This trip was sponsored by Disney. All opinions are my own. This week we have shared our Incredibles 2 interview with Craig T. Nelson (voice of “Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible”) & Holly Hunter (“Helen Parr / Elastigirl”) and our interview with Samuel L. Jackson (voice of Frozone). Today we are sharing more about the cute and touching short film that plays before Incredibles 2 called “BAO” as well as our interview with Becky Neiman (Producer) and Domee Shi (Director).
The short is very touching and is very well done. I loved how much I related to it as a mother and how much my kids loved it at the same time. Here is our Interview with “Bao” Director Domee Shi & Producer Becky Neiman:
What is your inspiration for the film? How did you come about it?
Domee : Oh, I came up with the idea over four years ago technically. I think it was in my office late one night and I was really hungry [CHUCKLES]. But I really wanted to, one, just like do a modern take on a classic fairytale like The Little Gingerbread Man but with a Chinese dumpling. And actually, I was like just doodling in this image of this mom nuzzling her little baby boy dumpling to death. It just popped into my head. I had to draw it out, and as I was drawing I started developing this story. I was also drawing a lot of inspiration from my own life growing up.
I’m an only child, and ever since I was little I feel like my mom and my dad have always treated me like a precious little dumpling, always making sure that I’m always safe and never wandered away too far. So, I didn’t wander away too far. I want to explore that relationship between this parent and this child and this mom character learning to let go of her little dumpling.
Becky : And fun fact. I’m not sure you all know this, but the title Bao has two meanings. One is steam bun and one is treasure or something precious.
Why did you choose to do the point-of-view from the mom versus the point-of-view from another person?
Domee: When I’m coming up with stories or when I’m developing any art or anything like that, I wanna learn something new as well. And if it was just from the dumplings point-of-view, like I already know what is, ’cause that’s me. I wanted to know what it was like for my mom like learning to let go of me. And so, I decided to explore this idea from the parents’ point-of-view. Then also if it gets too autobiographical, then you get too precious with details and you don’t wanna like cut stuff out. So, it was good to tell the story from a distance.
Did you consult your mom a lot to get details?
Domee : Yeah, she has a creative consultant credit actually. In the short. We brought her in twice to do dumpling-making classes for the whole thing. So, it was really important for us to get all of those little details right and to get the animators and effects artists like in there like studying my mom technique of like how she folds the dumpling exactly and kneads the dough and poking the dough and smelling the pork filling. ‘Cause it was important to get those details right like just to get them as accurate as possible on the big screen.
Have you gotten reactions from children seeing it yet?
Domee: Yeah, yeah. We showed it at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York, and this little girl — I think she was like ten years old — came up to us afterward, and she was like, oh, I loved it so much. I loved the little dumpling. And then she turned to her mom after and said you better not eat me when I go off to college. So, I was like, oh, good. I didn’t traumatize you.
Becky : We have found that it’s this very unique and culturally specific story, but the themes are so universal. And we found that with our crew. You know, anybody who would join would just be like I am Dumpling. I’m the mom. I’m the girlfriend. I was the dumpling. I became a mom during the making of this short. And then I related more to the mom.
Speaking of the dumpling scene, what did that mean to you being the daughter and creating that?
Domee : It’s been awesome. I never would’ve expected that I would collaborate professionally with my mom on my first short film. So, it’s been amazing.
Pixar’s really well known for their rules of storytelling. What were the most important rules that you followed while you were making this?
Domee : I think that’s really important to just pick your main character and then follow them emotionally throughout the whole story. And for us, the main character was the mom. We tried to tell the whole story from her point-of-view. And we tried to get the audience to be feeling what she’s feeling on screen and to never like feel like, you know, like they were ever ahead of her or behind her like emotionally.
Becky : Yeah, even when we were working with our composer, that would be the direction that we would give ‘em. Mom feels terrible right now, the music needs to reflect that, or this is a happy time for her. They’re really connected. And even the lighting direction would support that.
Domee : Everything has to support the characters and their emotion throughout the story. So, we couldn’t design stuff just for the sake of it looks really cool or colorful. It has to be where are we in the story? Is she feeling really low or lonely, or is she feeling really happy? And we would design like her clothes to be like even more colorful if she’s like feeling really happy and close to dumpling. Or like the lighting would reflect the relationship between Mom and dumpling. Like, we would separate them with light and shadow when they were growing apart. And bring them together in like a warm glow when they’re closer together.
Did you find that it was challenging because there aren’t any words?
Domee : It was challenging, but I really loved the challenge, ’cause my background is storyboarding. And I just love visual storytelling so much. It was a conscious decision for us to early on take out the dialogue completely from the whole short so that the story could be understood, more universally. Anybody from any country and any age could understand what was happening. And I think animation is such a cool visual medium, too, that I thought it’d be a cool challenge for the team to just push themselves to just tell the story and emotions through the acting and through the set dressing, through the colors.
