Howard Director Don Hahn on Telling Howard Ashman’s Story

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Howard Director Don Hahn on Telling Howard Ashman's Story

Howard Ashman is someone who has undoubtedly formed you, even in case you don’t know his identify. He’s the lyricist and storyteller who labored on The Little Mermaid, Magnificence and the Beast and Aladdin. With out Ashman, it’s questionable whether or not or not Disney Animation would have had its wonderful renaissance by means of the late 1980s and into the 1990s. Ashman proved that these motion pictures had been nonetheless viable in a contemporary leisure panorama. In fact, the rationale why we didn’t get extra from Ashman is that he died, tragically, on the age of 40, from AIDS.

In case you didn’t know his story, or would like to know extra, then Don Hahn has you lined. Hahn, who produced the unique animated Magnificence and the Beast and who labored alongside Ashman for years, has directed Howard, a fully wonderful new documentary debuting on Disney+ this Friday, August 7. Using outdated images, behind-the-scenes movies, and promotional supplies, alongside newly recorded interviews, Hahn paints the image of Ashman as a stressed, extremely emotional inventive genius who was taken from us far, far too quickly.

Chatting with Hahn over Zoom, we lined how this movie was born out of his earlier documentary Waking Sleeping Magnificence (additionally wonderful, additionally on Disney+), how a lot the movie modified from its Disney Cruise Line and Tribeca screenings, what it was like making the primary Disney movie with a homosexual protagonist, and what the topic of his subsequent documentary may presumably be.

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Picture by way of Disney

COLLIDER: At what level did you begin excited about doing this documentary? Was it whilst you had been making Waking Sleeping Magnificence?

HAHN: Yeah, for some time I assumed possibly Waking Sleeping Magnificence would have been a Howard documentary, nevertheless it was a miracle sufficient that that film bought made and have become the story that it was. So when that got here out, which was a narrative extra about executives and palace intrigue and that type of factor, it was at all times behind my thoughts.

However I by no means considered making a film. I simply thought oh, there’s extra story to inform right here. And his sister was excited about doing a biography and there have been different issues being talked about. And so I had lunch together with his sister about 4 years in the past and simply stated, blurted out of the blue, like an impulse purchase on the checkout counter and simply stated, “I’m going to make a movie about Howard.” And she or he was very candy about it. I’m positive she didn’t imagine me. And she or he stated later she didn’t assume that it will ever get finished.

And it grew to become, I assume an obsession can be the phrase. As a result of I assumed… I do know all of the gamers, I’ve plenty of archival footage or entry to the archival footage. And despite the fact that I labored with Howard, I didn’t know rather a lot about him. It’s such as you work with lots of people and don’t actually know their private lives. I began digging and it grew to become clear early on I wished Howard to inform his personal story as a result of he was so articulate no matter he spoke, whether or not it was on radio or TV or no matter. It was compelling and attention-grabbing and instructive. And I simply thought, Properly, let’s try this.

The primary 12 months I spent within the Library of Congress the place his papers are and simply round city, making an attempt to dredge up issues which have by no means been seen earlier than and there have been tons of fantastic issues on the market that simply actually helped inform the story. In order that’s type of the genesis of all of it.

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Picture by way of Warner Bros.

Was there one thing that you simply stumbled upon that was notably revelatory to you?

HAHN: Properly, yeah, he and Alan did a panel dialogue on the 92nd Avenue Y in New York. And we had been fairly positive it was not filmed as a result of they simply didn’t movie. And after checking with them, they regarded on their cabinets they usually really had an audio recording of it so it’s within the film.

It was actually revealing as a result of Howard was speaking actually frankly about there not being a giant future on Broadway for his type of conventional musicals. And possibly in animation, they hadn’t began actually working with animation but. It was an actual crossroads after Smile. He was okay with the live-action film of Little Store of Horrors however was not thrilled with it. That interview specifically revealed rather a lot about the place he was in life and what he was pondering.

After which we discovered different interviews. Indiana College had a video tape on their shelf, an interview from 30 years in the past that they’d by no means taken off the shelf. It was simply sitting there. It was a sit-down interview with Howard. In order that was a giant 15-minute chunk of attention-grabbing biography. So these sorts of issues grew to become actually vital to me as a result of they hadn’t been heard earlier than, and it was Howard speaking extra truthfully about his life and his method. We discovered a radio interview in New York that it hadn’t been heard, that was extra biographical, with him speaking about his childhood. All these items got here collectively very well as soon as we began doing the analysis for it.

Like Waking Sleeping Magnificence, that is all audio interviews, together with archival footage and classic images. Was that at all times the plan from the start?

