Mark Walters exclusive video interview with Simon J. Smith, Steve Hickner, and Jerry Seinfeld for BEE MOVIE

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Video interview by Mark Walters




Jerry Seinfeld - From A-List to BEE MOVIE



Interview by Gary Murray


Jerry Seinfeld seems to be a man who has it all.  He is a very successful comic with a loving wife and three children.  His TV show Seinfeld ran for nine seasons on NBC, getting accolades and a massive viewing audience, making him so much money that he truly never has to work again.

But, the general public hasn’t heard much of this comic in the last decade.  He was not laying low, just working on projects that appealed to his artistic general nature rather than massive network audiences.  He did a giant concert tour where he retired his old observational act, turning it into cable TV special.  Then, Jerry made a brave documentary on building a new act that was more personal.  It was a movie that showed the process of bombing in trying out new and different chunks of comedy.  Now, he is back in the limelight and on the Silver Screen with an animated film.  Jerry, with his film making partners Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner, showed the Dallas area press snippets of one of the most anticipated films of 2007, Bee Movie.

In what started as an off hand joke with Steven Spielberg, Jerry began riffing that he was working on a ‘Bee’ movie.  Not a low budget film that was the second flick in a double feature bill, but a movie about bees.  Spielberg fell in love the off the cuff idea and got Dreamworks Jeffery Katzenberg involved.

But Jerry Seinfeld insists that the movie wasn’t a planned out idea from the get go.   “I didn’t pitch it,” he said.  “Pitching is when you have this idea and you ask ‘would a studio like to do this?’  I didn’t do anything; I was just trying to fill a hole in a conversation.  It was just one of those conversation lulls.  Spielberg got the ball rolling and I got together with some writers from the show and it came out really fast.  I didn’t see the potential that Steven saw in it but once I started writing it and all this stuff with honey and hives and humans and flowers and pollination—all of this poured out.”

The story of Bee Movie is of Barry B. Benson (voiced by Jerry Seinfeld) a worker drone dreaming of something more than working in the Honex plant in New Hive City.  He meets Vanessa (Renee Zellweger) a Manhattan florist and kindred spirit.  As they become friends Barry finds out way more about human beings than he expected.  When Barry discovers that bee honey is being sold to humans, he sues mankind.  The rest of the story is of the consequences of that lawsuit.

On why he decided to become involved in an animated project, Jerry said, “The thing that got me into this was the look of these movies.  If I could see those kind of images and do my comedy with it maybe that would be a fresh feeling with the audience. I knew I wouldn’t do good work if I wasn’t excited about it.  I’m more excited now than I was at the beginning now that it has actually come together.”

Since Jerry Seinfeld has been out of the public eye for so long, many have wondered why he hasn’t been in any live action films or television shows.  “The TV show used up everything that I had about wanting to be on camera and acting,” he said.  “It’s not really what I do. I’m a stand-up comic.”  After nine years of doing Seinfeld, which he called an incredibly long hobby, “it was time to get back to work.”

He readily confesses that he is not the best thespian or comic.  Jerry explained, “I think the only thing people like about what I do is they like my kind of ideas.  There are actors better than me, a lot of people who are funnier than me.  But I have certain types of ideas that connect with people.  I wasn’t interested in doing anything that wasn’t my own idea and I didn’t have any ideas.  So, I didn’t do anything,” he dead panned.

And his Barry B. Benson animation does look more than a bit like the stand-up.   He knew that he wanted Barry to be a bee version of himself.  “With me, (I thought that) people would enjoy seeing a character look like me because I played myself on the TV show.  People know me for who I am and not one of these actors that disappears in a character.  The expression is my expression.”  Added Simon J. Smith, “The expression and animation is very much Jerry.”

The more one talks to Jerry Seinfeld, the more he comes across as a big kid.  He found that the people who work at Dreamworks on animated films are kindred spirits.  “Most people in this business are creative, slowly matured individuals,” he said.  “You take the word funny and look at the root, it is fun.  So we made everything in the movie fun and not worry about who’s gonna like it.”

He says that he and the team at Dreamworks never planned to target a specific young audience but to make a film for everyone. “The simple thing is that everything has to be fun,” Jerry said.  “If you make everything fun then you don’t have to target to an audience.”  While some movies seem to aim at a particular demographic, Jerry just asked the question “What would be fun for me?”  He used as an example of ‘being fun’ by constructing the bee car that Barry drives; he called in a German racing-car design crew. “Which,” he said, “was a lot of fun for me.”  Jerry is well known for his collection of racing cars.

Married at 45, Seinfeld admits that his greatest joy is with his kids, but he also admits he can’t control them. He asks them to do things and they say no.  “I use threats, fear and intimidation to control them.  I have become a small time mob boss in my house.  I figure out what the kids like and I threaten to hurt those things,” he says with a laugh.

Jerry did have the highest praises for his team of Simon J. Smith and Steve Hickner.  “We all got along great and had the same work ethic.  We would do anything to make the movie better.  We would stay up any hours, work with anyone.”   Added Simon, “Wear bee costumes, get dunked in a tank of water.”

That quip brought up the original trailer that was shown during the Super Bowl.  The little clip showed the characters live action in insect costumes.   Said Seinfeld; “We thought just what a disaster it would be to attempt to make one of these movies live action.  Like the scene on the windshield, imagine if you would try to do that with fire hoses and a slippery surface.  It would be a nightmare.   But it was a funny trailer to tease about what is coming.” 

Jerry claims the record for moral support in ‘the most recording sessions ever done in an animated movie’.  In Bee Movie, there were over three hundred recording sessions because Jerry was there every day.  He recorded the movie every day.  By the time it was finally wrapped, there were over 200 different variations of the script.

Jerry recorded every line with every actor.  “It gets funnier when we do it together and I wasn’t doing anything else.  I wasn’t busy.  I would adjust the lines and I wanted it to adlib and have the characters talk over each other.  In the scenes with Renee we are talking over each other and you can’t really do that with people recording a year apart.  You can feel them feeling each other’s energy.”

Said Jerry, “Some people just like to read the lines of the script, other people are open to improv.  To me, the comedians are better in the movie. Chris Rock, all his stuff was adlibbed.”  But even the straight actors came in with improvs.  Jerry gave an example, in one scene he told Renee to just keep asking him to have a cup of coffee and he would refuse.  That little bit turned into a major comic moment. 

One of the biggest casting coups was getting talk show host Oprah Winfrey to be in the film as the court judge.  “She was very nervous the first time we recorded with her,” said Seinfeld.  “She always wanted to be in an animated movie.  I was on her show promoting the first Seinfeld DVD.  I told her what I was doing and she said ‘I’d love to be in that’.  The judge would be a perfect part for her.  To have the first interspecies lawsuit, you have to have the world’s most conciliatory person between these two major groups.  And she was good.  She did some of her stuff and said I want to come back.  I can do it better.”

Jerry acknowledged that the hardest sessions were Patrick Warburton who plays Ken the boyfriend.  “He is the funniest guy in film,” said Seinfeld.  “He would make me cry and fall off the chair.  Most of those laughing scenes are with Patrick.  I would literally fall on my hands and knees.”

Ray Liotta has a cameo and when asked why Jerry joked, “because he was the last guy you would expect to see in a movie about bees.”

Seinfeld said that he was very proud of the movie, but was amazed at the amount of time it took to make it—three and half years.  “Renee made two movies in the time Bee Movie was made.”  And finally it was asked--What did you like the best about Bee Movie?  “Making people laugh,” said Jerry.

BEE MOVIE opens November 2, 2007

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