Will Gluck on Peter Rabbit, working with Emma Stone, and his relationship with Sony Pictures
Will Gluck is a filmmaker that I always enjoyed. Easy A is one of my favorite modern comedies, Fired Up is a silly and underrated little film, and as much as critics ripped apart the recent remake of Annie, I actually enjoyed it for the most. I was lucky enough to sit down Gluck and dicuss his latest film, Peter Rabbit.
Scott Menzel: How are you? Nice to meet you. This is kind of irrelevant to the movie, but one of the things that I’ve noticed that I don’t notice that often anymore is that you’ve made all your movies with Sony.
Will Gluck: I have.
Scott Menzel: Can you talk a little bit about your working relationship with them?
Will Gluck: Yeah. It’s funny. Only in Hollywood, people care what studio it is. No one in America goes, “I wanna see the next Paramount movie.” They don’t do that, which means it’s a segue, it’s all about the people. I’ve had a production deal at Sony for seven, eight years now.
I get along very well with them, and they’ve been very good to me, and they support me and I don’t think the grass is greener. The grass is pretty green, so I’m comfortable.
Scott Menzel: I don’t know why that stood out to me because I remember going through all your movies, I’m kind of like, “Wait. That was Screen Gem, Screen Gem, Screen Gem, Sony, Sony. Wait a second.”
Will Gluck: I think it used to happen all the time.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. Yeah. Back in the 50s and 60s. Like when Hollywood studios seemed to own certain directors and actors and they were like, “You only do a picture, if it’s a Paramount Picture” you know?
Will Gluck: I think it’s a testament though, because I don’t have to do every one here, but I know everyone so well now.
Scott Menzel: What inspired you to be a part of Peter Rabbit?
Will Gluck: My parents read me “Peter Rabbit” when I was a kid. I loved it, and I remember growing up loving Peter Rabbit, not really remembering much about it. Most people when they say they love “Peter Rabbit,” they remember the pictures. They don’t really remember the plot points of it at all, but they have a great affinity to it probably, in my opinion, because it happened in an awesome period in their lifetime. It was when they were two or three or four or five their parents, so it’s kind of like sentimental and then I read it to my kids, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is dark.”
It’s dark, a guy gets put in a pie. He said, “Don’t go in there, your dad was killed,” and Peter says, “I’m going in any way.” I think that’s what reminded me he was such a mischief-maker, I loved him so much, and my kids loved him so much. I’ve always loved the character, Peter Rabbit. And then I started doing a deep dive of all the books and all these memories come flooding back to me and I think I said, “we can think of a way to make this film a Beatrice Potter honoring, but also kind of make it bigger,” and that’s what we tried to do.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, that was actually going to be my next thing. Like, knowing that there was so much to base this film on, and like you said it’s been around for generations and generations, what was the struggle with the film in terms of writing it to appeal to the masses today, but also knowing that you’re going to have those people who are critics who loved the Potter books. How do you find that balance of appealing to the old but also bringing it up to date for the new? It’s was sort of like that with Annie as well, right?
Will Gluck: Yeah, but Annie was a different beast. I think a little bit. By the way, you never set out to do projects, you never think about that until this day.
You know, I’m talking about what their reaction’s going to be, right? And often times I’m surprised by the reaction. Often times I’m not surprised by the reaction. I didn’t try to go about to, “How do I do both?” I just want to take the DNA of what I liked about Peter Rabbit and Beatrice Potter.
By the way, the Beatrice Potter estate read the script and in every step of the way is involved in this, so we kind of had a safety net, and said, “Is this right, is this right?” So, we used their expertise.
To answer your question, the only thing that kind of keeps me up at night which I can’t since I’m tired and have kids but if I did stay up at night, I would say it’s the people who are having knee jerk reactions to this without having seen it. Just the concept of it, people have a negative opinion from that initial trailer, which, admittedly, was off mark, it was off message, which since then we’ve tried to correct. And that as a filmmaker is the toughest, because I just want you to say, “no.” Come to the restaurant and eat the chicken first, try it before you just walk by but it’s a very, very, very, very, very vocal; and very tiny, tiny, tiny minority that comments about certain things like this. However, what’s happening recently is those comments are becoming news stories. So news now in newspapers and in blogs are just basically reporting comments.
There’s no reflection or thought gathering or fact finding, it’s just this person said something and the newspaper said, “Hey this person said something.” And that’s the thing that kind of bums me out because all I want you to do is “Hey, watch it.” If you watch it and you then think that Beatrice Potter was not like this, have a discussion or talk about it. I don’t want the barrier to entry to people who love Beatrice Potter to be raised because of people who are just having a first brush at the concept. Does that make sense?
