How Coco Director Lee Unkrich Found Gold – Variety

When Lee Unkrich was 12 years old, he saw “The Shining” for the first time. He remembers less about the screening than what happened soon after, which set in motion a lifelong obsession with Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece.

On his way to summer camp, Unkrich bought a movie tie-in version of Stephen King’s novel. “There were shots of Wendy making breakfast in the kitchen,” he tells Variety. “I realized that wasn’t the scene that was in the movie. And it bugged me—I wanted to know more about that world.

For Unkrich, a 25-year Pixar veteran, that deleted scene would spawn decades of collecting Kubrick ephemera, a stream of Easter eggs in his work from “Toy Story 2” to “Coco,” a website cataloging his discoveries, and now ” Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, 12 years the completed, 2,200-page account of the making of Kubrick’s film, to be published by Taschen on March 17.

Unkrich had unfettered access to Kubrick’s archives and worked with the late JW Rinzler to gather hundreds of photographs, production details and interviews with virtually every available cast and crew member. The result is a road map through the maze-like history of one of the most carefully researched films of all time. “Most people have needle-dropping sounds and stories they’ve told over the years,” says Unkrich. “I showed them photos, and that’s when the stories just started flowing.”

Deleted shot of Wendy Torrance taking Polaroids of Danny in the middle of the bush maze.

For Dan Lloyd, who was just 4 years old when he auditioned for the role of Danny Torrance, the book encapsulated memories he wasn’t sure really happened. “There’s a picture of me and my supervisor and Leon (Vitali, Kubrick’s longtime assistant who died in 2022) working, walking backwards in my footsteps as Danny tricks Jack in the maze,” says Lloyd. “To a 5-year-old brain, it feels like we’ve been working on it for months.”

Although her memories of the experience are faint, Lloyd says everyone on set was fiercely protective of her, especially when it came to filming the scariest scenes. “I would estimate that we were in England for over a year, but I think I only worked for probably 60 days. And there were definitely days when I wasn’t supposed to be in the studio,” he recalls. “Not just on set, but just don’t come in — don’t even accidentally drop by — because they were going to do something scary.”

Unsurprisingly, Lloyd’s most vivid memories are of the things he was able to do as children that tested the usual limits of parental tolerance, although he says his parents were always there to supervise.

“I have pretty good memories of riding a trike – I remember being excited because I was riding inside,” he says. “They kept trying to figure out how they were going to make the shot and it couldn’t be a dummy shot because of the rollers. But since they were experimenting, I had more and more time to ride.

Unkrich says Vitali was particularly helpful in unearthing bits of history that had never been discussed publicly.

“I had a photo of Danny and his brother sitting with Vivian Kubrick in the back garden at Elstree, and there’s a guy in the background. It wasn’t until I sat down with Leon and brought that picture up and he said, ‘That’s Werner Herzog,’” he recalls. “It then led to a whole story about Werner Herzog convincing Stanley that the sound of Danny’s tricycle going back and forth across the hardwood floor and the carpet sounded really cool because Stanley was worried it wouldn’t sound good.”

Makeup artist Tom Smith and an assistant fix actress Billie Gibson’s hair.

Garrett Brown, the inventor of the Steadicam who shot Sylvester Stallone running up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in John Avildsen’s “Rocky,” was just beginning to build an army of camera operators who could use the device when Kubrick tapped him. to capture the corridors of the Overlook Hotel with fluid smoothness.

“Stanley had a 2CV Citroën stripped down – took out the engine and the frame and everything, so you just had a seat, a steering wheel and a little platform for the camera,” says Brown. “Because the suspension is so amazingly sloppy, he hoped that if you pushed it into the aisles it would allow the camera, but the results were disastrous.”

“There was no other option than Steadicam to navigate these huge spaces,” he continues. “(But) it became absurd at times in the maze. If an onlooker knew what we were doing, they would be amazed. I walked through dairy salt eight inches deep on styrofoam with over a thousand watt lights on thoroughly dried pine needles. We were all afraid of fire all the time, constantly creaking in my rotting boots at one hundred Fahrenheit -degree salt. And it was oil smoke, illegal now but legal then. We inhaled it for three months to get that fog. And then you look at the last shot, and my God, it looks amazing.

