Christopher Robin: Interview with Director Marc Forster, Still Fascinated with Winnie-the-Pooh

Christopher Robin, directed by Marc Forster and written by Alex Ross Perry and Allison Schroeder, from a story by Perry, is inspired by A.A. Milne and E.H.Shepard’s classic book Winnie-the-Pooh.

Ewan McGregor stars as the titular lead, a grown up man who has sense of imagination, only to be reunited with his old stuffed bear friend.

Disney releases the movie August 3.

Approach

Marc Forster: I was looking for a magical realism movie again and it was very hard to find one.  And when I came across Pooh, I felt like the beauty of Pooh is that he is like this childhood character that AA Milne gives all these Poohs so there is a lot of depth and you feel like you have this very simple character but he carries much wisdom and this absurd humor that you can laugh about, but at the same time it has so much depth.

Tone

MF: I felt like the tone would be so important to make it funny and humorous, but at the same time emotional and to find that.  Because ultimately it’s about Ewan McGregor, who has lost his inner child, lost the connection with the people he loves and to open his heart again.  And that metaphor, the red sweater, to me, is about the heart and love and trying to open it.  And I wanted to create a film that has joy and has love and connects us all and it’s originally when I was with my daughter and she was watching a little Pooh cartoon on her I-Pad and as she is watching it, she suddenly turns to me and says, can you finally make a movie for me, all of your movies are so dark and for grownups. And I said okay, I am making a movie for you and why don’t we make Pooh?  But I said I am not going to make it like these movies that you take me to, which is only for kids and it has to be for my mother and for me and for you, like a movie for everyone.  And it’s a movie, like these classic Disney movies remind me that they are there for the whole family and they have always had these wonderful messages.

Tigger in Disney’s CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

 

Creatures and Visual Effects 

MF: Loren is the visual effects designer/producer who did “Gravity” and “The Martian” and who is very, very smart.  And we met and I said look, I want to make sure these animals feel real and in my face and I almost want the audience to forget that they are animated.  And the idea is, if you look at films like Ted or Paddington Bear, all locked on shots, but I wanted to make them hand held so ultimately the technique is that I created the stuffed animals, I shoot and block the scene and we shoot it, and then we take them out and shoot only the empty plate for the animated, and it was very hard, because they had no reference to create the animal in it.  But they really did such a great job and of course for Ewan it’s hard, because he is just acting to air and then make believe that there is actually a stuffed animal in front of him and that emotionally is extremely hard.  He probably learned that when he was doing “Star Wars” or something, but every time he did a take he is acting to nothing and I feel like he sees Pooh and he sees his reaction.  So that was very hard.  But the new technique we used which was a learning curve, was doing these handheld, very improvised shots.

Hardest Animal to work with

Eeyore and Pooh were very hard.  The good thing is that they were low maintenance because they didn’t ask for trailers and things like that, (laughter) but Pooh is simple in that he doesn’t have that many facial expressions or anything and with Eeyore, because you could see his eyes and his movements.  Piglet and Tigger were relatively easy.

 

Previewing Films?

MF:  I think ultimately you put a movie like this into a preview and it’s less about what the cards say and more about the playability where people laugh or they don’t and whether it feels long or short or whatever.  But with this film in particular, it was, audiences really embraced it and they really went on the journey so the preview process was very smooth and always tested very high. So there was never an issue.  And “All I See is You,” which is more of an Art film, is not mainstream, the testing process was much more difficult, because a lot of people, it’s not a film where they say oh, I definitely loved the movie.  A lot of people appreciate the movie or artistically appreciate it, but I always knew that going into it.  But making a movie like “Pooh,” you cannot not like Pooh and I think there is something really wrong with someone who says oh this is a horrible character!  And I mean he is so loving and sweet and I tried to make him as real so he doesn’t get too sentimental and it’s a thin line you are walking on.  But I think anybody who dislikes Pooh or Piglet or Tigger, in my opinion, there must be something wrong.

Next Project: The Cow

I loved the movie and I always loved one person, a cow for 90 minutes.  And so for me, it was like Casablanca with a cow.  And I always was a big fan with the original one.  And it was also based on a real story and because I am also from Switzerland I love cows.  So I just was always very inspired by that story.  It has characters of prisoner of war this time and then is walking.  And it’s a similar story but a different script but a similar arc.

 

Leisure

MF: I read a lot of books, but also I had a bunch of stuffed animals.  My parents lived next door to a forest, so I always took them out there and played and created my imaginary worlds.  And gave them personalities and so on and we also had dogs who once in awhile ate up the stuffed animals and ripped them apart.  But it’s interesting because it wasn’t entertained I had to entertain myself and I think that really helped me just to build sort of a world and an imaginary world of characters and stuffed animals and played with them.