Scott Menzel: Yes
Will Gluck: And that’s the frustrating part as a filmmaker.
Scott Menzel: Also, and I’ll tell you this from my personal experience, one of my biggest pet peeves that I have with some of my fellow journalists is how they say certain things about movies in order to score interviews and be a part of these things, and then like all of a sudden, the reviews come out and everyone bashes the film.
It’s interesting because most of the people you’ve talked to today, you’ll probably think like everyone’s going to give the film a glowing review.
Will Gluck: Oh, I know better. Even the newspapers, they’re just commenting. There are newspaper articles written, like 15, where people made comments on an early trailer in the UK, and the newspaper was all about that. You read about it and it’s like, well, “this isn’t our country with the fake news.” But, it’s just like, when you’re not involved with something you just believe it.
When you’re involved with something, it rocks you to the core.
And I don’t know how you deal with it except for just not to deal with it. Not to engage, which is hard to do.
Scott Menzel: I can only imagine. As a filmmaker, as a producer, how do you feel about the new age of this film criticism where everything is basically based on a score, and like no one really judges the movie essentially for what it is but how it rated before even seeing it.
Will Gluck: We do talk about this all the time. Again, I loved that people are talking about movies and word-of-mouth and that kind of stuff is great because in the old days you could trick someone into going to a movie. I think the days of tricking someone into going to the movies are gone, but to your earlier point, someone in the X newspaper blog can say this is absolute dribble and this person might be 24-year-old somebody but this movie is for 50-year-olds, it’s a heist movie for old people. And then, that score gets it.
I actually believe this, and I could be completely wrong, but I don’t believe that scores for certain movies matter as much as we think they do. I think in the next year or so people are going to think that Rotten Tomatoes, their effect on things is going to be less, I think. I could be wrong but I think we’re going to be more word of mouth, I mean, this movie right now on the stupid social stuff, it’s like 99%, like for families, and luckily for us, knock on wood, the UK is going crazy, like they’ve done it, the film is super hot over in the UK.
But when you write a comment and say, “can’t wait to see it,” that no one talks about that one. Right? And I think more and more people are going to start trusting their friends, their close group on Facebook. What do you think, do you think Rotten Tomatoes scores are going to be effective or less effective?
Scott Menzel: I don’t think it’s effective right now, I think people have tried to make this into the be all end all rating system.
It’s kind of funny, here’s a great example, “Paddington 2,” I loved it, almost everyone I’ve talked to loved it, it’s freaking amazing, but it’s not doing that well at the box office in the United States. So there’s a perfect example of a 100% rating doesn’t mean jack shit.
But, then they can turn scores into stories like, “Lady Bird” having 100%, like, oh my God, the critics love this. Most people love coming-of-age stories. And they love these types of relatable stories. I feel there’s too much credit being given to a number.
Will Gluck: Once again, it’s a story written about that. People are writing the story about that.
Scott Menzel: But every time a DC or a Marvel movie comes out, there’s always headlines like, “Marvel Studios kills DC again.” You know, what I mean.
Will Gluck: Of course. But I can sit my two daughters down who like those movies but aren’t really into them, and say, “I’m going to give you five names, you tell me if it’s Marvel or DC,” they wouldn’t know.
We get it’s caught in this bubble echo chamber that we care so much. I just want people to go see the movie. Listen, this is a fun good movie, you can’t hate this movie. I could be wrong but just see it.
Scott Menzel: It’s cute and charming, It really is. Let’s speak a little bit more about the movie. So I’ve noticed that you do something with the jokes, something which I like and is sort of a rule with comedy, and that is the rule of threes. You did that quite a few times in the movie.
Will Gluck: Okay. Examples?
Scott Menzel: The Rooster. The electric shock thing happened three times. I’m trying to think of like a couple other ones, but there was quite a few that I noticed when I was watching it, and I was rambling them off to my wife on the car ride home after seeing the film.
Will Gluck: It’s funny you say that because the rooster is four times, electrocution five times, but they happened in a pattern of threes so you’re dead on. It’s the third and to me, what I like to do is, once you think it’s over then there’s one more. But it’s absolutely the rule of three, and also rule of three when the girls talk and things. I don’t know why that is. It’s just a rhythm. The whole movie to me is rhythm.
Scott Menzel: That’s so interesting how you said it happened four or five times, but just the way that you’ve set it up it was in patterns of three so that stood out.
