“The Shining” has obsessed Oscar-winning Pixar director Lee Unkrich since he saw it in theaters at the age of 12. After years of “The Shining” Easter eggs popping up in Pixar films, Unkrich’s fascination with Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror cult classic culminates in his monumental making-of book: “Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining” (Taschen), currently available in a Collector’s Edition of 1,000 copies ($1,500). (A smaller standard edition has not yet been announced.) The three-volume collection includes hundreds of never-before-seen production photographs from the Stanley Kubrick Archive in London, interviews with cast and crew, and a deluxe set of facsimile reproductions of ephemera from “the masterpiece of modern horror.”
The Kubrick film’s sense of the uncanny and bravura filmmaking (including the innovative use of Garrett Brown’s Steadicam) possessed Unkrich from his first viewing at an Ohio movie theater and ultimately led to decades of rewatching the story of the Torrance family trapped at the haunted Overlook Hotel. Not surprisingly, “The Shining” shaped his career when he joined Pixar as an editor on “Toy Story,” flourishing for 25 years as co-director (“Monsters, Inc.” and “Finding Nemo”) and director (the Oscar-winning “Toy Story 3” and “Coco”). But over the years, Unkrich became frustrated at the lack of information — and the surfeit of misinformation — about the making of the film. Then he visited the Kubrick Archive during the London press tour for “Toy Story 3.”
Unkrich was like a kid in Kubrick’s candy store, and the seeds were planted for this definitive book. He pitched his proposal to the Kubrick estate but learned that he had a rival in the late J.W. Rinzler (“The Making of Star Wars” and “The Complete Making of Indiana Jones”), so they joined forces. Unkrich conducted most of the interviews (including Shelley Duvall and child actor Danny Lloyd) and paid Rinzler out of pocket to write the book. It took 12 years to complete, but the result is an invaluable resource that brings us closer to understanding Kubrick’s meticulous and idiosyncratic methodology — and debunks some entrenched myths about the set.
However, Unkrich’s search for the Holy Grail — the deleted hospital epilogue where hotel manager Ullman (Barry Nelson) visits Wendy and Danny and tells them that nothing out of the ordinary occurred at The Overlook — was unsuccessful, save for some rare color frames that have been restored and reproduced in the book. Kubrick ordered the scene cut by editors in L.A. and New York after the opening weekend and before wider release. It is speculated that audiences found it too confusing. All excised scenes were returned directly to Kubrick and were subsequently destroyed. In any event, Unkrich can now put his obsession with “The Shining” to rest. He spoke to IndieWire about the outsized influence the film has had on his life and career — and why the Guinness Book of World Records is wrong about “The Shining.”
Read More: 23.7 Facts About Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’
“I think it really came down to two things. One, which is a more surface thing: It really was the film that inspired me to make movies. That was a pivot point for me. Prior to ‘The Shining,’ I think I just saw movies as entertainment and nothing more. And it was ‘The Shining,’ and what [it] subsequently led to in terms of seeing other Kubrick films and expanding my palette of cinema that made me see film as art and directors as artists. And I’d never thought of it that way before. So I think that’s part of why it was important to me. But in terms of why I really got obsessed, it got me wanting to understand how movies were made, and ‘The Shining’ was a good thing for me to think about.
“But on a deeper psychological level, I was an only child, and my parents’ marriage was pretty dysfunctional, and I remember being scared a lot when I was a kid. Whether it was scared of just emotional stuff going on in my house or just the fact that I had a really vivid imagination and I was, I was a latchkey kid, so I was home alone a lot, and a lot of things in my house scared me. And so when I saw ‘The Shining,’ even though I wasn’t thinking about it at the time, I was really relating to it on a deep, subconscious level, the whole situation.”
“On the surface level, the Easter eggs that I would put in the films having to do with ‘The Shining’ was just me having fun. There’s a bunch of stuff in ‘Toy Story 3’: There’s a Room 237 license plate on the back of the garbage truck. We have a tissue box with the carpet pattern on it by the monitors where the security monkey sits. We also made a reproduction of the radio sitting on that desk too. There’s a security camera in the classroom that has a badge on the side that says the Overlook 2000 or something. In ‘Coco,’ there’s a skull version of the twins in Frida Kahlo’s studio. And we put the ax from ‘The Shining’ in Miguel’s courtyard.
“Now, there are two things that people think I put in that I didn’t. One is the carpeting in Sid’s hallway in ‘Toy Story,’ and that was actually Ralph Eggleston [the late production designer]. That decision had been made before I was even on the movie. And then on ‘Finding Nemo,’ having Bruce [the shark] kind of bang his face through the door and say, ‘Here’s Brucey.’ That was [director] Andrew [Stanton]. I think he knew it would amuse me.”
