Earlier this summer, Sheridan graduate David Soren made history when he became the first person at DreamWorks to create, write and direct a feature-length animated film. Curious to learn more about the art of storytelling, I asked Soren to share some of his insights with me when he was in town promoting his film Turbo.
“Whether you’re directing animated or live action films, the job of the director is to try to get people to care about the characters in your story. Every creative decision should be geared towards that goal” explained Soren. “Turbo is an underdog story. To help audiences develop an emotional investment, you need to create moments that allow them to root for your hero.”
“To help audiences develop an emotional investment, you need to create moments that allow them to root for your hero” – David Soren
While Soren did not get accepted the first time he applied to Sheridan, he persisted and completed the Animation Program at the head of his class. “I went to Sheridan because I wanted to tell stories – and I wanted to do it through the medium of animation.” Soren was recruited by DreamWorks after graduation and over the years, he has even returned to Sheridan as a DreamWorks representative to help recruit other budding stars to the company. Soren recruited Jon Klassen, who upon leaving DreamWorks has achieved great acclaim as a children’s book author and illustrator.
Soren added, “The great thing about having the writing credit is that it allowed me to influence who was selected to provide the voices for the film. From the outset when I was developing the characters, I knew that I wanted Ryan Reynolds, Snoop Dogg and Samuel Jackson, and thankfully we got them.”
Soren also appointed a number of other ‘first-timers’ to major roles on the film including the head of story, editor and the production designer. “They were the best people for the job,” he declared. At least 11 Sheridan grads worked on the movie.
Among the nicest feedback he’s gotten so far has been an observation by the film’s composer, Henry Jackman. “Henry pulled me aside after a screening and said ‘Wow. This is a character story, cleverly disguised as a big summer blockbuster.’” During the production process, Soren also met Steven Spielberg, who gave him “phenomenal notes on the film – a summary of his invaluable instincts. He told me I’d done a wonderful job directing the movie. He loved the ending. He also told me that I’d achieved my emotional pay-off at the end, but there were moments in the middle where I was being unnecessarily earnest and could just be more entertaining. I went back to the editing room, trimmed what wasn’t needed, and made sure each scene added to the pay-off or was just more fun.”
Soren has enjoyed seeing the audience’s reaction first-hand during the film’s promotional tour in Barcelona, Los Angeles, New York and Toronto. “The third act of the movie culminates in a big race – you can really feel that the audience is tense, that they’re pulling for Turbo and on the edge of their seats. It’s an amazing experience to see their emotional investment in the characters.”
He also chuckled that he knew he had a winner when his film passed the crucial ‘popcorn test’ with his own young kids. “Normally when I take them to the movies, they start squirming when the popcorn runs out. But this time, they stayed hooked on the film long after the snacks were gone.”
Pictured throughout the story: Images of Turbo, courtesy of DreamWorks
Written by: Christine Szustaczek, Director of Corporate Communications and External Relations at Sheridan College.