Will Gluck: The first time the audience realizes, “holy shit, what just happened,” and then they’re along for the ride of like three times, you know what I mean?
Scott Menzel: I believe so.
Will Gluck: It’s like, he gets thrown off, then he gets on the top of the house and he gets thrown off again, and then the final one. But it’s like once it is in your head, I think it starts to process what’s going on when you’re ready for the moment.
But it’s so funny about all of this rhythm, it’s like he tries to have so many times. I screened this movie so many times, more so than most movies, like 10 times I’d say. For different kids, different audiences, different parts of the country, all across the country, all across the world, getting reactions, and you can really feel when something is too long, when something is too short like you can really feel that especially in this type of movie. We finished this movie on Sunday night (January 28, 2018, was the completed date)
Scott Menzel: Really?
Will Gluck: When did you see it?
Scott Menzel: I just saw it yesterday (my screening was on February 1, 2018 )
Will Gluck: Yeah. We finished it Sunday night and you were the first people to see the movie finished. Yeah.
Scott Menzel: That’s great.
Will Gluck: And it’s all about trying this, take this out, try that. It’s all about the balance.
Scott Menzel: I thought you did a great job of combining things that kids are going to like and things that parents are going to like. And, I think they’re going to like it for completely different reasons.
My wife and I personally really liked the adult characters and their chemistry. She loved Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson’s chemistry, and their story was great. We also loved that you didn’t make Rose the typical love interest, she actually has some backbone to her, and it was great to see that. And, we found the rooster to be hilarious. But in all fairness and I’ll tell you because I’m honest, some of the animal characters were a bit annoying, but the kids are going to love it, so it’s a completely opposite effect.
Will Gluck: Do you find James annoying?
Scott Menzel: No.
Will Gluck: So what characters are you talking about? Tell me which one.
Scott Menzel: I kind of felt like most of the secondary characters were. I was like “okay, shut up a little bit” whenever they talked for more than a few minutes.
Will Gluck: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Scott Menzel: But you know, James’ voice is very distinct and I don’t know if its because I like his show…
Will Gluck: He’s great.
Scott Menzel: So with the other characters you’re kind of like, “who is that?” but with his voice, you’re like “oh, that’s James Corden.” So for me, it was a little distracting.
Will Gluck: Even towards the end?
Scott Menzel: Yeah.
Will Gluck: With James the whole time?
Scott Menzel: Yeah.
Will Gluck: Yeah, what are you going to do about that?
Scott Menzel: You can’t do anything but hopefully it will only be us who have that problem.
Will Gluck: Do you know who Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle was?
Scott Menzel: No.
Will Gluck: You know who she is right? The porcupine?
Scott Menzel: Yeah.
Will Gluck: That’s Sia.
Scott Menzel: Sia? I didn’t know that.
Will Gluck: Which is great. What you said makes me happy, because I didn’t want them to be like “oh that is Margot Robbie”, I didn’t want you to know who anybody was, I just wanted to disappear into things.
Scott Menzel: Yeah.
Will Gluck: You know the badger?
Scott Menzel: No, I don’t know who that is. Who was that?
Will Gluck: Sam Neill.
Scott Menzel: Oh my God.
Will Gluck: Yeah, he plays old McGregor.
Scott Menzel: That’s what I’m saying, I think you found a very happy medium.
Will Gluck: How great do these animals look though?
Scott Menzel: It’s crazy how far technology has come. They looked amazing. I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed “Fired Up!” but I loved “Easy A.” How do you feel knowing that you were one of the first filmmakers to give Emma Stone a chance?
Will Gluck: Yeah. I’m happy.
Scott Menzel: You gave her one of her first leading roles and now she’s like in every major Oscar movie.
Will Gluck: I know, it’s great, man. I’ve been super lucky to be able to work with really good people that I’ve continued to work with like Rose. I always do two or three movies with the same people because once you have somebody you don’t want to let them go. From the first second we were shooting with Emma we were like, “No, no, no, this is … ” and I always tell the story that I was doing my next movie-
Scott Menzel: “Friends with Benefits,” right?
Will Gluck: Right. And Emma is in it, but on day 30 she came to the shoot, and we always have the same crew, it was like late at night when Emma comes to set and we start shooting stuff, and all my crew would be like, all this crew who’ve done a billion movies, they’re like, “we forgot how good she was.” It’s like undeniable. It’s like one of those things, just undeniable.
Scott Menzel: She was like we were talking about earlier, this early Hollywood actress type vibe to her.
Will Gluck: Yeah, old soul.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, very classic. And she’s just great. She could nail any role that she does, even if the movie is not that good, she still shines.
