There are a lot of different parts to making a movie. It’s more than just the actors and the screen and some good lighting. And when it’s an animated movie, everything is created from the found up. We were able to sit down with Cars 3 Director Brian Fee and Producer Kevin Reher to find out what all went into making Cars 3 come to life. From the soundtrack, casting and even Pixar research trips, they let us know what went into bringing this movie to life.
Cruz Rameriz brings so much heart to the movie How do you feel about Cruz and Cristela and that character and what she brought to the movie?
Fee: We absolutely love her. She’s wonderful to work with.
Reher: She said she didn’t bring luggage, and she was flying from LA, so they thought she was a drug mule.
Fee: It was so interesting Cruz was supposed to start off as a male character. You know. Really early on in the process of this film. While we’re trying to constantly evolve and enrich the story, and we just keep re-doing it, we eventually realized that we’re missing an opportunity here. I mean, I have two girls at home. And I go home every day, and I go home every day, and we have a very heavily male dominated movie.
You know. It’s a male dominated sport. And I wanted something for my daughters. So I wanted a character for them to look up to. For them to identify with, because my daughters, I would see them afraid to do something. If they thought they were gonna be bad at it, they just wouldn’t even try it. And in that, you know, it’s human nature, but it still breaks your heart as a parent. Everyone’s bad at everything at first. That’s just how it goes! And there were other things. I remember, um, talking with my girls about playing a musical instrument, taking lessons, and I said what about guitar? And they said, guitar’s for boys. And I just thought. You’re too young to start assigning these labels. And therefore not, not being interested because you’re deciding that’s for that other group. And it’s a male dominated sport.
Our lives, when we go home, with it… Everything that happens at home, it gets put in our back pockets, and we come to work the next day, we start talking about story.You know, we don’t right away start talking about that kind of stuff. But it comes up. You know. It slowly starts to blow up and, and Kiel Murray one of our writer’s also has girls, and she’s feeling the same thing. She was talking about her own experience where animation is also a male dominated business! You know, we’re trying to get more females interested in animation.
Reher: We have now more female story artists than female animators than we’ve ever had.
Fee: That tide is changing very quickly. But she also talked a lot about her feelings, you know? Coming up through the business. You know as a female! And she pointed to articles and stuff with the confidence gap. When we talked to a lot of story artists at Pixar, a lot of female from producers to story artists, and we got to learn things that I would’ve never have known. From people that I’ve worked side by side with every day and admired their work. I never realized that they’ve never thought they were any good. Immediately, as soon as they walk through the door, they said in their own personal story, they didn’t feel like they were good enough to be there, and they would work their tail off just to continue to have the privilege to be there.
Whereas, you know, perhaps this is over-generalizing, but from their perception, the male counterpart doing their same job just seems naturally confident! You know? And they didn’t have that kinda confidence. Just the awareness of that gave them even less confidence.
So we started just paying attention to all this stuff, and we thought Cruz needs to be a girl character. On every level. There’s, there’s no way that she should not be, a she. So the first thing we did was, we made her a female. And we do these rough screenings. You know, where we… It’s all storyboards, and it’s all just us doing the voices and stuff like this just to try out the story while we work on it. We decided let’s not rewrite the part. Let’s just make it a female.And that didn’t work.
Reher: Having a female character speaking former lines by a male character.
Fee: Well, it wasn’t a strong character.
Reher: If you look at the deleted scenes, you also can see her journey as an actress. How she found the charater.
Fee: Yeah. The original Cruz as a male character was working at the time. He was very soft, almost …
Reher: Sycophantic assistant.
Fee: He was funny because he wasn’t confident. Right? He didn’t have any bite to him. And, and that was somehow entertaining as a male character, you fell in love .He was a puppy. But as soon as we gave it a, a female voice, it was all kinds of wrong. And we learn our lessons, and quickly learn that one. So we started to write the character with more bite. That’s why we have the scene where McQueen starts blaming her, ’cause he’s just upset with his own fresh… He’s just frustrated, and kinda lashes out at her and she just, like, bites him back. And that’s the reason we wrote that scene that way is because we thought what would Cruz really do? You know? Like…
So it’s all a learning journey. She was easily the hardest character? To crack and quite frankly, the most important character in film. So we spent a lot of time.