HAHN: You already know, I used to be open to something. I wasn’t fairly positive what it was going to be. I wasn’t even positive if it was feature-length, I assumed, Properly, this could be a half hour. However once I thought I had loads of materials to make it a function, the identical factor occurred that occurred on Waking Sleeping Magnificence – I attempted to chop in new interviews with new speaking heads and it simply appeared to drag you out of the film since you’re chopping from this fairly crappy VHS low-res materials to love a 4K picture of Don Hahn 30 years later. And it’s off-putting and stunning. Chopping to a picture of me in any case is off-putting.

So I went again to one thing that labored on Waking Sleeping Magnificence, that I like much more on this film, which is simply transport you again to the eighties and nineties and allow you to sit on the tables I used to be at and allow you to be there with Howard. And hopefully the viewers is forgiving of the standard of the tape and the movie. And we restored it as a lot as we may, however I feel the principle factor was to let Howard inform his story and keep out of the best way. Do no hurt. And that’s type of what led all of it.

Properly, there’s some notable omissions, by way of individuals who you bought to speak to. Did you attempt to get David Geffen to speak?

HAHN: I did.

Okay.

HAHN: He was affordable and never disinterested, however we by no means actually targeted on it that a lot. And in the long run I attempted to remain to folks that had been way more private. I’d have cherished to have gotten him to be actually sincere. But it surely simply didn’t work out for no matter cause.

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Picture by way of Disney

Did you ever have stuff within the documentary associated to Howard’s work on Oliver & Firm?

HAHN: I did. I did. He wrote a terrific track for Oliver & Firm. And it was noteworthy in that it was his first track there similar to the Tina Turner script was his very first thing at Disney. However in the long run I pulled it out as a result of it was type of a detour. And I felt like until I may play among the track or present among the manufacturing, it simply grew to become shoe leather-based, simply to cowl that as a biographical level.

So yeah, the primary cuts of the film had been three-hours lengthy. And after some time, I simply thought I’ve to deal with what’s vital in the long run. I discovered a tape within the Library of Congress of Howard and Tina Turner speaking and visiting whereas she’s making sandwiches. There’s a 90-minute tape of him simply asking her about her life and the way she grew up and what she’d wish to have within the script. And that’s a film in itself. However once more, in the long run Howard’s script wasn’t produced actually. It went off the rails and it simply was a sidebar, so it was sufficient to only contact on it and transfer on.

Was that interval attention-grabbing for you, although, his transition from going to the studio after which making his option to animation?

HAHN: Yeah, actually attention-grabbing as a result of he was so pissed off at Broadway. You already know, the critics, the environment. He by no means actually made it on Broadway till a number of years in the past when Aladdin and people sorts of issues began occurring on Broadway.

It’s a extremely attention-grabbing interval. And I feel that’s what was in a position to lead him to Jeffrey, and Geffen was in a position to lead him to Jeffrey, and that changed into a terrific escape for him. He was in a position to come to California and work for a very long time till he bought too sick to journey. However I feel that bought Howard out of his head. It bought him out of New York. It bought him away from all that and into some actually immersive initiatives to begin out with. In order that was a extremely vital time in his profession.

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Picture by way of Disney

I do know you’ve been engaged on this factor what for I’m positive it appears like ceaselessly to you. However there have been public screenings, I feel someone stated they noticed an early model on the Disney Cruise Line in 2017. So are you able to speak in regards to the evolution of that model to the model that we’re all getting on Disney+?

HAHN: It’s a barely amusing story as a result of I wished to viewers check it and I had confirmed it to household and pals and, as a lot as I like them, you’ll be able to by no means fairly belief them to inform you the reality. So I like placing it in entrance of an actual viewers. Possibly it’s my Disney coaching from David Katzenberg, however you wish to get the actual viewers response.

And I assumed, What’s the one protected place the place there’s no Wi-fi and you may’t actually speak to individuals about it? And I assumed, Properly, we’ll do it on the excessive seas! So I confirmed it to an viewers out on the Disney Cruise ship. It was nonetheless a tough reduce. It wasn’t blended. And there was plenty of lacking audio and hissy audio that we hadn’t cleaned up but. The construction of it was roughly the identical, nevertheless it was a bit on the lengthy aspect. And after that, I tightened it up rather a lot.

After which additionally we discovered plenty of new bits and items, like there’s an interview in the direction of the tip of the movie of Howard speaking on the Little Mermaid press junket. And that got here to us like when it was going out the door to Tribeca, which was additionally two years in the past. A good friend of mine referred to as and stated, “You know, I have a friend who was at the press junket in Orlando when Howard was there and I think they have tape of it. Would you be interested in that?” And I stated, “Yes!”

