Cory Edwards — the interview’s up!


My interview with Cory Edwards — whose indie animated hit Hoodwinked comes out on DVD today — is now up at CT Movies. The full transcript of our conversation is three or four times as long as what they ran, so I might post it here later this week.

MAY 7 UPDATE: Here it is, the full unexpurgated interview!

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By Peter T. Chattaway

Hoodwinked caught the movie world by surprise when it opened in January, almost taking the No. 1 spot at the box office. The low-budget cartoon went on to gross over $51 million — not exactly Pixar or DreamWorks numbers, but better than recent, and considerably more expensive, Disney films like Treasure Planet, Home on the Range and The Wild. And while the animation was a little on the crude side, some critics hailed the film as a breakthrough for the medium, and said it did for independent cartoons what Pulp Fiction had done for independent live-action films.

Hoodwinked also happens to be the work of Christians. Writer-director Cory Edwards directed numerous Christian music videos, co-hosted the radio show Reasons to Believe, and worked as a Christian stand-up comic before he got his big-screen break. He and his brother Todd also produced Chillicothe, a Gen-X comedy that got some good buzz at the Sundance festival in 1999, through their production company, Blue Yonder Films.

In anticipation of the film’s DVD release today, Edwards spoke with us from his home — and car — in Los Angeles.

How old were you when you made your first film?

Cory Edwards: Boy, I would say I was probably eight or nine years old when I started experimenting with our Super 8 camera, and I even remember, it was kind of like we discovered different ways to be creative around our house. We would do puppet shows or we would discover the tape recorder, and then we’d start doing radio shows. We loved story records, like the Star Wars story records that had all the sound effects on them, or Walt Disney story records, and we would pull sound effects off of there. And so, as we discovered the family’s Super 8 camera, I even had many days where I would walk around just running the motor and looking through the camera — like, walking around my house and looking at things and pretending I was shooting a movie. And then Todd and I, we both tell the story that it occurred to us one day to just go out and actually buy film and actually put film in the camera, and then it was just this obsessive hobby of ours.

It was the ultimate hobby. We would spend whole summers working on one epic kind of Super 8 film, whether it was a superhero film, or we made adventure films — Todd was the first guy to shoot The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe before Peter Jackson [sic] did it, when he was 14, for a school project. I mean, he had, like, a foam-rubber Aslan. So we got really elaborate. We would storyboard every shot, and do special effects and stunts and all kinds of stuff, and then we had all the strips of film down in the basement that we were doing the edit with. So it became a very involved thing, and I think what it taught us as kids was how to stick with a long-term project and really have a lot of patience to see something all the way to the end, which I think is good for any kid to learn. It just gave us tremendous patience for the craft of filmmaking.

And then all through high school and college, whenever we had a chance to turn a school project into a film or video project, we would do it. So if our teachers would let us do that instead of a book report or one of those three-fold, cardboard, science-fair-looking displays, we would usually opt for the film. And that carried all the way through college. We had a variety show at Anderson University, which is where Katie and Todd and myself and our producer [Preston Stutzman] on the film — we all went to Anderson University. And we all kind of worked on the variety show there called Cheap Thrills, and we would shoot short films for that, but we would also do sketch comedy on stage, and Todd and I were both directors for that.

Sounds very vaudeville.

Edwards: Yeah, it was, it was kind of like a live version of The Muppet Show, because there was just as crazy a show going on backstage as there was at the front of the stage — people barely pulling off a show and putting it together. Which really gave me a lot of training for what I do now, as far as pulling people together, and resources and props and a big project.

My first job out of college was with Stephen Yake Productions, and that was in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and I just moved from my home in Indiana just straight out there — it was on the strength of a demo tape that I sent him, and that afforded me the chance to really come on with him — it was kind of like my film school or my graduate school, because I didn’t really ever go to film school. But I had done a lot of these kind of extracurricular weekend film projects that impressed him, so I came on as an assistant editor and a P.A., and over five years, I ended up writing and directing my own stuff for him, and I worked with a lot of the top music acts in the Christian industry, I directed about 30 music videos for different people. And then I ended up hosting a music-video show while I was there, so I ended up interviewing everyone from Steven Curtis Chapman to Michael W. Smith and Sandi Patti, so I would direct some videos, and then I would interview the talent on the set and that kind of stuff — so I became a very interactive person in front of and behind the camera.

