In 1994, Robert Zemeckis won an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Director’s Guild of America Award for Best Director for the hugely successful Forrest Gump.
Recently he, along with producers Steve Starkey and Jack Rapke, formed ImageMovers Digital to focus on performance-capture films for The Walt Disney Studio, furthering the technology they pioneered in the Zemickis-directed movies The Polar Express and Beowulf. Their first venture at Disney is Charles Dickens’ classic holiday novel A Christmas Carol, which stars Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge.
At the press junket for the movie, Zemeckis spoke about his desire to remake one of the most recognizable Christmas stories ever written.
How did you choose to do A Christmas Carol for your first project at Disney?
Falling in love with this digital cinema, ever since The Polar Express I’ve been on this quest to think of movie ideas that can be presented in this new art form, and I just got hit with the idea that it could be A Christmas Carol.
I immediately went back and read the book to refresh my memory, and I realized that Dickens being the great writer that he is, it hadn’t been realized in the way that it was actually imagined by him as he wrote it. So I said, okay, we could take a classic story that everyone is familiar with and re-envision it in a new and exciting way.
It deals with time travel which you’ve had a bit of experience with too with the Back to the Future movies.
I’ve said before that I think [A Christmas Carol] might be the greatest time travel story written in the English language. It’s really fabulous, and it may be the first, I don’t know. But this story definitely influenced my own time travel stories.
Can you talk a little about the extraordinary technology that creates a film like this?
This technology we use was invented by the medical profession to study the range of human motion, it was perfected by the golfing industry, and now we’re using it to make movies. The technology is liberating to me as a filmmaker. It allows me to separate the cinema aspect of making a movie, which is something all filmmakers try to control, and realize the magic of the performances from my cast.
Did you spend a lot of time rehearsing with the actors?
We did, I always do my, I call it a table reading but what I really do is I sit [before] my cast and I act out the whole movie and everyone gets a big kick out of that. But we really break down the script, we don’t get up and do scenes in the room or anything like that, it’s a like an intense table reading.
When we go into the volume, as we call it, which is the block of invisible infrared light that we do the movie in, they turn it on.
When we’re working through the scene, we’re recording everything because there’s no film, it’s just the hard drives running. And so the actors do the scene from beginning to end, like you would do a scene in the theatre, and we work the scene out and what’s great is we record it and I say, ‘Okay now we’re really going to do it,’ and if someone says, ‘Gee, you know Bob, I’d rather walk in from the other side of the room, I think it would feel better,’ I’d say, ‘Let’s try it.’
So it’s kind of like we’re doing these elaborate theatrical tech rehearsals, and we hone the scene down and then all of a sudden we look at each other and say, ‘Is everybody happy, does everybody feel good about that?’ And then we move on.
What was it about Jim Carrey that you felt was right for the part of Scrooge?
When I did my first performance-capture movie I realized the potential of what could be done, I couldn’t help but think that the greatest performance-capture actor that exists is Jim Carrey. His face is so incredibly expressive, and he’s so great at creating characters, giving him the ability to completely change his physicality.
All of these talents as a performer and as a comedian are included in his performance.
He also plays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come.
Since the ghosts are all an extension of Scrooge, it’s only fitting that they all have a bit of Scrooge in them. So it was a perfect fit to have Jim play all the parts. Every morning, I got to come in and I’d say, ‘Jim, who do you feel like today?’ Usually he’d say, ‘Scrooge.’