Script magazine has a long-ish article about Corpse Bride, interviewing both Pamela Pettler and yours truly about the story and process. Pamela, Caroline Thompson and I share writing credit on the movie, but I was never really clear who wrote what and when. From the article, it appears that Caroline wrote a detailed outline, while Pamela wrote the first real script. I was the in-production guy, who did tweaks and fixes, smoothing out rough spots and writing lyrics for a few new songs.
Since it wasn’t a WGA-covered movie — animation often isn’t, much to the WGA’s chagrin — there wasn’t a normal arbitration process to figure out who got what writing credit for the movie. Fortunately, the final credits as determined by the studio seem right to me. Again, since it’s not WGA, none of us will get residuals. Which blows. But we knew that going in.
The movie, incidentally, is great.
One of the cool/weird things about working on an animated movie (this is my second, after Titan A.E.), is that you get to see the entire movie a lot while it’s in production. Every couple of weeks, I’d get a new tape via FedEx from London, showing the newly animated scenes and the pencil storyboards for what was about to shoot, with a mixture of real and temp voices for all the characters. In all, I’ve probably seen the entire film 20 times in various incarnations.
About a month ago, I finally got to see the finished product at a test screening in the Valley. The movie is flat-out gorgeous on the big screen, with the stop-motion animation having a realer-than-real quality. It’s so sharp that it looks 3D.
But what really surprised me is that all the story tweaking we did along the way feels so seamless. You wouldn’t know that characters got added and dropped along the way, or that significant points of backstory were still in discussion midway through shooting. Or that it wasn’t always so musical.
All films, including live-action, go through major changes during editing, but with this kind of animation, there really is no distinction between production and post-production. Once you shoot a frame, it’s finished, forever. So it’s heartening to see that the nail-biting decisions paid off. It feels like it was shot from a locked, finished script. It wasn’t.
The other great lesson you learn from writing animation is surrendering your monopolistic control over every little word, the cinematic “Not Invented Here” syndrome. Moving from the page to the (miniature) soundstage means going through the storyboard artists, who often find new ways of playing a beat that you never considered. During production, a lot of my job was tweaking dialogue to match new bits of business that the artists had invented. While actors in a live-action movie will improvise, that kind of multiple-voices collaboration doesn’t happen as often. In the case of Corpse Bride, it really helped.