And then, five years into that, my brother had moved out there to do some freelance, and I met some other friends, and we started a company called Blue Yonder Films. And that’s when we set up on our own, on a very long and rocky road to make our own original stuff. Because it’s very easy to fall into the trap of being in the business but not ever accomplishing anything of your own. I could edit music videos ’til I was 50, probably — and Tulsa was full of people that do that! But we kind of struck out on our own and took some risks to start our own company, and it took us probably four or five years before we raised enough money to shoot our first independent film — and that was Todd’s film, Chillicothe, which he directed and wrote, and I was a producer, and just about everybody that we’re still working with actually acted in it too, so that was kind of fun.

And that took us to Sundance, which got us representation for the first time, and we thought, “It’s all going to happen for us, it’s all going to take off now” — and it didn’t, really. We did not get the film picked up at Sundance, like the Cinderella stories that you hear a lot. It took us two years to get a distributor after that. But we did get interest from other investors and it kind of put us on the map in a small way.

And we got a couple of false starts with films. We had one film that we were four days away from shooting principal photography. We had hired the whole production stuff of 30 people and Todd had written a script that we were going to shoot in L.A., and it all fell apart with an investor four days before shooting. So that was one of the most tragic moments out here in L.A., that we moved out here thinking we’ve got an investor locked up, we’ve got our next film locked up, that fell apart, and then we pretty much floundered in L.A. just doing the most menial client work we could find, just a little above poverty.

We were able to barely pay rent, but we were borrowing money, and that went on for probably another four or five years, and that’s when we finally hooked up with a producer named Sue Bea Montgomery, and she had had an interest in us since Chillicothe, and she had introduced us to a guy named Maurice Kanbar, who had also thrown a little bit of money our way to invest in Chillicothe — not very much — but we really finally kind of got aggressive. She helped us get organized and said, “Let’s go get in front of Maurice, let’s pitch him a project, let’s get him on board,” because this guy was basically — he invented and owned Skyy Vodka, he invented several things including the expandable fabric that makes Spandex, so he owns a lot of patents, and a couple of games that he invented. He’s always working on something.

He grew up as a chemist. He owns land, and he owns patents, and he has just become extremely independently wealthy, and he’s always had an interest in film, so we got up there in front of him with several live-action projects, and originally we were trying to convince him to invest in a part of our company, as in a development division of our company, where he would pay us and pay our rent and we would write as many scripts as we could in a year, and if we sold one or put a movie together, then he would own a great portion of it. But he didn’t understand that concept and didn’t really like it. He’s a product man. He’s grown up, like, you produce a widget for so much money, you build the factory, and then you know exactly how much you’re going to make.

So he became fixated on, “I just want to make one film,” and we just so happened to put in front of him just one of the many crazy projects that we had worked on in the past five years, was a computer-animated film that I had done called Wobots, and I made that with Benjy Gaither, and I had dabbled in animation since college, I had done my own Super 8 animated films, I had worked at an animation studio in my summers during college, and so I had a working kind of knowledge of the process of animation and had directed a few things for Benjy’s company. So Wobots was kind of my crown jewel accomplishment in animation at that time, and it was a direct-to-DVD Christmas special. It was supposed to be a pilot for a series. It was about a kid in a gang of robots in the future.

So he saw a clip of that and just flipped out and loved it, and it turns out he’s a huge animation fan, and he said, “I always wanted to invest in an animated movie” — and he had said that before, but five years ago, that was a ridiculous notion. Well, the software is to the point where it is affordable enough, and there is over-the-counter software you can buy now that is the same stuff that ILM uses, and Pixar — at least the basics. So the technology has only recently been in the possession of the little guys to do something like this.

So the producers that met with him, along with us, said, “Yeah, I think we can pull it off.” And he said, “Well, really, I would want to invest in a film that is based on a story that everybody knows — kind of the way Walt Disney started out” — again, he’s a product man, so there would be that built-in familiarity — “and then you guys put your own twist on it.” And he wanted us to do something like Cinderella or Pinocchio, and we were like, “We’re not going to do Cinderella, Walt Disney did that.”

So we set a meeting for a month later, and within that month, we ran through every story we could think of from the Brothers Grimm to Hans Christian Andersen, and we came up with Red Riding Hood. I said, “Wow, I can’t believe nobody has ever done this before.” And the hook came when Todd said, “Hey I got an idea, why don’t we tell it as a crime story and use flashbacks. Let’s re-tell the story four times,” and that was when I just kind of felt like, “Wow, nobody’s ever done this before in a kids’ film, nobody’s ever done this before in animation, so this could elevate this film beyond just a kiddie cartoon that we’re just making to pay our bills.”

