Five Favorite Films

Five Favorite Films with ParaNorman Directors Chris Butler and Sam Fell

The writing/directing team behind this week's stop-motion animation talk the films that influenced their creation.

by | August 16, 2012 | Comments

Following the success of Henry Selick’s wondrous Coraline in 2009, the team at Laika studios are back this week with their second animated feature, ParaNorman, another stop-motion marvel concerning the misadventure of a young outsider and his spooky connection to the land of the dead. Pitched as “John Hughes meets John Carpenter,” it’s written by Coraline and Corpse Bride animation artist Chris Butler and co-directed by Butler and Aardman alum Sam Fell, with voices by Kodi Smit-McPhee, Anna Kendrick and John Goodman, and music by Jon Brion. We had a chance to chat with Fell and Butler this week ahead of the movie’s release, where they talked about five of their favorite movies — and how they influenced the creation and execution of ParaNorman.

The Breakfast Club (John Hughes, 1985; 100% Tomatometer)

Sam Fell: We’ve compiled a joint list. These five are really about ParaNorman; they’re directly connected.

Chris Butler: Although, to be fair, ParaNorman is definitely a result of these movies that made me who I am — they’re the movies I grew up with, and that’s what ParaNorman is all about. So in a way they are influential on us.

Sam Fell: Complete faves, yeah. We’ve spent a lot of time together, even before we started the film — that’s how we knew we could work together, by comparing films that we liked and talking about them. And so, our first one’s The Breakfast Club by John Hughes. Obviously, in ParaNorman, we’re picking up on different high school stereotypes, and John Hughes touched on that so beautifully — especially in this movie. I think the most amazing thing about this film when you watch it is that it’s just pure character. There’s no spectacle or anything. When you watch it — you know, it was a mainstream, successful movie and everyone went to see it — but when you watch it, it’s almost like an art movie.

So ParaNorman is The Breakfast Club trapped in a zombie movie.

Chris Butler: Yeah. And that leads us into our second movie…

The Fog (John Carpenter, 1980; 68% Tomatometer)

Chris Butler: We’re often talking about ParaNorman as being John Hughes meets John Carpenter, and that was intentional. It was to try and tell a spooky story that was almost… you know, we talked about it like being directed by Sam Raimi as well. It was to try and combine all those elements: All the angst of a movie set in high school, where your issues are more about, you know, being bullied by the kid who lives down the lane, but to couple that with a movie about the more fictional horrors of monsters. I like that play. They’re actually a really good marriage. I’ve talked about ParaNorman being the characters from The Breakfast Club dropped into the plot of The Fog — and The Fog, I would say, would be one of the other influential ones. Right from day one of writing, I think. I love that movie, as bad as it is…

Oh, I think it’s a great film. It tends to get overlooked, coming right after Halloween in the Carpenter filmography.

Chris Butler: Right. It is really good. I think when you watch it today — and I still happily watch it — a lot of the effects haven’t aged very well. And that’s part of its charm, I think. But what I think is really good about it is the mythology that it creates, and it’s mythology based on an historical event, like the best campfire stories. In fact, the movie starts with a story around a campfire. It’s just a perfect way to set up a horror mythology. That was a big influence. Rather than just making stuff up — or just having unmotivated ghouls and monsters — I wanted ParaNorman to kind of hinge on something, an event of history. And in ParaNorman‘s case, it’s fictional, but it very much takes its cues from the Salem witch trials. That creates instantly a very rich mythology to play in. So that was a big thing. The other thing [about The Fog] is that it’s a small town about to celebrate its anniversary and suddenly everything goes wrong — and yes, there are lots of ghoulish corpses walking around. I can’t say how much we owe to that movie, really. [Laughs]

Possible spoilers ahead.

The witch trial back-story also creates a lot of sympathy for the so-called “monsters.”

