PRINT | E-MAIL Sky Captain: An Interview with 'Robots' Producer Jerry Davis
by Scott Holleran
March 15, 2005
Some of America's most popular and beloved animated features, including Toy Story, The Iron Giant and Ice Age have been brought, at least partly, to the screen by Jerry Davis, co-producer of Robots , from 20th Century Fox's Blue Sky Studios.
Davis, whose career includes work on and off Broadway as well as for the annual Tony Awards telecast, The Walt Disney Company and Warner Bros., talked to Box Office Mojo about Robots, The Iron Giant and what it takes to make today's top animation for movies.
Box Office Mojo: What was the first animated picture you saw?
Jerry Davis: Bambi, which my mother dropped me off at the movie theater to see. I remember being a bit frightened by it and, when I walked out of the theater, very excited to be reunited with my mom.
BOM: When did you first screen Robots?
Davis: I saw it in February when we finished the mix on the Fox lot. It's about as good as you're ever going to see it on the big screen with big, comfy couches. For me, it was a giant leap to watch it on film. There was so much going on in the frame that even I had not been aware of. It was just thrilling.
BOM: What is your favorite scene?
Davis: Probably the final scene in Rivet Town.
BOM: What are your thoughts on the final cut?
Davis: Comedy is a great thing, and I don't regret that it's dominant. As Robin Williams said at the Golden Globes, comedy is hard, and I'm proud of the fact we succeeded. Robots is also a fantasy and that's also hard because the audience needs to understand the rules, which requires screen time and, in a movie like this, there's not much screen time. We worked hard to make this movie. There were times when we were nervous because it's a very complicated movie. We tried to explain the story clearly and in an entertaining way. You're always struggling to take a step back and look at the movie as a whole. And it is pleasantly cohesive. I'm proud of it.
BOM: What is the movie's theme?
Davis: The movie's motto that "you can shine no matter what you're made of," which is a variation of [the cliché] "don't judge a book by its cover." For me, I guess the movie allows people to apply it on different levels. I find many parents respond to the idea of following a dream.
BOM: Why are you a producer?
Davis: That's hard to answer. For me, I don't have the vision to be a director. I have huge respect for people who do. So, to be able to support that vision is really rewarding. I love the process. I love the art form. I love that animated movies are something that people really care about and work their asses off [to create]. And, lastly, I can't draw. It's much more about the process. I'm the son of a Freudian psychologist who ran a school for emotionally disturbed children—I lived and worked there—and I grew up with a certain degree of craziness. So I know that artists need to be somewhat crazy, and I hope to bring some order to that process.
BOM: What did you contribute to Toy Story?
Davis: I was a part of the early development, so the deal with Pixar [Animation Studios] was fresh. I was involved in bringing in the first writing team, and it was very rewarding to identify such amazing talent. It would be hard to take ownership of any one aspect.
BOM: How did your path diverge from Pixar?
Davis: I was at Disney and then Warner Bros, which was pretty exciting—I spent five years there—where I started a feature animation division, which made movies such as [The Incredibles' director Brad Bird's first feature] The Iron Giant. We brought The Iron Giant into Warner Bros. and did a lot of the early development. I'd been talking to Tim McCanlies, who's a terrific writer with great characters, and he came in as screenwriter. We were struggling with how to adapt [Ted Hughes' book]. Brad [Bird] came in and really cracked it.
The book has a very different direction in the second half, and it was Brad who decided not to go with the [book's] second half, which goes off into this almost hallucinatory aspect with a space monster doing battle with the Iron Giant, who tries to save the earth. Brad found a way to express the free will aspect from the book. The Iron Giant began as a conversation with Des McAnuff, who was artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, who had collaborated with [rock musician] Pete Townshend [on an earlier stage adaptation of the book]. I was certainly key in that whole process.
BOM: How was working with Brad Bird?