Spies In Disguise: Round Table Interviews With Directors Nick Bruno And Troy Quane

Greetings readers! @Indy_Filmmaker here, back with some more filmmaker goodness for your daily lives. This time it comes in the form of the two directors of Fox’s Spies In Disguise, Nick Bruno and Troy Quane. I traveled to Pasadena, CA, recently to speak with them both as part of a round table interview. So, without further ado: 

Interviewer: Can you guys talk about how this came about. It’s based on a book or something?

Nick Bruno: Oh, so it was originally there was a short called Pigeon Impossible by Lucas Martell, that was just a simple, funny little idea of a spy trying to have his lunch and a pigeon keeps getting in the way. And that was basically the inspiration to build off of and build this idea of what would be more annoying than having a pigeon interrupt a spy’s lunch is if the spy got turned into a pigeon. You’re always looking for ways to make things get bigger and bigger and bigger. And so we both read a first draft of the script of 2013 and fell in love with the idea of getting to make a big fun spy movie. And then at its heart, it really was a story about these two characters, odd couple, who have to sort of save each other in order to save the world and it’s had a, as much fun and action that it had, it had a really great heartfelt message behind it, and that was really appealing. Especially because we both have kids and families and it’s something we try and tell them all the time like they play sports, you know, you’ve got to work together. Team is more than one person and that was really the genesis of the film.

Interviewer: How’d you get two of the-, two biggest stars, Will Smith and Tom Holland, to get on board?

Nick Bruno: That’s a very good question. You know when we started, especially with Will, right, when we were modeling and and coming up with the character of Lance Sterling, we knew we had to have somebody that would stand up against James Bond and James Bourne, Ethan Hunt. And we look back to the heroes that we had growing up and Will Smith was one of them. So we made this character like Will Smith and when it came time to saying who do we want to get? We were like, “I’d love to get Will Smith. Can we do that?” They’re like, “Well, we’ll ask.” Right? 

So we got a, we got a meeting with him and I’ll tell you to this day like we were about to pass out. Cause this is our hero growing up. But you know, obviously it went very well. But I think it’s, again, it’s because of the message we had, you know. We know that this is the first time many kids are going to see a spy movie. Right. And we felt there was a responsibility to say something with that in a world where everyone’s fighting fire with fire, this movie is really about people, despite their different philosophies, working together. And I think he was really touched by that and that’s-, was the most important thing for all of us.

Troy Quane: Yeah. Casting’s the biggest part. I mean, as hard as it was to cast a character like Lance who’s kind of cocky and charismatic, but you want to cheer for him. But at some point you go, “No Lance, no!”, you needed someone to do that and Will Smith was the guy. And on the other side you’ve got Walter, his gadget guy who’s a little socially awkward, a little shy but super smart, but a little naive. And that could go, you know, you don’t want to come across as being silly. So that was a really complex sort of conglomeration of ideas we had for the other character. 

As soon as we met with Tom and heard his voice, I mean he brings such sincerity and I think that’s Walter’s super power. He’s such a sincere character. He really does believe in something and he’s willing to go the distance for that. And so it was really important to find someone who who’s charming, funny and sincere. And as soon as we heard Tom, we were like, that is, that is the guy. So same thing. We pitched him the idea and he just loved what we were saying. He loved the comedy of it. He thought it was ridiculous with a pigeon and all the best ways. But he really liked the idea of, you know, we’re strong together by bringing, you know, even though Lance is amazing on his own, he’s better with the team. And so they, they both got behind it. They’ve been amazing collaborative partners ever since.

Interviewer: Let me ask you this: Being people that create animated films, if you were the spy, what kind of animal would you be as a spy?

Troy Quane: I’d be a pigeon! Come on! No, no. Are you kidding me? Pigeons are like the perfect spy. That’s the genius of, of Walter’s crazy idea. I mean, you can fly really fast, right? Pigeons fly up to 92.7 miles an hour. The only bird that can catch them as a Peregrine Falcon, so that’s pretty awesome. The Pigeons can bank. They’ve got eyes on the side of their head, which means they can see in almost 360 degrees. No one is going to sneak up on you if you can see behind you. That’s why Lance says, “I can see your face and my butt at the same time.” It’s a pretty good superpower. They can see UV light, right? So that means, you know, they believe they can see infrared. So you’re not going to get tripped up by sensors and everything like that. And pigeons are everywhere in the world. They’re in every major city. So no one’s going to notice a pigeon when there’s a hundred other ones around you. 

Interviewer: What are three lessons you would like families, kids, parents to walk away learning from?

Troy Quane: The big idea that brought both of us on this movie was the idea of teamwork, right? Lance is a guy who flies solo. He’s strong, he’s amazing, he’s capable. There’s no one better. And yet, turning him into a bird was the idea to strip all that away. So he would really learn that he’s stronger with the help of the other birds in the flock, with the help of Walter. And I think we could all-, if we could all come together. And that’s really the second, which is all Walter’s idea. Like there’s a better way to solve our problems than how we tend to solve them, which is with violence, right? As soon as you do a violent act, you draw a line and you put someone else on the other side of it. Just by nature of it. If we can just, you know, break that down, find another way, reach across. You get rid of that line and visit. It doesn’t mean there’s-, people do good things or bad things. There is, but there’s a better way of dealing with it. And then the third thing is looking at Walter again, you know, Walter’s a guy who comes across as a little weird, you know. He’s got the big ideas, he’s got crazy ideas. I mean, he wants to turn a man into a pigeon. Which sounded crazy until I told you how cool pigeons were.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Troy Quane: And that’s the power of Walter, right? Like that, weird is only weird until it isn’t, right?