Chris Butler: Yeah, absolutely. And I thought that was important from day one. If you’re gonna do a zombie movie, you have to do something different. And I thought — I’m sure you’ll do a spoiler, ’cause I don’t want to ruin everything — but if you think about it, logically, if you brought back a host of puritans from the grave, they would be pretty outraged and terrified.

George Washington (David Gordon Green, 2000, 83% Tomatometer)

Sam Fell: Number three is George Washington by David Gordon Green.

Interesting choice.

Sam Fell: It’s an interesting choice, yeah. You wouldn’t necessarily associate it with this. But if you think about ParaNorman, one of the things that, from the beginning, we realized we wanted was to create a real place — a real sense of place — and really hold up a mirror to the contemporary world and not create a fantasy American town. We wanted to really believe in it. And it was already in the script that [the movie’s fictional town] Blithe Hollow would be rotten around the edges and not a perfect place. We love imperfection; it’s throughout — even the family in the story are imperfect. So what was really cool about watching George Washington — and looking at the photography by William Eggleston, by the way — was just how the kind of downbeat world was celebrated, though great cinematography and great photography. And in George Washington, a lot of it’s just about the sense of place. It really takes time developing a sense of place with great photography and sound. So in our first act, when we introduce Norman’s world and the town of Blithe Hollow, especially when he’s walking to school, we actually put shots in there that normally wouldn’t belong in an animated movie — not a Western animated movie. Just shots of odd corners of the world that are kind of run down. Not necessary, but they kind of create atmosphere. We love that kind of vibe. Early on, Chris had tried a little bit of [composer] Jon Brion’s music [as a temp score] — and it had that same kind of slightly off-beat vibe to it, and we wanted to have that vibe to this world at the beginning. Then when we introduce the fantasy elements, it’s a real contrast.

Is that how you ended up getting Jon Brion to compose the soundtrack?

Sam Fell: Yeah. It was slightly unexpected in a way. It was purely picking a piece of music that already existed that fit, really early on, and when we got the opportunity to sit around and talk about who we wanted to do it, that piece of music had stuck from day one. So we were like, “Well lets try and get him.” And he jumped at the chance. The music that he did for this movie is sublime. It’s beautiful.

The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985; 63% Tomatometer)

Chris Butler: Okay the next one, and it’s a big one, is The Goonies. I think it’s almost self-explanatory. I remember seeing The Goonies as a kid and I think it’s that sense of — it is almost like a Scooby-Doo-esque adventure become real, and I think that’s what made it so appealing to me as a kid. It wasn’t that it was raucous and loud, it was that these kids were incredibly relatable. They were real kids. They came in all shapes and sizes, they were incredibly flawed, and very funny. They were rude, they bickered; they just felt so real, and they were a lot of fun because of that. So yeah, The Goonieshuge influence.

Sam Fell: Massive one, yeah.

Evil Dead 2 (Sam Raimi, 1987; 98% Tomatometer)

Sam Fell: Number five is Evil Dead 2. Mostly for the camera and the editing in that thing. The sheer kind of bravura, mad energy it had, you know. Like, when we get into our second act and the story starts picking up, we just wanted that energy, and we looked a lot at the way Raimi used the camera in that movie. It was almost cartoonish.

Chris Butler: It’s outlandish.

Sam Fell: Outlandish, yeah. And the sound as well. The sound design in that film. It’s kind of interesting getting from George Washington to Evil Dead 2. [Both laugh] But that’s what we do.

Is it hard to replicate that Evil Dead 2-style of camerawork in a stop-motion film, or easier — because you can pause the camera and control it more?

Sam Fell: It’s a bit of both. The hard thing is to get that sense of spontaneity, you know, that kind of roughness — because it can be a bit too smooth if you program those moves in stop motion. But it was kind of good in this show because we just had a really good visual effects supervisor that enabled us to really fly that camera around more than you usually would. It’s not the usual kind of stop motion.

