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Interview: 'Santa' Director Steve Oedekerk

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Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: November 2002

Hollywood director/writer Steve Oedekerk talks to BMZ about his first foray into Big Movies, the 3D animated comedy 'Santa vs. the Snowman.'

  

Category: Interviews

Steve Oedekerk has quickly established a multi-faceted career that includes producing, directing, writing, acting, stand-up comedy and animation. He has written and directed films that have a combined worldwide box office gross of more than $1 billion, recently received a Best Animated film Academy Award nomination for Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, as well as starred in and directed the wild retro martial arts comedy Kung Pow: Enter the Fist, which grossed its entire budget on the opening weekend. In addition, Oedekerk has appeared in the top comedy clubs in America, and starred in and created television specials for NBC, ABC and UPN.

Santa vs. the Snowman 3D (main film page -- Trailer, Reviews, more info), released November 1st and opening in Big Movie theaters throughout the holiday season, is his first foray into Big Movies.

BMZ: Is there a specific first time or incident when you remember thinking, "Hey, I'm pretty funny. I can make people laugh?" When did you decide to pursue a career as a comedian, and how did you get your start?

Steve Oedekerk: This seemed to me by big gift in school. I wasn't going to be raising any bars academically, so I spent the majority of my time pursuing and perfecting the craft of distracting others. There's nothing like suppressed laughter and/or the ability of getting someone to pass liquid through their nose.

BMZ: In recent years you've moved from stand-up comedy into filmmaking? What prompted the crossover? Do you ever do stand-up anymore?

SO: Ran out of time, really. Stand-up is a blast. I never had what would be called a "normal" act, as I didn't do any topical or "have you ever noticed" humor. It was a very audio/visual experience. It is the only venue I know of where you can think of something funny and be performing it one hour later. A movie is beyond a full time job and I usually have multiple projects going. My schedule during my stand-up life was 1 hour work then 23 hours off, now it's pretty much the polar opposite. Stand-up is fun but I love movies.

BMZ: Describe your first "IMAX Experience." When did you first think about producing in IMAX, and why/how did SANTA become your first IMAX project?

SO: I was thirteen, I think. I've always loved theaters and auditoriums. I just get this energy when I'm in them. So, at first I was impressed with the stadium seating (not a common thing back then) and huge screen. Once the picture came on I was floored. It felt like the entire theater was moving along with the camera. I was IN the picture. It made quite an impression on me. It was a big WOW.

BMZ: Please tell us a little bit about Santa's plot. As a holiday special, how does it differ/improve upon those before it? Is it aimed solely at kids, or adults too?

SO: Mostly kids but there is enough of a story and entertainment targeted for adults. It's definitely intended as G-rated entertainment. I love Christmas and I wanted to provide a unique entertainment experience for families. The original concept hit me as I realized that we've all been watching the same Christmas specials year after year. I tried to create a story that had the feel of an old classic with a strong holiday heart, but at the same time was a bit more modern, edgy and funny.

BMZ: Santa v. the Snowman originally aired on TV in 1997. How did you modify it for IMAX Theaters, both in length/content and technologically, and how difficult was this? (Was the process similar to the one Disney uses to reformat its animated classics, or somehow unique?)

SO: The original TV production was 22 minutes long. The IMAX 3D film version is 35 minutes. The TV version always felt rushed to me, so the film version allowed for the story to breath properly. Although we were able to use almost all of the original animation, every shot had to be recomposed, tweaked and re-rendered with a left and right eye view. Unlike the Disney animated films, this is not a blow-up of standard framing. This film is composed for a large format screen so there is an appropriate immersive experience. We had to back the camera up and widen the frame creating new open areas that had to be animated or filled with additional environmental elements.

BMZ: You've said that the approach to 3D animation is "revolutionary." How does the animation differ from other CGI 3D animation in Large Format, for example Ben Stassen's films (3D Mania, Haunted Castle)?

SO: Well, I've been a fan of Stassen's work as he has been pursuing entertainment content within the large format arena. Where Santa differs is there is little attention paid to the gag of 3D. I wasn't concentrating on putting the audience on a ride or throwing things at them. Rather than using the 3D for 3D effect, I wanted to see how 3D would enhance normal storytelling. Keeping the use of the 3D to what would best suit the emotion of the scene. Like when it starts snowing in Santa's village. Normally that would be witnessing snow on a screen 20 feet away, but in this case it's snowing all around you. The 3D is not being used as a stunt that takes over the picture, but as a vehicle to allow the audience to be more drawn into the environment and the picture itself. Don't get me wrong, I actually enjoy 3D being used as a gag, but we've seen that in theme parks and 3D film past. The real revolution is in it's more subtle impact on storytelling. 3D imagery to me is just like sound and color. They were both originally referred to as gimmicks that an audience would tire of. We're simply one rather gigantic technological breakthrough away from a shift in the entire filmmaking industry. If 3D were currently possible in normal theaters without glasses, it would be the end of 2D films. This is the filmmaking of the future.

BMZ: Are you worried that anyone might question the kid-friendliness of a holiday special that involves so much warring/battle? How would you react to such concerns?

SO: Well, much has happened in the world since the conception of "Santa vs. the Snowman." War and the concept of war is in everyone's consciousness. Our battle is very cartoony and silly, having very little real or intended bite. We have mistletoe missiles that cause the little snow minions to hug and kiss. It would be quite a stretch to call this violent.

BMZ: The movie contains an exuberant parody of a certain famous Star Wars scene. How did that idea come up?

SO: This was the director, John Davis's idea. I think the igloo walkers are very cool and a nice satirical tribute to George Lucas and the Star Wars franchise.

BMZ: What's your feeling on re-purposing 35mm live-action Hollywood films? Do you have any interest in bringing any of the 35mm features you've been a part of (or will be a part of in the future) to the IMAX screen through DMR? [Editor's Note: "DMR" is the process developed by IMAX Corporation to remaster a 35mm "Hollywood" film into true IMAX 15/70.]

SO: Not at this time. I would much rather shoot a comedy feature film specifically for the IMAX screen. Large format could use a big all out comedy.

BMZ: Any plans for future animated IMAX 3D projects?

SO: Oh yeah. I have two different stories I'm currently working on. I definitely have the bug now. Regarding storytelling in 3D, I think the surface is just getting scratched.and I think we're 2 or 3 strong animated films away from alerting the public that IMAX and large format theaters are one of the premiere destinations for family entertainment in addition to documentaries and educational films.

BMZ: What do you hope IMAX movies will mean to the world someday? Where do you hope the medium goes?

SO: If filmmakers can rise to the occasion and create an even higher level of "WOW" than has been accomplished in the past then we're just a few years away from this medium taking off and being viewed as the premiere destination for family entertainment as well as documentaries and educational films. There will be event films that have every seat of every theater packed upon that film's release. Millions of new patrons will be introduced to these amazing theaters. The current problems facing the industry will not be fixed with marketing or corporate planning alone. This is an entertainment medium that was built on innovation since day one. Innovation both in technical achievements and creative film content is critical. Everyone needs to go back to the core passion and energy instilled by Graeme Ferguson, Roman Kroitor and Bill Shaw back in the 60s. Innovation is what this medium is about. Bring back the WOW and they will come.

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