Thor Freudenthal, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Screen International, August 7, 2013 | Go to article overview

Thor Freudenthal, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters


Director Thor Freudenthal talks to Elbert Wyche about his entry into filmmaking and the challenges of directing a sequel.

Thor Freudenthal received a scholarship that led the German native to the US to study animation at the California Institute Of The Arts. After a few animated shorts and a string of commercials, Freudenthal made his presence known with his first live-action short and Sundance 2005 selection, Motel.

Freudenthal got the call for his 2009 feature debut DreamWorks' Hotel For Dogs and subsequently directed Diary Of A Wimpy Kid for Fox 2000, released in 2010. Fox 2000 approached the filmmaker to direct its fantasy adventure sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters.

What made you decide to become a filmmaker?

It wasn't an immediate process of decision-making. My first and foremost interest was in art. As a child, I remember drawing pictures on the walls and windows. Going into high school I would sell comic book-type stories to magazines that would have them. So initially I thought I would become a comic book artist. However, I felt it was too isolating to sit at a desk day-in and day-out. I like interaction with people. I grew up with the Spielberg films and I think when I saw E.T. subconsciously a decision was made to pursue something in that direction. Since I could draw the first thing I did was to try and study animation. I ended up at the California Institute Of The Arts, which has an animation programme in its film school and that was a great education about visual story telling and filmmaking. I ended up working at a visual effects company as an artist; I did concept art and story boards. I did character designs on the movie Stuart Little and Stuart Little 2.

Meanwhile I was dabbling in short films on my own and that led me to being signed at a commercial production house. Suddenly I was directing, albeit 30-second ads, for about five years. Meanwhile, I was doing a short film that ended up in Sundance [Motel] and I had written a couple of scripts that were set up at studios and never got made. That slowly opened the door to making a feature film. So, it was a gradual progression that led me to where I am.

It seems like your creative trajectory was sending you towards animation. Why the shift to live-action?

Motel was my first full-fledged live-action film. I always loved the idea of working with actors. To me if there was one thing more interesting than animating characters, it was eliciting performances from people. I just always felt that the stories told in animation in this country are of a particular type. I'm interested in all kinds of filmmaking, all kinds of storytelling and in live-action films. At the time it felt there was a broader spectrum of what interested me. Also, I like to be on my feet; I like to get my hands dirty and that's what you do when you're running a set doing a live-action film.

How did you become involved with Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters?

The simple reason is that I made a movie with Fox 2000 before that was the first Diary Of A Wimpy Kid film. We all had a great experience on that and they liked what I did in general. I had seen Chris Columbus's first Percy Jackson film and really enjoyed it and it actually motivated me to open up the books and discover the world of Percy Jackson.

I like anything that has to do with creating a world. I read the books and I really liked them and then surprisingly [Fox 2000] sent me the script, inquired whether I would be interested and because I had just finished the first two books of the series I said to them if we could mine the emotional depths of this, making it a kind of amplified coming-of-age story and combine it with the irreverent humour that the books had and set that against an action-adventure, then I would be totally game. And they said, 'Alright lets do it.' That was the short of it.

A few of the overarching themes in this film are the feeling of inadequacy, the fear of being an outsider and the feeling of being dispensable. …

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