Genndy Tartakovsky Discusses “Hotel Transylvania 3” and Animation
Hotel Transylvania is an interesting franchise to me. While I wouldn’t say that it’s an animated franchise that I love, it is enjoyable and entertaining for the most part. I think a lot of the reason why I like the franchise is that Genndy Tartakovsky has stuck with the franchise and has been in charge of making some great animated shows for Cartoon Network such as Samurai Jack. I had a chance to sit down with Tartakovsky to talk about the film as well as his career as an animator.
Scott M: Hi Genndy, busy this morning?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Yeah, it’s all right.
Scott M: You’ve been with this film for a while, I feel. You did that summer preview with Sony a couple months ago, and everything, so you were talking to press there.
So, the first thing I notice about this franchise is that it’s very rare in any studio nowadays, when there’s a franchise, that the same director keeps coming back for the second, the third. What is it about this that you like so much, that makes you want to return every time?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Well, I tried to get away after the second one.
Scott M: Did you really?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Well, no. I mean, it was a difficult production, and at the time, also, it was the whole Sony hack thing.
Scott M: Oh, yeah.
Genndy Tartakovsky: So it was, you know … everybody that I worked with was pretty much fired, right? All new people coming in. And we’re trying to finish the movie. So it was a big, emotional, physical turmoil. So I was done, and I got a chance to do Samurai Jack right after, so I felt like I was getting a breather, and then I start getting an idea for the third one, and they were calling, of course. But I was saying, “no.”
And it wasn’t until I had that idea, and I said, “What if I get to write it, too?” Perhaps it’s the right situation for me to come back and do it. So, it just kind of happened. So, the plan was never, when I did the first one, “I’m going to ride this out for six movies.”
Scott M: Right.
Genndy Tartakovsky: It’s like, “I want to do this first one. If I can prove myself in features like I did in TV, then I’ll get to do my own thing next.” And, my own thing was going to be Popeye and then doing Hotel 2 at the same time, and then that didn’t work out.
So, it’s a complicated sequence of events that happened, and I don’t know if it’s all interesting at all, but it’s not as easy as like, “Yeah, this is my franchise, and I want to come in and do it.” Especially because I didn’t create it, I just kind of came in and put the pieces of the puzzle together and made it make sense and entertaining.
But if I was to do, let’s say, an original idea, I would probably want to carry it out. Just like a TV show.
Scott M: Right. I was going to say. Big fan of Samurai Jack. You know, a lot of the Cartoon Network shows that you’ve worked on. What is the difference or what is the transition like going from small screen to big screen?
Genndy Tartakovsky: It’s funny because the transition is the same. I’m using the same tools. I’m telling stories, just longer, obviously. What’s different is the scrutiny. When your television, you have one episode every week. Back in the day, right?
And so, you’re like, “well, if this fourth episode isn’t great, it’s okay. People will get over it, and then the next one will be really good.” Right? Because in TV, especially in kids’ animated TV, everything can’t be a home run. It’s not Game of Thrones budget and schedule. You’ve got to go fast.
Scott M: Even the great ones like Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain from when I was growing up, even they had bad episodes. It always happens, even in animated shows.
Genndy Tartakovsky: So, you’ve got 52 half hours, right?
Scott M: Yeah.
Genndy Tartakovsky: They’re all not going to be home runs.
Scott M: No, no.
Genndy Tartakovsky: And so you live with it. So the pressure is different. The pressure is more, “this is what I’m drawing now, and then, six months later it’s on the air, and I hope it’s good enough.” So that’s the pressure.
In features, four times as much money. And now you’re on a two year, three-year track for one weekend. And if that one weekend, it doesn’t open? You’re dead. And nothing will revive you.
So, the pressure’s completely different. The scrutiny, everybody’s picking away. And for somebody like me, coming in from 20 years of TV, having all the confidence and success in the world, to now all of a sudden, “well, that’s not going to work.”
