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posted: 8/16/2012 6:00 AM

Filmmakers enjoyed 'magical' moments making 'ParaNorman'

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  • Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) tries to protect his town from a 300-year-old curse in "ParaNorman."

    Norman (Kodi Smit-McPhee) tries to protect his town from a 300-year-old curse in "ParaNorman."

  • Video: "ParaNorman" trailer



Chris Butler and Sam Fell are the two directors of Focus Features' new stop-motion animated horror comedy "ParaNorman," opening at theaters this weekend. The film marks the second 3-D animated work to come from Laika, the company that gave us 2009's creepy fairy tale "Coraline."

Butler and Fell came to Chicago to promote their movie, and we had this chat.

Dann: "ParaNorman" is a zombie comedy that attests to the power of stories to heal, condemns revenge and mob action, and promotes the concept of forgiveness. What's not to like?

Sam: Right from the start, I wanted to do a zombie movie for kids, a roller coaster, Scooby-Do-esque ride. But very important to me was the story underneath that, very much to do with intolerance. It's not a simple take on bullying. It's not a simple take on intolerance. Layering that into something so outrageously fun seemed to be the best way to get it across without being preachy.

The best zombie movies have social commentary. I thought, how perfect to have a story about a middle schooler trying to fit in, and tell that with zombies!

Dann: I was disappointed with the 3-D presentation for the press. The images were way too dark.

Sam: It should not be exceptionally dark. It's something overall that you have to get right.

Chris: There is no set regulation on how bright the projectors need to be for 3-D. No real standards set. It makes it very difficult to second guess, because you can't know what every local cinema is going to set it at.

Sam: James Cameron is behind this movement to solve those problems.

Dann: What was the most magical moment about making "ParaNorman"?

Sam: There's this joyous moment when someone takes the actor's voice performance and animates the puppet's actions to it. That character suddenly comes to life before your eyes. However jaded you are and no matter how many times you've done it before, it's a very special moment. It's magical, like an inanimate object suddenly came alive.

Chris: Yes, it becomes a character. It's no longer a piece of writing on a page, no longer an actor in a booth. It becomes that character emoting.

Dann: What was it really like to work with each other and being forced to share the director's chair?

Sam: It was great. This was something that Chris has been working on for many years. Decades! It was his baby. I was surprised at how open he was about having another director on board and sharing it. How willing he was to discuss the story and willing to change a few things.

What a great thing to have the original writer there on set every day to be there for rewrites.

Dann: Did you contribute much to the story?

Sam: No, I was just a bad influence. I came along and just encouraged more unrealistic ambitions, pushing for more unrealistic scenes and, you know, moments! Thankfully, a wonderful crew saved our bacon!

Dann: What are the principal challenges facing the animated feature industry?

Sam: More and more animated films are being made every year. It's one form of moviemaking that's still actually making money. Our challenge is to come up with new and more interesting things to say.

Chris: Everyone says that animation is not a genre. It's a medium. It's actually three mediums. (Hand-drawn, CGI and stop-motion.) Each has its strengths. The potential of that is exciting. Laika can make movies that aren't aping what DreamWorks is doing or what Pixar is doing. We have our own voice. As long as that continues, we will have some really impressive family entertainment.

Reel Life critic's notes:

• Last month, I introduced the digitally remastered 1975 blockbuster "Jaws" when it played on the silver screen at the Muvico Theaters in Rosemont. Now, "Jaws" leads six digitally restored classic motion pictures presented by the Cinemark theater chain during its "Fall Classics Series" across the country. These movies will play at 2 and 7 p.m. on Thursdays.

They are: "Jaws" Aug. 23, "High Noon" Aug. 30, "Doctor Zhivago" Sept. 6, "Chinatown" Sept. 13, "The Bridge Over the River Kwai" Sept. 20, and "The African Queen" Sept. 27.

If you haven't seen these babies on the big screen, seriously, can you say you've really seen them? Catch them at Cinemark theaters in Woodridge, North Aurora, Joliet, Deer Park and Evanston. Go to for schedules and tickets.

• Prospect High School and Columbia College grad Matt Glasson grew up to become a film editor for Comedy Central. Who knew he would also become a filmmaker?

Glasson and fellow Columbia classmate B. Bowls MacLean created the racy adult comedy "Love Stalker," based on their dating experiences.

"Love Stalker" will play a one-week engagement Friday to Thursday, Sept. 7-13, at The Portage Theater, 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Glasson, MacLean and producer David Ohliger will be there for a Q&A at 8 p.m. Sept. 7

You can catch a trailer at Go to for tickets and schedules.

• Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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