Film Short: An Animated Q&A with Producer/Director/Writer and CEO of Threshold Studios Larry Kasanoff
In addition to being a well respected producer/director/writer responsible for bringing such projects as the two #1 “Mortal Kombat” feature films and the CGI-animated feature film “Foodfight” starring Charlie Sheen and Eva Longoria to the screen, Larry Kasanoff is also the CEO of Threshold Animation Studios. Based in Santa Monica, CA his company produces visual effects and animation projects for studios such as Disney, Paramount, Sony, DreamWorks, Warner Brothers and New Line. Here, in this Filmmakers Notebook Q&A Larry shares some of his thoughts about making movies and the growth of animation.
Since you have a varied background producing, directing and writing, what interested you in animation and made you decide to become CEO of a studio like Threshold?
I founded Threshold to make movies and related media and had early success doing that with “Mortal Kombat”. The more digitally complex our movies became and the more the associated media, like video games, became digital, the more I realized the whole film world was going digital. So, we started an animation studio.
What excites you about doing Animation?
If movies are a safe haven for control freaks, animation is like Nirvana. We get to totally, 100% imagine our entire world- every detail of it. We get to figure out exactly how all the characters look, talk and move. For example, I like incongruous characters – penguins who are always cold, drunk, bitchy teddy bears, fat, disheveled vampire bats – thins like that. And with animation, since we are limited only by our imagination, I get to do it. It’s a blast.
How do you determine which projects are best suited to be produced in 3D, 4D or CGI Animation?
It’s all CGI – that just means we do it digitally. Most of our CGI family films are 3D and now almost all of our location based entertainment productions are 4D. We constantly try to make movies that push immersion.
Of the film projects you’ve created at Threshold, which one is your personal favorite?
My next one! Seriously, I think to be a good filmmaker, you always have to keep falling in love with what you are about to do. I don’t really watch my movies once they are finished.
Aside from financing what do you consider to be the biggest barriers to independent filmmakers using CGI animation and other state of the art technology and do you have any recommendations for overcoming them?
Making a CGI movie is kind of like trying to get an aircraft carrier through the Holland Tunnel in NY. It doesn’t fit, so you have to take it apart and send it through, but by bit, then reassemble it at the other end. In other words, it is exceedingly complicated, meticulous and time consuming. Half of it is filmmaking, the other half is like running intel. We thankfully have an amazing technology alliance with IBM to help us create and innovate all of this. I recommend indie filmmakers be as creative as possible with story, but hire a company to actually make the CGI. It takes tens of millions of dollars and several years to start a CGI studio.
What is the most challenging aspect for you in running a company like Threshold?
We have so many great movies, a growing television network (Blackbelt TV); a bustling animation studio, new technology every second and like a thousand good ideas, so, the answer is focus and time in the day.
Have any unexpected advantages resulted from your partnership with IBM?
Tons and tons. Beyond being the best computer and software company in the world, they are the most innovative and smartest and most responsive I have ever seen. My old business school training says companies are either a battleship – big and strong, but can’t maneuver quickly, or a speedboat – fast and innovative, but small. IMB is both a battleship and a speedboat. We set a goal to make movies better, faster and cheaper with them and we have done it. We learn, grow and come up with new ways to make 3D, 4D and now even 5D because of our IBM relationship.
Since your film deals have all been profitable so far, is there a formula you’ve followed in order to achieve that kind of success?
Pray a lot. Plus, we always look at a movie two ways – 1) do we love it creatively, regardless of any business decision; and 2) is it a good business, regardless of how we feel creatively for us to move forward. The answer has to be yes to both. And, did I mention pray?
I read that you have an MBA from the Wharton School of Business and a BA from Cornell. Would you advise producers to view filmmaking as a business as well as a creative process and what advice would you offer to anyone starting out?
That’s the above answer. As a filmmaker, you simply can’t make a business decision without making a creative one and vice versa. If you are directing and want to shoot ten extra takes, you are spending more money or taking it away from someplace else. It all goes like that. You need to understand the film from both perspectives. To anyone starting out, I would say make sure you find your passion, never ever give up, and have fun along the way.
What do you enjoy about working on Theme Park Projects?
It’s the medium where we get to push technology the most. Theme parks are unique in that they have to make something that people will come from all over the world to see and that will run for years. Thus, they will take the most creative and technological chances. That’s fun. Plus, we think what is in theme parks today will be in movie theatres in 5-10 years.
Do you find them to be more similar or different than working on films?
Same principal, but as I said, better technology and they run for years – so, unlike movies, no “juice the opening weekend and rely on DVDs to get out”. They gotta be great.
Where do you see Animation heading during the next few years?
A seamless integration of live and digital, so we will all be making movies in big green rooms, backed by massive IBM computers that have the whole world programmed into it. Want Paris with a bunch of drunk bunny rabbits walking down the street? Nob prob. For storytelling – amazing. For my travel plans – not so good.