Cars 3: Director Brian Fee and Producer Kevin Reher Discuss Following John Lasseter’s Footsteps, Voice Casting and Easter Eggs

– by Gig Patta

CARS 3 proved the franchise still has plenty of gas in the tank. The filmed opened over the weekend with strong box office numbers and reviews. The Pixar magic is still definitely there with their newest addition.

Here’s the official synopsis:

Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician with her own plan to win, inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet, and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!

The voice cast includes Owen Wilson, Cristela Alonzo, Chris Cooper, Nathan Fillion, Larry the Cable Guy and Armie Hammer.

LRM sat down with the filmmakers director Brian Fee and Kevin Reher. They gave us a lot of insight taking the wheel to the franchise after John Lasseter’s direction in CARS and CARS 2. They also told use on how they cast the voice talent, animation and most importantly revealed certain Easter Eggs from the movie.

CARS 3 is playing nationwide today.

Read out transcript below and check out CARS 3 today!

LRM: Wow. You guys had a big weekend. It’s a lot of promotion for CARS 3.

Brian Fee: We spent six years making it, so now we get to talk about it. [Laughter]

LRM: Let me start with this. This is your first film. It’s especially the fact that you jumped right into a Pixar film. How did you managed to get this great project of CARS 3 to land on your desk?

Kevin Reher: I knew first. [Laughter]

Brian Fee: I didn’t.

Kevin Reher: They came to me and said, “Can this guy direct a movie?” I said, “Yes, he can.” It’s almost like Cruz in the movie who said, “Good luck!” [Laughter] I said, “Good luck, Brian!”

Brian Fee: You’re right. I have never directed anything. When I say anything, I really mean anything. Not even a student film.

I’ve worked with John [Lasseter] very closely. I came in on the original CARS movie. I think John trusted me with these characters. I’ve really never asked him. I like to think he felt like I cared about the characters. The stories are very personal to me. I like to think he knew my sensibilities and certain sense of trust for it.

So when he asked me…let me rephrase that...he told me that I would be directing this movie. There’s that moment in which you just wanted to scream. You’re talking about a major, major film. People would probably would have killed me for this opportunity. They have worked for their whole lives trying to be directors. I’ve never even tried to be a director. I tried to do a good job being a story artist.

Kevin Reher: Brian was the head of story at the time. He is also a really good story teller, and we knew that. That’s the reason on why he got the nod.

Brian Fee: I’ve screamed inside my head for five minutes. I just needed to get it out. Get it out. Get it out. Roll up my sleeves and let’s go to work. I wanted to tell their story. I didn’t know how to direct a movie, but I’ll learn. I’ll figure it out. I have the studio support. We got the best people in the business behind me.

Kevin Reher: The other thing is that every department that Brian became involved with--we have these wonderful leads. Every opinion that Brian has is always in service of the story. The leads appreciate it that the shots should be this way, because this is going to push the story more or the animator needs to remember this since it’s in service of the story. Everything is really in service of the story.

Brian Fee: That’s really my job. I keep reminding everybody on the story we’re telling. It’s to push them to get it on screen to really help us tell the story.

LRM: Was there a pressure to follow John Lasseter’s footsteps after CARS and CARS2?

Brian Fee: No. That was the screaming part. [Laughs]

Kevin Reher: The cold sweats at night.

Brian Fee: Y’know, the best things I’ve learned early on is to figure out on what you don’t know. It was a lot. I can go to the right people and asked for help, so I can learn the things I needed to learn as soon as possible.

Kevin Reher: In terms of story, Andrew Stanton used to say, “Fail fast!” Get it up. Make sure it’s wrong. Take your lumps. Figure it out. But, figure it the fastest.

Brian Fee: You’re going to get it wrong. Just get it out of the way.

LRM: Obviously, being at Pixar, you have a lot of resources with other directors and producers.

Kevin Reher: They were very helpful. They were very collaborative.

Brian Fee: I would have lunch with the other directors as often as I could. Each of them offered me a different viewpoint on the job.

Kevin Reher: What’s it like to work with Randy Newman for example.

Brian Fee: Of course, John. I sought a lot of advice from John. He was always right there whenever we needed him.

LRM: Let’s talk about the new movie CARS 3. For any type of sequel, there will always be introductions to new characters. Talk about the development of the new characters. Also, how do you manage to find the right voices for these new characters.

Kevin Reher: You want to go first? [Gestures to Brian Fee]

Brian Fee: The characters always come out of the story. While through the course of the movie, we have characters that we created, we loved and then they no longer fit in the movie. Some of the sequences are not important anymore. We thought we were going over here, but we were going over there.

There are deleted characters. We only to include great characters for what the story needs.

Kevin Reher: We try not to tell actors that we’ve not eliminated the part. What we’ll do, Natalie Lyon and I, is to create a list of ten names that fit the character description. Sometimes it’s a lot less like I’m such a huge Lea DeLaria fan. I was like, “Brian, you got to put her as Miss Fritter.” We actually asked her to audition and she read some lines in the way that was Miss Fritter.

