Henry Selick Talks About ‘Coraline’

Once again, during the Coraline press junket, I joined Scott Dally (Film Fever Radio) and Brandon Hartley (Another Portland Blog) to talk with the film’s director, Henry Selick. Selick has a long history with stop-motion animation having previously directed A Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach. This was the roundtable where we were able to get down to the nuts and bolts of making the film. You can read more of our talk with Selick at the other two blogs, here’s what I had the opportunity to ask him:

PCZ: Coraline is being released in a number of theaters in Real 3-D. What kind of tightrope do you walk while making the film to make use of the 3-D, but also service those who are primarily going to see it in traditional 2-D so that the 3-D doesn’t look gratuitous?

HS: I have a long history with 3-D. I did a 3-D rock video twenty years ago for the View-Master corporation, who was trying to branch out into something besides their little wheels with pictures, which I still love. The guy whose system we used to shoot the 3-D is a guy named Lenny Lipton and it’s his technology behind the Real 3-D, so I kept up with Lenny over the years just to see what was happening and how his process was working. It happened to work out that when we got Coraline up on it’s feet it was going to be stop-motion, 3-D was coming into the theaters and it seemed like the best way to capture this unique thing we do, stop-motion. It also can enhance the story to suck the audience into this other world, as Coraline is drawn into it. But we didn’t go overboard. The film doesn’t rely on gimmicks, it’s not story points. It’s much more subtle than that. When we go to the other world we actually built the sets bigger and deeper, so even in 2-D you get the sense of more space. There’s color, design changes, the music – it works in 2-D, just in a different way. Just like the original Ray Harryhausen stop-motion monsters you still get this sense of electricity, like they’re vibrating with the life of the artist. Those things are real. You get that whether it’s 2-D or 3. But I encourage people – the best way to see this film in its first release is in 3-D.

PCZ: Can you talk a little bit about the character of Wybie and the process of creating him once you realized you needed him and any interaction with Neil concerning that character?

HS: My first screenplay was actually too faithful to the book and Neil himself encouraged me to go off and see what I could come up with. I could not ask for a better author-filmmaker relationship, he’s been fantastic. In that process of going away I set the story in the US and I found that there was this hole where in the book you know what Coraline is thinking, you can even have interior dialogue, but there was an emptiness in the real world. My producer, Bill Mechanic, said, “You need more kids, you need a lot more kids!” and I thought I don’t need a lot, how about one. Wybie’s name came from a neighbor of mine, a really cool guy who wasn’t a kid, but a child-like man who was always riding his bike and surfing. He looks nothing like Wybie, but had this child-like quality. I just started doing some sketches of this kid with an almost broken neck. He’s so shy he can’t bare to look at Coraline straight on. It took a long time to sort of bring him to life, bring his backstory with his Grandmother and some mystery with the house and ultimately pay it off with hearing her call for him and then a brief introduction at the end. It was a long process to bring him into the film and not just have him be a playmate in the real world. It was only like two months before finishing the film that I added the shot of his Grandmother at the end and that’s when it finally rippled through and integrated. Neil, he could have said, “I hate this, why do you need this,” and some of the fans may say that. He supported it. He believed the movie was different. It didn’t work right away. The first time I tried to write him in it took a long time.

PCZ: When you’re writing the drafts of the script, do you have in mind, perhaps inadvertently, who you want to voice these characters?

HS: That usually comes…you’ve got to get a script you believe in. You’ve got to feel like you wouldn’t be embarrassed if suddenly you hear that someone is interested. It took a while and the first voice I was connected with was Dakota and she was nine years old, it was a long time ago. We didn’t record it until she was eleven because it took that long to find the right home for the project. Once we had her in the sense of she believes in this film and she’s going to be there when we’re ready, then I started listening. I listened to a million other female actors from twenty-five to fifty-five, anyone who might be the right mother. Almost, in terms of music, what’s the instrument that will create tension with a little connection to Dakota’s [voice]. So, I grabbed DVDs and cut things together with Dakota and ended up with three people, Teri Hatcher one of them, and in my meeting with Teri I felt, people know Teri [a certain] way, but she actually has a lot of range and she loves the project. Once those key voices were connected then filling in the voices around them just sort of happened.

Thank you very much to Henry Selick for his time. For our interview with Neil Gaiman, click here.

About Joseph Dilworth Jr.

Joseph Dilworth Jr. has been writing since he could hold a pencil (back then it was one of those big, fat red pencils, the Faber-Castell GOLIATH. Remember those? Now that was a pencil!). As editor-in-chief and instigator of this here website he takes full responsibility for any wacky hi-jinks that ensue. He appreciates you taking the time to read his articles and asks that you direct any feedback, criticisms, questions about life directly to him by clicking here.