They emailed it over and it’s Howard speaking about his course of and what he appreciated about it and why he didn’t do it as a Danish fairytale. It was a Caribbean fairytale as a result of the music was so nice. So these sorts of late additions got here in after I examined it a number of occasions. After which Tribeca was type of our large popping out occasion. And I did it as an unbiased movie. Disney+ has been a godsend as a result of I by no means knew… On the time there wasn’t a Disney+ once I made it.

Going to Tribeca, getting invited there was nice. And that opened it as much as potential patrons and folks that wished it and in the long run, it was Bob Iger of all individuals who actually roped it in. He stated, “This is a story we should tell. It’s our culture. It shouldn’t go up anywhere else.” And that’s how I ended up at Disney.

Was the Tribeca reduce just about what we’re seeing on Disney+?

HAHN: It’s actually shut. I imply, we made a number of changes and swapped out a number of images, nevertheless it’s pretty near what you’ll see.

Had been you shocked that it’s going to be on Disney+? It doesn’t go into frank element, however the breadth of his life and the breadth of his associate’s life on the time is fairly… it feels new and totally different for Disney+.

HAAHN: I’m like past thrilled, as a result of I feel Disney+ it’s much more than simply type of a fan website. It must be and is a various place for every kind of filmmaking. And I feel to have the ability to inform Howard’s story in an genuine, sincere method, which is what I attempted to do, is correct.

And I additionally assume prefer it’s arduous to criticize as a result of it’s in all probability the primary Disney movie a couple of homosexual protagonist. However I feel like, nicely, that’s a part of our viewers too. And we must be telling these tales about our total viewers and that’s a element of Howard’s life that’s important in telling the story. And positively, the tip of his life was tragic. However plenty of the youthful viewers that sees this film isn’t deeply conscious of the AIDS disaster as a lot as possibly I’m in my aged age.

It’s good to have the ability to at the least shine a light-weight on that and say there was this big well being disaster and it was taking out the expertise in Broadway, in Hollywood, in big buckets full. And it was a tragic, tragic time. I feel these particulars are historic, they’re factual, they’re attention-grabbing, they usually’re very private to Howard’s story. And that’s why I feel it’s applicable. I’m actually pleased they picked it up.

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Picture by way of Disney

Joss Whedon is quoted as saying the animated musical died with Howard Ashman. Clearly Disney made plenty of animated musicals afterwards, however I used to be simply questioning what your ideas are on that quote and type of what your emotions are in regards to the animated musicals that got here afterwards.

HAHN: I feel all people jumped on the bandwagon to make animated musicals, so I don’t assume a lot that it died, however as a result of these motion pictures had been so profitable, as a result of videotape was popping out and there have been promoting tons of of thousands and thousands of videotapes, each studio jumped into the animation enterprise. And so we bought plenty of mediocre Broadway musical-type animated movies. I don’t assume it died in any respect. I feel there’s some nice, nice scores out of lots of people, not the least of which is Frozen and among the Disney movies.

It’s nonetheless round, it’s nonetheless doing nicely, however like with any artwork type, there’s a bell curve of high quality or perceived high quality about what these musicals are. And I feel that’s in all probability the extra correct option to describe it, is there have been immediately had been dozens and dozens of movies, there was an Academy class for animation rapidly. And also you’re seeing 25 animated movies a 12 months as an alternative of 1. And in order that simply means there’s a much bigger curve of leisure on the market.

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Picture by way of Disney

Have you considered what the following chapter within the Don Hahn documentary collection will probably be?

HAHN: I’m hoping for pitches. In case you bought concepts, let me know. We may do the Black Cauldron story or one thing.

Have you ever considered extra tales to inform or do you assume that is it for you for a short while?

HAHN: I’ve. There are some tales, the one which jumps out at me is Mary Blair. Man, she and Lee Blair, her husband received a medal on the Olympics for his watercolors. Mary involves the studio, works for Walt Disney, turns into Walt’s most beloved artist and designs Cinderella and Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. After which she goes away and has a troublesome life, has a toddler with the incapacity and has an alcohol concern. And Walt calls her again to work on it’s a small world for the World’s Honest. She was only a dynamic, attention-grabbing girl who contributed a lot to tradition and mid-century artwork. There’s tales like that. There are various tales like that, that I simply really feel like, wow, that’s… These creative heroes are actually vital. And it’s not a lot about Disney even. It’s simply in regards to the heroic habits of people who find themselves so gifted, like her and Howard.

Howard is now streaming on Disney+.


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