Swimming Along With Finding Dory-An Interview With Director Andrew Stanton & Producer Lindsey Collins #FindingDoryEvent
From the moment that you sit down with Finding Nemo and Finding Dory director Andrew Stanton and Producer Lindsey Collins, the first thing you are struck with is just how comfortable they are with one another; more like brother and sister or even husband and wife rather than a producing team that has been making films that embody the stories that everyone can relate to and has lived sometime in their lives.
Last March, I had the chance to sit down and speak to Stanton and Collins and find out more about Finding Dory, the continuing story that was never supposed to be, but yet had to be told. June 17, 13 years after everyone’s favorite amnesic blue tang swam into our hearts in Finding Nemo, eternally upbeat Dory finally has come full circle and the story of her journey is ready to be shared.
The story picks up six months after we last saw the trio when Dory’s happy life on the reef with Nemo and Marlin is jolted by her sudden realization that she has been separated from her family who may still be out looking for her. This compels her to make the journey across the ocean to California’s Marine Life Institute rehabilitation center and aquarium. The new friends she meets along the way change her in ways she never imagined possible.
Four plus years in the making, Finding Dory was penned by Stanton who for years had closed the door on Nemo. However something had always nagged at him that Dory’s story needed to be told but it wasn’t until he decided he had a follow-up story worth telling that he decided it was time to make the film. One of the biggest obstacles faces was trying to find out how to turn Dory, a supporting comedic character from Nemo, into a central lead that audiences would find compelling and worth caring about. Although most of the film is still under wraps and a closely guarded secret, judging from the sneak peeks we were given of various parts of the movie, it was clear that Stanton was indeed able to do just that.
The Tale That Was Never Meant To Be Told Yet Had To Be Told
Stanton was the first one to admit to us that he took on a potentially thankless task with the project.
“I know. I’m a glutton for punishment,” he shared about the concept of finding a realistic, authentic story for a character that essentially provided comic relief in the first film. “It was the bane of our existence through the whole making of the film. I kept complaining every day, going, ‘Who in the world thought of this character? I hate them.’ She was wired up to be a supporting character. She was built to be the ultimate sidekick.”
But throughout the “complaining” about himself, Stanton perservered and the tale that comes from it, as audiences will soon discover for themselves, was indeed a story that needed telling. Collins explained that ultimately, that backstory proved to be the basis for Dory’s journey in the new film.
“It was a story that was never explicitly said, but it was always something you felt was the experience she was coming from, the fear of being alone, where nobody would stick with her. That led to her breakdown at the end of the first film. That fear, that she hadn’t gotten over, was what made you want to do the second film.”
Stanton was quick to add “Dory’s character focuses on helping others at the expense of dealing with her own fears of being alone. Once the story team understood the essence of her character, they could begin to piece together her new story. Once we all saw that we needed to emabrace that fear in the story itself it was as if a fog had been lifted and we knew what direction to go. Dory has spent her whole life making sure everybody else got what they needed, basically driven by an internal fear of being alone. She deserved to not be driven by fear anymore, to embrace that, and to know that that’s her superpower and not her weakness. It took about two years for us to realize that self-reflection is necessary to track growth in her as a main character.”
“An underlying sadness in Dory’s Finding Nemo character is at the heart of her journey in the new film. Looking back at Nemo, you realize Dory is more than just comedy gold. Everybody walks away from Finding Nemo thinking ‘She made me laugh, she made me smile, she’s such a fun character, I like her.’ But subconsciously, I think everybody knew that the reality was that Dory was almost a tragic character if you will, as we all witnessed right at the end of the movie, when she was getting upset that Marlin was leaving her. She breaks down, and nobody questioned it because I think there’s no way your brain doesn’t go, ‘How can Dory be alone in the ocean and not have some trauma come from that, not have some loss and some tragedy from that? She deserved to not be driven by fear anymore, to embrace that, and to know that that’s her superpower and not her weakness. It took about two years for us to realize that self-reflection is necessary to track growth in her as a main character.”
Reeling in Ellen DeGeneres to Come Back for Another Swim
Andrew Stanton is no stranger to how highly anticipated Finding Dory has been to everyone, especially Ellen DeGeneres. Every time Ellen mentioned a sequel, Andrew Stanton would receive tons of emails forwarding the clip or mentioning the sequel. But, he knows her “pretty well and always took it with a grain of salt and laughed because in his mind he knew that the movie was finished.” It wasn’t until the summer of 2012 that Stanton called Ellen about the potential of a sequel. When he called her he said,
“I’m crying Uncle. We’re gonna do Finding Dory. And in the typical Ellen joking way, she said she didn’t really mean it. Ellen was about to become Dory again!”
Ellen was actually Stanton’s inspiration for Dory in the first movie, Finding Nemo.
“I basically wrote with her in mind cause I couldn’t figure out Dory. It wasn’t even a female character at the time, and I just needed this character to have short term memory loss and I didn’t know how to do it. And she had an original show in the ’90s called “The Ellen Show” that was a sit-com. And it was on in the room while I was trying to deal with Writer’s Block and suddenly I heard her change the sentence 5 times in one sentence, and I went that’s it, that’s how you do it.”