So I tell this big long story up to the present, but when Hoodwinked was made, it was made for an opportunity that an investor gave us. It was not made because we had a burning desire to doan animated movie about Red Riding Hood. The idea came after the opportunity, and I think that our skills and our cuts and bruises along the way prepared us for — When this guy said, “I want a movie that maybe fills this need,” Todd and I were able to cook this thing up, and we got really excited about the idea.

And three years later, y’know, if we had known all the challenges of doing an independent animated film — which nobody has ever gotten all the way to the theatre release that we got it to, so it’s kind of a first, it’s uncharted territory — and if we had known how rough it was going to be, we might never have attempted it. But that’s the great thing. As Todd likes to say, by the time we were halfway through the process and realized what we had gotten ourselves into, we couldn’t back out. You grit your teeth and you crawl to the finish line. And we are so glad that we did.

Beyond our wildest dreams, not only did the film get picked up by the Weinsteins — and that was at the final, eleventh hour — but they said, “We’re going to go out with a wide release, and at first maybe 1,800 screens,” and the awareness got so great with the grassroots promotion and their ad campaign that we expanded to 3,000 screens by the second week. And I’m sure you’ve been watching — it was barely, almost number one in the nation, it got pushed out, but it was number two the very next week, which was huge, it was unbelievable that it stayed at number two, and then to be number five the next two weeks, and it’s still hanging in the top ten — I don’t know what it’s going to do this weekend, but its performance is something that we can’t control any more, we’re just kind of watching it, and it’s amazing. So that’s my 20-minute answer to your first question.

You mentioned doing animation in college. Did you do any animation in high school?

Edwards: Yeah, I think one of my first animated films was called Bernie. It was a clay animation film about a blob of clay running around my house, so I shot little sections of my house with this claymation guy running around my house. So I did a couple of those, and I think my senior project in high school was a traditional hand-drawn animated film, and I drew about 3,000 drawings myself, and photographed those. So I think three to four of those animated films are things that I did.

Yeah, I made some cartoons with my Space Legos when I was a kid, because it was easier to get my toys together than my friends.

Edwards: Yeah, good stuff. Yeah, we would set up the action figures and walk them across the tiny sets that we made, and that kind of stuff.

Why the name Blue Yonder? Does that signify anything?

Edwards: I think my wife coined that phrase one day in the car, and I just loved it. It’s kind of seeing beyond, taking a daring leap that something is out there beyond the normal, and being naïve enough to make that leap, that crazy jump out into a bigger idea that many people might not think is possible.

And you mentioned that you made some music videos. Can you name some of the artists that you worked with?

Edwards: Yeah, let’s see. Petra, I did a lot of stuff with Mark Lowry the comedian, Al Denison, a rap video for D.O.C. (Disciples of Christ), they were all kind of smaller — I’m trying to think of the biggest one I did — the Imperials, Sandi Patti I worked with –

Was it in this phase that you met Benjy Gaither?

Edwards: No, actually, I grew up knowing Benjy. My parents and the Gaithers, I think they met when Bill and Gloria were just starting out, and we kind of knew Benjy since we were little kids, and so it’s interesting how it’s come along all this way, that we’ve both grown up kind of — I remember, as a kid, making videos with Benjy in their guest house, when we would go to visit them. We would sit up ’til, like, midnight and do talk shows and stuff, or we would do our own little Saturday Night Live sketches. And so that stuff we did with Benjy when we were kids, and now he’s grown up, he owns his own animation production company, and we own a company, and so it’s really cool to not only work together but then, the thing we produced together got us a film — he didn’t end up doing animation [on Hoodwinked], it was way over the head of his company, it was so much bigger than his company could handle at the time, but we wrote a part that we had him in mind for, he got to do the voice of the goat in the film. It’s become one of the most favorite characters, and he’s ended up with a voice-over agent and he’s auditioning for Nickelodeon shows and stuff, so it’s been a fun thing to see him do that.

So you may have derailed his animation production career, then.

Edwards: Yeah.

So were you raised in a Christian home, Christian background?

