Q&A with Peter Lord, director of ‘The Pirates! Band of Misfits’

A scene from 'The Pirates! Band of Misfits'. Courtesy Sony Pictures.

As co-founder of the prolific Aardman Animations, Peter Lord has produced over 50 animated projects, including the very popular Wallace & Gromit films and the critically acclaimed stop-motion feature Chicken Run, which he also directed. His latest film, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, is the first 3-D stop-motion movie Aardman has embarked on and it’s a hilarious romp on the high seas that is visually exciting and a delight to watch.

Criticize This! spoke with Lord about the film and why he enjoys working in stop-motion more than computer animation. Read our Q&A below.

What was it about the story of The Pirates! Band of Misfits that attracted you to it?

It wasn’t the story in particular, although the story was kind of crazy in a good way, but it was the amazing sense of playful fun in the book that was quite unlike anything I had ever seen. It felt like it wanted to be a real comedy. It’s interesting when you think about it because a lot of animated films have a dramatic premise… they make a drama decorated with jokes. I quite like the idea of making a comedy with a good story.

Was it easy to translate that from the book to the screen?

Yeah, because I had the great pleasure and benefit of working with [Gideon Defoe], the author of the book. He’s a very smart, young English writer. He hadn’t written a screenplay before but he’s very literate and very savvy and with a bit of help from some professionals he wrote a fantastic screenplay that captured all the fun and more from the book.

After working in computer animation with films like Arthur Christmas, what made you want to go back to working in stop-motion?

It’s where my heart is. I’ve done it for the longest time. All my working life actually. I like the process. It’s a very comfortable world to work in. I like the people as well. I’m surrounded by great artists and craftspeople who do it. Really experienced people. Finally, I’m really happy and proud to do something different. There’s a million CG movies out there and it’s good for the audience to have something different.

Is there a big difference in how long it takes to produce a stop-motion film versus a computer animated film?

The interesting thing is is that the two forms follow quite a similar path most of the way. You have to get the story, which is no easy thing, then you have to get the script, then you have to storyboard everything and start building the characters. Whether that’s in the computer or with clay, you still build them. Finally you animate them. So it’s all kind of the same except that with CG it all takes place inside a computer and in our world it all takes place in real life using steel and plasticine and rubber and paint and wood.

Did working in 3-D change anything?

It wasn’t too difficult to be honest. When it was suggested I thought it was going to be a big deal. And I thought it was going to be expensive. But it wasn’t that big of a deal. We shoot on digital cameras and every time we took a single frame it would shoot one for the right eye and one for the left eye in two slightly different positions. Technically that was pretty simple and didn’t even take very long.

The voice cast was great. Were these people you had in mind from the start?

It was half and half. Some of them were cast in my mind from day one. Jeremy Piven was one and Martin Freeman was too. The big lead role of Hugh Grant was trickier because I wanted a British leading man. I wanted a star. I knew Hugh Grant was brilliantly funny and I was watching his film About A Boy and thought he had great comic timing. But I never heard him do anything remotely like Pirate Captain so it was kind of a leap of faith that he could, and would, do all those things. Of course he did and he was fantastic.

How do you balance making a movie for both kids and adults?

I don’t know, you just have to think a lot. We tried to take the attitude where the comedy is honest. And by honest I simply mean you do what you think is funny. Once you start thinking about what kids will find funny it’s very dangerous territory and you’ll end up with a film that lacks sincerity. So we start from the position of what makes us laugh. With that, I laugh at Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Monty Python, but I also laugh at Tom & Jerry, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Charlie Chaplin. What we’re looking for is comedy that’s done well.

What’s next for you?

I’m actually working on the sequel to this. Whether that happens or not now is out of my hands and lies with the viewing public. If enough people go to see it I can make the sequel.

The Pirates! Band of Misfits opens everywhere on April 27. Check out the trailer for the film below.

Top image: A scene from The Pirates! Band of Misfits. Courtesy Sony Pictures.

Brian McKechnie

About Brian McKechnie

Brian McKechnie is the founder and editor of Criticize This! Email him at brian@criticizethis.ca.