Kelsey Mann joined Pixar in recent years, working on the studio’s 2013 hit Monsters University. He was appointed Story Supervisor on the film, quite a feat for his first official gig at Pixar. Then he was handed the responsibility of directing Party Central, a Monsters University short that is playing in theaters now with Muppets Most Wanted. I had the chance to speak with him about the short – read what I learned from him about the short and the studio after the break!
Like other Pixar employees, Kelsey Mann is a human, and has interests outside of the studio. Often when we think about Pixar, we tend to think of the studio as one cohesive object, likely because the collaboration that occurs within the halls of the studio’s campus makes the final product often appear as if it were seamlessly put together. However, there are humans who work behind the scenes to bring films to the public, and they are just like you and I. Mann is a self-proclaimed movie-geek, one of his favorite films being Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film that features master storytelling.
Mann had the opportunity to tell a story when he joined Monsters University as the film’s Story Supervisor. He remarks that he could not believe after 10 years of trying to get into Pixar, he flew up the ladder to a principal role. Then, when he was called in to direct Party Central, he wanted to make the team at the studio proud, including figures like Monsters, Inc. director Pete Docter, Monsters University director Dan Scanlon, and Pixar Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter.
Discussing the evolution of the short, Mann describes how they had to throw out a large amount of good ideas because they didn’t fit into the structure of the feature film’s story (just like on every other project). One of those ideas was featuring the party referenced in Monsters University – after all, if the Oozma Kappa fraternity wanted to be the “party central” it was proclaimed to be in the film, we had to see some evidence to support the statement. The scene did not make it into the film and was abandoned, but it was interesting and clever enough to be resurrected as the inspiration for the short Party Central.
Although he hasn’t worked on an original short, Mann explains that the difference in working on a short based on an established property is that he had to work within the confines of the sets and characters seen in the feature film. He did not have to invent new characters or locations – he simply had to tell a good story with the characters audiences connected with in the film. With the introductions out of the way, the short could focus on telling the story rapidly, and throw in a number of gags.
Speaking about the smaller gags that appear in the background of the short, Mann states that Party Central is still a complicated short. The party atmosphere is bustling with activity constantly, but that also allowed him and his team to hide clever nods out of clear sight. You may not find easter eggs like the Pizza Planet Truck, but there is one gag Mann is especially proud of – he’s not ready to spoil it for you yet, though, only commenting that it usually takes people several viewings to spot it. We might have to wait for the digital download or Blu-ray/DVD release for that one – there we have it, the very definition of a teaser.
Directing at a major studio like Pixar is not a no-pressure position, so it comes as no surprise that Mann finds it thrilling when the audience laughs at a joke he intended to be funny. He couldn’t make it to the short’s first public screening, which was at last summer’s D23 Expo, but after hearing about viewers’ great reactions, he was ecstatic. He did watch it with a large audience during the Muppets Most Wanted premiere in Hollywood, and was immensely proud that the audience responded just as he hoped they would.
Currently, Mann has already moved on to another project at Pixar, but given that it is a feature film that hasn’t been announced to us yet, he was tight-lipped. Looking at his journey to this point, he still can’t quite believe he leapt into the studio, then to Story Supervisor and finally to Shorts Director. Looking to the future, he’d be happy to sink his hands into directing a feature film at the studio if that is where his path leads. If Party Central is any indication, Mann has a great road ahead of him – many of the great feature directors at Pixar rose from directing a short, so it would be great to see him follow in their footsteps and see him direct a feature film.
Party Central is playing in theaters now, alongside Muppets Most Wanted!