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A Talk with Harry Linden
A Talk with Harry Linden
by Jeffrey Kauffman

My hometown of Portland, Oregon probably doesn't immediately spring to most minds when asked to name a film capital. And yet, Portland is quickly emerging as a sort of "Hollywood Northwest," with such television series as Leverage and feature films like the tentatively titled Crowley (with Harrison Ford) in production right now. But the fact is Portland actually has a long and varied film and television history, with one very unique niche market in which it has had a leading part for decades: stop motion animation. Will Vinton founded his studios in Portland and went on to global renown with his Claymation process. Vinton lost control of his studio a few years ago when Nike honcho Phil Knight edged him out and rebranded the studio as Laika Entertainment. Laika's massively hyped first stop motion feature was the Henry Selick directed Coraline. I had the opportunity to interview Coraline's Line Producer, Harry Linden, a Portland resident and neighbor of mine.

Give us a little career background on you, Harry. What other projects have you worked on?

I have over 20 years of experience in film and television, including several stop motion projects like Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit films and Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride.

How did you come to work for Laika?

I got a phone call from Dan Philips the once Head of Production / Vice President of Laika in January 2006, and I started work May 2006. I think Henry Selick had requested they contact me after he got good references about me from his Director of Photography (Pete Kozachik) and his Supervising animator (Anthony Scott.) Both people I had worked with on Corpse Bride.

You obviously have a lot of experience with stop motion. What about this process made your job different from other assignments you've had?

Every show I have done my role is a little different, but it is all generally about budget schedules and getting the directors vision on the screen. Some things that set Coraline apart:

The Rapid proto face replacement system was a first.

Shooting in 3D is something that has never been done before in stop motion.

The physical scale of the show was bigger and more complex than anything I have done to date. We had 50+ shooting units, which supported a team of 30 animators. I think the largest number of stages before on previous shows was in the low 30's.

The director's desire to do as much as possible in camera including growing plants, wind and rain. Often these things go to vfx / post.

Costume changes - Coraline has more outfits than any other puppet character to date.

Season changes - As Coraline moved from real world to other World the seasons changed--that was also a new tricky thing.

Character design - If you look at Other Mother Three she is ground breaking, very complex very thin, very tricky to build and shoot.

What exactly does a line producer do?

It varies from show to show, but on this show I helped find the building to make the movie in, and built and ran the shooting schedule. I also worked on the budget to help make it match our actual needs and helped find and hire the crew to make the show. I worked closely with the director to ensure that his vision made it on the screen in the most efficient manner.

What was a typical day on Coraline for you? Or was there a typical day?

7.30 am prep for daily meeting with director answer any urgent shoot related questions.
8.00 am daily meeting with director and producer discussing key items and future planning.
8.30 am Rushes viewing with director and crew. Keeping an overview and helping to keep things on track. .
8.30 - 12.30 pm managing day-to-day shooting / scheduling issues be the creative or logistical. Checking in the all departments answer questions related to the day to day and distant future. .
12.30 - 3.00 pm working on various reports and meetings in relation to actual progress and estimated progress and dealing with ramifications. For both upstream and down stream reports. Spending time with Producer reviewing and planning the way forward.
3.00 - 4.30 pm various creative meetings about look and feel of film, helping to keep vision on track creatively and monetarily. .
4.30 - 5.30 Daily production meetings about progress on the shooting stages, helping to guide priorities. .
5.30 - 6.30 Finance / budget meetings. Figuring out how to make it all fit.
6.30 - 7.30 Welfare. Personal crew issues and HR issues.
7.30 - 8.30 long form schedule review with Heads Of Departments.
(This is not a real day, but it gives you a feel).

Tell us what you think makes Coraline such a unique film. How do you think the 3D stop motion played into the storytelling?

I think the style, look and feel of the film are very unique. The rapid proto face replacement system gave us a look that sets us apart from other movies. We tried to create a world that looked hand made and textured but also was life like enough for the audience to believe it was a real place.

We used 3D as part of the story arc, not as a gimmick. We wanted the audience to feel trapped and claustrophobic when they were in the real world at the beginning of the show (as this is how Coraline felt.) Then when we go to the Other World we wanted it to feel open and spacious, deep and luxurious, to match Coraline's perception. 3D and false perspective sets were used to create this feeling.

Tell us a little about working with Henry Selick.

Henry is a talented gifted genius, who is also a very smart, funny and very hardworking guy. He knows what he wants and like all great directors does not stop until he gets it.

What was the hardest aspect of working on Coraline?

Trying to make the show in a young company with the time and with the money allocated. Coraline was probably the largest and cost complex stop-mo movie that I have ever worked on. Its original budget did not reflect this, so as with every movie it was a long road of discussion, creative compromises and budget enhancements to get to the final product.

Thanks, Harry!

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