Who would have thought that “Safety Not Guaranteed,” the low budget sci-fi-ish Sundance hit, would produce some of the most sought after creative talent in the business right now? It was a cute movie and there was certainly some artistry at work, but anyone who thought that the film’s director, Colin Trevorrow, would soon be mentioned in the same breath as the upcoming “Star Wars” sequels (and become attached to a highly touted “Flight of the Navigator” remake) is either lying or psychic. Now comes word that Trevorrow’s “Safety Not Guaranteed” collaborator Derek Connolly (who is also working on ‘Navigator’) has a job almost as vaulted as guiding the future adventures of the Skywalker clan – he’s writing a new movie for Pixar, according to a report in Variety.
In a profile of the writer, they let slip that Connolly is working on an untitled, top-secret feature for director Teddy Newton, who was one of the artists that Brad Bird brought along when he migrated to the studio to make “The Incredibles.” Newton was a designer on Bird’s previous feature “The Iron Giant,” and collaborated with the filmmaker on both “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille” before directing the boldly experimental “Day & Night,” which played in front of “Toy Story 3” and was the studio’s first 3D short. (This was the short with the two two-dimensional characters, one representing night and the other day.)
The report says that Connolly moved to Emeryville, where the main Pixar campus is located (they recently opened a satellite studio in Canada to handle secondary work and short film stuff, which has also been producing beautiful work), shortly after “Safety Not Guaranteed” wowed Sundance. “It’s totally different, the way they do things up here,” Connolly told Variety. “You’re here everyday. You don’t go away for three months and come up with a script. You’re involved with a director and it’s very collaborative.”
What’s interesting is this is the same methodology that turned Michael Arndt, who at the time had just won an Oscar for a similarly low budget movie (“Little Miss Sunshine”), into a Pixar mainstay. When they were wooing Arndt they told him that he would have to be at the studio for a solid six months, then he would be able to take the other six months to write and develop projects for himself, outside of the studio. That didn’t exactly happen and Arndt has become an invaluable member of the Pixar team and the only writer in the studio’s rarified Brain Trust, a kind of governing body/creative collective. What’s also amazing about Arndt is that when he got to the studio he gave a lecture on writing fundamentals where he laid out the mechanical basics for what makes a great story. It’s a brilliant deconstruction of what makes for a great movie and helped the studio immeasurably. But what’s funny, in light of recent events, is thinking about the movie he used as an example during his lecture – it was the original “Star Wars.” Now Arndt is writing “Star Wars – Episode VII” for the studio. Amazing. The Variety report also notes that besides the Pixar mystery project and “Flight of the Navigator,” Connolly is working on a third project for Disney – something called “Hank,” which we also know very little about.
In related news, “Wreck-It Ralph” co-writer Jennifer Lee has received a boost herself, landing the co-director gig on Walt Disney‘s “Frozen.” She’ll be helming alongside Chris Buck (who co-directed “Tarzan“), to tell the story of a kingdom in eternal winter, where Anna, a fearless optimist, teams up with extreme mountain man Kristoff and his sidekick reindeer Sven on an epic journey to find Anna’s sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, and put an end to her icy spell. Encountering mystical trolls, a funny snowman named Olaf, Everest-like extremes and magic at every turn, Anna and Kristoff battle the elements in a race to save the kingdom from destruction. “Frozen” opens on November 27, 2013.