Ahead of the upcoming Disney+ release of Pixar’s “Lamp Life,” we had the opportunity to interview director Valerie LaPointe and producer Marc Sondheimer about the short that tells more of Bo Peep’s story.
Laughing Place: Thanks so much for taking the time out to chat with me. The short's great. I was just curious as to how it came to be. What was the impetus of the idea?
Valerie LaPointe: When I was asked if I wanted to direct a short, coming off of being the story supervisor in Toy Story 4, they were like, "You can come up with anything off of any of the characters in the film." But for me, it was a no-brainer that the only story left to tell or the big question still remaining at the end of the film for me was “what happened to Bo in that space of time?” What made her go from being on a baby lamp to being a lost toy? There was so much material just left on the cutting room floor of cool ideas that this was the story I wanted to tell.
LP: So you worked on this after you guys completed Toy Story 4?
Valerie: Well, it was still in production, but it was done with story. It was moving forward, getting made, and nearly done when I started developing this idea, and writing it, and pulling it together.
LP: Bo Peep was the breakout star of Toy Story 4, and Annie Potts really gets to shine and show her evolution as a character through this short. What was it like working with her again?
Valerie: Annie Potts is amazing. She's an incredible actor. Her own personality comes through so much in the character. It brings so much life to her voice. It was great. Even when we're recording and going through lines, actors often get it at that moment. They're like, "Okay. What are we doing?" They read it there, and they see what we're making, and yet, in that moment, she gets it. She dives into it. She asks questions. She's looking at some of the lines and asking me, "Well, maybe you should try saying it this way. Maybe that would be closer to what you're trying to get across." I'm like, "Yeah, let's do that. Let's try that." She really sinks into things on a deeper level right away.
LP: So this project, there's been shorts that have been put with the DVD release in the past, but what's nice about this is by debuting on Disney+ separate from the Disney+ debut of Toy Story 4, it's really able to shine on its own, and you really get to focus in on it. I know at Pixar you have other projects such as the Spark Shorts. Can you talk a little bit about what Disney+ means in terms of allowing filmmakers to spread their wings a little bit at Pixar?
Marc Sondheimer: I think as you're saying, as we all know, the DVD market is shrinking and so Disney+ gives us a new opportunity to have filmmakers tell stories that a lot of people are going to get to see. They were a great partner in this and super supportive and encouraging us to tell the story that the filmmakers wanted to tell. It's a nice opportunity for the world as well as for us internally to get to tell these stories and give filmmakers like Val a chance to tell the story.
Valerie: Because something great about what you're saying is how often some of the shorts connected to the features are very, very short. Maybe only three minutes, four minutes, and this is actually over seven minutes. So it gives us the breadth to be able to do that because the format can really be any length of time in streaming, so it's really opening a whole wealth of possibilities.
Marc: Yeah, and budget.
LP: As Walt says, "It takes a lot of money to make these dreams come true," right? Because we've been able to be exposed to more filmmakers, because the breadth of what Disney+ is able to bring. We have learned that in every project, big or small, they learn something about either themselves as people or as filmmakers. What did you learn from the production of “Lamp Life?”
Valerie: Well, for me, taking it on was the first time directing. So I did a lot of intense work and very involved the shaping the story, and on a lot of levels with Toy Story 4, whether it's in the edit room or writing, coming up with ideas, but this was the first time I came up with the idea, wrote it myself, directed it. So I was diving into this like, "Okay. Everyone's turning and looking at me saying, 'What do you want to do?'" While that can be like, "Wow, okay." It was great. For me, it was a huge learning experience with every other department and a great team guiding me through that whether it's animation or lighting. And really getting an up-close experience with seeing how much everyone else brings to the film in their part of the process.
We always say “story is king,” and this is where we find it. That's very true on a lot of levels, but once we know that core story, everyone else is still bringing their piece to it too that truly brings it to life. The performance or the storytelling through the lighting, the effects bringing humor and entertainment. That was just an amazing experience.
LP: Can you talk a little bit about your story with Pixar? I know you've been there for quite some time. How did you start and what journey did you go through there?