Personal Film

It’s ultimately about the work as well and how often when I finish a movie like that, I can’t see my daughter very much or things like that, or the people you love and you get really embarked on that. But at the same time, it’s also about always remembering the creative person and I think it’s always remembering to keep opening your heart and keep enjoying it and keep spending time with the people you love, because ultimately we are all guilty of that because I think everybody gets so sucked into their work and into their lives that sometimes we forget what is really important.

 

Cinematography

MF: Mattias Koenigsweiser was the DP.  I basically, when I did “All I See is You” I wanted a DP who had never shot something before and he just shot documentaries.  And I just really thought his eye was great, because after a certain amount of movies I felt technically that I know a lot about making films.  So I wanted a new eye who sees something maybe I wouldn’t see, because if I take a very seasoned DP it becomes very technical and I wanted someone who just shoots out of purely out of instinct and emotion.  So I hired Mattias and he is truly a poet and he is such a beautiful craftsman and artist. And so even though the things he didn’t know, I knew how to shoot them, but he gave me something, again, going back to the childlike, because I feel like the moment technically you more become and I feel like these directors, when they make their first movies, you think oh those movies are so lovely and so beautiful but then you become so technical, that you have to find your way back to become playful again.  But what this movie is about, is playing.

Ewan McGregor

To be honest, when I offered him the role, I didn’t know what was going on.  So while we were shooting, he told me and I became more aware of it.  So I didn’t know, but I think in general, every artist sometimes is, especially this one, because I had certain things about my life and he maybe had certain things about his life that were drawn to it.   I think we both worked so well together and I think his performance is so good because we both felt so comfortable with one another and we felt that we were feeding off each other. It was purely inspirational, because as I said, him connecting with the bear and these animals and with having nothing there, it was like him just opening up.   I have worked with so many great actors and have seen many great performances, but that was something, every time I was shocked how Ewan did it.  It was extraordinary to me.

Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) with his longtime friend Winnie the Pooh in Disney’s CHRISTOPHER ROBIN.

Goodbye Christopher Robin

That movie was about him creating the book and the story.  And I think also the parents at that time were a little bit colder than today.  But I liked the movie, I think it was a beautiful movie.  But I felt our movie is completely fiction and starts when basically the kid gets sent to boarding school at the end and ultimately has a very different journey.

 

Childhood Damages

I think there was definitely something, but I think we all bring out from our childhood a certain damage and I feel like my parents weren’t very much around and it’s almost an artist, I think you always want to create art, because you want to be loved.  And I think every great artist is like, I am pouring my pain or whatever into your heart so then hopefully like it and love you for it.

 

Being Father

MF: I was able to do it because of my daughter, and she was really the source of inspiration in wanting to do something like this.  I think having a child, gave me at least sort of this feeling of wanting to be a better person.  When you don’t have kids you are, or at least I was, much more selfish what you do with your time. And then suddenly there comes a certain sense of responsibility and something you share and you want to make people happier.  And I feel like I am in a zone now and a place in my life when I look at the world, where I want to create stories that are not sort of with dystopian futures, but they are like futures where there is light and hope and joy because I think we need, not just that I want to escape sometimes from what I see on the news all day long, but I think if we start thinking more positively how we all can make the world a better place and I believe that might happen.  I still have stuffed animals.   And I have the whole Pooh family at my house.  Pooh is sitting on the sofa and Piglet and Tigger and the entire family there, the original ones, I kept them.

 

Challenging Sequences

MF: The most challenging sequence is when there are no actors and there is just really the animals.  The table was a nightmare, because ultimately I had them all there at the table and table scenes are hard already usually with actors because of eye lines and how you cut them.  But that was particularly difficult.  And just before they go through the tree, when the four of them discover, you have nothing there.  And so you have the stuffed animals and set up a shot, you take them all out and you shoot it this way and this way but you have nothing there and you are just there.  And you have actors talking voices, but you are just shooting air and plates.  And I on purpose always wanted to shoot the plates myself and I never wanted to give them to the second unit.  And first they said give the plates to the second unit, no one is there and I said no, it’s the most important shot for me because we need the light to be right and the angles to be right and it’s not just some second unit kind of situation.

I must say that I enjoyed working with stuff and animation because if you say to Pooh I want you to go from here to there, he does it.  He is very open to line changes and you tell him to say this and he says that and all that, they listen very well the stuffed animals, there are no arguments.  They follow all my directions and no I don’t understand that, can you explain this to me? Why do you want me to go over there?

 

 

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