Will Gluck: That’s the old movies, like the old movies, you just wanted to go see the people.
Scott Menzel: Right.
Will Gluck: They didn’t care what it was about. What? Are they trying to rob a bank? Who the fuck cares. Right? It’s so true.
Scott Menzel: Right, right. And I mean, Rose is not only in this movie, but I loved her in “Annie” too. I know critics butchered that, but I had fun with it. Except for I still never understood, you have to explain that weird airplane scene where they’re singing.
Will Gluck: On the roof?
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I don’t get it, that’s the one part I was kind of like “why was that in there.”
Will Gluck: Yeah.
Scott Menzel: But the scenes with Rose and…
Will Gluck: Jamie. I’m saying, like, to me it’s like Rose and Jamie, I wanted to do a romantic comedy.
Scott Menzel: Yeah.
Will Gluck: Yeah. She is so good.
Scott Menzel: She is so freaking charming in everything. And I love her in “Spy” because they put her in something completely different.
Will Gluck: She killed it. Do you know how hard it is to do what she does, which on this movie, she’s doting on the rabbits, like a mother; she’s really funny; she has to get emotional; she’s not a prop of this guy, right, she has to fall in love with this guy yet not and it’s just effortlessly, she’s just amazing. Rose is amazing.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, she’s just terrific. What was it like working with Domhnall?
Will Gluck: Great. He is fearless too, the greatest physical comedian, he’s so funny. A hard shoot, hot as hell, 60 days in Sydney and then to London, a hard long shoot, and he’s acting without anyone else there. That fight in Rose’s cottage, that was four and a half days of him getting poked with sticks and people in blue suits throwing tennis balls, and just madness. You saw the movie, he looks like he’s fighting a rabbit.
Scott Menzel: I know. I love the vegetable scene, where it was like he’s trying to talk to Rose.
Will Gluck: That was his idea.
Scott Menzel: Was it really?
Will Gluck: He had an idea early on about, “what if I’m trying to play something off and Rose is looking” That was completely his idea. Yeah. He’s great. And it’s a testament to Domhnall but also to the digital effects people for planning that out. That’s the one time as a director I’m like, “what happens here? Right, he’s got to turn to the left and you’re going to throw a tennis ball and hit his cheek, and then he has got to look at this guy over here in a blue suit? Okay.” It was crazy math, that thing was crazy math. And it was raining, right? Because we had to make it rain so it was in that cottage, which is 100 degrees in Sydney, and pouring rain out, just outside the cottage. It was just like this … you’d get soaked … it was just the craziest thing, and Domhnall, God bless him, did it.
Scott Menzel: That’s crazy. Another thing that I really liked about the film and I noticed they’re starting to do it a little bit more in movies is the live computer animated stuff mixed with hand-drawn animation.
Will Gluck: They’re a part of those two sequences.
Scott Menzel: I loved it.
Will Gluck: At the end, where it goes from 3D to 2D at the end, you know the scene right?
Scott Menzel: Yes, I know exactly what you are talking about. I don’t know but there is something like nostalgic about it.
Will Gluck: Yeah.
Scott Menzel: And it’s that’s a lost form of animation right there, and you feel that it is special to see it.
Will Gluck: I know. But I don’t think you could sit for an hour and a half of that, which is why there are only a few scenes of it.
Scott Menzel: It’s weird, right? Like how that’s changed since the late 90s?
Will Gluck: Once you see this rabbits in 3D it’s kind of hard, but the animator who did that, loved it. Because it’s finally, “we get to paint? And draw an entire sequence?” They went crazy for that sequence.
Scott Menzel: I really liked that scene. It felt very classic. And now just to wrap up our interview, what’s your favorite scene in the film and what do you hope audiences take away?
Will Gluck: Favorite scene in the film? I don’t know, it’s probably when Peter’s talking to his parents and you see the 2D animation again, and then you realize that it’s all on his head. That’s my favorite. Also, the way the rabbit moves in that scene, that’s a rabbit, that’s not an animated character, that’s a rabbit moving. And I hope people take away that it’s a fun, charming movie. Like you said, that if you’re a kid or an adult you’re going to come out with something different but it’s not a bad way to spend 90 minutes.
Scott Menzel: No, not at all. Nice and breezy.
Will Gluck: Yeah, in and out. Get you to your Xbox.
Scott Menzel: Well, thank you so much.
Will Gluck: Thanks, man.
Scott Menzel: Nice meeting you.
Will Gluck: And you.
Peter Rabbit is now playing in theaters.