Valerie: I started in 2006. The first year Pixar started the Story Internship Program, which is a little more like a training program, I came out of graduate school at USC and came here for that. And started full-time in 2007 as a story artist. I've worked on Brave, “Mater's Tall Tales,” “Presto.” The thing I was probably the most excited about and then when I finally got a chance was Inside Out, being a big part of shaping Joy's character and Riley's character, and sort of flourished on that. Then Good Dinosaur. Eventually, with Toy Story 4, I came in as a story artist, and then moved into story lead, and then eventually supervisor. I've loved being part of films where I could really sink my teeth in and bring myself to developing some of these great female characters that we've discovered, and found, and created especially on Inside Out and in Toy Story 4.
LP: Now that you've had the opportunity to bring “Lamp Life” to life, did it let you catch the bug? Do you want to direct another short or feature in the future?
Valerie: I'm definitely excited about it. I have ideas I'm developing, so I'm working in development now at Pixar. The experience, looking around me, thinking about stories and things that I'd love to tell, and I think that we're ready to tell at Pixar. So creativity bubbling over to develop things now, yeah.
LP: Is there anything about “Lamp Life” that you want to ensure people don't miss? It's seven minutes, and it's great, but they might not fully get on first viewing, they might want to see another time?
Valerie: Well, as we were making it, I was realizing what's great about the format is that people can rewatch it immediately. We were thinking about how not only that, they can watch it anywhere. You might think it's like, "Oh, not as ideal to watch it on a phone," but actually, they can zoom in, and look at all the details, and all the little, tiny pieces we put in there because what's fun about it, jump-cutting through so much of what happened to her, is that if you do look closely, you can follow how we were meticulously tracking, okay, these are the same kids, but at this moment, this changed. This is where she lost her hat. This is where she lost her crook. So there are lots of tiny, little details in there. We had fun pulling pieces from the Toy Story 4 antique store to build a lot of sets, so I think it's going to be a treasure trove for Pixar fans especially to dive in and analyze every shot.
But I think it'd be nice to see if people catch onto the fact that even though it's only seven minutes long, that Bo has a character arc in this. She has an evolution, a realization about herself throughout it.
LP: Yeah, I totally did that. I watched it the first time on the TV, and then before we talked, I watched it again. It took me like 25 minutes to get through the seven-minute short just because I kept stopping and looking at this.
Marc: Yay. We're happy to hear that.
Valerie: Yeah. Every time somebody would come up with an idea to throw a little weird Easter egg thing in there or put that prop in there, we were like, "Oh, boy. The Pixar nerds are going to love this." It was just really fun to make it almost like a game.
Marc: We made it for Pixar nerds.
LP: That's what great about Disney+ is you feel like you could make shows for the casual fan, but also us diehards get a chance to get a little attention too.
Valerie: Well, there's something fun about it too because as the years have gone… I was 14 years old when the first Toy Story came out and like a lot of other people who work here now, we grew up with the initial film. So we're coming into it wanting to make something new, but also fans. So I think we get excited also about the layers of connection between the films.
LP: What I enjoyed about it is when you read the logline, you're thinking, "Okay. You know you have this film in your head," and like, "Okay, I know what I'm getting into." But what I liked is it's not a completely linear journey for her. It's not like she got adopted then got put on the side, and it all went downhill from there. She went through all sorts of diverse experiences and it wasn't just a tragic story. It had the optimism at the end. It was nice. I think we all wondered what happened to Bo in that middle period. She went through a lot more, at least she says she went through a lot more than I think we could have even dreamed of. The creativity of you guys at Pixar never ceases to amaze, so congratulations.
Valerie: Well, it was interesting how you say that because I feel like we initially did explore in the feature that she did have a very tragic experience. We used to have a very tragic scene that was her story of all these things that happened to her, but by the end of making the film, I felt like that's not Bo's character. Bo's character isn't to look back, and feel sad about her life, and feel like a victim like, "I had this really hard time." Her way of looking back at life is almost like how a comedian tells you about something terrible in their life. I kept trying to iterate that as we went along. I'm like, "I want to be telling Bo's story as if she's a comedian standing on the stage. She's telling you about something pretty terrible that happened to her, but everyone's laughing because she's come to terms with it and accepted it as part of her story."
“Lamp Life” is streaming exclusively on Disney+ starting January 31st
FanBoy is a Disney dweeb who has worked at Disneyland and Walt Disney World