“On a deeper, filmmaking level, there were choices that I made sometimes that I knew I was referencing ‘The Shining.’ An example that springs to mind in ‘Finding Nemo,’ there’s a point where they come across this underwater chasm, and Marlin [Albert Brooks] and Dory [Ellen DeGeneres] are trying to decide whether they should go through it or go up and over. But in the moment when they’re about to enter, we wanted it to feel as creepy as possible. And so when we were scoring the film with Tom Newman, I talked to him about this kind of musical effect that I had heard in ‘The Shining,’ that I always found really unsettling. And it’s basically the string players taking their bows and just tapping them against the strings. And it makes this jittery, almost insect-like, creepy sound. And so he did it, but he said the musicians hate doing it ’cause it’s not good for their bows.
“I’m sure that there were lots of other decisions I made over time that were unconscious: how to compose a shot or how to move a camera. I was influenced so much by watching ‘The Shining’ and Stanley’s other films that a lot of my instincts and taste come from that, even if I’m not thinking about it while I’m doing it. What I absorbed like a sponge is part of the foundation, the bedrock of my own taste as a filmmaker for sure. But I really, really admire the filmmaking, and I like the choices that Kubrick made throughout to elicit certain effects, certain feelings in the audience. It’s not easy to evoke unsettling feelings in an audience, but when it’s done right, it’s really, really effective.”
“He really demanded that the actors knew their lines so well that they didn’t have to think about them at all so that they could focus on the performance and hitting the marks. And he did often express that as one of his biggest frustrations, that the actors didn’t know their lines well enough. So that was an excuse often for doing a bunch of takes. But all that said, I hope something [readers] got out of the book is that it pierces a lot of misinformation or greatly exaggerated information that’s been out in the world about this movie and about Kubrick in general. Kubrick sometimes did a lot of takes, sure.
“But that wasn’t the norm. I mean, I have all shot logs for the entire movie. So I know how many takes were done on every shot. And they often talk about this scene with Wendy and the bat on the stairs. It’s even in The Guinness Book of World Records for the largest number of takes . And it’s completely not true… there were no more than 15 takes for any one set-up/shot. It was reported by a crew member who wasn’t even on the set when it was shot. I think what happened is that some of the actors conflate rehearsals with takes because Kubrick would rehearse a lot. And it was really part of his writing process. He would continue to shape the dialogue through the rehearsing.
“The shot that has the most takes in the entire film  that no one talks about is the big, long dolly shot that brought Jack and Wendy and the hotel manager into the Gold Ballroom at the beginning of the movie. I’ve been researching this movie so long that I’ve seen these incorrect or exaggerated stories appear, and then I’ve watched them become more and more exaggerated over the years. And a lot of times it’s harmless. Like Stanley Kubrick found out that Jack Nicholson didn’t like cheese sandwiches, and so he made him eat cheese sandwiches through the entire shoot to keep him in a bad mood. Ridiculous.”
“The story of Shelley Duvall and her supposed mistreatment on the set has become more and more exaggerated over the years to the point where that’s all discussed as if it was this extremely abusive situation, which it just wasn’t. And I’m very careful in talking about that subject to let Shelley have the last word because she’s the one who experienced it. Shelley has nothing but great things to say about Stanley. She loved him. She thinks he got a great performance out of her. She didn’t always agree with his methods. She will admit it was an extremely difficult part to play, but these stories of abuse, which are bad for lots of people involved, are just completely unfair.
“But I think in the book, we do a very fair and even job of accurately describing what the situation was like, the good and the bad. Because there were things about it that were maybe a little questionable. And one of the biggest things that Stephen King hates about it is that Wendy’s a really strong character in the book. And Stanley made her into a very kind of weak character, but he did it intentionally. And I talked to [Steven] Spielberg about this since Spielberg [who wrote the foreward] agreed, especially when Scatman [Crothers] shows up and gets killed immediately, there’s nothing standing between Jack killing his son.
“This is a line that Steven said to me that I didn’t end up using anywhere ’cause there wasn’t a spot for it: ‘Ultimately, the only thing in the story that can save little Danny is Wendy, but Wendy seems weak. So all the suspense for me is, will Wendy be strong enough to stand up to Jack and save her son? And that’s why Shelley Duvall’s performance is, I think, equal to Jack Nicholson’s. Her performance is as good as Jack’s, and Jack’s is as good as Shelley’s.'”