Chris Butler: Yeah. And you’re right, there are limitations physically. We have a couple of shots that are very Sam Raimi, where we’re speeding through the gravestones in the graveyard, and just being able to get the camera low enough to the ground was a huge ordeal. Logistically it just becomes almost an impossibility, but we wanted to keep those shots in so we found all kinds of tricks to help us through.

The thing about this film, like Coralline, is that it uses 3-D well; especially when people have gotten really blasé about it. Is it the stop-motion that makes the 3-D work?

Sam Fell: Yeah, its ’cause its tangible, very tactile, you know. There’s a magic to the fact that these puppets seem to be moving of their own accord, and watching them, I always wanted to reach in to the screen and grab one of those things. Now with 3-D it just creates another dimension; a window into this magic. So I just think it makes it even more tangible, and even more sort of uncanny. I think they really are made for each other, these two forms.

ParaNorman opens nationwide this week.

Tag Cloud

diversity spinoff Calendar period drama travel Apple TV+ spider-man Academy Awards Biopics Comic-Con@Home 2021 summer TV preview Spike mission: impossible rt archives Funimation 24 frames cancelled TV series Martial Arts DC Comics jamie lee curtis boxing 2017 USA Network pirates of the caribbean FOX talk show Shondaland TV renewals directors Podcast comic monster movies historical drama CBS All Access SDCC christmas movies Disney streaming service Chernobyl Marathons crossover streamig debate gangster Elton John TCA Winter 2020 President spider-verse FXX popular Box Office young adult Stephen King kids Sony Pictures stand-up comedy know your critic scene in color film series child's play Lifetime Christmas movies Logo TV Land political drama Valentine's Day Mindy Kaling 93rd Oscars IFC Films Britbox asian-american scorecard Lifetime Starz Showtime trailers international Vudu technology Lionsgate DirecTV Pirates AMC NBC Tarantino NYCC wonder woman Horror die hard ghosts game show dc Trophy Talk Instagram Live Summer classics Discovery Channel television black Syfy australia Nat Geo Oscars emmy awards Masterpiece anthology spain live event DC streaming service HBO documentaries composers Opinion The Witch The Arrangement Legendary Epix Disney+ Disney Plus RT History psycho Super Bowl cinemax Amazon Prime Comedy Central dceu laika hispanic fresh french VH1 2020 E3 DGA what to watch blaxploitation comics posters Trailer Hollywood Foreign Press Association Image Comics LGBTQ 99% ABC video on demand Best Actress blockbusters rotten movies we love The Walking Dead Winter TV new star wars movies Set visit First Look Cartoon Network high school Alien Western Paramount Pictures Paramount Plus 1990s a nightmare on elm street 72 Emmy Awards Photos Spring TV singing competition TV movies Peacock Warner Bros. critic resources biopic Creative Arts Emmys genre American Society of Cinematographers latino olympics Music adaptation richard e. Grant ITV TV One Pop festival war Animation thriller 73rd Emmy Awards breaking bad romantic comedy Extras Fox News slasher summer TV king arthur Best and Worst Sundance new york fast and furious strong female leads indiana jones South by Southwest Film Festival TV Mary poppins disaster BAFTA Amazon universal monsters ABC Family 71st Emmy Awards documentary GIFs TCA Awards japan Indigenous A24 scary Musicals Pacific Islander obi wan worst movies Paramount spanish language SundanceTV book adaptation action-comedy 21st Century Fox 4/20 HBO Max mob 007 harry potter prank Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Geeked Week BET Awards comiccon Toys Pixar 2015 Universal Rom-Com OneApp satire CMT based on movie YouTube Premium X-Men adenture movies Arrowverse GoT blockbuster Infographic dexter deadpool streaming movies cooking chucky ID Best Director parents Turner discovery Best Actor New York Comic Con Schedule Disney Channel Kids & Family twilight nfl Marvel Grammys Nominations cars Country Crunchyroll marvel comics mcc Broadway AMC Plus award winner DC Universe Cannes movie Mary Tyler Moore cancelled TV shows Sundance Now broadcast legend elevated horror GLAAD Christmas scene in color series Premiere Dates marvel cinematic universe king kong MSNBC cartoon Lucasfilm zero dark thirty slashers YouTube reviews Pop TV TIFF Binge Guide CW Seed japanese Amazon Studios Ellie Kemper Holidays hidden camera Certified Fresh Walt Disney Pictures PaleyFest The Walt Disney Company SXSW 2022 Thanksgiving Trivia 94th Oscars finale crime drama Television Critics Association jurassic park psychological thriller Shudder Classic Film CBS spanish canceled The Academy live action free movies sitcom 2018 trophy theme song Sony Disney Heroines Rocky Native interviews Teen rom-coms Interview Hear Us Out scene in color Star Wars renewed TV shows mockumentary social media Winners 2016 BBC America spy thriller Paramount Network south america MGM Sci-Fi kong Wes Anderson vampires USA The CW Ovation Freeform cancelled comic books james bond 20th Century Fox Esquire Focus Features nature HFPA leaderboard crime thriller lord of the rings women Adult Swim 2019 science fiction streaming hist Emmy Nominations Comedy Character Guide series Cosplay PlayStation venice Endgame name the review robots Oscar sports toronto docudrama Writers Guild of America Netflix Pet Sematary art house dark politics Year in Review San Diego Comic-Con toy story Prime Video crime 2021 boxoffice WGN basketball Sneak Peek mutant Tumblr BET adventure italian Television Academy Polls and Games halloween tv Superheroes Baby Yoda Rocketman aapi National Geographic true crime PBS Marvel Television MCU ratings critics royal family Bravo comic book movies kaiju zombie black comedy VOD supernatural telelvision Nickelodeon Awards Amazon Prime Video suspense WarnerMedia Dark Horse Comics Drama Rock stop motion superman Sundance TV Netflix Christmas movies joker romance rotten Columbia Pictures TCA BBC Red Carpet FX facebook Captain marvel Mystery game of thrones video batman Comics on TV Exclusive Video worst Neflix witnail book screen actors guild golden globes Star Trek tv talk teaser police drama godzilla Emmys cults target scene in color razzies rt labs critics edition Brie Larson See It Skip It films miniseries Film 45 dramedy comedies 79th Golden Globes Awards Superheroe Turner Classic Movies feel good independent APB dreamworks YA TCM Mary Poppins Returns Food Network archives TruTV First Reviews Crackle obituary hispanic heritage month Women's History Month Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt foreign aliens Video Games screenings Countdown TLC reboot ABC Signature green book Tubi natural history TBS Reality Election cops RT21 festivals anime sequels cats Musical Tomatazos Best Picture quibi doctor who docuseries casting YouTube Red franchise saw LGBT Hallmark Spectrum Originals Reality Competition Holiday scary movies sag awards Star Wars Celebration Comic Book Fantasy halloween sequel serial killer new zealand zombies canceled TV shows binge Film Festival werewolf TNT transformers 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards The Purge OWN Action remakes space Universal Pictures Apple Tokyo Olympics Fox Searchlight children's TV Hulu Avengers HBO Go Ghostbusters nbcuniversal hollywood IFC best sopranos dogs Black Mirror criterion Apple TV Plus golden globe awards versus unscripted E! cancelled television Family heist movie CNN SXSW indie Pride Month Anna Paquin Disney Plus biography dragons ESPN Acorn TV El Rey Watching Series summer preview Mudbound football NBA concert medical drama target A&E TCA 2017 Fall TV ViacomCBS all-time news Hallmark Christmas movies comic book movie FX on Hulu Song of Ice and Fire Marvel Studios rt labs History revenge Tags: Comedy Black History Month BBC One Travel Channel 90s vs. Awards Tour Quiz stoner animated VICE justice league Fargo superhero MTV IMDb TV