I don’t think anybody really said no. Kerry Washington said yes. Armie Hammer said yes. Especially with the side characters, you have to get it immediately. There’s not enough screen time to do a back story on Natalie Certain on where she came from. When Kerry opens her mouth, you know she’s the smartest car in the room.

Brian Fee: We look for people that is going to service the role. We look for that voice and personality who could bring something new to it.

Kevin Reher: Like Cristela [Alonzo].

Brian Fee: Which is well beyond than we originally thought. We hoped it happen and it does. When you cast it right--the character jumps off the screen in the ways you hadn’t planned.

Kevin Reher: You then have to depend on the writing to make the character popped. That’s tougher on the writer.

LRM: You mentioned that Cristela was a perfect fit.

Brian Fee: Yeah, she’s perfect.

Kevin Reher: She’s a perfect fit, because she didn’t sound too feminine. She didn’t sound too old. She also brought the comedic part of it. She’s one of the funniest people around. And soulful!

Brian Fee: Soulful, yeah.

Kevin Reher: She was very giving of her backstory--being born in a Texas border town. Having dreams of being a performer, but having…

Brian Fee: Not having a lot of opportunities.

Kevin Reher: We have incorporated a lot of that into her character.

LRM: Did you want to keep the same look like the previous movies?

Brian Fee: We wanted it to feel like…well, we have better technology today. We always want our movies to look like the best as they can. We don’t want the movie to look like it came out in 2006. Nobody wants the movie to look like it came out in 2006. We could do things today that we couldn’t do back then.

We wanted to create the same world you think you remembered it. Now you’re looking at it through a better pair of glasses.

LRM: Now everybody is going to ask about Easter Eggs. The obvious one…well, it’s very obvious. The Pizza Rocket. That’s very obvious. How many Easter Eggs did you managed to put in the movie?

Kevin Reher: The art department managed to put in Easter Eggs into the movie that we don’t even know. Sterling’s office is A113. It’s the Cal Arts room that John Lasseter, Tim Burton and Henry Selick had classes in.

Brian Fee: On Sterling’s trophy wall, you’ll find…this is definitely one of my personal Easter Eggs. You’ll see Sterling has all these favorite trophies on his wall. The Cinderella’s pumpkin chariot is there. Technically speaking, it’s a car! That’s why it’s one of my favorites. [Laughs]

It’s out of focus a lot. Once you know it’s there, then you’ll see it. Pixar ball is definitely there in the movie.

Kevin Reher: We have a nod to COCO. There’s always a nod to the next movie. When one of the next generation cars said, “Are you homesick?” It’s actually an image from COCO.

LRM: Oh, really?

Kevin Reher: And there’s the soundtrack from COCO.

Brian Fee: There’s also another COCO reference. Let’s just say there’s a certain guitar from COCO. If you look carefully, you’ll might be able to see in the scene with Sweat Tea while she’s saying on stage.

LRM: Everyone looks at Pixar in their own different view. I want to know in your personal opinion on what is defined as Pixar magic.

Kevin Reher: To me, Pixar magic is when you see one of our movies--there are a couple of things. One, there is the topical humor. Hopefully, your children and your children’s children will throw in the DVD and go, “I loved this movie when I was a kid.” Also, you will always come away with some kind of emotional response.

I think this film, Cruz and the ending of our movie has all of that.

Brian Fee: I think for me it’s the emotional response. We expect it, but it still always sneak up on you. I love these Pixar movies.

Kevin Reher: Our images our beautiful. I think our shading, lighting tools and everything else makes our movies beautiful.

Brian Fee: We spend a lot of resources and a lot a time [to these films]. It’s not about putting something good enough on to the screen. We will take every second until we literally run out of time to keep moving the movie. We could save a lot money by not doing that. It’s about putting the best image up there. It’s about letting the audience gain the best experience.

Kevin Reher: We finished animation and our writer, Mike Rich, called in and said, “I have a note.” He said that we need a moment that Cruz acknowledges on what McQueen had given her and McQueen acknowledges on what she had achieved. It’s that wonderful moment at the end of the race.

We called animation and told them, “Don’t hang out your sign yet.” [Laughs] We needed another shot. And they put another shot into the movie.

Brian Fee: Randy was in the middle of writing the score for that. We had to call him up and say, “Your picture is not locked in anymore.” We’re adding a new beat and it’s really important. It’s what the whole movie was leading up towards.

We were able to play it silently. It leaves the whole score to do all of the talking. The characters barely moved. It’s a great note. For all the trouble we put the departments through, even though it’s late--it was all worth it. We could and we did.

LRM: Well, thank you very much for this conversation.

CARS 3 is playing nationwide in theaters today.

Film, Interviews, LRM Exclusives Cars 3, Brian Fee, Kevin Reher