Director Enrico Casarosa Draws From His Youth For Pixar's <i>La Luna</i>

La Luna, the new Pixar short written and directed by Enrico Casarosa, has been the subject of much praise lately thanks to a series of well-received screenings at recent film festivals. Planned as the lead-in short for next year's Brave, La Luna is being screened on its own to ensure awards eligibility —a wise plan considering how impressive the short is.

The seven-minute film tells the story of a young boy who finally gets the chance to accompany his father and grandfather to work. After rowing out to sea in a small boat, the trio drops anchor and begins waiting for the workday to begin. Even after the puzzled boy discovers his family's very unusual line of work, he can't help being pulled back and forth between the two generations, each believing his methods are best.

Spinoff Online recently sat down for a chat about the short with Casarosa, who served as a storyboard artist on Up and Ratatouille and was recently named the head of story for Pixar.

Spinoff: This short seems like it must come from a personal place. What can you tell me about the origin of La Luna? Does it draw from your own experiences with your family?

Casarosa: Very much so. At the core of it, I looked to my childhood. We lived in Italy, and I grew up in Genoa. We lived with our grandfather, and my dad and my grandfather never got along very well. I was that little boy, stuck in the middle with two people talking to him who wouldn't talk to each other. It's something that felt like it could be explored, because it was personal and somewhat relatable in some way and universal. It's just a little boy trying to find his own way. He doesn't want to pick sides.

Then that story was mixed with this fantastic setting. I thought it would be an interesting juxtaposition, with something kind of personal and then this mythical, strange job that his family does. That kind of comes from some of my own influences. I love [Hayao] Miyazaki. I love Italo Calvino. I always loved [Calvino's] writing, and he's had a lot of fantastic stories put together with very mundane, peasant characters. There's also a fable-like setting [in La Luna], in which two very simple people are part of it all. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is maybe another influence, The Little Prince author, with that idea of a little planet he created.

Have your parents seen La Luna yet?

Yes, my parents came to Annecy, where we premiered it in June [at the Annecy Animation Film Festival], and it was pretty special. It was very surreal. My dad was pretty verklempt. He was a little teary. To this day, I still haven't had a heart-to-heart about how he might feel about the film. I am kind of curious to do that. Maybe next time I see him? But he was always very proud, and kind of teary when he first saw it. It's been pretty emotional. I have a “Making Of” in which I tell the story behind it, and having to give that talk in front of my dad was slightly strange, because it's definitely some personal stuff.

How did you have to change your creative methods when you jumped into the role of writer and director as opposed to storyboard artist? What did that transition teach you?

[Writing and directing] is a huge learning experience and opportunity – and that's what's great about it. You're learning in almost every single part of it. The thing that was the most interesting to me is probably just having to make big decisions. At Pixar, there are wonderful directors who can give you great feedback. John Lasseter, Brad Bird, we should show them our story reels and they would give us feedback. That's a great way to hone in and sculpt the movie and make it better. I learned how to take the feedback and the notes and address them, or not address them sometimes. Sometimes I'd address them in my own way, which is the important part of what being a director is. You have to know your story and what's right for it. You might get a suggestion that isn't right for your story, but maybe they're poking at something that needs attention.

There was also a learning experience on so many levels with all of the departments – animation, lighting, and so on. You see all of the specifics of what your peers are doing, and they've been peers before, but I only vaguely knew what they were doing. Now they're helping you put together this wonderful thing

Shorts like this usually tend to fall into two categories: standalone stories or tests for a larger project. Where does La Luna fall?

It's definitely a standalone story. They never really saw the short as trying an idea for a longer feature. It would be a challenge to turn an idea like this into a feature, but you never know. It's never something that is thought of before it's out there. For me, it was like, “Hey, can I pitch something?” No one was asking me to pitch something. So I had this idea, and this is it. And the idea is the most important thing, really.

You've worked on so many films now that have received heaps of praise and even an award or two, but La Luna is the first film you've written and directed. How does that set it apart from the rest of the projects you've worked on in your mind?

As proud as I am of my work on those other features, you're still telling someone else's story with them, so you feel entitled to be proud of it. But this is something pretty special because you're really trying to do something that is you. It's part of you. You're trying to put a little piece of yourself on the screen. So that's very special.

And I say this often now, but there is nothing else that has made me so joyful and happy on a Sunday night to the point of saying, “Yes! Tomorrow is Monday! Back to work!” During La Luna production I would always feel that way, and as much as I've had great jobs, it always felt like a regular Monday on those other jobs. So this is very exciting. During production, I felt like every day there was a new little piece that came together, so I looked forward to every day. When you're working on those other, big projects, it's a marathon. It's a slow pace, and you have to take your time, keep your stamina. They're more challenging, difficult puzzles to assemble.

You did a great job of keeping the story universal with the “gibberish” style of dialogue and lots of facial expressions and physical gestures. Do you find it more difficult to tell a story when you can't use actual dialogue, or did that sort of thing come easy for you on La Luna?

Pantomime is always big part of these types of stories, but that's what animation as a media does so well. It's a visual media like all film, of course, but with animation we're able to push poses and attitudes even more, and express feelings in the body language. That is something I was really after [in La Luna]. Of course, I also wanted it to have this Italian flavor in the gesticulating and the way that we particularly move and express ourselves. That felt like the right flavor to chase, and it seemed to support the gibberish in some way. It was a challenge, though.

At the risk of jumping too far ahead of things, what's next for you now that you're head of story at Pixar?

I'm head of story for the 2013 feature that Bob Peterson is directing, so I'm kind of helping with that. It's Pixar's untitled dinosaur movie. Peter Sohn, who's the voice of Emil [from Ratatouille] and directed Partly Cloudy, is co-directing it. They're a laugh riot, so it's been a lot of fun to collaborate with them.

La Luna is being screened at film festivals and will be released ahead of Pixar's upcoming feature film Brave on June 22, 2012.

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