Edwards: Oh yeah. My dad was a pastor, so I was a pastor’s kid growing up, but I wasn’t one of those hellraisers, I was one of those sickeningly good kids. But we were raised in a pastor’s home and my mom was a teacher and we always had the Christian upbringing. And what can I say about that?

I think what was great about that, too, is our church was so supportive of us. We were the creative Edwards kids that people were always wondering what they were going to do next. Our church family was like a captive audience, so whenever there was a corn roast or just some kind of event, we would get up and do a sketch or something — so that very early on, we had a very willing audience with our church. And I never really had a wayward time or anything. I think I was always kind of like raised in the church and felt a tremendous feeling of support, there, and I guess I would say that Christianity became personal to me when I was at youth camp in seventh grade. I really made some decisions at that time, where I realized, I’ve got to make this mine, I can’t just follow this belief because it’s been grafted onto me by my parents.

And it’s never really left me, and I gotta tell you, starting your own company, especially working in the entertainment business, it is a faith walk like no other. It is a believing that your rent will be paid somehow, some way, next month, even though you don’t know how it’s going to happen. So there have been many times where I have felt like God is seriously saying, “This is painful right now and you are failing right now, but I am toughening you for what you need to do.” Because I’ve never felt like, I shouldn’t be in this business or I shouldn’t be doing this for a living. I’ve always felt like this is what I was born to do, this is what I was meant to do. I’ve told people at Q&A;’s that you almost have to have an insane optimism to survive in this business, because it’s not about being more talented than someone else. It’s basically, can you hang in there, do you have the perseverance to stick around and still be there ten years later, doing your thing. Because somebody finally let us make a movie, but I don’t know that I am that much different than I was five, ten years ago as a person, as a creative person.

But to be in this business without God in your life, I don’t know how people do it, because this business is so built on random coincidences, who you meet at lunch and when your script hit the desk. So I think my faith has given me a confidence that God’s going to take care of this. God’s going to take care of this. If I don’t get a particular gig, a particular client — I’ve had things go away that I was counting on, financially — you’ve got to sit back and go, “Well, there’s some bigger plan at work, God, whatever you want me to do.” And always, there was something new on the horizon that I could never have seen. So that’s always what has been a comfort to me even during the leanest times of being in this business.

You mentioned your wife, and if she came up with the name for the company, I’m guessing you’ve been married for quite a while.

Edwards: Yes, we’ve been married for 11 years.

So how has she handled the poverty, as it were, or the near poverty?

Edwards: Heh. I tell you, she has been a real trooper. There was a long period of time where — I like to call it, she put me through medical school. She took a corporate job — she’s an actor and a writer and an artist herself, but she saw how driven I was to do what I needed to do, and she worked at several different companies for many years and it just kept us alive and kept us funded — kept me funded — and I’ll never forget that she did that for me. And now I am able to support us and kind of push her dreams forward.

But I don’t know, we always talk about how amazing it is that the tough stuff that we’ve been through strengthened us, it did not rip us apart. I know that this business can sometimes tear apart a lot of marriages, but there is something about being in the boat in the middle of the storm and you just grab on to each other and hang on. That has really strengthened us, I think. There are things now that come up — pressures or things that this business throw at you — and it’s not that we laugh them off, but we’re just like, “Yeah, we’ve seen this before.” So many things have hit us through our 11 years together that, it’s like, it has built us up to be able to take whatever this world and this industry deal out.

So you’ve got some perspective, basically.

Edwards: Yeah, and there’s a tremendous trust we’ve built with each other about that. I mean, again, the same way I don’t know how somebody could do this without faith in a higher power, I don’t know how somebody else could do this without having someone to come home to at night and tell them their woes or their triumphs, or someone else to hang onto.

You mention also your church being really supportive, and I just have to ask, I know that your first feature film, Chillicothe, it has a few bad words –

Edwards: Yes, yes it does.

– and you know how the rating system works, if you use a certain word twice you get an automatic R rating, so Chillicothe‘s rated R even though it’s something I would have absolutely no problem at all showing to people. How was your church when they saw that?

Edwards: Yeah, well, we were a little concerned with it, and it was Todd’s story to tell, and I think how he would put it is, “I have to be honest with these characters, and this character is jaded and lives in this world where he’s angry; he would say these words, and I have to be honest about that.” So it was a decision he made that I supported, and I have a couple of scripts where characters use profanity, but I’m really careful about how I do it.

