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Cars 2 Has a Female Producer–Denise Ream

denise ream

As you know, this blog is all about the cool places that I go and the amazing folks that I meet.  I met one such person while in Los Angeles for the Disney/DreamWorks blogger junket.  I got to attend the Red Carpet premiere of Cars 2 and met many of the voices and crew behind the movie.  One of the most amazing connections that I made was with the producer of Cars 2, Denise Ream–absolutely LOVED her! She’s been working in production for many years and has been involved on such films as Daylight, Eraser, Deep Impact, Amistad, The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Timeline, Tears of the Sun, Star Wars: Episode III–Revenge of the Sith, Mission Impossible 3, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Lady in the Water, and Transformers.  Impressive, huh?

She spent quite a bit of with the group of Mom Bloggers that I was with, talking about the film, her career path, her success, and even getting a LOT emotional at the end.  Here’s how it went down–

How much <input> did the brand have in making Cars 2?

Actually John ( John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer at Disney/Pixar Studios and Director of Cars & Cars 2) came up with — he did what he idea of the press junket for the first movie.  He got the idea when he was traveling around the world and he was I think in London when it first occurred to him and thought it would be — what would Mater do driving on the wrong side of the road?  Then he was in Tokyo and went into the bathroom and — I’ve not been to Tokyo so I can only tell you at John’s house he has one of those bathrooms.

So know he went in there and just thought how complex it was and what would Mater do in the Tokyo bathroom.  So he came up with the idea quite a while ago and thought that would be really fun for a sequel.  And then of course the spy component came out back in 2001 and it was the very first sequence that he and Joe Rampt boarded on the original movie, McQueen and Sally were going on their first date to a drive-in movie theater.  So it’s been percolating in his mind for quite a while.

Talk about your role as a producer day to day and overall and how you keep organized?

Well the organization– I have like a great group of people to work with, really, really smart production people that I’m very fortunate you know, worked with me on the movie.  In general my overall role is you know, I’m overall responsible for the budget, the schedule, getting the resources for all of the departments.  I’m involved with the casting, finding the composer, all of the recording sessions so– John’s partner. 

 And then you know, day to day really at the end of the day my job is to help everyone do their job the best way they can, get them what they need.  I always joke that I’m a producer/production assistant because if there’s no one else around it’s my job to get people what they need.  So I think I have the best job in the world.  It’s fun and you know, the highlight of the job is working with people at Pixar.  They’re really smart and creative and you know, we obviously have great artists, you know from both a technical and artistic point of view.

But productions creative as well.  I mean we do creative problem-solving.  So I think there’s creativity in all aspects of our jobs at Pixar.  So not just the story artists and the art department.   

Talk about your career path that led you to this.

Absolutely.  I graduated with a degree in English literature.  I intended — I was thinking of going to law school.  I worked at a law firm all the way through college sort of as a part time job just really didn’t like it.  I was an English major because I loved great books and I love great stories.  And sadly or not you know our story form in this day and age is film and TV.  And I was really interested in being able to create stories.

And so I thought the film business was kind of where I wanted to go.  I moved — I graduated from UC Berkeley, moved back to Los Angeles and literally started at the bottom.  I started working on low-budget movies where I think the worst was I got paid $10 a week.  And even back then let me just say that was low wages.  Didn’t even cover my gasoline.  I worked doing kind of everything.  I worked as a camera assistant loading magazines.

 I worked as a prop assistant.  I worked as an editorial PA.  I just did anything that came along.  I just took any job that came along.  And I guess probably within a year I thought, I like production.  I liked the organizational aspect of kind of getting things done and helping people.  And long story short, I fell into a job at a visual effects company in Marina del Rey and I worked there for five years.  And I loved doing visual effects because it was, to me it was a little bit more challenging than straight production because it was incredibly complex.

 You know at the time there were you know, miniatures.  There was motion control photography.  And it just kind of scratched my intellectual itch and I worked there for five years and then really missed the Bay Area though I’m from here.  And I got a job at ILM.  And I started the week Jurassic Park came out.  And really the whole business exploded.  Digital production exploded after that.

 So a lot of it was just like this, you know, starting there at that time.  And I started in the commercial division and then wanted to work on feature films.  And halfway through Star Wars which was my last big project there, I decided that that was like working on an animated film because you’re essentially creating everything, I decided I wanted to work in animation.  So I started at Pixar, it’ll be five years in October.  And Up was my first project.  So, which I loved.

