producer Katherine Sarafian at the Edinburgh International Film Festival to discuss the film.

The Scottish setting is a huge factor in the film. And I know you are quite passionate about Scotland and so was Brenda Chapman (co-director/co-writer) I believe, but when did that passion for Scotland turn into a realistic idea for a film?

Katherine Sarafian: From the beginning.

Mark Andrews: Yeah, from the get go. Brenda’s original idea, the concept she pitched to Pixar, came from her relationship with her daughter. She had this relationship with her daughter, these experiences as a mother and kind of put that in a Medieval Scottish setting when she pitched it. She says, these are the two things: Here is this experience that happened to me, which I think is universally relatable and meaningful to me and here’s this place that’s meaningful to me. And there’s that old adage, ‘write what you know’ and that’s kind of what we do at Pixar. Just coming up with original stories is incredibly, incredibly difficult and you have to be the expert on whatever that story is. So any advantage you can get the better. Whether it’s an experience from your life or a passion. That’s what you want to do.

What kind of research went into that? Because obviously you already know a lot about Scotland.

KS: We did two research trips. Two big research trips. Weeks at a time with several artists paints, pastel sketch books, cameras.

MA: I thought I knew Scotland until we did the research trip.

KS: We went deep. We didn’t just do sketches and drawings and photographs. We went way off the beaten path but we also spoke to people, we listened to the rhythms of the accent, storytellers. We studied everything. We sketched faces and face shapes. We went to the Lonach Gathering, the Braemar Games.

MA: Boulders, faerie mounds. Put our foot in the ancient ground out footprint of the old ancient Caledonian kings up in Argyle.

KS: We got rained on. Everything.

MA: Fought sheep. Highland coos.

KS: The whole thing. We marched with the clans. We went to go deep in research because with Pixar it always is research, research, research. Write what you know means you really need to know it. So he knew Scotland, Brenda knew Scotland but the whole team really needed to know Scotland, so we got a lot of artists over here. And then working with our wonderful voice actors we would ask them questions. It’s like we would write a script and we thought it sounded Scottish but we wanted to check. Is there a more Scottish way of saying this word or that word? And we’d get great ad libs from them and really we’d learn more about the rhythm of the accent and the way phrasing works. So yeah, tons of research.

MA: Jings crivens, help ma’ boab.

I was shocked to hear that in such a big film! It was a nice touch. You mentioned the Scottish cast there but I believe Reese Witherspoon was originally cast?

KS: Yeah, she was. She was Merida for a couple of years actually.

Did she actually do anything on the film?

KS: She did. Well, although in the end we had to cut it out because she had to leave us due to scheduling. Kelly Macdonald has been amazing, stepped in and really got to that teenage-ness and had a wonderful spirit. And she’s been great. But Reese had really a nasty schedule, she had so many things. It’s taken us about six years to make the movie and that’s a lot of voice talent visits and we change it all the time.

MA: And you’re re-doing it and re-doing it. It’s not like in live action where you might tie up the actor for three months to be on set and to do it. In animation, I mean these things take years to do so you bring them in for sessions over and over again and then they go away and the film is changed and they come back so…

KS: Reese regrettably had to leave due to scheduling and we were delighted that Kelly was able to step in. But now Reese has a Scottish accent she can use if she needs it.

I was going to ask, how was it?

MA: It’s great.

KS: We used fantastic coaches and she is a very dedicated student. She really studies things. She’s very smart and very studious. When she’s going to learn something she learns it. So now that will be a skill if she needs it later in life, she’s got it.

We talked about Brenda Chapman previously. How much of the mother daughter relationship came from her because obviously that’s the strongest theme in the film?

KS: It was the core inspiration.

MA: Yeah, that was the core of the inspiration, it was all hers. From her idea.

KS: Her daughter was about six at the time.

MA: But just kind of projecting her ahead to a teenager when it’s really going to be hellish. What’s this going to be like? That’s kind of at the crux, exploring that journey. I’m a parent. I’ve got a daughter just like Fergus. So to me it wasn’t just mother/daughter right, it’s parent/child. And I go through all the same things, their mother is like how do I let them know I am just doing this out of love and I don’t want them to hurt themselves or fall into the same traps that I fell into. I want to help you and lead you and they’re pushing you away, saying get out of my hair I don’t want you… And that’s a universally relatable topic, subject matter and just as a storyteller it’s just rich. For all those conflicts. Watch that journey unfold.

When she left the project, what were the circumstances that led up to that and how was it for you taking over?

MA: It’s always difficult, a director change. You never want to do that but everybody is dedicated at Pixar to make the best story you can possibly tell. And they’ll do anything. They’ll move the schedule back. We had the brand new software, this was the movie to get the new software going. So there’s a lot of challenges on this film. And then we have a director change. It’s happened before at Pixar. We’ve had Ratatouille and Toy Story 2. It happens in the industry all the time but they’re just committed to telling the best story possible. So when they came and asked me to take over as director, it was, boy this is daunting. It’s a fabulous story, I want to do right by Brenda, I want to do right by Pixar, and just jumped in and I kind of treated it as an adaptation. Here, I’ve got this great source material, it’s fantastic and there’s stuff that doesn’t work in it. Kick that out, then how do I fill in those spots and tell the best story that I can tell?

Brave is currently on wide release in the US and will be released in the UK in August.