Interview: Enrico Casarosa Discusses ‘La Luna’

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to sit down with La Luna director Enrico Casarosa and talk to him about his work on the short that has been generating a good deal of buzz. Topics of discussion include the short’s journey from inception of the idea to getting it made, how Monsters, Inc. and Up director Pete Docter suggested they screen it at film festivals, that the short will be eligible for eligible for accolades this awards season, and the bold visual and sound choices made to give the film a unique voice. We also briefly hit upon a certain Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs that Casarosa will be working on next. For the first time, I am also including the audio of the interview, so if you would rather listen to our discussion, you have that option. Continue on for my in-depth interview with the director of one of Pixar’s newest (and most magnificent) shorts.

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Pixar Times: Enrico, can you describe the process from inception of the idea for La Luna to bringing it to John Lasseter? How far back can you take the idea to the short?

Enrico Casarosa: The first step probably of it is you go and ask around, “Could I pitch something?”. Then, usually, people are like, “Yeah, sure.” So, what then happens is that development – there’s three ladies in development – they read scripts and they help and provide notes. They’re very good feedback people. They’re the first ones who meet with you and you start pitching to them – some of the ideas are basic ideas, while others are super rough. You just tell it to them. I probably had four or five little buds of something. With La Luna specifically, I knew I wanted to do something with the moon. I loved the idea of coming up with something – my own myth of the moon. I loved so many [other films] like Grand Day Out, Wallace and Gromit – there are so many great little shorts about people going to the moon and finding out whatever, like what it’s made of (it’s often made of cheese).

Then, I put that together with the experience of growing up with my dad and grandfather not getting along too well and feeling a little stuck in the middle of that. I thought that could be a really good core story – a little bit about a boy finding his own way between these two big personalities. That was really the core and slowly we got a date to pitch everything to John and had to develop three ideas. I think La Luna was already coming out on top. There was a second idea I really liked and a third one I didn’t care for. So you spin these three plates and get ready for it. Development is very helpful in presenting this. It was really fun – you feel like a showman. You have to have a little showmanship here, to entertain John Lasseter, Ed Catmull, Jim Morris – those are the three persons who come in and see your pitch. It was a fun experience. I took it very much step-by-step. I [told myself], “Hey, I’m going to have some ideas for myself. It doesn’t necessarily have to go anywhere.

PT: It definitely sounds like it was fun. The title of La Luna was an interesting pick. How did you arrive at that title and were there any other options you were kicking around that didn’t make the cut?

EC: [The title of] La Luna came really early. For some reason, I thought it might not work because it’s a common word in Latin languages. It’s definitely in Spanish and Italian. Somehow, it cleared Legal. I guess it hasn’t been used [often]. There’s a [Bernardo] Bertolucci movie called La Luna – Italian 1970’s movie – that I found out about afterward. I guess it worked out. I started it calling that thinking that we would have to find something else because that’s too simple. Instead, it stuck beautifully to it. It worked well. It was already, in the first pitch, the name of the boat, so that was clear to me. Legal sides of these things, you know, come into question, but with shorts it’s so much easier. I bet you, with a feature, there would have been a lot [more] questions.

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PT: Looking at the visual aspect now, the stylistic choice is fascinating. It’s different from the films we have seen from Pixar before. There’s a “textural feel” that I’ve heard you talk about. Why did you choose to insert that textural feel into the style of the film and how does it accompany the story and the characters?

EC: I felt the kind of story I wanted to tell was so much like a fable. It could be like a kids book you’re reading to your son or daughter, so I thought a slightly more illustrative or more painterly or textural feel would support the kind of story we were telling, like a timeless folktale and fable. Within that, we also had the other side of it – my beat boards, my image boards, were all watercolor and pencil. That’s how I start visualizing the shots that I really would love to see. That’s a little bit how I write the short. That [led us to think], “Wouldn’t it be great to bring some of that?”. Some people even asked if we wanted to do it in 2-D with watercolor. Well, no. I wanted it to be immersive. I wanted it to be CG and computer animated, but I thought we could bring some of that settish, traditional media.

We looked at some [Federico] Fellini movies – there’s this wonderful movie, As The Ship Sails On, which is actually late in his career, a color movie, very slow-paced, but there’s some big sets and they look like sets. For example, the sea was made of big sheets, where they would turn around and put something underneath that and it would look like the sea. You could tell it wasn’t the sea but it was a wonderful, theatrical set and I thought a little bit of that would be fun. So, our backdrops in La Luna are a little bit like that – you could be at the opera or something, where there is a painted backdrop behind these characters. I like that feel, [as] it can really announce the story by giving it that feel.

PT: Absolutely. Can you talk about the decision process to take La Luna to these film festivals around the world before it premieres with Brave next year?

EC: The timing of it made it so that if we hadn’t, we would have shelved it for almost a year and a half. So, actually, Pete Docter said, “Why don’t we put it out this year and it can be up for Academy consideration this year.” It seemed to make a lot of sense. I certainly embraced it because we wouldn’t have to wait that long. I think they were very supportive in saying, “Hey, we make these wonderful shorts and sometimes they don’t spotlight.” There’s a wish at Pixar to have these shorts with even a little more of a spotlight on them, so this was a perfect opportunity. They embraced that and the whole studio said go for it. It’s so great to have its own little independent life. I felt very lucky about it. [First I thought,] “Oh, I’m going to have to wait.” And it ended up being a blessing in disguise.