Because of Ellen, Dory’s character grew into the loving, forgettable fish we all love today.
“I sent her the script, called her out of the blue, and I said, “Ellen, I wrote the part for you and if you don’t take it, I’m completely screwed, completely screwed”. She didn’t know me, she was like, well then I better take it. It was that short of a phone call, and I’ve been so thankful to her ever since and then probably the second shortest phone call was calling about “Finding Dory.”
Having Ellen as the main character/actor made it easy for Stanton and producer Lindsey Collins to find the perfect cast to compliment Dory and create some wonderful chemistry since she has interviewed just about everyone in show business.
“I think we were laughing at how our casting process usually is,” Collins joked. “It’s painful because you have to kind of have ideas, have people you’re interested in, and then you have to go search. The editors go search through those that they’ve been on, or movies they’ve been in, and you have to kind of pull a clip that looks like it may be interesting and then you have to kind of fake a conversation between that person and like Ellen, and then listen to it. But we were like, Ellen and Ty Burrell. And play interview. And then we could just sit there. I mean, she has interviewed everybody so it was like, she made it so easy”.
New Cast of Characters
Stanton and Collins said they tried really hard to pull in as many of the characters from Finding Nemo as they could. You’ll see some key characters like Marlin and Nemo, Squirt, and Crush. The characters that made it needed to be there, and the ones that didn’t, well it was for a reason. Stanton knew before the story was even written, that he “would love if Dory’s Parents were Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy. That would be my dream and it’s really nice to come off of a popular movie because they said ‘Yes’ right away. And it was just all I ever thought of was the parents. What’s unbelievable is that Diane has never done a voice before! She was a little nervous but she is Diane Keaton after all, she can do anything!”
Swimming Upstream Against New Challenges
Bringing Dory into the limelight was probably the most challenging thing for everyone., “The #1 bane of our existence” shared Stanton.
“ It was the biggest problem following us for most of the making of the film. We had made her so good as a supporting role, we could see, I don’t think you can make a better supporting character and suddenly, we’re asking her to be the main character and I thought, fine, the worst thing you can do is have a main character with short term memory loss. The writers had to continue to remind themselves that this was a story about Dory!”
What Andrew discovered during the writing process was that “One of the reasons that you follow a main character is because you can see that they’re growing and that they’re changing and that they’re hitting things and overcoming them. And the way that you know that is because of self-reflection. They can actually stop and say, I felt sad when I used to do this but now that I’ve been through this, I don’t feel sad about it anymore. She couldn’t do that because she didn’t remember… so we had no way of tracking that she was changing and we didn’t even realize that was what was going on. So we were like, why is she not interesting? Why is she boring? Why is she starting to get annoying? You know, and that was, and then the tough part. OK, now we’re identified the problem, how do we solve it?” One way they solved this problem was the supporting cast. The other characters help her remember who she is. Plus the closer she gets to home, the more she seems to remember.”
Swimming Without Floaties
Collins also added.
“OK, now we’ve identified the problem. How do we solve it?’ And it was a lot of things. One is the attachment to Hank. Hank has memory. Hank can tell her what she’s doing. Have her find people that knew her, that can give her information. Have her remember things as she gets closer to home. It’s like sense memory. It’s like ‘I haven’t been in my old Elementary School since I was a little kid and now that I’m here, suddenly I have memory.’ And you know, lots of things. But we couldn’t solve the problem until we identified it. And through the whole thing, I kept kind of swearing and saying, ‘Who the heck thought of this character?’ I hate it.”
Sink of Swim, It Was A Tale That Needed Telling
Despite the frustrations, though, Dory was created to do great things. Stanton and Collins were quick to talk about the incredible takeaways in Finding Dory the biggest one being to embrace what’s unique about you according to Stanton.
“We are wired the way we are wired. You can only grow and embrace that. This is such an important thing to remember, especially for kids. Lead with it, learn to deal with it, and grow with it and from it. Take your quirky, which might be a weakness, but maybe not, and turn it into a strength, sort of like Nemo’s little fin. Dory is forever saying “I’m sorry, I suffer from short term memory loss,” yet she never once takes notice of other character’s flaws. She never talks about Nemo’s fin or Bailey’s broken echolocation or Destiny’s poor eyesight. She always finds the good qualities in them. Other characters may see something as a flaw that they are struggling with that stops the conversation for them, but Dory never sees that. She just keeps swimming. She doesn’t let those flaws stop the conversation.”
One thing is certain, that on June 17, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but more importantly you’ll come out feeling like you’ve just been given the biggest hug of your life as Finding Dory, the story that was never supposed to be, but the one that needed to be told swims into theaters and into our hearts.
To find out more from our visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium for the #FindingDoryEvent
Coming Up next, meet Hank, everyone’s favorite septapus and find out what it was like to actually hold and octopus and give you a squeeze you’ll never forget.
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Finding Dory Swims into Theaters June 17
Disclosure: I was invited by Disney to cover this media event. All material and expenses for this event have been provided courtesy of Walt Disney Studios but all opinions my own