Gasps radiated around the room as Disney screenwriter Jared Bush shared that he wrote more than 700 drafts of the screenplay for the upcoming Disney movie “Moana.”
“An animated movie at Disney takes about four to five years to make,” Bush said. “To get to this point, it takes hundreds of people and thousands of hours, but it always starts with a single thing, and that’s the passion of the filmmakers and the kernel of a story that they want to tell.”
Bush, who is also the co-writer of “Zootopia,” spoke to an audience of more than 100 students in the Digital Media Arts Center Cloobeck Screening Room on Oct. 27 about his involvement in the process of making “Moana,” a story about a young princess who sets out to save her people. Bush also teased the audience with new preview clips and scenes of the movie.
Before the filmmaking process began, Bush said directors Ron Clements and John Musker took a research trip to the Pacific Islands to learn more about the culture. That trip changed the entire vision of the movie.
“(Clements and Musker) met a lot of people along the way: anthropologists, fishermen, linguists, tattooists, dancers, elders,” Bush said. “A lot of these people became part of a group of advisors for our film called the Oceanic Story Trust. They helped keep our story grounded with respect to the culture. Literally every draft of the scripts that I wrote were sent to the Oceanic Story Trust to help us with story ideas, to help our design choices. ‘Moana’ would definitely not be the film it is without them.”
The trip also produced a quote from a man the directors met on Mo’orea, a South Pacific island in the French Polynesian archipelago, about making a film that included Oceanic culture. This quote became the guiding compass of the movie:
“For years, we have been swallowed by your culture. For once, can you be swallowed by ours?”
Bush said the entire crew thought about that quote every day and some even kept it written down in their offices.
Bush also noted the importance of finding the right cast for the movie, especially for the role of Moana. After auditioning thousands of girls, the production team found the “strength and fearlessness of Moana” in 15-year-old Auli’i Cravalho.
Once all these pieces were put together, Bush said the story process took off.
“I typically go off for two or three days to write. I’m not trying to write the whole movie, sometimes it’s just five or 10 pages. I bring it in as fast as possible, super crappy, and the reason we all do that is because we want to be wrong as fast as possible,” Bush said. “No one’s precious about showing someone very scribbly artwork or underdeveloped scripts because you still get a sense of who the characters are and the dynamic between the characters. Sometimes, there’s something really great and then we can finesse that.”
Senior digital arts major Blake Garnsey said he jumped at the chance to see the presentation.
“I expected more of a focus on just the screenwriting process itself, but I was glad that we got to see entire scenes from the new movie,” Garnsey said. “Hearing stories from Jared about the incredible research trips that went into this new film was super inspiring for an artist getting into animation like myself.”
While the room was full of excited students and faculty, some missed the presentation because the screening room reached capacity.
“I thought it was in Folino (Theater) so I went over there until I realized I was in the wrong place,” said ‘16 alumna Jillian Strong. “They cut off the line at the couple right in front of me. If I had gotten here just a few minutes earlier, I could’ve made it in.”
For the lucky students who did make it inside, some were able to ask him questions after the presentation, including how he knows when to stop messing with a story.
“We have a rule at Disney and that is that movies are never finished, just released,” Bush responded. “It’s a luxury, but we get to work up to the last second.”
The Panther sat down with Bush to talk more about “Moana.” Read about it here.