Interviewer: Right.

Troy Quane: Weird is only weird until you go, wait a minute, that’s actually a great idea. So if we can sort of say like, you know, someone may come across with the idea that seems crazy or seems different, but if we can not judge it right away, but look at the merits of what that is, that would be, that would be another amazing thing.

Interviewer: Yeah, and also leads to my next question, which is like being weird and be accepted, which is a message of the movie. Did you guys have any situation, like weird situation that inspired you?

Nick Bruno: Yeah. Yeah. I mean my son does the voice of little Walter in the movie, but some of that inspiration was also, my son is weird. And I say that with all the love in the world because he’s, he’s different. He thinks different, he acts different. And those are real conversations you end up having with your son as a father. Cause sometimes he goes, “Why am I-,like, I don’t like the same things other people like and that’s what makes me weird.” I was like, but that’s also what makes you you and that’s what makes you special and different. And, you know, I think I think it’s super important for us as parents to also be able to see that and let kids be them. I think Will says it very well where it’s like as parents, we’re just supposed to let that seed grow and bloom into whatever flower that’s supposed to be. And I think he said that very well. And that was a very important message for us as well.

Troy Quane: And I think everyone at some point has felt that idea of like not feeling part of something or feeling a little outside, right? I didn’t realize everyone was wearing like blue today and I wore green. It can be a small thing, but everyone has had that experience of feeling like they’re a little outside of something. So I think it’s fairly universal thing if we’re all honest with ourselves.

Interviewer: I’ve never seen a movie where the animation looked like the actor. Were you going to do that only if it was Will or for anybody who played it?

Nick Bruno: No, no. In fact the characters were designed before we fully locked all that stuff into a place. But what happens is the animators back at blue sky are an amazing team. And when you have, when you have those, those actors, what they do is they really study their mannerisms and we study the movies that they’re in and we find ways that even like when we record them, they’ll do a little bit of acting on screen too. So like we’ll bring that back and the animators will find those mannerisms and put them in. So the characters will feel more like the actors than they actually look.

Interviewer: But these look like the actors.

Nick Bruno:

Just a little bit. I mean if you- 

Interviewer: I can look at it and say, “That’s Will Smith.”

Troy Quane: It’s amazing and I’m happy you said that. Yeah. But it really is just a-. I think in our heads, I mean this, we, we’re seriously lucky on this movie to get all our of our first choice casting on every character, which that is a rare, that’s a rare thing. And I, we are so excited. I mean, so I think probably in our heads we had these characters in mind and, and then we’d found those actors who sort of identified with them the best way. But it’s, yeah.

Nick Bruno: They’re both adorable though, that’s for sure.

Troy Quane: Maybe that’s what it is. We made adorable characters. We found adorable actors. It all worked out.

Interviewer: How much fun did you guys have doing the kind of the James Bond spy stuff, especially with like the intro, which is, I kept thinking the Casino Royale intro.

Troy Quane: That was, that was a huge part of it. I mean, we call this a have your cake and eat it too project because we love spy movies. I mean the question is usually, “Did you watch a lot of spy movies to research those moves?” Like, “No, I watched a lot of spy movies cause I love watching spy movies.” I mean every time a new Bond movie comes out, they play all the reruns of all the old ones and I’m there on the couch with my popcorn. So yeah, it really is a love letter to all those spy movies and all those spy characters, you know, we love and then just putting our own twist onto it. But like Nick had mentioned, this hopefully is one of the first movies a family gets to go see a spy movie together. So you want to have those little nods that the parents can, can wink at and say, “Oh I remember, I know where that’s a little nod to that.” But then also have it accessible to the kids and people who are seeing it for the first time. So you’re not reliant on having to know those tropes, but you get to enjoy them.

Interviewer: What are the challenges of making a children’s animated spy movie?

Troy Quane: Well, that’s a very good question. Right? I think, you know, one of the challenges is, was part of our messaging, right? There’s definitely a message that’s against violence, right? But there’s also-. Because we take that stand, you have to depict that to a certain extent. And for us it was very important that we didn’t glorify violence in any way and that, but it’s still, it’s there in the world. So we making it feel grounded so you can really feel the real stakes in the movie. But at the same time making it seem really fun and silly. It’s a challenge.

Nick Bruno: And making it accessible, right? Like, a kid may not see themselves in Daniel Craig, but hopefully, you know, the pigeons or Walter. You find other avenues that they can identify with and then they come into the story. And I think that’s the biggest thing. To make it all audiences to just that accessibility and that sincerity so that, you know, like I said, whether you’ve been called weird or not, you understand what that feels like.

Troy Quane: I think one of the thing I’m really proud of is I think my sons will go into this movie wanting to be a Lance Sterling, but then being very proud that they’re a Walter.

What stuck with me was the film’s emotional themes at the center. Turning the violent spy genre into something heartwarming is a brilliant idea and one I wish I would see more amongst the Hollywood factory of violence. 

Now over to you! Has this interview mare you want to see the film? Let us know below!

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