It was a great group of people.  It was sort of — they were just lovely.  I loved the story.  I mean I remember — I guess after I accepted the job I was invited over to a screening and I was still working at ILM.  And I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to talk about the story at the time.  But I came back and I just, I just was so enthralled with what they were doing and just remember trying to tell everyone about it.  And it’s just — I think it’s just an amazing movie.

And then — sorry I’m talking so much.  2008 they were looking for a producer for Cars two and I threw my name in the hat so to speak.  And largely because my — I don’t have children but I am the doting aunt of my sister’s children.  She has three and my brother has two kids.  And I’m totally in love with these kids.  And my youngest niece was just crazy for Cars. 

So I come down here quite regularly to spend time with the kids and she and I would just watch the movie over and over again and I fell in love with those characters really through her.  So tonight a good night for me because she’s going to see the movie for the first time.  Yes, she is.  I’m bringing my entire family, my mother, my sister and brother and all my nieces and nephews.  And she’s 13 now so I’ll– she’s going to be my harshest critic.

And if she likes the movie as well I might add, one of my really good friends from high school is a mother of three.  She’s my age and she also fell in love with Cars.  So I’ve invited her as well.  And so if those two like it, I will think it’ll be a success. 

Is there going to be a Cars three or spin off?

You know, I think it would not surprise me.  I mean, its taken all we can to be honest, to get this movie done.  It was basically kind of all hands on deck.  Really quickly before I, I digress, originally when I got the job in 2008, this movie was supposed to come out in 2012.  And two weeks after I got the job they moved it up to 11.  So it really did take sort of all hands on deck.  I — it wouldn’t surprise me because these characters are so beloved.  Honestly out of all the movies I worked on obviously I haven’t worked on all the movies at Pixar but I worked on Harry Potter.  I’ve worked on Star Wars movie.

 This is the movie that I’m asked most about by kids.  Yeah, but by magnitudes.  And so I just think with — I mean obviously we won’t do it if there’s not a good story to tell but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Tell us about some of the challenges of being a producer.

You know, honestly the year off the schedule was a big, big challenge for me.  So you know Pixar really does — I mean we make the movie 8 times throughout the production process.  So I had to figure out a way of making sure that we could iterate the standard eight times again, in order to create the best work possible.  That meant doing a very, very, very challenging screening schedule. 

 So by that I mean is we screen the movie typically every — John says 12 to 14 weeks.  It’s more like 4 to 16 weeks between screenings.  So I set out like we have to screen the movie every 12 weeks and that was really hard.  But by doing that we were able to get the iterations that we needed and so essentially we, you know, we’d draw everything out.  We send it to the editor with scratch voices, music, temp music, temp sound effects, cut it together like a regular movie, sit back in a theater with all of the brain trust, all of the other directors, fill the studio, you know fill the screening room rather with 235 people, watch it, and tear it apart.

So in order to make sure the story was as good as possible, I just had to kind of crack the whip and say we are doing this every 12 weeks.  And you know, that was hard.  So, and also, sorry one last thing.  The scope of the movie is massive.  This is, Pixar by far and away, its most challenging movie in terms of sets, locations, you know visual effects, or what we call visual effects in animation and crowds.  So it was technically pretty challenging.

John talked about Cars being near and dear to him because he grew up loving cars.  What cartoons were near and dear to you as a child that you may now want to see become full-length features?

Well I mean I — my favorite — I mean I was a huge fan of the feature-length you know, I mean Snow White was I think the first movie I ever saw.  I loved Jungle Book.  That was probably the second movie I ever saw.  Fantasia, I was a huge fan of Disney animation.  I love the Flintstones, the Jetsons, you know which I think sadly they’ve made those into very mediocre feature films quite honestly.

That’s– I loved those– I mean I watched all the cartoons, Chuck Jones.  But you know to be honest my favorite maybe — my favorite growing up, I watched I Love Lucy.  It was on you know three — I loved being sick because they would run, in LA they would run them in the morning.  And I would just you know — and I think they would run two back-to-back.  And then they, of course, they’d be in the evening and that was my mom’s punishment if we’d– you’re not going to watch I Love Lucy.

And just the tears, I, like the fact that I’d seen them all and so I love Lucy really is probably my biggest childhood influence.  I still love her.  And then the neice that I mentioned has a huge picture, this bizarre picture of Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball in her bedroom that is just the most odd thing you’ve ever seen.

  The cities in the movie are stunning.  Did you have to go to the cities?

