Chris Miller, much like the title character in his new film, loves to have an audience. Though in the case of “Puss in Boots”, it’s not so much the man doing the flips, jumps and belly wiggles as it is the feline whose floating head occupies the one sheet. Miller, returning to the Shrekverse (he helmed “Shrek the Third”), may have worn the boots on the set of the blockbuster spin-off, but in the film it’s the ‘Puss’ who demands, and gets, the attention. Miller speaks to Clint Morris about the machinations of crafting a spin-off from “Shrek”, how to use 3D as effectively as possible (and why 3D lends itself so well to animation) and whether he plans to take credit for the future successes of his namesake, the Chris Miller of “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” fame.
Are you hoarse yet, sir? I take it you’ve been speaking “Puss” for days now, if not weeks?
Actually, we’re finishing today [Laughs]. This is our last day of world promotion, though. And, actually, we’re still excited. But yep, this is the last stop… The last day of the last stop.
The final destination is Australia. Well, that makes sense.
Congratulations on the movie. Why Puss in Boots? Why not Donkey or one of the other characters?
There’s something about the personality of Antonio Banderas in that cat that I just… It’s something that demanded it. He’s so intriguing. It’s such a presence. So funny just to hear his voice coming out of that tiny cat and a creature that just came with history and intrigue and I think kind of stole the show in Shrek 2.
He did, yeah.
We all just thought it was a matter of time and he was the choice. He was the character that could absolutely carry an epic adventure origin story.
The character did carry the movie rather successfully! interesting there was no cameos at all for many of the Shrek characters, which I thought was interesting. Did you weigh that up a bit?
We thought that that was important from the beginning and just felt the character is so strong. We’re making a movie, his story, let’s create a world that is specific for him. And, granted, I mean he shares a fairytale world or universe, I should say, with Shrek. But that’s really… That’s where the comparisons and the connection end. It’s a chance to do something new.
…And rewrite some rules and just our approach to the film. Just let it be a reflection of who the Puss in Boots character is. That was our guide so it was really… It was actually really liberating.
And like the Shrek series, is this the first pebble in a few to be skimmed, culminating in a new “Puss” franchise?
Well, I mean, we’ll see. We’re just rolling it out right now so it’s a little early to tell. But I think there are a number of chapters you could have with this character. It’s almost James Bond-like in that way. I mean, as long as you have a compelling story, a personal story to tell of his, yeah, there are limitless possibilities.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, animated movies just look so much better in 3D.
I don’t know if it’s just that you have an opportunity to create a very unique world and experience that way. You’re being transported through a place that you’ve never seen before, you can’t access any other way than through animation. I mean, I like to make part of it. But really I think it works if a story is satisfying. If a story is compelling and an audience is connecting with the characters in the story, it really always comes down to that, then the 3D just becomes a tool of storytelling and of experience and seeing a new world through whatever character’s eyes and experiencing that world. And with all the detail that you can put in with CG today especially in Puss, like the fur, the clothing, the atmosphere, you can create a really incredibly immersive experience without it being… Without it feeling intrusive or snapping you out of the movie. It really elevates the experience. And I have seen it. I have to agree with you, it has been more successful in animation so far. But there’s a lot of interesting filmmakers that are delving into 3D right now so it will be interesting to see where it goes.
If ”Shrek the Third” were done today. Would you insist on the 3D treatment?
Probably. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a 3D version by the way of… That’s already been made.
I don’t know. Actually I don’t know. But you know, Jeffrey Katzenberg, who I know you know, is a big proponent of 3D and really wanted to make it clear that we were going to start offering our films in 3D and so we know going into it; so it’s a consideration beforehand. As we make the entire film, we know that that’s going to be part of our approach. It’s going to be one of our tools in the toolbox. And so there’s been a great, great development at the studio and so much talent that… So much experience that’s come from it, that it’s really… It’s sort of part of our culture now.
Did you notice many differences in shooting in 3D than in 2D?
I really don’t. I mean to be honest, with Puss in Boots, I guess like the material, our basic approach to film-making it was going to be dynamic and exciting. I knew, I had a really strong feeling, I felt confident that, okay, it’s going to lend itself naturally to our style. And I guess that as long as you’re using it just to tell story, you’re not using it to just like throw stuff at the audience or get gimmicky with it, it can elevate that experience. So that was… I mean our approach is really simple. We got a cinematographer, who was from… His name is Gil Zimmerman and Gil was the cinematographer on “How To Train Your Dragon” which, to me, arguably it’s the best-looking 3D film, ever.
It was fantastic.
I put it right next to Avatar. I really do in terms of execution and… Look, we have Gil for Puss in Boots and he brought all that experience. So it certainly made my job a lot easier having him as a partner and we share so many sensibilities. So, it was remarkably easy, at least for me. [chuckle]
You originally did some of the characters in the ”Shrek” films, is that right? You voiced them. Is that how you got involved?
Yeah, a few. A few, magic mirror and… I don’t know, the occasional Guard Number 2, man in background. [laughter]
Are you ‘the voice’ man, or something?
Definitely I’m far from the voice. I think I really honestly, between you and me, it’s like… Maybe four voices I have the capabilities of and on some days two so it’s… [laughter] It’s a by-product of the process of animation. I mean before we bring in Antonio or Salma or Zack or Max or who have you, we test the material ourselves so we do what we do scratch check and we record every voice in the movie just to test the material, cut it together and say, “Oh, this is working? No. We need to rewrite this, we need to rework this section.” So for Puss in Boots it was really for the most part, not entirely both, myself, my writer, Tom Wheeler, we supply most of the male voices in the movie. And my producer, Latifa Ouaou, was the outstanding creative partner on the film as well, she handled all the ladies. [laughter] And then, at the end of the day, replacing all the voices, a few of them just end up sticking and you can get Latifa and I really cheap, is really what it comes down to. [laughter] So we fill in the background.
Well, it was great. You did great work.
Good thing for the budget. Thank you. [laughter]
What’s next for you, do you know?
We’ll see. I’m kind of hanging right now. Now that we’re still just promoting the movie and now that we’re wrapping that part of it today, films are coming out and we’ll see how audiences react.
And gotta ask, do you get mixed up with the other Chris Miller a lot?
I know exactly what you’re talking about. Like the man who made “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.” Yes, absolutely. All of the time. And I’ve never met him.
We work in the same industry… I have to meet him someday, yeah. But I wonder if he gets the same thing. I’m so curious. I’ve got to actually… I’ve got to track him down.
Yeah, you do. You do. And, look, if his “21 Jump Street” turns out alright, you can take credit for it.
Exactly, exactly. That’s the danger if one of us makes a real stinker. Both of us just have to take the heat for it. We’re all in it together.
Or you could just pass it off and say it’s the other one – the other Chris Miller?
Oh, that’s true, too. No, I… Yeah, I had nothing to do with that. [laughter] That’s a good idea.
Thank you so much for chatting to us. It was a great movie…
Oh, thank you Clint. Loved talking to you.
“Puss in Boots” is out Thursday