Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation is coming to theaters June 13th, and is sure to be filled with all the fun, laughter, and pandemonium of the previous two films.
Pending the release of his new animated picture, we chatted with director Genndy Tartakovsky about some of his directing methods and how the cast, crew, and technology brought the movie together.
Were any interactions between characters based on the experience of going on a cruise with your in-laws?
Genndy Tartakovsky: I did tell them, “Look, so this is the way I’m positioning the movie, you know I’m going to say, my in-laws,” and they were loving it up. I do like them, we get along. It gets too much sometimes like any in-laws, but generally, they’re really nice and they did pay for the whole trip so it’s very generous, but I don’t think any specific things that they did made it in probably it was just the overall feeling. You know, because all our characters are so specific.
So some of the actors bring up their time with you because they don’t spend a lot of time together. Do you have any methods you consider unorthodox when you’re coaching actors in the booth?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Well, one thing is you can’t tell them how to say it. Because we write it, we storyboard it, we put scratch voices on it, we screen it; it gets scrutinized. By the time it comes to them, it’s kind of figured out and so you want them to better it, and at the same time you still want them to be on pace and on timing to what we’re doing with the picture. And that’s tough. Especially with Jim Gaffigan, I did one little line reading and he’s like “Let me do it!” Because they’ve got very unique timing and they’re amazingly funny and so I’m always very conscious about never giving them a line reading unless they ask for it and because they will always find a funnier way to do it, then we’ll adjust after. But they’re very amazing, they’re cordial. With Andy I’m laughing through the whole session, especially because his Johnny lines are really goofy. And Kathryn is amazing, Keegan is great, so yeah.
How do you find it easy to help them connect with the other characters that they’re not running the lines with?
Genndy Tartakovsky: I do it. I think what Kathryn was saying is —
You get in character?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Yeah! I pretend. Sometimes it depends how I feel, it depends who I’m doing it with. Some people just want to read, some people want it to really feel the real acting between. Because you’re trying to get the right timing and if someone’s just doing their lines without the in-between lines, especially in a scene where they’re playing off another character, that’s really hard. And so, we’ll record Adam, and then a month later we’ll get Kathryn but they’re having this big scene together. Then I’ll remember what Adam did and the I’ll mimic it to her as we reread the lines. And it’s hard, I’m not from an acting background so it’s hard for me. But luckily through all my TV work, I would always direct the voice actor in the booth, so I had started doing it a little bit. But in TV, it’s really funny, we always get the whole cast together. Dexter was always with Dee Dee and the three Powerpuff Girls were always together and that made it a lot easier because they feed off each other. And then when I got into features, we were able to do one group recording on the first movie, and that’s it! And then from then on, from the second movie through the third movie, everybody’s by themselves and it sucks because you want that interplay.
How much has the technology changed even though it’s just a short span over the course of these three films?
Genndy Tartakovsky: It changes every year because especially for Sony Pictures Image Works, they have to stay on the cutting edge because they facilitate all the big, live, action movies so they’ve got to be very competitive with everything new and for us it’s basically the same. I think it’s just they figured out a way to do it easier. Like with the animation on the first one, we struggled because I wanted Drac to have this expression and then this expression and then completely break his model, and so the animators had to literally redesign it each time. It took a lot of time. Now all their faces are so much more pliable that they can do it much quicker than actually starting from scratch. So it hasn’t changed that much.
When you got to collaborate with George Lucas was there anything specific he taught you, or anything you learned from him that you brought with you later in your career?
Genndy Tartakovsky: The one thing he said, I had like three or four lunches with him that was about it for our interaction, but the one thing he said that I thought was brilliant was, he goes, “All people really want to see is a puppy thrown into the freeway.” And what that means is a puppy, you instantly love it. Everybody loves a puppy. It’s cute, it’s adorable, it’s innocent… and getting put into the most horrific situation. That’s what that means. And I thought that was a really, very simplistic way to explain that you just want to care. Depending on what you’re watching, I don’t think a lot of people are going to cry at this movie, but hopefully you’re on board for the silly fun. But that was the one thing I always kind of kept.
I don’t know if you’ll be a part of Hotel Transylvania 4, but does this one wrap up an arc for you?
Genndy Tartakovsky: For me, yeah. I think especially because I got to write this one with Mike McCullers it feels like a lot of my voice from all my other work. Especially at the end there’s this big action sequence that I think will take people by surprise because it’s big, it’s fun, it’s dangerous, it’s epic. But for me, I think I’m done. At the end of the second one I yelled that “I’m done!” You never know. What’s happened in the industry Is because of the Netflix’s, the Hulu’s, everything, and the studios, there are so much more opportunity to do my own thing and after I finish the Samurai Jack season five I’m like “These are my roots, I need to develop my own stuff.” I have my own movies and shows that I want to do so I decided after this movie it’s going to be my own thing.
