New To The Driver’s Seat: A Few Minutes with Brian Fee to Talk About ‘Cars 3’

Posted in Blu-Ray/DVD, Interviews, Movies by - November 09, 2017
New To The Driver’s Seat: A Few Minutes with Brian Fee to Talk About ‘Cars 3’

I’ve always imagined it difficult to jump into a franchise, and anywhere else it probably would be.

The Disney/Pixar machine keeps rolling on with such massive results it’s hard not to wonder how they pull it off every single time.  With Cars 3 hitting DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand from all major retailers and providers this week I got the unique pleasure to sit down with writer/director Brian Fee as he told this next chapter in the saga of Lightning McQueen that just managed to hit all the right buttons.

Brian gave us a glimpse about how he came up the ranks at Pixar, how nervous he was sitting in the director’s chair, the unique support system there during the filmmaking process and so much more…


Dave Voigt: I’m really quite curious because anyone who tends to take over the reins of an animated franchise always seems to be someone who comes up the ranks in the company to ultimately sit in that director’s chair for the first time.  I’d love to know what you feel the entire Disney/Pixar experience gives you towards ultimately helming a film for the first time.

Brian Fee: Well I started out as a story artist on the first Cars film and I worked with John (Lasseter) on that and many other films but for me I think that working in the story department and watching the other directors work and there is an element to it that if Pixar was running its own film school then I would say that I was attending it.  Plus personally for me I would say that working in the story department you are a mini-director of sorts at least for a little while.  While you are working on any given scene you are essentially the director of that scene, until your scene gets reviewed by the director.  You learn the basics of animation, of acting, you learn how to edit because you are making all of those decisions and sometimes your even doing character design because you’ll be boarding a scene for any given character and just no one has even drawn it yet!  At least for a tiny little while you get to learn having control over all the aspects of the moments that are being created and to see how it all works.

That’s the kind of experience that you just put in your back pocket because I had been working on in development and one day John called me into his office and basically told me that he wanted me to direct the film.  I don’t really know if there’s a path or a process to get to the spot that I found myself on this movie because everybody’s career path will always go a little bit differently for whatever reason, because to be honest I’m not entirely sure myself how I got the job! (Laughs)  It may have just come down to a comfort level that John has with me and my work that allowed me to take care of his baby and raise it.

DV: Describe that moment getting a call from John Lasseter to direct your first feature, I’ve got to imagine that it’s a once in a lifetime kind of moment.

BF: Oh it is…but it’s also a little terrifying.  I mean I had never directed a film before and there really is so much more that comes with that job, a lot of stuff that I’ve just never done but at the same time it really is such an honor to be able to get the opportunity to direct a feature film.  At that exact moment when he called me in and told me I’d say that I was jumping for joy and screaming in absolute terror all inside my head at the exact same time! (Laughs)…and then you just roll up your sleeves and go to work.  Truly the wonderful thing about it all was that John and Pixar DO give opportunities; it’s how they built themselves into such a powerhouse.  It was to my benefit that he was willing to take a chance on me, because really he didn’t know for sure or have any clue if it would all work out, but he was willing to take a risk because I could have easily been the worst decision he had ever made (laughs).  And in return for his faith I was willing to do whatever it took to learn how to do the job.

The first thing I really had to embrace was that I really had no idea how to do the job, so I had to make a point of sitting down with all of the in-house directors and learn as much as can and ask for as much help as I can.

DV: It’s kind of remarkable to see the whole process of it all because like you said it really was ‘On The Job’ training and I can’t think of any other studio out there that has such a built support system and network to get it all done.

BF: Yeah, I mean literally John is just down the hall, and while I obviously can’t just go over and knock on his door he’s always involved at every stage and I feel so fortunate to be able to lean on him as a mentor.  We would even have disagreements on story, but always healthy ones that we could work through to find a middle ground.  John was never a controlling kind of influence on our movie making process but he was always there for us if we ever hit any road blocks and it was just all such a great experience.

DV: Is there something throughout this whole journey that you learned that maybe you didn’t anticipate going in?

BF: One of the big things that I think I learned was from Andrew Stanton was just because these things are really SO difficult to make and we always have these internal screenings where we watch them and then all the directors go into these ‘brain trust’ meetings and you see your films imploding in front of your eyes which just happens to us all and these geniuses all ask “What do you do next?” and Andrew pulled me aside and told me that you really just don’t have to be a genius…it probably helps! (Laughs)  But Andrew taught me that as a director, it’s not ALL on your shoulders.  You have a crew around you, you’ve surrounded yourself with very smart people and be sure to empower them to come up with solutions and help you solve these problems that you come across making a movie like this one on a daily basis.  You’ve got to make it together.  The director has to drive the ship and have the ultimate vision but you have to have to community effort to really get it to where it needs to be.

DV: And you know I think that’s really what allowed the film to have the right tone as well because these really felt like it was the appropriate chapter to tell in the story of Lightning McQueen and it’s not something that would have come off nearly as well if it had come from someone outside of Pixar because you needed to know the material back to front and in your sleep to really make sure it was right.

BF: Oh I totally agree with you!  I mean if you hire someone from the outside to do this movie, I’m sure it would have been fine but for me it really was a labour of love because I had worked on all the films and the first Cars in particular was my first picture at Pixar and these characters really are like family to me.  I think that’s why one of the reasons why John put me in this role because he knew that I had an affection for these characters and the story that we were trying to tell.

Cars 3 is now available on DVD, Blu-Ray and On Demand from all major retailers and providers.

Cars 3 [Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD] (Bilingual)

This post was written by

David Voigt, has been a lover of cinema all his life and an actual underpaid critic for a solid 5 years covering everything that the city of Toronto has to offer. He was a content manager in video distribution industry before that and his love of all things cinema goes back to his first moments in awe looking up at the big screen. His 12 years of experience on the home entertainment side of the business have provided him with a unique view on what is worth spending your hard earned entertainment dollars on. Combine that with his unquestioned love of film, David should be your only stop to find out about the best in film, not only in Toronto, but worldwide.