Genndy Tartakovsky: “Hotel Transylvania 3, I wanted to do it my way”

The director dynamites his own franchise, so far a little too clean.

June 27, 2020 update: The 60th Annecy animation festival is in full swing. Exceptionally organized online, it will run until June 30. On this occasion, First dive into its archives to share captivating interviews with renowned animators and directors. Let Genndy Tartakovsky, famous for Star Wars: Clone Wars and Transylvania Hotel, who answered our questions during the 2018 edition, a few days before the release of the third installment of its monstrous saga.

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Hotel Transylvania 2: Genndy Tartakovsky is faithful to his cartoonish style and his love of Freaks [critique]

Interview published on July 26, 2018: Genndy Tartakovsky, brilliant director of animated series like Samurai jack, Star Wars: Clone Wars, The Dexter Laboratory or The Super Girls, returns to the feature film with Hotel Transylvania 3: a monstrous vacation, released Wednesday. This time the family of monsters embarks on a dream cruise that will take an unexpected turn: Mavis realizes that Drac has fallen under the charm of the mysterious Ericka, the human captain of the ship, whose secret threatens them all … Tartakovsky co-signs for the first time the script of a film in the franchise and finally assumes 100% of his cartoony obsessions. A real blasting carried out at a frenetic pace. Freed, Genndy Tartakovsky? We went to ask him the question.

I’m always amazed to see your name associated with the franchise Transylvania Hotel.
Why is that ?

Because a priori, I don’t have the impression that she looks like you very much. Except that this film makes me lie, your style is very visible on the screen. I imagine you had a good reason to come back to the controls a third time?
I was done after the second. To continue, I needed a real good idea, something sincere. I didn’t want to exploit the vein and poke the spectators’ money like it sometimes happens. Except that I had no idea. Besides, I didn’t even want to have one, to tell you the truth (laughs). And then one day, my parents-in-law surprised us to invite us on a cruise. I started to observe the families on the boat: the more time passed, the more I thought that it was the perfect place for the characters ofTransylvania Hotel. The scenario started to take shape in my head, especially with all this story around Van Helsing and Dracula who falls in love. Sony loved it and boom: I was working on Transylvania Hotel 3 (laughs).

It seems that your condition was to be able to write the script?
Yeah, because most screenwriters who don’t come from animation write totally differently. And most of the time it works very well, huh. But as an animator, I work in a different way and I don’t structure my scenes the same. For example, when Dracula is in love, a classic screenwriter will make him express it verbally. Me, I make him dance for two minutes. It doesn’t sound like much, but the difference is huge. This is how I like to express ideas or concepts. And when you read my script, it is not necessarily easy to visualize: “Song. He dances and he is happy” (laughs). In short, I wanted to test the writing of my own feature film. I worked with a great screenwriter, Michael McCullers, who immediately saw what I was aiming for.

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You wanted to be free as you are on television?
I didn’t want to fight anymore. The first two were not written by me and when I said that I wanted to shoot a scene in a certain way, Adam Sandler (Editor’s note: which doubles Dracula in VO) or the scriptwriter Robert Smigel had other desires. I was still negotiating. Everyone is creative and talented, but they don’t come from animation, unlike me. I have a very particular vision of things. Often, I wanted to go towards something a little crazy, very cartoon, but I was told to go in the opposite direction. Suddenly, after twenty years of total freedom, I was deprived of it. The thing is, no one is really right or really wrong. It was just a showdown: sometimes I won, sometimes it was them. And it gives a badly balanced film, with two or three different voices. On the second, there should have been a new director more in line with the vision of the studio. And I say it without any animosity, it’s just the reality of things. So the third, I wanted to do it my way.

Today, almost all studios have an animation branch, it has become a major economic issue. Does the multiplication of projects free artistic creation?
For my taste, we are not doing enough different things from each other yet. In the United States in particular, everything looks the same. It’s frustrating, because Asian animation allows you to make horror, drama, comedy … In American animation, you copy as soon as there is a success. So if I were to make a new animated film, I would manage to detonate it. A bit the equivalent of Samurai Jack, but for the big screen. The problem is that if you have a slightly different design for a long one, it must be approved by a committee made up of executives. And they want something reassuring, just average. Go make them understand that it is precisely the difference that makes it good … They should push you: “You can go even further, go for it“But nobody ever says that. In the end, what’s the point of hiring me if not to let me do my job? It’s the eternal battle between art and business.

And box office competition doesn’t help matters, I imagine?
All attention is focused on the opening weekend, except that there are only 52 weekends a year! So every time it has to be the biggest movie of all time. Before, I bothered to pitch ideas for projects at $ 10 million. It’s nothing for them, it’s (he pretends to spit on the ground). And if he brings in fifty million, that’s five times the stake. In my head, it was obvious. But they replied: “No Genndy, you don’t understand. We don’t want to earn 40 million. We want to make a billion with a budget of 200 or 300 million dollars“. I understood then that all my ideas would never be funded.

What is missing then? The equivalent of a production box like Blumhouse which capitalizes on films with low budgets?
Yeah, for example. And again, it would take someone who agrees to spend twenty or thirty million dollars on marketing, otherwise no one will be aware that it is coming out. I decided that I didn’t want to do a little cult thing in my corner that nobody would see. I could, but I want my films to be seen.

There is a real cartoony bias in Transylvania Hotel 3. I have the impression that this is a very strong trend in the United States and that many films return to visual gags.
For me, it never really went away. But you are right. Recent animated films speak much more than before. The reality is that it is harder to do visual humor because a valve well written in a dialogue works immediately. A visual gag, you can watch it, you can’t read it. My scripts are a horror to read, because you have to imagine everything. For example, the studio did not understand my script for the film at all Popeye. I had to make a storyboard for them to understand. It’s very hard to sell a cartoon style without drawing entire scenes.

Genndy Tartakovsky’s animated film Popeye comes to life

You are really done with Popeye ?
Yes, I quickly moved on. It was during the Sony hack, suddenly there were a lot of departures, the executives changed. And then Popeye is very well known, but at the same time it smells a bit of mothballs according to some. Let’s say I don’t have a makeover with sunglasses and a cap inside out (laughs). He still wore a t-shirt and jeans, but Popeye’s soul was intact. They wanted “the new generation Popeye”. Except that I was not going to do that, because I love the character too much. We quickly realized that it couldn’t work. They make a YouTube series if I understood correctly. Well…

Do you have projects in preparation?
I have a few things on the go. I’m going to write a film for Sony and certainly a TV series at the same time. We’ll see how it goes.

You saw the extracts from Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Who was presented in Annecy? I thought it should speak to you.
It’s very cool and I like that they try something daring graphically. It is quite unique what they do. Afterwards, I find that it is very close to an old-fashioned 2D rendering, and there is always something inside me that says: “Really do it by hand!“But if it is, it will open the door to new 2D projects. For a reason that escapes me, it’s always a dirty word in the industry.

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