Andrew Bujalski may be best known as the godfather of mumblecore, but “Support the Girls” director’s career took a surprising turn last year when he wrote the screenplay for Disney’s live-action remake of the beloved 1955 animated classic “Lady and the Tramp.” But it’s not uncommon for big studios to turn to more low-key talent to bring an elevated sensibility to a project (see Alex Ross Perry’s “Christopher Robin” screenplay). In a recent conversation out of the BendFilm Festival, moderated by IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, Bujalski spoke about molding his vision into a pre-existing property, and what made it (and didn’t make it) into the final film.
“Just when I started batting ideas around with the producer [Brigham Taylor], I really tried to rethink, I tried to kind of take it from scratch,” he said. “There [were] never any illusions that like this was going to be my movie and, by the way, at no point was I attached as a director. It was always very clearly this was going to be a writing job, where I tried to just take the existing thing and do a kind of update on it. I was always trying to write in a Disney voice more than my own voice.”
Bujalski was offered the project by a Disney producer who was already in Austin to meet with fellow Texan director Jeff Nichols. It provided Bujalski with his first taste of writing to meet the expectations of a studio. “Because this is the only way I know how to work, I kind of stripped it down and started throwing other images and ideas in it and building something back up,” he said. “And ultimately, the producer kind of gently guided me back toward like, ‘Remember how they did everything before? Let’s do it like that.'”
Still, he said that process was cathartic. “However, as much as I generated stuff that got thrown away, having gone through that process really helped me. I don’t think I would’ve known how to do just a carbon copy of the original if I hadn’t gone through finding my voice in it,” he said.
In a moment that has found Disney reckoning with its legacy — even going to the lengths of placing disclaimers ahead of classic titles on Disney+ — Bujalski said that certain elements of the original were scrapped for the refresh. “The first thing that everybody agreed on before we really got into anything was ‘I think we’re probably going to lose the racist cats,'” he said, referring to “The Siamese Cat Song” reinterpreted by Janelle Monae for the new movie.
While Bujalski doesn’t have another project coming out this year, he said he did complete writing on a new project that he was about to head into earlier this year right when the pandemic hit, and said he was developing a smaller project that might be more viable to shoot in the immediate future.