Looking back on the production also reminded him of a few jobs he didn’t take. “I turned down (‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’) for very bad reasons in retrospect and got (Spielberg) the cinematographer. When I saw the film with my son in the theater, I almost had tears running down my cheeks,” she says regretfully. “Steven Spielberg forgave me and I later worked for him , but I made some notoriously bad decisions.”

Using overlapping interviews, Unkrich explored elements of the shoot that have since acquired mythic proportions, such as the relationship between Kubrick and Shelley Duvall, whose disagreements in Vivian Kubrick’s documentary have come to symbolize the director’s strict demands on his collaborators. Diane Johnson, Kubrick’s co-screenwriter, points out that the friction led the filmmaker to focus more on Jack Nicholson’s frustrated writer Jack and treat Duvall’s Wendy more parsimoniously than in King’s book—and indeed, as Johnson would have liked.

“The reason (Wendy) didn’t develop better in the script in the end was because she didn’t get along with Shelley Duvall,” says Johnson. “They just clashed. And so he deleted a lot of her scenes. The dialogue I wrote for Wendy was pretty much (taken from) Stephen King, where he talks like a normal person and has interesting observations and so on. And the reason why he is so hysterical, associated with Kubrick and Duvall.

Kubrick and Duvall in the hotel lobby, dressed for the scene where Wendy Torrance confronts a group of skeleton party guests that was later cut from the final film.

Instead of contesting the various accounts of what happened in the book’s pages, Unkrich tried whenever possible to speak directly to the people involved, especially Duvall, whom he interviewed even before he sat down for a controversial conversation with Dr. Phil in 2016. “Ultimately, the most important person that heard, was Shelley himself,” he says. “And Shelley loves Stanley.”

“I think of it as the story of all the blind men touching the elephant, and each one has only one part, and they describe what they think they’re touching, and none of them have it right because they’re not seeing the whole,” he says. “And I think that’s what happened with that movie, honestly, that people just assume that the whole thing must have been so painful for him.

“Shely says it was a very difficult shoot. And she also says she didn’t necessarily agree with Stanley’s tactics at times to get a performance out of him,” she says. “But she admits she got an amazing performance out of him.”

On the other hand, Unkrich says there were a few details he never got the “real” story about. “The weird moment when the guy in the bear costume kissed me in bed while Shelley was running around? No answers as to why he chose it, he reveals. Even Johnson says he doesn’t know where it came from: “It’s not in King. It wasn’t anything we ever discussed — it came from Kubrick’s imagination, as far as I know.”

Although Johnson had nothing to do with that image or the iconic image of blood pouring from the elevators — “It was already in his mind, or maybe even filmed, so I wasn’t asked to visualize anything,” he says. – his involvement began when Kubrick became interested in what he calls a “theoretical interest in the early 19th-century Gothic novel.”

“And then we started talking about contemporary ghost stories and horror in general,” he says, adding that this more informal approach served their collaboration well, especially since he had no prior experience in screenwriting. “Stanley was very instructive … one of the things he was interested in was the outline – a version of the script as a kind of shorthand for analyzing the dramatic development, the tension, the ending, everything.”

Afterward, Johnson says he was shocked by the ability of film — and the medium — to turn his ideas into what have become indelible cinematic moments. “I wasn’t that aware of the magnifying effect of film,” he says. “When someone says ‘No’ on screen, it’s powerful. When you’re writing a novel, it’s just a word. So I was a little overwhelmed to see it on screen.”

Detail from the Collector’s Edition book Stanley Kubrick’s The Shiningedited by Lee Unkrich, published by TASCHEN, lyrics by JW Rinzler
Courtesy of bags.

Unkrich plans to celebrate the book’s release with a March 17 screening of The Shining at the Academy Museum. Unkrich says he feels a sense of catharsis, but not necessarily a sense of completion. “I’ve already heard one story, and I’ve found one thing visually after we finish the book that I hope to get into a commercial edition or a later edition,” he says. But Unkrich is very happy with what the experience taught him about his filmmaking idol.

“The biggest thing I took away, and this is kinder to me as a filmmaker, was Stanley’s humanity,” he says. “Everyone put Stanley on this pedestal as a great filmmaker, which of course he was. The reality was that he struggled every step of the way. He couldn’t sleep because he was worried that there was a better idea out there that he hadn’t come across. And I can relate to that. , because I’ve been through that in all my films. And I liked that I saw a person, not just an icon.”

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