Besides two female character, how do you end up with the name Cruz Ramirez?
Reher: We fell in love with the name Cruise Ramirez. One of the original writers came up with it, and we just loved it. ‘Cause it’s a car kind of, you know, cruising. So we have the name Cruise Ramirez, which we found out was actual- it’s actually male name.
Fee: It was helping us, Cruz being, the name was held over from the male version of the character. Who was also, Latino.
Reher: It added to the stakes.
Fee: That was helping, even back then, and it continued even with the final film, helps with the idea that Cruz is a character that does not feel like they belong.
Reher: An outsider.
Fee: In addition to being female in a male dominated sport, you know, there’s very few Latinos in racing in our country. In the United States in, in NASCAR. You know, now we have Danni Suarez, but…
Reher: You have one representing everybody. You have Danny Suarez. You have Bubba Wallace is African American, and you have Danica who’s female. The sport’s changing. But… And they… And NASCAR would love more female drivers, and more minorities It’s just hard to attract ’em.
Fee: We wanted everyone to feel like they can identify with Cruz. Whether it’s through gender. Whether it’s through race. There’s a million reasons why probably everybody in this room at some point in their life, if not all the time, feels a little bit of an outsider, you know. So I think it’s, it’s pretty universal.
Did you have any input from Danica?
Reher: We met her. But it was a real fast meeting. When we met her that day, I don’t even think Cruz was a female character at the point. We did have Ray Everham, who’s, you know, an insider in NASCAR , and he certainly could give us a perspective. But, you know, much of it was the universal themes. And especially Kiel Murray, who had written on Cars 1, and is working for Disney, and we pulled her back onto Cars. And she definitely went toe to toe with John because we had them both in the race. Then we had only McQueen in the race. And we had him winning the race, and finally she said Cruz needs to win the race, John! And we tried it. And yeah. It’s like, okay! Yep. Cruz has to win Kiel has spoken. Kiel’s also almost six feet tall. When she speaks, you listen.
How was it to work with someone who you’re putting them out of their comfort zone?
Reher: Blood, sweat and tomatoes.. It was masterful. When you have non-actors, it’s tough.
Fee: Well, when you have an actor, with trained, experienced actor…
Reher: Carrie Washington she just knocks it out of the park. You’re done early.
Fee : But you still have to put them in the right mindset.They have to feel it so that what can come out of them feels true. But they’re not concerned about how silly they look. So that’s the difference with a non-actor is they’re aware of standing in front of a microphone. Everyone’s watching. They’re not comfortable making funny noises. Chase was the hardest.
Reher: Yeah, Chase was the tough one. If you ever go onto Inside the Actors Studio and listen to both Tom and Tim talking about the process, and Tom just says, you know, you’ll sit there, and you’ll do 14 versions of 1 line, and then from behind the glass, somebody says, could you try it this way? And you will have come up with the 15th way. It’s all called repetitions in the acting terms. And it’s hard! Ninety-nine percent of the time, if you do see on the DVD the two of them working together, it’snot fake, but it’s staged. And we may get a line or two, but ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s just that actor with a microphone, and that’s it.
Fee: In that moment, though, even if they’re not comfortable, their job is to help them become comfortable, which usually means me making a fool of myself more. So they can feel comfortable. Like for instance, for Kyle, you know, there’s a really heartfelt moment where he has to basically say goodbye to McQueen. And it’s really an acting moment! You know? I already knew that that’s gonna be a challenge. Oh, it’s gonna be hard! ‘Cause it’s… You know, it’s one thing to just say some stuff really loud. As a joke, and it’s another thing to really connect on a emotional, quiet level.