“What do you mean it’s not going to work? I know this is going to work.” It starts to eat away at your confidence. So the scrutiny, the hoops, the constant challenging of everything. The testing. For somebody like me coming from TV, that my first instinct, I’m going to believe in? Was really hard. So that point of view of looking at it where “we’re going to keep picking at it until the deadline,” is so different than TV where I write it down, it’s good, then nobody else … we really don’t change it.
Scott M: I will ask you this, and I don’t mean it to be an offensive question, but, as someone who works in animation, who has 20 years worth of backstory in animation, how upsetting is it to you that it’s almost like, everything that’s released nowadays, in terms of animation, is always compared to Pixar?
Genndy Tartakovsky: I don’t mind it. The problem of it is, is, why do we have one standard? Why can’t you have a When Harry Met Sally, a Dumb and Dumber, and like, an Airplane. You can have movies, all comedies, so different. You can’t compare Dumb and Dumber and When Harry Met Sally.
Scott M: No.
Genndy Tartakovsky: But both are great, right? But, just like you said. But in animation, and this is my biggest fear, always, for Hotel, was we’re not doing that. We’re not trying to do that. So, if you think that … if you want to cry at an animated movie with some laughs, it’s not going to give you that. It’s crazy. It’s silly. It’s irreverent. And so I’ve always tried to position the audience, like, “you’re going in to see something silly. You’re doing Blazing Saddles, not Coco.” And all those movies have great merit, but you’re right, they are very different, and I don’t want to be judged on the same level. Yes, we’re both animated films, but we’re doing something different.
Scott M: Yeah. It’s funny because I feel like, and I even fall victim to this, is that when I review an animated film, now, it’s so in our culture, now. Everyone’s like, “Oh, but it’s not as good as Toy Story,” or, “It’s not as good as this.” And people forget that the Minions or this movie doesn’t have to be like that. They completely forget the point. I think we critics judge it so harshly because it’s not, but they forget what it’s like to be a kid and just enjoy it and just like the characters and have fun with it, and dumb.
These movies reminds me of Looney Tunes.
Genndy Tartakovsky: Yes.
Scott M: But no one understands that. “What is this crap, blah, blah, blah blah.” I don’t know. I just wanted to bring that up because I was just curious, as an animator who’s been in the business, what your feeling was.
Genndy Tartakovsky: And I mean, the good thing is, for the majority of everything that I’ve done, I’ve gotten very positive critical reviews of everything, and then, really, my first negative were these Hotel movies.
Scott M: Yeah.
Genndy Tartakovsky: But even, somehow, I feel like Adam got the brunt of the negativity-
Scott M: Oh, of course.
Genndy Tartakovsky: … and I still got some positiveness. But yeah, I think if you see it. I mean, you’re saying the right thing. If you could see it for what it is rather than what it isn’t … and you don’t have to like it. But just like it as its own movie. It’s silly; it’s fun. Great. “I feel good after it.” Or, if you’re falling asleep, “Yeah, it didn’t hold my attention.”
Scott M: What was your favorite scene in this one?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Well, I mean, I love the ending.
Scott M: The DJ-off?
Genndy Tartakovsky: The DJ battle. Everything, really. To watch it with an audience, too, and seeing them react. It’s very rare you could get a sequence where people are laughing from start to finish. Right? Usually, there’s one or two jokes in a sequence, and you’re happy. And this, the whole DJ battle through the Macarena, was laughter throughout. So that’s comedy gold.
So there’s that. But really, it’s a small moment that I’m really proud of is, you know that scene where Drac and Ericka are on a date?
Scott M: Yes.
Genndy Tartakovsky: When she first comes up, he sits her down. He helps her sit down with his powers. And then he does this little move of confidence as he shows how suave and confident he is before the awkwardness starts. And we spent six weeks on that scene, just on his little sit-down. Because I had this certain rhythm in mind and this attitude, and we worked with the animator to push it and push it and get it just right.
And then I liked it, and we kind of laughed it. And then we had this big screening. Work in Progress. And it was like a thousand people, and that scene came on, and the whole audience laughed.
Scott M: Good.
Genndy Tartakovsky: And that’s what it’s about. It’s about the creating this movement that represents an emotion, an attitude, and you really felt it. And, so that’s my favorite. Out of all the spectacle that we did in this movie, this little character moment is what really shines.
