How hard can it be?
That was the question that Garth Jennings asked himself when
Chris Meledandri - the CEO of Illumination Entertainment - offered him the
opportunity to direct "Sing," his very first animated feature.
And given the many types of productions Garth has worked on
over the course of his career (i.e., shooting well-received videos for bands
like Blur & Radiohead back in the 1990s. Helming big-budget feature films
like 2005's "the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Not to mention directing
indie favorites like 2007's "Son of Rambow"), this seemed like a perfectly
"Sing" director Garth Jennings
"Looking back now, I realize that my naivete when it came to
animated features could have really gotten me into trouble on this project.
Because - prior to working on 'Sing' - I was basically unfamiliar with how the
animation production pipeline worked. In fact, I had never before worked on a
film where you actually had to use the word 'pipeline' as you were describing
how that movie got made," Jennings revealed during a recent phone interview.
But to give Garth credit here, he was quick to apply lessons
that he'd learned working on previous productions to this Illumination
Entertainment project. Take - for example - all of the storyboarding that
Jennings had to do out ahead of shooting "Hitchhiker's" elaborate effects
"What was nice was - as we started down the path of making
this animated feature - suddenly there were parts that started to feel familiar
to me. Take - for example - storyboarding. I know how the storyboarding thing
works. And ah yes. Now we're working with actors. They may not all in front of
a camera at the same time. But I do know how to work with actors," Garth
recalled. "So - as I went along -- there were enough familiar aspects to the
animation production process that I gradually began to feel comfortable."
Copyright Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures. All rights reserved
What genuinely helped Jennings find his footing on "Sing"
was the team at Illumination Entertainment. Who he described as being " ... the
nicest people on the planet."
"Look, I know. What
you really want me to say here is how much I loathed everybody. But the truth
was everyone at Illumination was really very supportive. Especially given the
fact that I had come from outside and I was writing & directing animation
for the first time. But to their credit, the team at Illumination actually
embraced my lack of experience, rather than seeing it as something they should
be skeptical of," Garth stated.
Besides, given how ambitious & intricate "Sing" was
(i.e., this animated feature about a singing competition features six different
interweaving storylines. And over the course of this 110 minute-long movie,
portions of 65 songs are performed), there just wasn't a whole lot of time to
obsess about Jennings' lack of animation credits.
Copyright Illumination Entertainment / Universal Pictures
"Mind you, there was a time when 'Sing' featured 85 songs.
But as we really dug into working on this movie, we found what ultimately
mattered most was making sure that the audience was actually able to follow all
six stories. That they wouldn't then feel disoriented when we took them to some
character's home after it had been a while since we'd last checked in on that
character," Jennings said. "That was one of those things that began for me
saying 'Oh, this will be great because we'll just follow them all.' And then -
as you go forward - you find yourself saying 'Now wait a minute. We're jumping
too far ahead. We're not doing enough to make the audience aware of where this
character is at this point in the story."
Keeping that many storylines clear, while - at the same time
- maintaining a movie's narrative momentum, takes some real skill. Which is why
Garth is quick to sing the praises of "Sing" 's editor, Gregory Perler.
"Greg really is the unsung hero of this piece because ...
Well, take - for example - this film's audition sequence. It quickly moves from
song to song. And it's all fun and you really enjoy this sequence as you watch
it. But if you're really paying attention to how that sequence was cut
together, you'll then notice the micro-precision with which it's been edited. Not
to mention the great musical ear that Greg obviously has," Jennings enthused.
"His unique skill set is one of the biggest reasons that 'Sing" 's sequence
works so well. Not to mention the rest of this movie."
Garth clearly takes a lot of pride in "Sing" 's audition
sequence. Which is understandable, given that that portion of this Illumination
Entertainment production was kind of a proof-of-concept for this motion
"That audition sequence was one of the very first things we
did on 'Sing.' I think we probably had that cut in 2013. Which - given that I
actually worked for this film for 5 years - wasn't all that long ago," Jennings
admitted. "But that audition sequence was sort of a litmus test for this movie.
It was the first time Greg and I worked together. And once we got that sequence
up on reels and really looked at it ... Well, it felt like we'd planted a flag in
the ground. That it would actually be possible to build an animated feature
around a singing competition."
And once that piece was in place, Jennings and Perler then
turned their attention to "Sing" 's third act. Which is when all six of those
story threads finally came together.
"That's the thing about a third act, especially on a film
with multiple characters that are in direct competition with one another.
You're trying to set up a situation where the audience should be rooting for
everyone," Garth explained.
"I mean, think back to 'Rocky.' By the time that character
finally entered the ring, you were solidly on his side. You were genuinely
invested in how his match with Apollo Creed was going to come out," Jennings
continued. "Getting an audience emotionally invested like that is tough enough
when you're producing a film that's built around a single character. But when
you're doing a movie that features multiple characters, that's really tricky.
That's why I'm so proud of how 'Sing' ultimately turned out. By the time you
get to the competition portion of this motion picture, you genuinely care about
all six characters."
And Garth got proof of that back in September when a
work-in-progress version of this Illumination Entertainment production was
screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. And - as the third act of "Sing"
unspooled - those 2000 attendees who were crammed into the Princess of Wales
Theater actually applauded as each of the six contestants completed their
Garth Jennings and his wife Louise at the 2016 TorontoInternational Film Festival.
"Which - after all that hard work - was great. Because when
I look back now on what my original thoughts were when I first began working on
'Sing,' how I thought it was going to be so easy to follow all six of these
characters through a singing competition, all I can say is 'Well, that was insane.
What was I thinking?,' " Jennings concluded.
This article was originally published by the Huffington Post on December 21, 2016