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Published on May 22nd, 2009 | by darraghdoyle

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Q&A with Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke, producers of Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Christmas Carol banner
Remember I told you about Disney’s A Christmas Carol which was launched this week at Cannes? I was invited to the press conference with producers Steve Starkey and Jake Rapke of ImageMovers Digital where they answered questions about the movie.

Specifically, lest you think the Culch.ie travel budget is only hooj, it was a virtual press conference where we were invited to log into a site and submit questions to the producers, who were in Cannes.

Screenshot of Virtual Press Event

Very interesting way of doing it. It had its limitations, especially in terms of interactivity but it’s also a way for amateur film reviewers and interviewers to get in touch with crew they would never have access to.

# Who are Steve Sharkey and Jack Rapke?

Jack Rapke, formerly one of the most powerful agents in Hollywood, formed ImageMovers with Robert Zemeckis and Steve Starkey in 1998. Primarily focused on theatrical motion pictures, the company’s first feature was the critically acclaimed Cast Away directed by Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks.

Rapke and partners went on to produce numerous hits including Zemeckis’s thriller What Lies Beneath and the Ridley Scott-directed Matchstick Men starring Nicolas Cage. They started a what-was-then revolutionary technology called performance capture in 2004 and released The Polar Express and then continued with 2006’s Oscar-nominated Monster House followed by Beowulf.

Steve Starkey is an academy award winning producer. As well as Forrest Gump, which won in 1994, Steve has worked on films including Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the second and third installments of the Back to the Future trilogy, the black comedy Death Becomes Her and epic film Contact. Early in his career, Starkey worked with George Lucas at Lucasfilm, Ltd., where he became an assistant film editor on The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

So, serious Hollywood heads there.

As part of the virtual junket we were treated to a short clip of the movie, which is a 3D telling of the Dicken’s classic tale. The clip is quite impressive – I loved Carrey’s voice in it and I think it’ll be one of those movies that is a visual pleasure. Here it is with thanks to OriginalSharpSays.com:

Some of the questions that were answered about the movie are:

Q: How will this film differ to other “A Christmas Carol” films?

Rapke: It will be different because of course we have a completely different cast to the predecessors, and additionally we believe that this particular version of “A Christmas Carol” will be closer to what Dickens originally envisioned in his novel.

Starkey: Since we started our new company, which is dedicated to the new digital art form, we have a simultaneous 3-D pipeline creating images while we’re finishing the movie. So this is the first time we’re able to see 3D images while we’re in the process of making the movie. So if we want to make adjustments to enhance the 3D value of a shot or scene, we’re able to immediately go back and perfect the scene.

Q: What attracted you to Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” and how true have you stayed to the original?

Rapke: We consider ourselves above everything else, to be storytellers. And Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is one of the classic stories in literature with a memorable and iconic lead character. In addition it provides opportunities for tremendous spectacle which translates extremely well to our art form and 3D.

Starkey: Bob Zemeckis, who wrote the screenplay, remained very true to the original. We have a great respect for Dickens, in addition to which, we received a lot of inspiration from the cinematic imagery that Dickens wrote in the original tale. So we found very little need to invent things that were not in the original. However, you can expect to find more 3D elements in this movie than you’ve seen in our past films.

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Q: The Dickens story is pretty dark at times, how scary will the new movie be?

Rapke: Yes, the story has dark elements, which are of course necessary in doing a film about a man’s journey, with regard to the redemption of his soul. The movie of course is Disney’s “A Christmas Carol”, so we are maintaining the integrity of the brand, without sacrificing the dark moments that are necessary to tell this particular story.

Q: Having Jim Carrey as the lead, a man who is mostly known for his talents as a comedic actor – did this influence the style of the movie towards a more comedic approach, or is the movie mostly a drama? Was the decision to use him in multiple roles made at the start?

Rapke: The screenplay written by Bob Zemeckis is true to the Dickens tale. Scrooge is a man of many dimensions, mostly dramatic, but who also has comedic elements. We felt Jim Carrey had the depth as a dramatic actor to deliver the performance that’s necessary, and it goes without saying that his comedic genius also comes into play at time to time in the story.