But having said all that, I’ve worked in the Christian television and media industry for a long time, and I frankly just got tired of walking on eggshells. There was a project that we were putting together that maybe some Christian investors were interested in, because we’re Christians and we’re making films and there’s always this talk of doing some good stuff out there and changing the world with the films we make — but we wanted to make a film that involved some rough characters, and one character’s smoking a cigarette in a scene, and certain Christian investors couldn’t even get on board because the characters were smoking, or a couple of characters were at a bar. And I got to a point where I was like, I don’t have time for this.

I don’t have time to worry about whether or not a character is smoking a cigarette or saying a word, because I’m not trying to reach a bunch of church people with my film. I’m trying to reach, y’know, the 16-year-olds hanging out at the Burger King who saw a poster of my movie and said, “Let’s go see that, that looks cool,” and I want to rock their socks off, and if I’m going to do that, I have to speak their language. That’s not an excuse to use harsh language, because I believe there’s way too much of it in films, and it’s way too casual. But when done right, in intense moments of violence or of darkness, it can make a really profound statement.

One of the most Christian films I’ve ever seen in my life is Dead Man Walking, and I know some Christian people who will never see it because they have a blanket statement of “I don’t see rated-R films,” but that film could not be made without rated-R content. Each Christian family, and of course families with children, make different decisions about what they go to, and they should — but as far as what kind of films I’m going to make in the future, I can’t always promise I’m going to make rated-G films, because I want to tell all kinds of stories.

Hoodwinked was actually rated PG, wasn’t it?

Edwards: I know, and I was very surprised by that!

What was that about? Was it the roller coaster ride, or what?

Edwards: I think it was the rolling pin across the head! We never got a specific. There was that, and there was the talk that the [villain] was going to put addictive ingredients into the cookies. And there were a couple of explosions, too, so I think maybe that was it.

It was funny to me because the Wallace & Gromit feature film was rated G, but that had quite a bit of sexual innuendo

Edwards: Yeah, it really did!

– and it somehow got away with a G rating. The ratings don’t make sense to me half the time.

Edwards: Yeah, well, and after all this talk of content, I’m pretty proud that we have a family film that doesn’t have any innuendo, doesn’t have anybody getting kicked in the crotch, doesn’t have any fart jokes, because I see those as the easiest kind of jokes to do, and I think they’re inappropriate if you’re going to make a film that kids can go see. It’s the same as with an R-rated film. Who’s your audience? So if my audience is a family audience, why put that stuff in there? And I’ve had even secular parents say to me, “Thank you for not putting anything in this film, like in the Shrek movies, that I’ve got to explain to my kids on the way home.” So I’m pretty proud of that. So it all depends on what story you’re telling.

Was that a conscious decision, or did you just not think of doing that?

Edwards: When Todd and I wrote the original script, our humour tends to go in those kinds of directions — not in the potty direction, they tend to go on a higher level than that — but yeah, it was a conscious decision. Some day I bet I’m going to do a film where some character falls on his crotch, and my friends will come and get me, because I always say, “I’m never going to do that, I’m never going to do that joke that’s in every Police Academy movie where somebody gets kicked there, because it’s just too easy and you’ve seen it a thousand times.” Half of it is, keep it decent, the other half is, I don’t like to tell a joke that somebody else has already told, so why do it again? It’s already been done.

As you made your way into “secular” films, was there any concern about your experience in the Christian subculture being a drawback or a hindrance? Did you have to hide that, or skirt around that?

Edwards: I’ve already read some internet chatter on IMDB — “Hey, this guy used to work on Christian stuff and maybe the reason Hoodwinked was #1 was because churches came out to support it like The Passion of the Christ.” There’s all these Christian conspiracy theories going on out there, on the internet.

I don’t hide it, but I am uncomfortable being a poster child or banner waver for a — I don’t want to play the Christian card the way that some minorities might play the minority card as a filmmaker. I don’t want to lean on that or exploit that, and frankly I think it’s dangerous because I don’t want to put myself on a pedestal as a Christian filmmaker. I am a filmmaker who is a Christian, which I feel is different, the same way that Ralph Winter is a producer who is a Christian — it is incredibly freeing to not have to make the content of every film you do an evangelical message. When I realized that I might get to do any film I wanted, subject-wise, it was incredibly freeing, and I think my films will tell people where my beliefs lie; I think it will be indisputable. And I do want some films that have more Christian messages that come out — but to answer the first question, I don’t shy away from it, but I don’t trumpet it, and I don’t want to become like a poster child for Christians in the media, but I’m free to talk about it, I’m not going to be ashamed of it.