I thought “Monster Tinder” or “Zinger” was pretty brilliant. Did you come up with that bit?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Yeah! It was myself and Michael McCullers.
What’s the secret to finding what kids find funny in all these different generations?
Genndy Tartakovsky: It’s really as I reflect on everything I’ve done, I remember when we were doing Dexter I thought people love it because it’s kind of quirky, and the idea is good because he’s a scientist. I thought it was all concept. Then went I actually went to my first comic book convention for Dexter, people would come up to me and they’d go “Oh my God you captured the brother-sister relationship so perfectly.” And I was like “What?” What people loved was that they found accessible the relationship. So, it wasn’t all the things that I thought I was doing, but what I got right accidentally, in the beginning, was the brother-sister thing. Because it was based on myself and my brother, because he would have all the good toys and I would want to play with him and he wouldn’t let me play, I had to play a certain way; so it was that and because it captured this universal feel of siblings, that’s what made it really accessible and successful. So from that point, I started to think about it a little smartly if I could, because really with comedy, I don’t know what you like, I really don’t know what a ten-year-old likes. Yeah, probably a fart or a burp is going to work but you can’t do a movie full of fart jokes. Maybe you can, I don’t know. But it’s low hanging fruit, even though we do a couple of really good fart jokes that are very character built, comedy is hard and what I believe is funny is sincerity so if it’s a true joke. I don’t personally like a lot of one liners, it’s just kind of clever and it’s like “oh okay you came up with a funny pun,” but especially in this movie there’s so much more physical humor, and timing humor, and rhythm; you might not be laughing but you have a smile and it’s very fun to watch. It’s more of a fun experience. To get a belly laugh, that’s so hard. We’ve had multiple screenings and when all the kids and adults are laughing at the same joke, that’s gold.
I love that blob that you can just tear him to shreds and he keeps going and he’s just like “No big deal.”
Genndy Tartakovsky: It’s funny because he really grew from the second movie to be of such a popular character so now he’s almost like part of the —
Creating the voice for blobby, the little blob, is that just you blowing bubbles? Is there a little technical enhancement there?
Genndy Tartakovsky: No. I mean we definitely put sound effects to mask my voice with it. But no, it’s just like *makes bubbling noise* and that’s it. Every time we used to do storyboards and we’d pitch it, the sound effects, it’s really like you’re playing on the floor with a car. It’s all very natural, if you can forget about your security of people watching you be ridiculous. I love watching Steve Buscemi record because he’s an amazing actor, he’s on Boardwalk Empire, he does all these amazing roles and then we go “Can you bark happily and then howl?” I feel guilty because he’s so much more than just what this is, but he just thinks about it for a second and then he just pops into it, and he nails it, and it’s amazing, and it’s got all the feeling of it.
Do you write dialogue for Blobby in your script? Do you give him a subtitle, so you know the attitude of the bubbles?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Yes, we do. For sure.
The reason I ask that is because of James Gunn, he has a Groot script for Guardians of the Galaxy where he writes the dialogue for Groot. So, when Vin Diesel says, “I am Groot” he knows what Groot is saying with the intent of “I am Groot.” So you know the intent of what Blobby is saying with all the bubbles?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Yes, absolutely.
Awesome. Now these three movies are a trilogy, what do you hope people will take away from them overall?
Genndy Tartakovsky: I think fun, laughter. This is a comedy, we’re not trying to make you cry or anything. There’s an emotionality to it and there’s a family so I think it’s bringing this family to life and that there are silly, funny movies that you can sit back and enjoy and not think too hard about. I’ve always said there’s a place for a When Harry Met Sally comedy, there’s a place for a Dumb and Dumber, and there’s a place for an Airplane. They’re all three very good comedies, but very, very different. But in animation it seems we’re only supposed to do whatever the Pixar or the Disney style of animated film, but why? Why can’t we do Blazing Saddles a comedy— just as good, but just in a completely different way. That’s what we’ve always tried to do. When I came into this franchise I’m like, “Yeah, it’s Dracula, and he’s crazy and erotic, and you got Adam Sandler as the voice. Why not embrace all that and make it a cartoon? It still has heart and real human feelings at the core, but on the surface it’s goofy.
Last question, was there a lot of thought into making the release date a Friday the 13th?
Genndy Tartakovsky: I think it just landed that way. It really did. They were very nervous about moving it to the summer. I was too initially, because we’ve been so successful in fall, why do you want to shift it? But at the same time, you look movies that are released in the summers and the ones in the fall, and there’s just as many kids every single day. It’s accessible to everybody during the summer. And then with the Friday 13th date, that came after the idea. We initially started making the movie for the fall, but it was a cruise already and then it was a summer vacation and then it seemed like it was a natural fit.