So one of the things we did was after he had the line down, I took his pages away. So he was no longer reading words. To get out of that reading cycle. I have to help him since he doesn’t know how too do it. And then I would stand really close to him. And I would say, no, don’t think it’s say to the microphone, say it to me. And I would get, like uncomfortably close. You know? But force him to just, no, say it to me. And he would lower his voice. And we’d just do it alone. He got more comfortable. We recorded him several times, and he got really good by the end. He adapted, and he learned. But, you know, the first couple might be a throw-away.
What other tricks can you share with us in regards to actors and getting from them what you want us to see in the movie?
Reher: One of the things about the side characters, especially when we cast, you don’t have enough screen time to tell a back story. To flesh out a character. When Carrie Washington opens her mouth, you know, she’s a smart statistician. You get it right away. Or Paul Dooley, or, even back in the day, George Carlin as Filmore. You get that he’s a, you know, hippy mini-van, and, and you get what he is. You know? And so that’s one of the things that we try to do in the casting part of it. But in terms of working with the actors…
Fee: My job is to just know the 360 of the circle. A story. I know where we’re going, where we came from. And I’ll set the actor up as much as I can, or much as they’ll tolerate. I have a certain line read in my head. Because we’ve done this. We’ve done our own scratch recordings at work just to prove out the script and stuff. So I don’t want how I would do it. I prefer a professional that’s better than me to show me how it could be even better. That’s my hope. At first you want to set ’em up, and then just kinda let ’em do their thing, and see where it goes. And hopefully it goes somewhere better than what was in my head.
Reher: Because it is hard for some of these actors, especially if they’re really trained actors,You don’t want to give ’em line readings, they bristle at that in some cases.
Are there any actors that you wanted for this movie that you weren’t able to get?
Reher: You know, we got really lucky with this movie.
Fee : He does all the casting…
Reher: I do the casting along with Natalie Lion. And we both do for all of ’em. What happens is Natalie and I, we watch the reels, and then we put together a list of 10 people. And then that gets down to maybe two or three. And then we go to John Lasseter. And usually the one we like the best is the one John agrees, I think you’re right. Lea Delauria, and Carrie Washington. But everybody said yes on this one. But there’s a famous story which I won’t give you the guy’s name, but we wanted him to be Mr. Incredible. And he said does it pay well? And we said No. You’re just doing it because you want to be in animated movie for kids. He goes why would I want to be an animated movie. We hired someone else. And in the interim, he dated a younger woman with a child. And you just know they went to the Westwood and saw The Incredibles. And we got a call the next Monday saying, um, Mr. So and So would love to do anything Pixar
It’s not a lot of work if you add up the hours. ‘Cause what they are is there for probably around four hour sessions. I think Cristela had the most. She probably had 18 or 20 sessions, just ’cause she was the lead…
Fee: and we were rewriting her part all the time…
Reher: Carrie was maybe four or five sessions, and we barely took the four hours. So if you divide the money on an hourly basis it’s not bad
Did you do any specific research trips for this?
Fee : We came here…
Reher: Well the research trips on Cars 2, I went on were much better. Frankfurt auto show, Monaco, Nice, Milan… It was great. We started Routed 99. And then it was Charlotte and Daytona, and…
Fee: Yeah. We hung around on race tracks.
Reher: Lot o’ race tracks…
Fee: Lot of the Charlotte area. Daytona. Couple times.
Reher: Abandoned tracks. We went to Wilkesboro, which is North Carolina, Wilkesboro and Kenichi and that’s how we ended up hearing about the legends of racing. All the legends came out of all that research.
Fee: So then we spend equal amount of time talking with drivers, Junior Johnson, and people that were there when it was getting started, and hearing their stories. You’d take all that stuff, and you have kinda put it in your back pocket. And then it comes up later, and it’s like, we got to have a character named Smokey that’s in some way fashioned after Smokey Yunick. And then, then you’re able to attribute certain things to that character based on the real person that give it a richness, I think.