Well first of all, Harley Jessup, the production designer, I don’t know if you’ve met him is an amazing man.  He is — he’s a production designer on Ratatouille and Monsters Inc. and actually he did I think, James and the giant peach.  So he is an amazing man.  We had research trips to Europe.  We did go to Paris.  We went to London.  Originally stepping back we were going to have five races.  And this movie was just getting way too long and too complex.

 So we also did go to Germany.  We went to Portofino, which was beautiful.  I had never been there.  We went to the Monaco Grand Prix.  Then we sent Harley, our director, lighting DP, director of photography, Sharon Callahan and our, one of our art directors on a trip to Tokyo which I really wanted to — I’ve never been there.  I really wanted to go.  So they went and did research.  We went to car shows all over the world.

My favorite, to be honest, my favorite research trip was one to Pebble Beach where we went to this, it’s called the Concourse to Elegance.  It’s an amazing car show.  And I’ll — I should add I am not a car person.  I was not.  I’m kind of becoming one but I barely know what I drive.  I am driving a car for 12 years.  I have 135,000 miles on the car.  And my mechanic sadly told me that I could get another 100,000 off of it because I really want to buy a new car now.

But we, no, we did a lot of research.  And obviously it’s a lot easier now with the Internet but it was really important to John and to Harley to basically make sure that the people that lived in London knew that they — that we were accurately representing London.  And those that live in Tokyo you know, it really, authenticity and research is really important to him. 

And I think that is, you know I think its one of the contributing factors that make Pixar films special is that we, we honestly — I can say, you know, I’ve worked on a lot of movies, go above and beyond to try to create this sort of rich patina and to the movies where you’re just, you’re looking at — I mean you would just be shocked at, if you saw literally what we have to design.  And I sort of knew it intellectually when I started at Pixar.

 You know oh, yeah, you design everything.  But when I — I remember in Up, there was this instance and I keep using this as an example but Russell had a backpack and we had to fill the backpack.  And one of the things was the backpack has a water bottle in it and there were three water bottles that we had to design because we kind of — we did a, you know, the design of the movie was pretty caricatured.  And there were these three bottles and like one of the directors was like well can we take these two and combine them and come up with a water bottle.

And I’m like oh my God, for God sakes.  It doesn’t come out of the backpack.  Just pick one, you know.  But that’s to the extent that everything is designed.  And you know, as a side note, a lot of it needs to be legally cleared.  You know all the graphics that you see in Tokyo, all of them were created by our art department.  So it’s just, it’s mind boggling really what it takes to make these movies.  But I think it does make it really special.  And I still see things.

 I see the movie 75, 100 times, and I still see things that I’ve never, you know, oh, my gosh, I didn’t notice that you know.  Little animation subtleties that you don’t notice.  So it’s fun.

What is your favorite character and why?

 I like Holly Shiftwell.  And that — I think that Emily Mortimer really did bring a lot of intelligence to and just sophistication and just more to that part.  And she originally was supposed to be a pretty small part of the movies.  I think that she really did bring a lot to the role and so she kept expanding.  I’m really very pleased that there is a female character honestly that I think is smart.

And I think young women hopefully will like.  And boys.  But I really, I’m really pleased about that character.  John Turturro’s character, Francesco Brunulli’s pretty entertaining, you know.  I go back and forth.  And you know to be honest, Larry the cable Guy is such a sweetheart that I do, I found myself kind of loving Mater.  I think that you know, I’m more like Mater than Holly.  I want to be Holly but I’m kind of more like Mater.

So I– I– anyway I know that’s too many.  And Guido and Luigi are hilarious.  Let’s be honest you know.  They’re fun.  I think that’s what makes this, this movie really appealing to kids.  There’s a lot of different kinds of characters and, and they’re really just fun and there’s a humanity about them even though they’re cars.   

As your career has evolved, would you have ever pictured this for yourself?

It’s– today is a pretty surreal day to be honest for me.  You know I, I wanted to be a producer.  I decided you know, I’ve been doing this a while.  But like did I ever imagine I would produce a movie for John Lasseter?  No.  I mean I was born three miles away.  My great grandparents lived three blocks away.  There’s a theater named after my grandfather a mile away.  My parents are both from Los Angeles and the fact that tonight is just, it’s actually kind of overwhelming.  [CRYING] [CLAPPING]

No, I mean it’s just like gosh I can’t believe it.  It’s huge.  And it’s been hard work, you know, sacrifice a lot. Anyway, sorry.  

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