Interview – ‘Trolls Band Together’ director Walt Dohrn explains the interesting influence of Martin Scorsese for his new family film

After two films of true friendship and relentless flirting, Poppy (Anna Kendrick) and Branch (Justin Timberlake) are now officially, finally, a couple! As they grow closer, Poppy discovers that Branch has a secret past. He was once part of her favourite boyband phenomenon, BroZone, with his four brothers: Floyd (Troye Sivan), John Dory (Eric André), Spruce (Daveed Diggs; Hamilton) and Clay (Kid Cudi). BroZone disbanded when Branch was still a baby, as did the family, and Branch hasn’t seen his brothers since.

But when Branch’s bro Floyd is kidnapped for his musical talents by a pair of nefarious pop-star villains—Velvet (Emmy winner Amy Schumer; Trainwreck) and Veneer (Grammy winner and Tony nominee Andrew Rannells; The Book of Mormon)—Branch and Poppy embark on a harrowing and emotional journey to reunite the other brothers and rescue Floyd from a fate even worse than pop-culture obscurity.

Leading up to the release of Trolls Band Together, I had the chance to once again chat with the films director, Walt Dohrn, about his influences for the movie, working with Justin Timberlake and Eric Andre, and the interesting way he drew influence from Martin Scorsese and other filmmakers to create some of the dynamic visuals!

Nick: Walt! It’s great to talk to you again, man! How are you going?

Walt Dohrn: I know! How are you? It’s been a little while!

Nick: Obviously, last time we spoke was for the trailer drop of Trolls Band Together. And now I’ve seen the full film, and I really enjoyed it! It’s such a fun and vibrant movie. So, I’m excited to chat with you today about it. And I want to start at the beginning of the film, and title card it opens with that says: ‘Back in the day…’! What was ‘back in the day’ like for you Walt? What were your formative movies and songs? And were there any that had an influence on this film?

Walt Dohrn: Nick, I mean, those experiences you have, I think with movies especially, just stick with you for a lifetime. I feel a deep, kind of, regurgitation with some of those ideas that I absorbed. You know, watching Disney films like Fantasia and The Three Caballeros, very kind of psychedelic, abstract, music centric movies.

I loved musicals like Willy Wonka [and the Chocolate Factory], the one from the 70s. I love those kinds of musicals. I love The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I love Yellow Submaries. All those things you could feel up on the screen. You could feel my influences, as well as everybody else’s on the crew.

Nick: The visual style of the film really engaged me. And I loved the choices you made with shots like the smash zooms at the beginning, or the one take shot that goes through Gristle Jr. and Bridget’s wedding. What goes into the process of deciding where you will put shots like that in the film, and what’s the process of bringing them to life through the animation?

Walt Dohrn: You know, they’re always on our mind. Like you said, those tracking shots that Scorsese did in Goodfellas, those things stick with you in the language of cinema. And I really worked with our cinematographer, who’s an amazing artist himself, on where we are with the script and talk about things we want to capture. Talk about camera technique, like you were picking up on a lot of the handheld. We wanted that kind of music documentary feel. It adds a lot of tension, I think, to the scenes with the antagonist. Plus, it’s just stylistically really fun!

We used a lot of handheld in the backstage scenes with BroZone. We looked at commercials from the 90s, like the Mentos commercials to capture that 90s feel on the beaches of Vacay Island. We looked at a lot of films! For the entrance to the mini golf course, where it gets kind of spooky, but it’s still really beautiful and ethereal, we looked at a lot of Spielberg and E.T. to capture that feeling. So, it’s really fun to have these cinematic moments and try to recapture them in our film.

Nick: A huge aspect of the Trolls films is the soundtrack. But I also believe that because of the songs featured, it could be easy for the cinematic score to go by the wayside. But I noticed how much Theodore Shapiro’s score accentuates the emotional aspects of the story. And this is his second Trolls film he’s score, if I’m not mistaken…

Walt Dohrn: We worked really closely with Teddy on the last film, and he was able to take some of those motifs and apply them in new ways here. If you’ve ever seen the Trolls, they’ve got this bubbly synths along with the orchestration, and he really pushed that along.

He’ll do things like weave the melodies of the songs, ones that haven’t even been in the film yet—Like, you’ll hear themes and whistles from ‘A Better Place’, which you won’t hear until the end of the film, but they’re right at the beginning! He does this magic trick, and he just adds this cohesive feel to all of the music. He weaves it all together, because it’s so disparate, you know. Different genres, different decades and he weaves it all together seamlessly. He’s a magician, a real life magician.

Nick: I felt that a big reason Trolls Band Together was so heartfelt was because of its core message about family – whether it be the family you’re born into or the family you choose along the way. How do you find the process of making these rich thematic elements accessible for younger audiences too?

Walt Dohrn: Yeah, it’s a long and rich, challenging, interesting one. As much as the movies are about joyfulness and having a goodtime and being playful, there needs to be a richer texture underneath that makes it all worth it. I think that the jokes are stronger when the tears are harder, you know. I think the more it has meaning in it, the more everything else is fun.

We always say that these movies are for everyone. Their movies for humans, no matter what age you are, we want these messages, we want these ideas to come in. But we’re not on a soapbox or anything. We don’t have a mission or agenda except one, which is ‘be nice’. You know, just be nice to everybody and treat everyone with love and respect and the power of what we can get done together.

I think the movies need to keep talking about the power of optimism. And in this new one, there’s a lot of talk of, you know, not needing to be perfect. I think we all feel we have to put out this idea that we’re perfect, even on social media. What we eat, where we vacation. We don’t need to strive for perfection, we just need to be together.

Nick: I read an interview with Justin Timberlake from the last Trolls film, and he said he would love to make 7 more of these films as they are “the gift that keeps on giving”. Having been on a similar journey with Justin, do you feel the same way?

Walt Dohrn: Yeah, I would love to make more movies. You know, there’s an infinite playground that these movies have. We’ve just scratched the surface of the universe of Trolls. It’s so massive, both within and out of the larger universe. So, I don’t know, we will see where the movie takes us. You know, if we get to make some more, if the world wants more films, we always have a bunch of ideas that we’re exploring at all times.

Nick: When we spoke last, we had a little bonding moment of our shared love of Eric Andre, who is fantastic in the film! I want to geek out with you for a second and ask what some of your favourite Eric Andre bits are?

Walt Dohrn: Oh man, there are so many. I love the stuff in the studio. It blew my mind how crazy it can get, and I was always laughing so hard with that. And the brevity of how brave he is when he goes out and does the pranks, and how dangerous that is! He was shooting some of the show while we were recording him, and he had some kind of injury where someone stabbed him with a pen! It’s just that kind of energy he brings!

He’s so funny, and he’s actually very sweet. Incredibly smart. We spent of lot of time in the room together improvising a lot of the jokes. A lot of them came from him just kind of riffing on stuff. And he was the best at efforts. Efforts are the falling and breathing and running and spinning around noises. And it was just a smorgasbord for us to play around with in editing!

Nick: Even as a fan of him, I was pleasantly surprised with how good he is in the film! Walt, that’s my time, but I really appreciate you taking the time to chat today!

Walt: Thank you. It’s good to see you again, Nick.

Thank you so much to Walt Dohrn for his time, and to Universal Pictures for organising the interview. Trolls Band Together is in Australian cinemas on November 30.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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