PT: You mentioned awards consideration. Has that entered your thoughts at all – this movie that you’ve been thinking about for years and have been working on for a long time, it may be nominated for an Academy Award?

EC: Yeah, it has. It’s hard not to. Teddy Newton, while I was in the middle of making La Luna, he was heading down to some parties in Hollywood last year. So, you can’t help but think about it. It would be interesting to experience that and be part of that. A lot of friends and co-workers have had a great time with it. You kind of take it as, just showing up to that would be pretty awesome. Let’s see what happens. It’s exciting. At [the] Telluride [Film Festival], I thought about it seriously because almost every short that Pixar has shown at Telluride has gone pretty far with the Oscars. So, we’ll see. Don’t want to jinx it! (Laughs)

PT: Continuing to look towards the future, I see that you’re going to be head of story on an upcoming Pixar film. Is that one of the unannounced ones or one of those we have heard about?

EC: It’s one of the announced ones. I’ve been working for almost ten months on the Untitled Pixar Film About Dinosaurs. It’s being directed by Bob Peterson, you know they announced it at [the] D23 [Expo]. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s being co-directed by Pete Sohn. Both those guys are amazing. It’s been a lot of fun to collaborate and help them. From directing a short to going back to features is honestly a little jarring. Features are really hard. They’re much bigger puzzles to solve. So, I felt very fortunate to have had this year and a half to focus on the shorts. They feel like you’re in this perfect little sandbox to do a personal artistic movie. Features need to do that, but also fill a lot of seats, so the art and the commerce – there’s both of those sides in the movies we make in the features, and even the shorts. But I feel like the shorts are a little free-er to hang on the artistic side. We don’t have to sell millions of tickets. (Laughs)

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PT: It does seem like La Luna is a little more bold, in that it is more artistic than we are used to seeing, even from Pixar. You mentioned directing for a feature film. Do you have any aspirations in that?

EC: I’d love to if I can find something comparable – if I can find something that feels personal and feels right. As I’m saying, it’s a much bigger puzzle to solve. If I could just have the kind of feeling for the story that I had with La Luna, I’d love to, but it’s definitely a different kind of problem to solve. You start percolating some ideas and see if anything comes to the surface, but in the meanwhile you just try to learn from your experiences. The [Untitled Pixar Movie About Dinosaurs] – I have a new role on it, so I’m taking it as another learning experience.

PT: In La Luna, there’s an interesting choice to have the characters speak this made-up language. Can you talk about the difficulty in having them speak this made-up language and how did you arrive at that decision?

EC: I grew up with a lot of great cartoons. I brought this up in my talk (the previous night – read about that here) – La Linea was an Italian cartoon that I watched when I was growing up. There’s a wonderful, very goofy character that is talking like this (imitates the character – watch a snippet from La Linea here) and is gesturing and is very, very Italian – very Italian, but also universal because you understand all the emotion that it is going through quite easily. I thought that would be perfect for us. It would give us the flavor I was looking for.

I wanted the animation to capture the gesticulating that we do in Italy, but on the other level [also capture] the pantomime and the conveying of emotions in a completely universal way without having to translate it with subtitles. I thought it could have a little bit of humor in it – that these guys, the dad and grandpa, are a little oppressive. I don’t think you wouldn’t feel the struggle for the little boy as much if [there] wasn’t a vocal side to this pressure. So, that’s why I fought for it and slowly we fought for the right kind of gibberish. It took a little bit, looking for the right performers.

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PT: Last question – this is a deeply personal film and we can tell from you having mentioned it’s based on your father and your grandfather. How was that process of having to bring in this thing that could leave you very vulnerable and sharing it with the world?

EC: I think there’s a quote and I can’t remember who said this but it’s (roughly), “If something you’re writing is making you squirm and slightly uncomfortable, it’s probably good.” I believe that’s true. If you’re sharing something that is deep and personal, it might be slightly weird, but there’s a chance than if it wasn’t. I feel that way. I think that if you’re not willing to put yourself up there honestly, you wouldn’t get to something that can be relatable and emotional. I make autobiographical comics that are all about making fun of myself and being self-deprecating anyway, so it’s pretty natural for me somehow. In something like this, it just felt that it was pretty safe – it wasn’t anything that was going to be completely embarrassing in any way.

It felt interesting to show it to my dad. I’m still kind of curious – I still don’t fully know how he feels about it but he was very proud of it [and] was very proud of me doing it. I have a travel to Italy coming up in October and I’m going to have some time with my dad so I’m actually curious to ask him a couple of questions about this because we haven’t had a heart-to-heart about it. I’m curious to see how he feels about it. Other than maybe having a little bit of a hard time talking straight-out about these things in front of my dad, it hasn’t been too difficult. It wasn’t revealing in a way that it would be uncomfortable. But, I feel that very often in writing, that seems to be the key to something interesting.

La Luna is currently screening at film festivals around the world and will premiere worldwide with Brave in 2012.

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  • john stanbury

    Wonderful to see Enrico in his professional persona at Pixar having so long followed his brilliant personal projects