Reher: Smokey’s Garage, best dang garage in town. It’s actually Smokey Yunick’s Garage was the best damn garage in town. But it’s a Disney movie, so we couldn’t swear. Junior Johnson said, after we talked to him about… He says, you went to Occoneechee? He says, oh, I ended up in the river a couple of times. So we ended up with a character named River. And, the African American story of Windel Scott, who was the only African American stock car racer. If you watch the DVD extras, there’s a terrific featurette on the legends. And his story was amazing.
When you first did Cars 1, did you imagine it would take you on the journey you are on now with the amount of research?
Reher: On Cars 1 if somebody asked us, is there a master plan? It would be easier if there was a master plan. But on Cars 1, you know, we did all that research on… I went on those trips on Route 66. And we listened to people’s stories about how the town didn’t pay any money to the Eisenhower administration representatives, and so they got cut off. We went to these towns. I took all black and white pictures. Of these amazing towns that got bypassed that are just ghost towns. So that started it. And then Cars 2 was about racing, and Formula 1, and all the different kinds of racing. And then, you know, we just found ourselves going back to the sort of that emotional time of Cars 1. And from that.
Fee: But we didn’t expect back then that there would even be a Cars 3. Let alone what it would be about. So…
Reher: Or a Cars Land. That is amazing, isn’t it? It is, I think, the most popular attraction at Disneyland.
When you research the cars, how much pistachio ice cream do you eat?
Reher: Cars 1, I ate fried pickles. Route 66. Anything they could fry on Route 66, they did.
The soundtrack and score add so much to every movie, and it’s super important to the overall effects. How did the soundtrack start, come about for Cars 3?
Fee : Well, we knew we wanted Randy back. Definitely, since we were going back to the roots of our franchise. We wanted Randy back. That was a no brainer.
Reher: Also, Randy does amazing small moments.But then he also respects not stepping on the humor, which is often very difficult for some of the composers, like.. Don’t kill the joke. Support your jokes…Support the humor. He’s great at that.
Fee: And then we knew we wanted some songs. You know, it’s become part of vocabulary of the franchise, just to have songs that have people… write original songs, and redo songs. So we kept all that mine and, and just looked for the opportunities for when we can and who would be right to do it.
Reher: We work with Tom McDougal, who’s the senior vice president of all of Disney feature animated music. He had his own ideas of people that might be good like James Bay, and, Dan Auerbach. I had said to him, you know, we do have a cast member who’s a jazz singer. He goes who’s that? I go, Leah DeLauria. And so that’s how she ended up on the soundtrack doing, uh, Riding on the Freeway of Love…
Fee: Dan Auerbach came about, because while we were still in storyboard form we were dropping in a Black Keys song. It’s temporary ’til it’s not, right?
Reher: We don’t show it anybody. It’s not theatrical.
Fee: We couldn’t beat it. But we asked Tom to come up with some options, and he came up some options that weren’t working. And so, we’re like, oh. The Black Keys song is just better.
Reher: The Black Keys aren’t working together, so we got, like, the one Black Key… We got the one Black Key. Who was, you know, the big driver behind it. And Dan was great. And came up with a terrific song.
Fee: And working with Randy is an incredible. Put yourself in my shoes, I’ve never directed a movie before. And I’m having conversations with Randy Newman, about what he should be doing for the movie. You know, it’s not lost on me how incredible it is.
Reher: You give Randy the emotional content. We had this one cue when you come into Thomasville, and, he thought it was celebratory. And so it ended up sounding like Hee Haw. I mean, there was a lot of banjos, and all this stuff. And we’re like, Brian’s, like… I had to tell an Academy Award winning… that in seven days, he has to come up with, what, six minutes…
Fee: Less than that… So he sends us demos. The recording session’s already slated. It’s happening.
Reher: And Randy also does… Randy also does a full orchestra. Whereas a lot of composers will just do the string section one day. Then they’ll do the horn section the other day. He likes everybody in the room. And they love him for being able to be in the room together. I mean, they gave him a standing ovation at the end. It was so emotional. They gave him a standing ovation. At the end of the scoring session.