Starkey: The decision to use Jim Carey to perform all the characters he does in the film was a decision we made at the start. This was very demanding on Jim, because he had to come up with distinctive voices and character traits for each character that he performed, to make them distinctive from one another. He also had to play Scrooge as his younger self, both as a boy, and a young man. And these two required a lot of thought about what it was that made Scrooge who he is.

Q: Was it difficult to come up with so many different voices?

Starkey: Yes – we hired a dialect coach for Jim to work with to come up with the voice of Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past and the Ghost of Christmas Present. So the difficulty was for Jim Carrey!

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Q: How did you create the look of Ebenezer Scrooge?

Starkey: The creation of all of our characters involved many artists, and ultimately it is the performer who takes on the role of the character. It starts with Bob Zemeckis, working carefully with our character artists, supervised by Doug Chiang, to come up with the first look of the character. We then receive additional inspiration when we cast an actor in that role. So in the case of Scrooge, we tried a number of different designs, and then were finally and ultimately inspired by Jim Carrey and what he brought to the role.

Q: How did you go about recreating Victorian England?

Rapke: Through intensive research of the period. This included studying the wardrobe, the Victoria & Albert Museum, looking at old paintings and researching what is left of Dickensian London in person. This task was primarily accomplished by our genius production designer/art director Doug Chiang.

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Q: Do you shoot entirely on a blue / green screen or do you shoot with some sets and props, which you later digitally recreate? What is the most demanding thing in working with actors on the picture like this?

Rapke: We do not shoot blue/green screen. We capture our performances on a 60 x 30 x 18 volume, which is on our sound stage. We provide the actors with anything that they interact with, e.g. props and environments. Later in the process we digitally create the look of the movie.

Starkey: Since the performance of the characters comes directly from the actors’ performances, I see very little difference between the performances in live action films than what I see in our performance capture films.

I think the most demanding thing for actors, is working without their wardrobe. Actors are used to using bits of their wardrobe to enhance their performance. For example, if they’re wearing a hat, or have a pocket watch, they may use that as part of their performance. So now we have a wardrobe fitting, prior to starting the performance capture, where we ask the actors what we can provide to help them with their performance.

So I find that the gap is closing between what you think of as a live action performance, and the performance in our films.

Q: What has given you the biggest challenge so far in creating this film? Where do you see performance capture going in the future? Could you imagine using an actor’s image without them being on set?

Starkey: The biggest challenge was getting to the first day of performance capture. We once again pushed the envelope with regards to how many performers we could have working together in the virtual space. We were also limited by how long the scenes could be.

So in this film, with these greater demands for having all of our actors working together for an unlimited amount of time; it was a very difficult task for our digital artists. We were also attempting to get much finer data from the performance of our actors, and designed a new system to attempt to do this, which just barely made it in time to do the movie.

Rapke: It’s extremely difficult to predict where the future of performance capture is going. Our hope is that the art form is at its infancy, and will continue to be refined and be more accessible to many filmmakers. I do not foresee making these movies without the actor on the set. We believe in a fully immersive performance by the actor and always look forward to the actors themselves bringing their very very special talent to the character. Also the spontaneity of the performance allows for those magical accidents that sometimes take place!

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Q: What would you say to an audience that has a certain resistance to motion-capture technology?

Rapke: I personally went to film school and was trained as a classic ‘film’ maker. I don’t quite understand the resistance to the art form. The history of cinema is one of ongoing and continuing technological innovations that allow one to tell stories in different and better ways.

The first time someone moved the traditional movie camera was thought impossible. The first time a movie was cross cut, was thought impossible. The advent of sound was initially rejected. The advent of colour was initially rejected. So, it seems to me, that any type of modernisation of the technique has had at its origination a natural reticence.

Our art form is just another way of telling stories, which is what the cinematic arts are ultimately all about.

Disney’s A Christmas Carol is released in Ireland on November 6, 2009.

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About the Author

Blogger, event addict and fan of street and performance art. You can contact me directly at darraghdoyle[at]gmail[dot]com or @darraghdoyle on twitter.



One Response to Q&A with Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke, producers of Disney’s A Christmas Carol

  1. Maxi Cane says:

    Great post and interview.

    Nice one.

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