Q&A With Hotel Transylvania Director Genndy Tartakovsky

New Sony Pictures Animation HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is released on the 12th October in the UK and what a better time than to catch-up with director Genndy Tartakovsky to speak about Adam Sandler’s role creatures, mythological beasts and – of course – Dracula!

The film focuses on Count Dracula as he builds a secluded hotel for monsters only, after he decided that monsters shouldn’t live in fear of humans, However, on his daughter’s 118th birthday a human manages to enter the hotel and Dracula must get rid of him before anyone finds out…

Genndy, What did you bring to the project specifically to make Sony Pictures Animation think that now is the time for this movie?

It started life as ‘A Hotel for Monsters’. I think they all loved that concept. And then when I came on they hit upon the idea of Dracula dealing with his daughter and we realised that this is the magic of it — Dracula as a dad. That is what we haven’t seen before. We have seen Dracula as a monster, as a lover, whatever, but as a father? That was the great idea and that is when everything started coming together. Knowing that that was the core.

Are you as protective of your children as Dracula is with his daughter?

I have three kids. They are four, eight and ten and while I try not to be super over-protective, in my head I am, because you try to contain it and control it, otherwise every time they step somewhere, every time they walk, you’d be, ‘Don’t hit the table! Don’t trip over this or that.’ But you just can’t express it otherwise you will go crazy. It is inside all of us so we took that element and we extrapolated it through Dracula, this overpowering, controlling personality who actually hypnotizes people to control them. And then you have a cartoon. You have a caricature.

Why did you choose this as your first film as a director?

I am comfortable when I know what the world is and I know half the battle of making a movie is knowing what movie you are making. I learnt that early on, when I was making TV shows. I have been offered features before but nothing as interesting as this. I had some stuff in development with Sony but, as soon as I saw this, and the potential for this project, I was like, ‘Yes, I can see the movie,’ and after our first meeting I wrote four pages of ideas for it. And writing those four pages I knew there was something there. If there is an idea but you struggle through it, you know there’s something missing. And so I came in and presented it and they were like, ‘Yes, this is the movie we want to make.’

What were the key components of that four-page treatment?

It was basically just character stuff. Like, ‘Dracula and Mavis could do this, and then Jonathan [the human visitor to Dracula’s abode] could knock at the door and then this happens.’ There were some joke ideas and some character ideas and some character development for Dracula. I really thought we had an idea of how to treat him, right off the bat.

Vampires have a lot of currency at the moment with a whole new breed in books and on screen…

That’s right, but I do like to think that probably more kids know Dracula than we think they do — the old Dracula just because it is so iconic. In Hotel Transylvania, we never make fun of the old movies and we never make fun of Dracula. We do make fun of some of the conventions. We try to spin them. We definitely address the conventions that we are breaking but not in a way like they do in Twilight where they can be in daylight and they can sparkle and the whole thing’s completely re-imagining vampires.

How did you decide which creatures and mythological beasts would be in the movie — did you draw a line somewhere?

We definitely limit the monsters to mythology or myth or literature, like Dr. Jekyll but not stuff like Freddy Krueger. I think that is the thing. It kind of directs itself in a way, because, the Yeti, that fits, Bigfoot? Yes. It is kind of mythological although it is not based on literature. It fits. Then I did some research and the Mummy is not even from literature. It was a movie first and you go ‘Okay, they are kind of our parameters, an old movie, some mythology, or myth, or legend’ and then you blend it together.

Which monsters did you most enjoy getting on screen?

Murray the Mummy, for sure. We had the most fun with him because we made him completely elastic and he becomes a ball and that fits really well with the way he was portrayed.  He was fun. And then Dracula. He really became alive, the way he moves and the way he acted and all his expressions and all his neurotics and stuff. We really pushed it and when you get to see the full film he gets crazy at times and to do a character that extreme is very unusual for animation. If you think of Shrek, for example, and he is very controlled as a character, with very controlled expressions, and that is supposed to be big comedy. So what we are doing is very different from a lot of animation because it is very caricatured.