Becky : There’s a lot of little details in the sets. Like, in the kitchen there’s tinfoil covering the burners, which, you know, in that subtle way you’re seeing Mom’s practicalness. It’s also something that’s common in Asian households and lot of little things like that to help teach you who this character is and tell the story.
Could you give the story of how you came to work with Pixar?
Domee : So, I came to Pixar as a story intern in 2011, and the story internship is like a three-month storyboarding boot camp. You just do assignment after assignment. You pitch to a whole room full of veteran story artists, supervisors, directors, every week. And that was kind of my way of training myself to be up for this job. And then I didn’t know if I was gonna get a position afterward, but they offered me a full-time position as a story artist on Inside Out after.
So, I worked on Inside Out for about two and a half years, and then I moved on to The Good Dinosaur. Then I moved on to Toy Story 4. I even did a small stint on Incredibles 2. I boarded a lot of the sequences with Edna and the baby. Those were super fun to board. And then it just so happened that like one year Pixar did almost like an open audition at the studio. Anybody who has ideas for short films, you can pitch ‘em to us. I then signed up. I pitched three ideas. Bao was one of them. And then the rest is history.
As the first female director of a short at Pixar, how do you feel about?
Domee : I feel super like honored and humble, but hopefully I’m the first of many female short film directors and feature film directors. It’s been awesome. I was telling Becky it almost didn’t hit me that I would be the first because making the short I was just focused on finishing it and hoping that people liked it or understood it. And now I can kinda sit back and bask and be like wow. We’re blazing that trail.
Becky : It’s happening. And you had a really strong female leadership team. It’s us, but it’s also our editor, our production designer, our sound editor, our production manager, technical manager. It was super inspiring for us.
Would Mom have reacted differently if dumpling would have brought a Chinese girl home?
Domee : The whole purpose of that story point was to present to Mom a woman that is the complete opposite of her, so someone who was younger, someone who wasn’t Chinese. And she was almost presented as almost like Mom’s worst nightmare. But with this Mom character, we’re putting her through the ringer basically. She just has to adapt to change. And this female Caucasian girlfriend character is like the most different thing that she’s ever seen. And she’s gonna like come in and swoop in and take her baby son away. So, Mom has to come kind of go through that hurdle and accept her at the end.
Why did you decide you to do a boy instead of a girl?
Domee : I like that creative separation between me and my arts. So, if it was gonna be a girl, then I think I would’ve gotten too heady and like this is me. This is my life. And it was always a boy in my head. In my head like that first image was of that mom nuzzling this baby boy dumpling to death. And I just wanted to kind of run with it and see where it would take me.
You said worked on Incredibles 2 a bit, how did you feel when you found out your short was gonna be in front of it?
Domee : Oh, my gosh. It was amazing.
Becky : When we start on these things, one, we’re not even sure that they’ll greenlight it. Two, we’re not sure we’ll be able to finish it. So, we’re definitely like the indie wing of Pixar, the shorts programs. The feature films are what need to get made. And so, oftentimes we’ll have to stop production so that artist can go work on those. We had a lotta starts and stops. And then we don’t even know if we’ll be able to be in theaters.
We only just found out like within the last year that we could finish it and that we’d be attached to Incredibles 2. We could not believe it. We know that this feature is so highly anticipated and so — that just means we hope more people will be able to see it. And we’ve noticed on the surface they look like very different films, but they both feature strong super moms. And so, we feel like there’s this really sweet connection between two. So, it’s been awesome for us.
How did it feel to be able to bring this Asian culture to Pixar with this short film?
Domee : Oh, it’s been awesome. My original intention with this short is just to tell this story that might be familiar with a lot of people around the world between like a parent learning to let go of their child. But that’s almost like a Trojan horse to kinda introduce the world to these different little specific cultural details that I grew up with that I think are super cool, like making dumplings and what a Chinese household looks like, or just what a typical day in this Chinese mom’s life is like shopping for groceries, , you know, not at an Albertson’s but a Chinatown. We’re telling this universal story but with this culturally specific paintbrush, more people can learn more about this stuff that they don’t know much about. So, I’m really excited about it.
This was such a great interview and I loved learning more about the background of Bao and what it means to Domee and Becky. Also, here is the Dumpling recipe that they use in the film, so you can try making it too!
INCREDIBLES 2 opens in theatres everywhere on June 15th!
We just shared our Craig T. Nelson (voice of “Bob Parr / Mr. Incredible”) & Holly Hunter (“Helen Parr / Elastigirl”) interview and Samuel L. Jackson (voice of Frozone) interview. We will still be sharing more about, BIG CITY GREENS Creators interview, Incredibles Film Review, Sarah Vowell (voice of “Violet Parr”) & Huck Milner (voice of “Dash Parr”) interview, Bob Odenkirk (voice of “Winston Deavor”) & Catherine Keener (“Evelyn Deavor”) interview, and Sophia Bush (voice of “Voyd”) interview. Check back over the next couple weeks as we share all of this and more with you!