Interview
Shane Acker
© Shane Acker
Emru Townsend: I'm sure you've seen Ralph Bakshi's Wizards.

Shane Acker: Oh yeah, definitely.

On the DVD release last year he talked a lot about how—I mean, it's kind of obvious from the imagery, but it's very much inspired by the idea of fascism and how it's so easy to let it rise, and how we all have to fight it. But at the same time he just made it a really entertaining story. Do you see that as a real challenge for a feature, to be able to juggle the idea of the heavy theme and the entertainment at the same time, so you can get the point across without being didactic?

Yeah, of course. That is a big challenge. But I want to make films that I want to see. I want to entertain people, I really do, but along with that entertainment I also want to deliver a message or have some kind of a commentary. But not be as heavy-handed or concrete. Allow people to read into it what they want to read into it. So leave it open to metaphor and to allow people to see what they want to see in it. But first it's about telling a good story, an interesting story, and then it's about starting to layer on these different ideas that might not impact the movie, the narrative that's there, but adds another layer of meaning on top of that. I did that with 9 too. So I think upon repeat viewings of the film, other things begin to come into light, and other readings can start to come into the film as well. And I think that's kind of what we want to do with the feature as well. So I think it makes it appeal to a broad audience too, when you do that—when you can go in and get that popcorn film, and that excitement, or you can go in and you can also sort of have a meditation on these ideas that are being brought up in the picture as well.

That was actually one of the things that I liked about 9, was that watching it repeatedly—like, four times in the same day—each time we kept seeing new things in it. And even then when we watched it again yesterday, before you mentioned it, I happened to notice for the first time that the cat creature was wearing the rag dolls' skin with the numbers on it. And I thought, I hadn't seen that before! And that was just the visual discovery. But then afterward you mentioned that you were trying to get the idea across that the cat creature was searching for something, trying to understand the secret of these things. And I kind of thought that almost made him sympathetic.

Right.

Because it wants something, it knows it wants it, it doesn't know how to get it, and the way it's trying to get it is through violence and mayhem, which is exactly the wrong way to go after it.

Right. But that's the way it's programmed. It's programmed to do this routine, even though it's trying to evolve itself, it's trying to go beyond that, but it can't, it's sort of trapped in the design, the nature of it.

That makes it slightly tragic for the cat creature.

I think that's what makes characters complex. What makes characters interesting is if there's a lot of grey areas, where you can feel sympathetic to the villains as well as to the protagonist. And even if the protagonists themselves kind of screw up from time to time, because that makes them more human. It resonates more with the audience, with us, because we can empathize, we can see in that the problems that we have of our own. That's why I think Miyazaki's films are so amazing, because a lot of the characters are grey in a lot of ways, and they all have their own motivations, and all those motivations come together and orchestrate into the telling of the film, which I think is—you know, it's challenging to audiences. A lot of people want good vs. evil, cut and dried, but I think ultimately it's more rewarding when there's a lot more dimension to the characters, it's not so flat, and you can see a bit of yourself in the villain. I mean, why not? Then you can really have compassion for them.

I think that's why Darth Vader interests us and things like that, because he's this hard-shelled, evil villain, but then when you crack that shell, and you see that there's this human sort of trapped within the machine, it makes him very sympathetic, and makes the character much richer.
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