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Director Mark Andrews Talks Replacing Brenda Chapman On 'Brave,' The Future Of 'John Carter' & More

Photo of Drew Taylor By Drew Taylor | The Playlist June 21, 2012 at 11:06AM

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times – Mark Andrews, who makes his feature directorial debut this weekend on Pixar's heavily hyped, medieval girl-power romp "Brave" (taking duties over for Brenda Chapman, who parted ways with the film – more on that in a minute) was also an assistant director and co-writer on "John Carter," Disney's massively budgeted sci-fi spectacle that crashed and burned like an out-of-control Martian spaceship. Few filmmakers have been in the unenviable position of being involved in huge (and occasionally troubled) productions this close together.

Andrews knew immediately what needed to be kept and what needed to be jettisoned. "Because the bones of the story were fantastic – the root of the parent/child relationship, the magic of this child in this desperate situation asking for this spell, not really knowing what it's going to be – all that stuff was there and those elements were working," Andrews said. Echoing early test screening reports, though, he says that the main thrust of the story was unfocused and hard to follow. "Whose story it was – whether it was Merida or her mom's story or Merida choosing which parent she was going to be more like – these things weren't working, and having more of an objective eye coming into it, I killed some babies to get the story moving again in the direction that was entertaining and had action in it and didn't compromise the heart or the humor." Not that it was easy to get right: "I put it up on reels four times in the span of a year, in some very different ways, before I got it to where everyone was saying, 'Yeah yeah yeah that's it, it's working, it's working.'"

Andrews went directly from helping Andrew Stanton craft "John Carter" to "Brave," and even though "John Carter" was a seemingly impossible property that hadn't been properly adapted in a hundred years, he admits that "Brave" might have been harder. "'Brave' was much more difficult in that sense because it was an original tale," Andrews said. "There were things in place that we didn't want to lose. I wanted to do right by Brenda because we're friends and it's always an awkward, weird transition. But also deliver something that Pixar wanted to get. It was a lot to do. It was a crazy, crazy minefield, but there were things that I had to keep that couldn't budge, which makes the combination of elements really tricky. It was a Gordian knot I had to untie and tie again to get it to sing." The filmmaker brought in his own personal experiences as well: "I have a daughter and three sons, just like in the movie – and bringing in my own experiences from my teenage days to being a family man as well and plugging that into the movie."

One person he did consult was Brad Bird, his mentor and coworker from back in the day (the two worked together on "The Iron Giant" and when Bird decamped for Pixar, he brought Andrews along for the ride). Even though Bird isn't at the studio everyday anymore (although he could be soon, since he's said to be working on a top-secret project for Disney), Andrews still sought his council. "To be honest, he was the first phone call I made after Pixar asked me to step in for Brenda. I said, 'Can I think about this?' and I called Brad," Andrews said. "Because he had done this, he had stepped in for Jan Pinkava [taking over 'Ratatouille' with roughly the same amount of time Andrews had to finish the film]. And just getting his take on what it would mean and the trials and tribulations and what I would look out for."

Bird has also been outspoken about the response to "John Carter" (and its supposed financial shortcomings), taking to Twitter to defend the film from its numerous snarky detractors. The whole experience is still a blur to Andrews, who helped conceive of the adaptation during a brainstorming session with eventual director Andrew Stanton. "It was a crazy experience. I had kind of gone through it with 'Iron Giant.' You have a great film and nobody saw it," Andrews said. "And here it happens again on 'Carter.' And it's like 'Are you kidding me? This happens twice in a lifetime?'" Andrews remains defensive about what he perceives as a general lack of support from Disney, who had more or less written the movie off before it opened. "I was in denial for quite a bit and the studio pulled the plug on it a little prematurely and I think there were some mistakes in marketing. It was like 'Give it a chance! This thing is struggling to find itself! Hold on a little longer!'" Still, he offers some perspective: "I think, ultimately, what's really interesting now is that it's the #1 pirated movie of all time. I think all the bad press has given it this mystique."

This article is related to: Pixar , Brave, John Carter Of Mars, Andrew Stanton, Brad Bird, Michael Chabon

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