Fee: It’s the moment where they come to Doc’s track, and McQueen and Cruz are driving on the track. And it’s kind of he seeds of their relationship as mentor, mentee. Or just startin’ to… to bloom. And she’s just now starting to understand his advice. And he’s starting to understand,. whether he knows it or not, he doesn’t know it at that moment, [STAMMERS] But the joy of the fact that she’s taking his advice, and it’s kinda working. They have a relationship the first time.If it were a romantic comedy, you know, that would be that moment where they feel like they’re finally falling in love on a… Yeah. And, Randy’s original take on that was to score for action. Because they’re racing. It was good music. It was great music, just for a different story. It wasn’t the story we’re trying to tell. So we had to complete do over. It’s great. We got him on the phone, and explained to him that, don’t, you know, for this particular moment, don’t score the visuals, score the emotion. And, he’s, like, I understand. I understand. I’ll see what I can do. Four days later we’re on a stage with 104 piece orchestra, and it’s just, like, boom.
It’s exactly what is in the movie.
Was Miss Fritter written for a male? Or…
Reher: I’m a huge fan of Leah’s. So I have her albums. Jazz albums. And then Orange is the New Black. And even in the, little moment in the opening where she goes boo! That was a homage to of course to her character Big Boo.
Fee: When we were originally coming up with the idea of the character, Leah was not necessarily in mind from day one. But as soon as we started talking about casting, If I remember correctly, there were no other.But there were no other serious options.
Reher: Well, we have to play a game with John. Because we have three people, but we really wanted Leah. So you put two or three people up, ’cause he doesn’t want to feel like he’s being forced into rubber stamping something…We played Leah, and he goes, oh yeah. She’s perfect.
Fee: But that was an interesting thing where… So what we’ll usually do in, in casting is we’ll pull excerpts from what other things they’ve done. Just clips from another movie, or whatever. And we’ll just listen to that audio while we put up a picture. Of the character. To kinda get a feel for how, that voice is gonna fit with that character. What we ran into with Leah is, especially on Orange is the New Black, she’s… And we actually just close your eyes and listen to her speaking, at least in those early seasons, it’s very soft! It’s very friendly!It wasn’t quite what we were going for. So were thinking how are we gonna sell this idea. We don’t have anything to back up why we want her to do this part. We thought she was gonna be great, but we can’t prove it.
Reher: Think we used some of her standup finally.
Fee: Yeah. She also self-auditioned. We sent her pages, and she and she used her own iPhone. And she gave us…
Reher: Exactly what we wanted…
Cars 3 Trailer:
About the Cars 3 at home release:
Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) 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, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus 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!
In honor of world-champion racer #95 on his date-sake 9/5, Disney•Pixar is proud to announce the in-home arrival of Disney•Pixar’s “Cars 3”! “Cars 3” surged to the front of the pack opening weekend with audiences racing to see the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and spirited trainer Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) team up to beat the new generation of blazing-fast racers. Now, this summer’s high-octane hit cruises home—loaded with bonus features like the all new mini-movie starring the demolition derby legend Miss Fritter— Digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD™ on Oct. 24, and on Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD™ and Blu-ray™ on Nov. 7.
Race fans of all ages are invited to ride along with the “Cars 3” crew for hilarious and heartfelt extras, including an exclusive new mini-movie, “Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool,” taught by the queen of the Crazy 8; a feature detailing how real-world race training influenced filmmakers; the journey taken by voice actor Cristela Alonzo and team while shaping tech-savvy trainer Cruz Ramirez; behind-the-scenes access to the story team who crafted Lightning McQueen’s third chapter; deleted scenes; and much more.
“Cars 3” is Disney•Pixar’s first in-home title released in stunning 4K Ultra HD format, the next-generation viewing format with four times the resolution of HD and exceptional high dynamic range (HDR), resulting in brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays than ever before. With 4K Ultra HD, viewers will feel like they’re at the center of the action—holding their breath during the dramatic crash that launches Lightning’s journey, feeling the pulse-pounding action at the Florida International Super Speedway, and getting down and dirty at the Crazy 8 demolition derby.