I was unaware of that connection when I saw the film the first time in December. I was just watching the film, liking it, and then the end credits came up and I saw John Mark Painter –

Edwards: Oh, you know him!

Well not personally, but I’m a bit of a Fleming & John fan. It’s been far too long since their last album. I actually got married a year ago and I put one of their songs on a mix CD that I gave to some of our guests.

Edwards: Yeah, we were fans of Fleming & John before we got to meet him, but yeah, he’s worked on some Christian projects, and that’s how I met him actually. I was doing a voice for an animated project that he was the composer of, and I just started to talk to him, and he and Todd hit it right off, as far as producing Todd’s original songs too, and they’re still working together.

Yeah, so when I saw his name, I stuck around to see if Fleming’s name would show up in the song credits, and sure enough it did; so when I got home I basically told all my friends that there was a Fleming & John movie coming out, so to speak. And then finally one of them perked up and said, “Oh, Cory Edwards, he’s one of my favorite Christian comedians,” so it was a total surprise to me.

Edwards: Wow, that’s funny.

And then I found out about the Benjy Gaither connection, so it was completely under the radar.

Edwards: Well once you’re in those kind of connections, it suddenly becomes a very small world.

A few days later I was at a press junket organized by a firm that promotes movies to Christian media, and very often they promote family films that have no particular religious content, but just because they’re family films, it’s just assumed that a Christian audience will want to see it. And so I asked if they were promoting Hoodwinked, and they said no, though they recognized your name. I just found it interesting, because I’ve been on junkets for films like Racing Stripes and Yours Mine & Ours which do have lots of the, shall we say, pander-to-children’s-baser-desires kind of comedy, with the farting jokes and so forth — and these were promoted to Christian audiences just because they were family films, and I found it kind of striking that a family film that just happens to be made by Christians was not being promoted that way. Was there any reason for that, or can you speculate about that?

Edwards: Man, I don’t know. I know that the Weinsteins took the reins on how this film was promoted, and they have no idea of our Christian roots or that there is this Christian subculture that knows who we are. And we thought about, Well, should we tell them about that? But the campaign became so much bigger than that, that we thought, Well, if that happens, that’s great. But we never really used it, and I’ve had other Christian publications and websites just suddenly sprout up and champion us, and that’s great, but we haven’t really used it to our advantage, and I think the reason is just because we were worried about the scrutiny. “Is this a Christian film and how Christian are these guys?” There are a lot of traps you fall into when it is not a biblical production about the life of David or something. I’ve had friends who are pastors of an entire church buy out a whole screening and go, “We’re going to Hoodwinked and we’re supporting this guy!” And that’s great, but I don’t feel comfortable telling a whole church to see Hoodwinked, because it’s not like Red gets saved in the end. It’s a pretty basic fairy-tale story. But I really appreciate that everybody wants to support it just because it is good stuff for families.

And it’s got all those references to XXX and other films that Christian audiences would probably stay away from.

Edwards: Right!

Just one last comment on the Christian stuff. I noticed also in Chillicothe, it was really interesting to see that there were these scattered references to characters going to church and nothing was made of it — it was just sort of a background detail, that these characters happened to go. And I thought that was really interesting because most of the time, when church does come up in a film, even in a positive way, there’s usually some symbolic point being made of it, but in Chillicothe it was simply a fact of life for these guys.

Edwards: Right. And I think you rarely see that. It’s kind of an odd tone. You’ve got these guys saying four-letter words in one scene, and then you’ve got them in church, trying to figure out answers, or just — It’s not even part of the plot, and I think that that is as helpful for the church’s image as making some big statement. Nobody had a turning point in a sanctuary, it’s just like, that’s part of life. And I think that is really helpful. I get so tired of every time you see the church on TV or movies, first of all it’s a very Catholic version of Christianity 90 percent of the time, and then secondly it’s to show the church’s fallibility or the pastor had a problem with alcohol or it’s always picking apart the church. There are thousands and thousands of very healthy churches, and the Christian faith is not well represented in media, so I think that was kind of a nice thing, even though it was very subtle, to put in Chillicothe.

