Exclusive: The Filmmakers Behind Sundance’s Opening Night Film


When the film slate at Sundance is announced, the first question is inevitably, “what’s the lucky movie to open the fest?”

In a swift departure from last year’s selection of In Bruges, this year’s honor went to a clever claymation film, Mary and Max, featuring the voice talents of Toni Collette, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Eric Bana and Barry Humphries.

After the jump, Flavorwire’s Sundance correspondent Bess Devenow has an engaging conversation with the dynamic duo from Down Under — Academy Award winning writer/director/designer Adam Elliot and producer Melanie Coombs — about their film, which spans two decades of “snail mail” correspondence between a pair of unlikely pen pals.

For the record, Adam would love to become pen pals with Robert Redford, while Melanie would be fascinated to trade missives with Chuck Palahniuk. She’s obviously the dark one.

Flavorwire: Our friends from Le Tourment Vert were telling us that absinthe has been inspiring the creative class for ages. As a member of the new modern creative class, which film or filmmaker have you drawn the most inspiration from?

Adam Elliot: David Lynch. I also draw a lot of inspiration from photography, especially Diane Arbus. We actually sculpted her likeness in Max and Mary. I love how her subjects look at the audience directly. I try to do that a lot with my characters.

Melanie Coombs: A French movie from the 1960’s called “King of Hearts”. It is a beautiful movie that stayed with me and I saw it again a couple of months ago and it still amazed me.

FW: If you could send Mary and Max on an all expenses paid trip, where would you send them and why?

AE: Somewhere with lots of peace and quiet like the moon. They could use a place free of distraction.

FW: Did you write Mary and Max with the voice talent (Toni Collette and Philip Seymour Hoffman) in mind? And how did you get them attached to the project?

AE: I knew whoever we got we wanted them to be ‘actors actors’. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Toni Collette were way up there for us. I write a lot with the music in mind a more “back to front” approach. Especially in this film, the music played a prominent role.

MC: Everyone we wanted said yes…eventually. That’s the great thing about actors like this, trust me, we did not pay them what they normally get. So it was essentially based on the script and not the pay.

AE: The good thing about Philip Seymour Hoffman is his voice is unrecognizable unlike some others.

FW: What are each of your personal mottoes?

AE: Mine’s a bit cheesy. I do corporate speaking in Australia as well and I believe “life is not a dress rehearsal.” My other one is “It’s hard to soar like an eagle when you’re surrounded by turkeys.”

MC: “Use the hype, don’t believe it.” Also, “If you can’t laugh, you’re fucked.”

– Bess Devenow

Photos courtesy of Nate “Igor” Smith, drivenbyboredom.com