What was the first expression of that idea that you put on screen?

The first animation that we finished was a scene in the closet where Dracula is talking to Jonathan and there is one moment in there where Jonathan puts the headphones on him and Dracula is like, ‘Naaafggghh! He is taking my soul’ and he screams. And we did this really extreme drawing of Dracula with his little tiny feet with his abdomen stretched out like crazy and him yelling and then his head kind of cocked in a profile. It was very, very extreme. It was our fifth scene or something. I was so nervous about it because I thought this is the death or the life of this project right here. And then we showed it to Adam Sandler and he laughed and the executives were like, ‘Wow! That is so broad’, and I said, ‘Yes, well, that is what we are going for’ and then they embraced it and they love it.

Did you encourage Adam Sandler to accentuate the Dracula accent? Or did he find it himself?

In the beginning he was very nervous about it because he was like, ‘I don’t want to sound hacky.’ He is a comedian and comedians are very aware of other people and people can start making fun of them so he was very hesitant. Then he said, ‘I do the voice in the shower and I just sound like Zohan [his character in the 2008 comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan]’. I said, ‘No, that is really great. The Zohan accent is really funny and this is a really funny movie.’ I said, ‘The bigger you go the more un-self-aware you are about it then the more sincere it will feel.  What we are going to do in animation is going to make it more, push it even further, with the big eyes and the big mouths and it is going to be a nice fit. If he did that voice in live action yes, it might be crazy, but in animation I know the caricature rules and I knew it was the right way to go with it.

You stumbled into animation, right? At college you took a class and it went from there…

That’s right. I had always loved animation and I always wanted to do it but I was brought up in Chicago where there is no industry, not like LA where you can turn left and go into an animation studio and find out about a job. There was nothing. But I have always loved it and I kept it a secret because I didn’t want my friends to think of me otherwise. You are paranoid about it because it is unusual. I went to college to study advertising art. I was going to be a commercial artist. And the first year, the registration is A to Z and the second semester is Z to A, so all the classes, the art classes that I wanted to take were closed in the first semester. I had to take math and literature and English and I had done four years of that already at High School and I was so hoping to do my craft and then I saw this elective that I had to fulfil and there was an animation class that I didn’t even know existed. I thought, ‘I will take this and fulfil the elective’ because I had always planned to do my own film work, and I took the class and all of a sudden this world opened up and I excelled at it. I realised that I could actually make a living at it. I got into CalArts and from then on it broke.

What are your memories of the day when George Lucas called about Clone Wars? 

It was out of the blue. When it first happened my boss, Mike Lazzo, and me were at a golf resort together taking a golf school, just as a break, and I was finishing up Samurai Jack. Suddenly, he goes ‘Right, you might have Star Wars.’ I said ‘What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘Well, we have been talking to Hasbro and they want us to do some stuff in between the movies and Lucas has approved it, but we are only allowed to do one-minute episodes.’ And I am like, ‘Star Wars? Amazing! But one-minute episodes? They are just commercials. I said they needed to be at least three to five minutes long, so that they didn’t feel like a commercial and he said, ‘Right but they are not going to do it. They have given us very strict parameters.’ But they went back to George and they said well, ‘We have got Genndy and the team from Samurai Jack’ and he was like, ‘I love Samurai Jack. They can have three to five minutes.’ That was that. But the first moment that I thought we might have Star Wars, I was ‘Oh, wow! That’s a really big deal!’

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA is released on October 12th and you can read our review here.

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Dan loves writing, film, music and photography. Originally from Devon, he did London for 4 years and now resides in Exeter. He also has a mild obsession with squirrels and cake. The latter being more of a hobby. Favourite movies include HIGH FIDELITY, ALMOST FAMOUS, GOOD WILL HUNTING, JURASSIC PARK, too many Steve Martin films and Nolan's BATMAN universe. He can also be found on www.twitter.com/danbullock

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