There is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes when it comes to making a big blockbuster movie such as Disney’s Maleficent. Sure the actors have to do a lot of that work but the real mastermind behind films like these is the director. We had a chance to sit down and chat with Maleficent Director Robert Stomberg about how Maleficent came about and his thoughts on directing such an epic film.
The director often has a lot of input on who gets cast for a certain role. So we asked Robert if Angelina was his first choice for the role of Maleficent.
She was actually already attached when, when Disney hired me. They were looking for a director, but she was already engaged with the character, she had wanted to do this character for a long time. So, lucky for me she was, you know, I didn’t have to do much digging on that part. It was sort of this perfectly made iconic combination that, I was blessed to have.
Robert Stromberg has worked on films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Oz The Great and Powerful and Alice and Wonderland. Maleficent was his first directorial debut. We were curious to see how different it was from being on set compared to being in the art department?
I’ve always thought that because I’ve always wanted to be a director. I used to make movies when I was a little kid and I was a huge Disney fan. I had an art teacher who was an ex-Disney artist. I used to draw like crazy images, including Maleficent when I was five, six years old. And so I had always wanted to tell stories and be a director.
I got side tracked by this pesky art direction stuff, But it was part of the journey. I’m glad that I did all that stuff because it prepared me not only being around these big movies but also meeting a lot of great directors. And, you know I met Peter Weir and we became close friends on a movie called Master and Commander. And he taught me a lot about how to talk to actors and to get at an emotional level with them.
And then I spent four years with James Cameron and that was useful in how to be strong when you need to be. And, and many, many situations I worked with Tim Burton and learned how an artist can direct. So there are all these directors but they do it in different ways. So I came into this with a lot of , experience and not only that, you have to come in and have emotion yourself.
Robert had a lot of advice to give to parents of children who may have an interest in going into film either directing, working in the art department or working in any capacity in the film industry.
I think, it’s obviously very competitive. I’ve never done this because I wanted to be recognized. I’ve never done this because I wanted to make oodles of money. You do this because you’re passionate about it. You do this because creating is your world. And I thought that was my world until I had my own kids, and then that opened up, for me personally it opened up the reason why I’m really here on this planet. It’s not to make movies. It’s to understand the love and you could say true love you have as a parent.
I have a favorite scene in Maleficent but I won’t tell you just yet! Here is what Robert had to say when asked what was his favorite scene to direct?
I think there are many different special moments. But the christening scene because it was in the film and we’re doing a retelling. So we’re not just doing a straight out of the box remake of that classic version. So it was very intentional that when you watch the movie you’ve learned a whole bunch of new material. When you get to that center point of the movie we shot that scene almost verbatim, word for word from the classic cartoon version.
And that was so that you now had all this new, fun information that you had learned and you understand why that character is doing what she’s doing. And then you get to see what happens after that. So it wasn’t challenging but, for me personally as a film, Hollywood moment, just standing there, with several hundred extras in this huge set, and she came into the room in that costume. I was a big fan myself at that moment just in awe.
What was the most difficult thing to bring to the big screen for this film?
You know it’s just getting through the film and still carrying a big, beating heart under your arm as you make it through this jungle is something. Someone once told me directing is like painting in a hurricane. And it’s true.
You know, the whole… I can’t pick one thing that was challenging because just making a movie at this scale, you’re juggling, just constantly juggling chainsaws and trying to draw pretty pictures at the same time. And so I think the challenge is to bring all these huge elements together and at the end of all that have something with a heart and soul and emotion and something that means something.
I’m always amazed at how movies get made at all, you know. There’s so many pieces that have to come together that it’s really a fascinating process. I’m still fascinated even though I’ve been doing this for twenty-eight years, I’m still as fascinated today as I was when I was five years old.
Curious minds wondered if there were other things that Robert felt absolutely had to be captured in this movie that was in the original film.
You know we had to steer away from certain elements. But it was really important that you walk away from this film as a fan of the original film with enough that you can relate to the comparison. You could walk away saying, “You know, I learned all this new, cool stuff, but it was still Sleeping Beauty.
We changed a certain amount of things, but that was another delicate path because when you’re telling or retelling of a story, you have to do things that are different to make the dots and connect. But it was really important to keep enough elements from the classic that, hopefully, the fans would respect that we tried to do that and also you would walk away saying, “I just saw Sleeping Beauty but it was a whole different, I saw so many different new sides of it.” That was the intent.
Robert Stromberg had actually never worked with Angelina Jolie before this film so we were all curious to find out what it was like to work with her and direct her?
I went to her house the first day I met her and what was really great is we didn’t talk about the movie for the first hour, I think. I’ll never forget we just sat on some back steps in her backyard and watched her kids play out in the backyard. And we talked about life and being a parent and just normal stuff.
And I think that’s why we connected because we had to find out that we were both human beings first before we tacked human being problems. And that was a special moment for me and I wasn’t necessarily intimidated by her, but I had never seen the human, motherly quality in there before.
Robert had said that he had to stay true to the original Sleeping Beauty so did he still have creative license in what he got to do?
Linda Woolverton wrote the script. I think we would deviate from that based on a lot of times when you’re in the moment, it looks better on paper than it does when you’re actually seeing how two characters are reacting to each other, or how a scene plays out. I think, part of what you learn as a director is how to adapt in a situation and understand that something is just not right and to adjust it so that it is.
I’ve always told people that whether I’m doing a painting, which is a, a composition, compositional rhythm, or music is its own rhythm, a dialog can be a rhythm too. And if it’s off, if one inflection is off slightly you have to recognize that because it, it makes a huge difference in how you’re supposed to feel watching it.
Robert was such a sweet guy and even after the interview had ended he still continued to talk with a group of us and was really curious to hear our honest thoughts about the film. Of course we all LOVED it, but more of that review coming soon, so he was gracious to hear us talk about it.
Maleficent opens in theaters everywhere tomorrow May 30th, so be sure to head out this weekend to see it! I recommend watching it in 3D if you can, it’s a fantastic film but the 3D effects are amazing.
*Disney Provided me with travel, food and accommodations while in Hollywood for the Press junket. All opinions expressed are my own.