I used to live in a house with about seven or eight other people, depending on the month, and we all lived half an hour’s walking distance from our church, and it was a very crazy, strange house, and we used to talk about how it would make a great film some day, and one of the questions that always used to nag at me was, “If we did make a film, we’d have to include the church stuff, because it’s part of what we do, but who would want to see that?” And watching Chillicothe, I actually had the feeling that this was the film my friends and I had talked about making –

Edwards: [ laughs ]

– and the way you handled that was very good, I thought.

Edwards: Well thank you, I’ll tell Todd that. I gotta admit, sometimes I thought it was weird. Will anybody get this world? Because it’s very specific. A lot of the stuff we did in Tulsa, as a production company, was work on the sets of biblical kids’ videos. So there’s that scene where one of the guys is in a Bible robe and he’s smoking a cigarette on a break outside of a grip truck, and it’s like, Can you even understand what this is, what’s going on? And Todd just thought it was going to be believable because it was so specific and so authentic to a niche, that even if you don’t understand that world — It’s kind of like, I love Searching for Bobby Fischer, and I don’t know the first thing about chess, but it was such an authentic world that I kind of was peeking in on. I guess that’s why he did it.

Between you and your brother, how do you specify who is the director and who is the co-director?

Edwards: Usually between Todd and I, it is dictated by the material. We typically generate our own material. Chillicothe was the first film our company made, even though Todd is three years younger than me, but frankly it was the material that was ready to go, and Todd, in a very headstrong way, was very passionate about making that movie. I did not have anything ready to go, so that’s really what dictates it, and it kind of becomes obvious to the two of us who’s most suited for the project.

With Hoodwinked, I was not even up there with the investor the weekend that the whole animated film idea came about with this investor. Todd was up there, and my producer Preston, and they both said, “Cory is our animation guy, he’s the guy who understands animation, he understands comedy, he understands kids’ product, he’s done the most work in this, this is going to be ideal for Cory.”

And I think the nature of animated film — You see a lot of animated films with more than one director. So the further we got into the project, we realized — especially as an independent film — there are a lot of details here, even in directing duties, I need some help, and we’re doing it in another country. Most of the animation was done in a studio in the Philippines, all of it, and so when I couldn’t be there, could somebody else be there. So that’s where we came up with the system of two co-directors underneath me. And we kind of became a three-headed monster, that all three of us understood what kind of movie we were making. So I completely trusted these guys. So Todd’s domain was the music and the writing, because he co-wrote with me, and then Tony came on board as an editor, and that was his domain, and then he started rewriting scenes with me later in the project, so he became a writer also. So they had their specific duties, and it all bottlenecked to me to make the final call at the end of the day.

It’s a unique situation I don’t think we will ever do again, because I think all three of us are very strong visionary kind of people that want to make our own films, and to that light, Tony just got his first directing gig, he’s going to be doing a CGI comedy that I’m going to co-write with him, and he’s going to solely direct that. Todd is out pitching a fantasy film of his. I am literally on the way to a meeting right now where I am going to talk to my manager about a fantasy, Dark Crystal kind of film that I want to do. So Hoodwinked has afforded us the ability to split off and do our own thing. But I think at the time it was kind of like, we all needed to work together to pull it off.

It seems that a number of the not-so-positive reviews have focused on the animation quality and said it’s not at Pixar’s level. How do you respond to that kind of criticism?

Edwards: The critics were hard to take at first. We knew the animation was not good, and we knew it was not Pixar. Going into it, Todd said, “Let’s not try to do ‘diet Pixar.’ Let’s not try to do something technically grand, and fail at it. Let’s do something very specific and small.” So we picked a look. I’ve always loved the look of stop-motion animation back in the days of Rankin-Bass holiday specials, like Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and The Little Drummer Boy, so we made a very specific choice to make the film look like that, because we knew the animation was going to be a little herky-jerky. We were going to pick a style that would merit the resources that we had. And I think we were very successful at that.

But I’ll be real honest, there are many, many shots that I wince at when I see them, because it’s not my standard of excellence. I know they could be better, but there comes a time at the end of the day where we just had to give up on some things. So to hear critics and people on the internet, like, ranting about it, we all want to yell back and go, “We know! We know it’s bad! But this is what we could do!” And the fact that the film is successful in spite of that is really cool, because it basically says to the industry, not to continue to make poorly animated films, but to say, “Look at what the story and the charming characters did; they were able to surpass the bad animation and the technical problem.” And all through production, the speech I gave our crew was a speech I like to call “Kermit the Frog vs. Howard the Duck”. If you remember the painfully horrible Howard the Duck

Never saw it, but I certainly heard of it.

