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“BRAVE” New Pixar: A Q&A with Director Mark Andrews

Pixar’s new Brave has been winning attention as yet another girl-archer blockbuster, but it’s the mother-daughter story at the center of the movie that seems to be hitting the bulls-eye with fans. Here, San Francisco contributor Jonathan Kiefer talks to director Mark Andrews. 

Princess Merida, Pixar's first female protagonist, is the headstrong herione of Brave. Catch Jonathan Kiefer's Q & A session with director Mark Andrews below. 

People seem pleased that Brave has Pixar’s first female protagonist, but did the movie’s first female director, Brenda Chapman, get fired from her own story? 

It was more like a relay. She came up with an original story; I was on in an unofficial way because of my love for the Middle Ages, Scottish culture, and archery. I went with the team on a research trip to Scotland and to the brain-trust sessions, so I’d been a satellite part of it. When the film stalled, and there were creative differences between Brenda and Pixar, I stepped in. It’s not uncommon at Pixar, and happens at other studios, too. We were down to the wire: Eighteen months before the film’s release and it’s stalled. That’s where the pressure hits. But Brenda is fine—we’re friends and she’s seen and loved the movie.

So what did you, personally, bring to the table?

Well, it’s primarily Merida’s story, coming out of adolescence into adulthood. But who determines when we make that transition, the parent or the child? The whole story is to get them in sync with the natural order of things. The parents’ job is to prepare, not to push. It’s very hard to watch your kids grow up, even when we’ve gone through it. I’m putting my parenting in there, absolutely. I’m in the story room, debating with the producer and animators, and we get very philosophical really fast. I think therapists would make great storytellers. It’s about understanding where people are coming from, or going to. That’s why we go see movies.

OK: Why archery?

It’s of the age, in terms of setting. And a bow is a very dynamic weapon. It’s all about power; it’s competition with yourself. And she’d have to practice every day, so there would be a discipline there; it’s the kind of person that she is. She’d have that focus that’s a positive and negative thing. She can be focused and be an independent person—much to the chagrin of her parents. And I’ve been doing archery my entire life, as an amateur. My dad got me a BB gun when I was 10 and when that lost its luster he brought me a bow and arrow. Now my 12-year-old daughter does archery and she’s a natural. I’ve also been teaching my friends. I’ve got hay bales up in the back yard. So coming onto this film, I had experience with it.

What about the animators?

We got them all archery lessons. I also played basketball growing up, and my coaches told me to sleep with the ball so I’d get really used to it. And I know they did the same with Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings: He took his sword everywhere. It was constantly with him, and you can tell right when he walks into a shot. Animators are looking for things like that. We went into a lot of particulars about how she draws and shoots, and how comfortable she is with the bow. When those details come through, they’re invisible; you just feel them.  

Your last movie (as a writer) was John Carter, which, uh, didn’t do so well financially. Feeling any pressure?

I was trained in TV animation, so I work fast and know how to keep looking forward. In story it’s always a high-pressure environment and can be chaotic. But I can deal with that. And, you know, that’s where the title comes from: the bravery to step forward.