After making a successful feature film debut in 2006 with Monster House, an animated flick that featured the voices of Steve Buscemi, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jon Heder, director Gil Kenan decided to switch over to the world of live action for City of Ember.
Even though the 31-year-old Kenan avoids watching other films while in production on his own, there is one classic that held an undeniable influence on Ember.
“I did watch Metropolis right at the beginning of the project. Because, you know, it’s the original science fiction film so it’s sort of the one we all have to pay our respects to. But also because there are a lot of thematic parallels this mechanized city, the idea of the unequal distribution of power, and just the idea of a subterranean society. All of those things became key elements in my framework for Ember.”
Kenan was lucky enough to land a dream cast for Ember —veteran thesps Bill Murray, Martin Landau and Tim Robbins all have supporting roles—which surely made the transition into live action considerably easier. Fortunately, Kenan was able to keep his inner fan from bursting out on set.
“I was totally freaked out that they agreed to do the movie before I met them, because these guys are legends and they are my heroes as far as actors go," said Kenan. “Also, you know, I have a job to do and I’m not about to let the fan in me get in the way of the job I have, which is telling a story. So I left my fan gushes for my drives home from the studio at the end of a day of shooting.”
City of Ember is based on Jeanne Duprau's novel of the same name and luckily for Kenan, Duprau was of the belief that in order to film Ember properly the young director would have to stray a little from the source.
“When I first read the novel, a very clear movie played for me in my head and essentially that movie is what’s coming out in theatres. I definitely was weary, because when I went back to read the novel after sort of getting the project off the ground I realized that a lot of things had sort of changed and the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was really important for this film to have an identity of its own,” said Kenan.
As for whether or not he now has a preference between animation and live action, Kenan is hesitant to pick between the two.
“I feel like I love them both. They both have their attributes and they both have real difficulties. Live action is amazing at giving you human performances that you can relate with really quickly, but with animation there are so many ways to control the storytelling process that it’s pretty difficult to pick one or the other.”
City of Ember hits theatres this Friday.