Sunday, May 11, 2008

Q&A with David A. Price

Finally! The post you've all been waiting for: My email interview/Q&A with David A. Price, author of The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company, which will be in bookstores on Tuesday.

Just before I forget, I'd like to thank Mr. Price here for taking the time to talk to me, and also Lena at Knopf/Random House for helping to set everything up. Thanks, guys!
Q. Your previous book, Love and Hate in Jamestown, dealt with the Jamestown Settlement in Virginia—early American history. What made you want to write about Pixar?

A. After hanging out in the early 1600’s for around five years, I was ready to spend a while in my own century. I was attracted to the idea of writing Pixar’s history because I enjoy the films and it’s an important story from an artistic, business, and technological perspective. I also felt I had some of the tools with which to approach the subject since I’d been writing about business and I’d studied computer science.

Q. What similarities do you see between Jamestown and Pixar?

A. The stories are both about journeys into unexplored territory. Also, they’re both about start-up companies.

Q. What level of support did you receive from Pixar as you were researching the facts for the book? Also, what was the most challenging part of your research?

A. Pixar didn’t assist me at the corporate level, although some individual employees did. A lot of former employees also cooperated with the project.

It might sound counter-intuitive, but for me, books are less challenging to research than shorter pieces because they come with the luxury of time. In researching The Pixar Touch, if I wrote someone asking for an interview and then heard back from him six months later, which actually happened in one case, I could still use the interview. What’s really hard is having an article due in X number of days and not knowing whether the key people are going to return your phone calls. So the challenge with the book wasn’t so much in doing the research as it was in organizing the research I had.

Q. Changing topics, in the book, you go very easy on Jeffrey Katzenberg, a real-life "Syndrome". Why is that?

A. I don’t believe I go easy on Jeffrey Katzenberg. But why do you say he’s a "real-life Syndrome"?

My response: ...For his actions with Antz, stealing an idea, and such. He hit Pixar at the very worst time. Oh, come on, you know!

A. He didn’t handle A Bug’s Life vs. Antz the same way you or I would have. I’m with you there. But the situation was also a little bit more complicated than the way you’re setting it up. It was more that DreamWorks and Disney were shooting at each other and Pixar was caught in the crossfire.

The other thing to remember, I think, is that Jeffrey Katzenberg played an important role in driving the original Toy Story deal when he was at Disney. There’s a misleading mythology that has grown around this. The reality is that he brought in Pixar over the objections of others at Disney, and at a time when Pixar was getting turned down by other studios. Universal turned Pixar down. Columbia turned them down. Paramount turned them down. Jeffrey Katzenberg was able to recognize the value of John Lasseter’s talent and the potential of computer animation in feature films.

So I agree, he shouldn’t get a free ride, but I also don’t believe in vilifying him the way some other people have.

My response: Let's agree to disagree on that!

Q. Bob sends in this question, “[Do you] have any take on how much Disney has changed Pixar after the merger?”

A. With a few exceptions, my reporting ended around a year after the acquisition, so I don’t have a lot of insight into whatever changes Disney may have brought about since then. There are a few things that have seemed like departures. One of those was Disney announcing two Pixar features for 2011, Newt and The Bear and the Bow. It was an accomplishment for Pixar to get to one release per year, let alone two.

Another surprise was the announcement of Cars 2, considering the other Pixar films that were ripe for sequels. Not that I’m second-guessing their decision. My 10-year-old son was very pleased to hear about Cars 2.

Q. One last question: Are you a fan? What’s your favorite Pixar feature? Be honest.

A. I’ve been a fan since the shorts of the 1980’s. I still remember the excitement of reading in 1991 that Pixar had made a feature-film deal with Disney. In writing the book, I tried to show my respect for Pixar’s body of work by telling the story as accurately as I could. My favorite Pixar feature is Toy Story, followed by The Incredibles.


Bob said...

Thanks for using one of my questions. Great blog; keep up the good work.

MB1000 said...

You're very welcome, and thank-you.