A Chat with the Disney PLANES Director and Producer
I grew up a military brat. My father was a “lifer” in the Marines and went from Embassy Duty in South Korea (where he met my mom), to a prison guard at “the brig”, to a boot camp Drill Instructor and finally an avionics technician for F18 Fighter Jets. I lived and breathed the US Marine Corps. I was trained to say “Sir, Yes Sir” or “Sir, No Sir”, did push ups as punishment when I lied and dressed up every year in full camo gear for Halloween.
I went to work with him on occasion and I remember he would let me sit on the nose or in the cockpit of the fighter jets and I would listen to his stories of things that happened during his tours on the aircraft carriers. We never bought tickets to the popular annual El Toro Air Show because we already had the best seats in the house – right on the tarmac directly in front of the F18 hanger. I was even able to meet the Blue Angels one year as they taxied back in from their performance!
As I sat in the theater for a prescreening of Disney Planes, I couldn’t help but think my dad is going to love this movie. Disney works so incredibly hard at getting the actual, factual data – and it shows. After the screening, we were treated to an exclusive interview with PLANES Director Klay Hall and Producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn. I couldn’t wait to discuss the influence that the military played on the film but ended up learning so much more along the way!
Q and A with PLANES Director Klay Hall and Producer Traci Balthazor-Flynn.
Q: Do you guys work closely with Pixar at all – with them doing Cars and you guys doing PLANES?
Klay: John Lasseter was directly involved with this from the very beginning to the very end. He is the creative force here at both studios. We took the information they had gathered over the last 10 years and they gave us a few characters to use from Cars that you will see in the film.
Q: How did PLANES come about – how did it evolve from a straight to dvd movie to the big screen?
Klay: During the creation of the last TinkerBell and the Lost Treasures, John Lasseter and I developed a great working relationship. He asked me, as he does with all directors, what do you want to work on next? I had this idea about making a trains movie for a long period of time. I love locomotives, I love trains, especially steam trains. I wanted to tell a historical point of view about the transcontinental railroad but set it during current times – sort of a flash back kind of thing. We talked back and forth and it was was moving along but he called me out of the blue one day, but what do you think about changing it to planes? He knew that I had a passion for aviation - if there is one thing I like more than trains it’s planes. So we both laughed about that. He suggested making it a derivative of the Cars world. That right there changed the dynamics of what we were working on. It gave us much bigger shoes to fill.
John didn’t want it to BE cars. He wanted to introduce a new world with new characters. His thought is that everything out there – even machines – have a soul. He knew it was going to be a big new world and as the movie progressed – over a four years by the way – we found that it was resonating with a large group of people. We don’t set out to put a movie on DVD or theater, we set out to tell a really good story.
Q: Why does Rochelle have different names in different countries?
Klay and Traci: We took Rochelle out to 8 different countries and localized her. For instance, in Russia her name is Tatiana. In France she is French, in Brazil she is Brazilian, and so forth in Germany, China and more. We wanted to embrace those cultures and make her a local, but the challenge is that there is also 8 versions of the movie. It’s a huge undertaking but it’s an incredible opportunity to connect with different parts of the world.
Q: What was your experience in getting the actors involved? There are a lot of top names in this movie.
Klay: It was challenging mostly because of their schedules, they are all so busy. Tracy and I have been a huge fan of stand up comedians – and who doesn’t love to laugh? I really wanted to try and get as many funny people as we could into the movie. The challenge was, if we could get these guys, what characters could they play to sound believable and fun? I have to say that all of them were eager to sign up and it’s been a really enjoyable process. We had a great time. All of the actors brought a lot to the roles.
My favorite part of the movie was actually the opening scene with Echo and Bravo. I instantly had this nostalgic “Top Gun” feeling and thought of my dad. Turns out, that was exactly what Klay and Traci wanted to accomplish (see final interview excerpt below)! I found out during the interview that these two characters were voiced by none other than Val Kilmer and Anthony Edwards. Here is a sneak peek at that scene – what do you think?
Klay On Getting the Actual, Factual Data.
“I’m a huge navy fan and I knew I was going to start with the F40 – one of the most iconic planes of WW2. I knew that if I had Navy Jets, I was going to go with the Top Gun angle. I am a HUGE top gun fan. Tom was busy with MI4 but Iceman and Goose (Anthony Edwards and Val Kilmer) were around. We had an amazing time working and speaking with them.
In order to get the actual, factual data we worked with a variety of military, business and civilian pilots. At one point, we had the department of defense come in with two navy commanders to screen the film. It was a bit intimidating because they were in uniform, it was early and they weren’t smiling a whole lot. But when they came out of the screening they were smiling. We talked about the Navy theme. To help add and support our authenticity they arranged for Tracy and I to fly out to the USS Carl Vincent which is an aircraft carrier. We got to spend 2 days with all of the men and woman with the US Navy on the boat. We screened a sequence for them and they went through it with us to make sure they went through the jargon and technical aspects to make sure we got it right.”
You can see Disney PLANES for yourself when it touches down in theaters August 9th.