Scott M: That’s awesome. Music obviously plays such an important role in this one. I feel like in all these films.
Genndy Tartakovsky: Yeah.
Scott M: Did you have any trouble getting the rights to any of the songs?
Genndy Tartakovsky: No. Everything was pretty straightforward.
Genndy Tartakovsky: And then this one, we were like, “I want to push it further. They’re out of the hotel. Let’s do all different types of music.” And some of the stuff Mark Mothersbaugh did is great. And they’re little cues, but in the deserted island, there’s this cool little lounge (singing). And he did this awesome little thing that feels really right. And also the oom-pah, in the gremlin scene.
Scott M: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Genndy Tartakovsky: Right? That, you never see in a feature. Because that’s cartoon music with cartoon visuals. That truly is Warner Brothers. When you get that right, where it feels like the music was almost done beforehand, because everything’s in rhythm, that’s when you’re hitting a home run.
So it happened a few times in the sequence, in this movie, where the rhythm of the music really fit in all the visual gags, and you were watching it, and you go, “Wow, this is really fun.”
Scott M: Yeah. Okay. It’s funny because as these movies go on, I feel like you just keep adding more and more people to them. And I mean, Kathryn Hahn is f****** amazing, I will say that. And you have Mel Brooks in this, who’s a legend. And then Selena Gomez, who’s a great up-and-coming actress. And then, of course, all the normal Adam Sandler people.
Genndy Tartakovsky: Right.
Scott M: So, since they don’t get to go work together in this film with the voice recording, but you get to work alongside every single one of them, do you ever get nervous having to do lines from the film with all these notable people?
Genndy Tartakovsky: Well, yeah. This one, in particular, was special because-
Scott M: Jim Gaffigan, my god. I loved his voice in this, and he’s so fitting for it. I was halfway through, I’m like, “Oh, my god, it’s Jim Gaffigan.”
Genndy Tartakovsky: And he’s somebody that I loved, that we brought in because I thought, “He’s such a great voice.” Same with Kathryn Hahn, I loved her. But the hardest thing about this movie was the fact that I was able to write it, with Michael McCullers. So now it’s all my jokes. Where the other two was, Michael and Adam wrote it. So the pressure’s just on them as far as that goes.
But now all of a sudden, it’s Adam going to be reading my gag, and my dialogue that I wrote for him. And there was stuff that I wrote that was very, almost old-school Adam? Right? All that nonsense? And I started to, in our first record, I started to panic like, “Oh, does he not even do this anymore? Is he going to be like, ‘Nah, let’s do something else.’?”
You know, because he’s like that sometimes. Because he’s a really funny person and he’s a comedian. If he doesn’t get the joke, I’m dead.
Scott M: Right.
Genndy Tartakovsky: And luckily he got the joke, and after he read it, everybody laughed, and so the laughter feeds the material. And always with Mel Brooks, it’s sweating time, because he’s a legend, and I’ve literally been inspired and studied everything that he’s done because I love that sensibility. So working with him is great.
And I think he just does it to mess around me. He goes, “So, how would you read that?” So I have to give him a line reading. And then I instantly start sweating, and I do, I have to. And I do the best I can, and he’s like, “Okay, I got it, kid.” And then he kind of does it, yeah.
And Gaffigan was amazing. He was new coming into this. So, we had to fly to New York to record him there. It’s a quick little funny story. Whenever you meet somebody for the first time, you never know what they’re going to be like, right? And all that kind of … it’s just awkward. And I had a free day before, so I took the train to play golf.
So I’m getting off the train, and he calls because he wants to talk about his role. And of course with perfect comedic timing, the train whistle sounds in the background as I’m talking to him. And Jim, not missing a beat, goes, “Are you in Transylvania right now calling me?” And that broke the ice, and it became amazing, and of course, he just fit in and found that crazy weird character, and it was great.
Scott M: All right. Awesome. Well, thank you.
Genndy Tartakovsky: Thank you.
Scott M: Very nice talking to you.