Edwards: It was one of Lucas’s biggest failures. I was very excited to see it, it was based on a comic book that I thought was really cool, but here you had Howard the Duck, one of the most realistic animatronic characters ever put on the screen at that time, and the movie failed, and then you’ve got Kermit the Frog, where you can literally see the strings and the wires and the stitches on his head — he is the fakiest-looking frog you’ve ever seen, clearly a puppet with ping-pong-ball eyes — and yet he is one of the most beloved characters in TV and movies. Why is that? It’s not because he is the most technically innovative character. It is because he is a charming character. He’s funny, he’s well-written, he’s endearing. And so that is what I focused on in Hoodwinked. There are certain parts of this, technically, that we are not going to be Polar Express or Shrek or Toy Story, so let’s work very hard on making these characters unique and charming. And to see the film do so well is a great testament to that, I guess. I feel very vindicated.

Entertainment Weekly said Hoodwinked did for independent cartoons what Pulp Fiction did for independent films, because it had no heroes. What do you make of that?

Edwards: That review in Entertainment Weekly made up for all the bad reviews I ever read that kept me up at night. That reviewer has a lot of clout, and it is a consumer publication that a lot of consumers follow. That is kind of a lot to live up to, that comparison, but I do feel like he at least understood. There are some critics out there that understand the significance of what we’ve done, regardless of whether you like the content of the movie or the story — the significance that we’ve pulled this off and we’ve made money, no one’s ever done this before. No one’s ever made a computer-animated film outside of the studio system this cheap for this fast and for the theatre and done well. So it was great to hear that comparison. I think it was BoxOfficeMojo that said, in several years, this might be looked at as one of the most important animated films in history. But to compare us to Pulp Fiction, yeah, that’s very flattering, I don’t know that we’ll live up to that in every movie we do, but I’ll take it.

What about the “no heroes” interpretation?

Edwards: That was interesting, I had never thought of that. The concept that I got so excited about was this multiple-story format. We had a great difficulty making a character have an arc that you could follow throughout the story. We had a lot of difficulty keeping Red involved when we went to other stories. But I feel that Red is our hero ultimately, she is the one we want to win. And we’re making the sequel right now, and we won’t be hindered by the multiple-storyline format. But I understand what he meant. I don’t know that I quite agree.

What’s the word on the sequels?

Edwards: We own a part of Hoodwinked, so even if we don’t write it or direct, if they make ten movies, we passively would have an involvement in it. None of us are directing the second one, that has been misrepresented in the press. I feel that it’s a very lateral move. “Hey, what’s your next movie?” “It’s a sequel to my last movie!”

I want to make live-action movies. I want to be on location with a live actor if I can. Tony was ready to do another animated film and I think that’s great. But we want to keep these characters going and keep them alive if we can. But it’s really the Weinsteins who own the franchise, and if they want to keep making sequels, that’s great. But I hope it doesn’t become like The Land before Time, where it just becomes ridiculous and goes straight-to-video. The characters are not so precious that I need to defend them and stop them from making Hoodwinked 6, but I would just love to see them live on. I think there’s many possibilities. There could be a TV series. When I see Hoodwinked on Ice, I will know that it’s run its course. That is when we’ll know that we’ve made as much money as we possibly can off of these characters.

About Peter T. Chattaway

Peter T. Chattaway was the regular film critic for BC Christian News from 1992 to 2011. In addition to his film column, which won multiple awards from the Evangelical Press Association, the Canadian Church Press and the Fellowship of Christian Newspapers, his news and opinion pieces have appeared in such publications as Books & Culture, Christianity Today, Bible Review and the Vancouver Sun. He also contributed essays to the books Re-Viewing The Passion: Mel Gibson’s Film and Its Critics (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Scandalizing Jesus?: Kazantzakis’s The Last Temptation of Christ Fifty Years on (Continuum, 2005).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02208763932291352581 Ken Kearney

    Cory….keep up the good work!

  • Anonymous

    Peter – I am surprised the Edwards work was so far under your radar. Both Thom and I have been praising _Chillicothe_ for years on the DADL-OT and elsewhere.

    Guess it got lost in political discussions.

    MartyB

  • Anonymous

    BTW, I forgot to say “nice” interview.

    MArtyB


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