Re-Ver­sion­ing to Form

Pro­ducer My­chal Simka finds suc­cess spin­ning for­eign an­i­mated fea­tures into a new form. By Tom McLean.

Animation Magazine - - Features -

My­chal Simka grew up in Ana­heim, Calif., a huge fan of a guy named Walt Dis­ney who cre­ated a lo­cal theme park and made some of the best an­i­mated movies ever made. As an adult, he’s come to work in the an­i­ma­tion in­dus­try Dis­ney pi­o­neered, though in a de­cid­edly atyp­i­cal fash­ion.

Simka is the writer, di­rec­tor and pro­ducer of “re-ver­sioned” an­i­mated fea­tures. That means he takes movies pro­duced abroad in non-English lan­guages and finds a way to adapt them for an Amer­i­can au­di­ence, pri­mar­ily through edit­ing and com­pletely rewriting the di­a­log into what can be called, at the very least, a ma­jor re-mix of the orig­i­nal movie and at best an es­sen­tially brand-new fea­ture.

His most-re­cent film is Birds of Par­adise, a re-ver­sion of a 2010 movie pro­duced in Ar­gentina and re­leased as Plu­mif­eros. Re­leased by Lion­s­gate as an exclusive for Wal­mart and Sam’s Club stores, it’s the eighth such project for Simka and fea­tures the voices of Drake Bell, Ken Jeong, Jon Lovitz, Ash­ley Tis­dale, Jane Lynch and Keith David.

Simka has a lot to say about what goes into his re-ver­sioned movies, how he works with his voice cast and his as­pi­ra­tions for em­u­lat­ing the ca­reer of his hero, Walt Dis­ney. An­i­ma­tion Mag­a­zine: What was the process of bring­ing this film to an Amer­i­can au­di­ence? Simka: We took the script, we trans­lated it into English and then we sim­pli­fied the whole movie down to what this movie’s all about, and that was: Don’t judge a book by its cover; or, don’t judge a bird by its feath­ers. It’s about a spar­row who spills paint on him­self and he thinks he’s an ex­otic bird and he gains all this con­fi­dence. He’s able to talk to the birds that he likes, he en­ters a race and even­tu­ally does some heroic things. But he learns at the end that you know you’ve gotta be yourself and the color of his feath­ers didn’t re­ally mat­ter. Af­ter that, I looked at all the char­ac­ters — there’s a pigeon, there’s a hum­ming­bird, there’s a bat — and we said, ‘What ac­tor would be amaz­ing for this role?’ I got Ken Jeong as the pigeon, I got Jon Lovitz as the hum­ming­bird. And then I went with my writ­ers and we took a month or two and just started writ­ing jokes through the whole thing and re­ally just draw out those themes. Q: What were the lim­i­ta­tions of re-ver­sion­ing a film that’s al­ready been an­i­mated? Simka: If a bird opens his beak you can sub what­ever that word was sup­posed to be for prob­a­bly a thou­sand other words. We lit­er­ally changed ev­ery word in the script; maybe one or two words sur­vived from the orig­i­nal trans­la­tion. But with the pho­netic con­tent and ev­ery­thing, I like to think we kept it true to what the orig­i­nal di­rec­tor wanted to do, wanted to ex­press, but we just sort of took it to the next level. Q: Did you do any new an­i­ma­tion at all for Birds of Par­adise or was it all re-writ­ing? Simka: The orig­i­nal ti­tle se­quence, we took that out com­pletely and put in a three-minute, multi-plane cam­era ef­fect an­i­ma­tion se­quence. I do have a small an­i­ma­tion team for that. Or if there’s some­thing writ­ten in Span­ish — or, in some of my other films, it was Chi­nese — we’ll put some­thing in front of that so you can’t see that. We’re re­ally look­ing to make these films into Amer­i­can prod­ucts, and people have com­pared what I’m do­ing to what Sa­ban did with the Power Rangers back in the ’90s. Q: How does your in­ter­est in Walt Dis­ney af­fect what you do with a film like this? Simka: I look at what I’m do­ing right now as sort of like the ’20s for Walt. Walt got started with the shorts, the short sub­jects. And he did hun­dreds of those and each one he was mak­ing bet­ter and bet­ter over the course of many years. And I look at the what other people call dubs, what I call re-ver­sion­ing, as sort of the same place as Walt was with his short sub­jects. Yes, I re­ally look for­ward to do­ing an orig­i­nal fea­ture for one of the ma­jor stu­dios. I think that will be amaz­ing, but right now, I love work­ing on the films that I’m work­ing on and mak­ing each one just a lit­tle bit bet­ter than the one be­fore. Q: What’s your next project? Simka: I have a cou­ple of an­i­mated pi­lots that I’m work­ing on. There’s go­ing to be some more re-ver­sion­ings. There’s some orig­i­nals with some of the com­pa­nies that I’ve re-ver­sioned films for in the past they’ve ap­proached me to start work­ing on orig­i­nals. So I’m not sure which di­rec­tion it’s go­ing to go. An­other thing that I’d like to do and I’m talk­ing about this with my agent and my man­ager now, is do­ing what I do, I could be a great as­set not as the main di­rec­tor on a big stu­dio film, but af­ter they’re done just make it like 50 per­cent bet­ter than what they al­ready have. That’s some­thing I’m look­ing at right now.

Story: Set on the Nor­folk, Eng­land, sea­side, this ethe­real tale cen­ters on friendless Anna, whose life changes when she meets a mys­te­ri­ous girl named Marnie among the sand dunes. When Marnie van­ishes and a new fam­ily moves into her house, Anna learns that her friend was not all that she seemed.

Igle­sias, Don Cheto, Hec­tor Suarez, Liza Kudrow, Pierre An­gelo Story: Pro­duced for the Span­ish and English­language mar­kets (thanks to dis­tri­bu­tion part­ner Phil Ro­man En­ter­tain­ment) the film will fol­low a care­free pre-teen par­rot named Cuco who ven­tures to Hol­ly­wood to en­list the help of his fa­vorite hero in or­der to help his fa­ther and pro­tect his cir­cus fam­ily from an in­sid­i­ous en­emy.

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