Thursday, June 13, 2024

The Next Best Picture Podcast – Interview With Director Kelsey Mann & Producer Mark Nielsen Previewing “Inside Out 2”

Kelsey Mann’s first-ever role at Pixar was Story Supervisor on “Monsters University,” the sequel to Pete Docter’s “Monsters Inc.” Now, eleven years later, Mann makes his feature directorial debut with another sequel to a Docter picture: “Inside Out 2.” “There’s a high bar for what we make here at Pixar, regardless of any movie, original or sequel,” Mann says. “So, the feeling of not wanting to let people down, I’ve felt that since [the first] day that I stepped onto the campus here.”

The first “Inside Out” is widely regarded as one of Pixar’s best films. It offers new language for people to describe their emotions and what’s going on in their heads, something Mann and producer, Mark Nielsen, didn’t take lightly. “We’re hearing from people, teachers, counsellors, and psychologists about how they’d been able to use that film as a tool for people to talk about their emotions in a way that’s really been helpful,” Nielsen reflects. “We didn’t know that when we were making it, but it’s amazing. And we know it now, and we have the chance to open that conversation back up again to get people talking about more complex emotions.” 

In “Inside Out 2,” Riley enters puberty, a stage full of new and uncomfortable emotions that she doesn’t know how to navigate. Mann hopes teenagers will be able to see themselves in Riley. “When I was a teenager, I really could have used a movie like this,” he says.

Ahead of the June 14th release of “Inside Out 2,” Next Best Picture got an early look at the film, including its first 30 minutes. Check out our conversation with director Kelsey Mann and producer Mark Nielsen about making the film and why they’re excited for audiences to finally see it.

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Guys, thank you so much for showing us part of the movie. I loved what we saw. It was only 30 minutes, but I can’t wait to see more.

KELSEY MANN: I want to show you the rest.

Let’s do it!

Let’s do this!

MARK NIELSEN: Wait, let us finish it! We’re going to finish it, and then we’re going to show you the rest. We’re almost there!

All right, fair enough. I’ll accept that. Well, obviously, “Inside Out” is one of the most acclaimed movies, even for Pixar, so tackling a sequel is no small thing. Kelsey, you’ve been with Pixar for a long time. What was the process like to land this as your feature directorial debut?

MANN: It’s exciting. It took me a long time to even come in the gates and become an employee at Pixar. I applied in 2000. (To Mark) You guys denied me!

NIELSEN: It wasn’t me!

MANN: Who was it?

NIELSEN: I wanted to let you in!

MANN: Okay, fine. But it took me a long time working out in the industry to try and get in here. And when I finally got in, I got into the story department. So, I worked as a story artist for a little while, and then I thought I’d retire as a Pixar story artist. And, I’m like, nothing would make me happier.

And then, all of a sudden, I started getting opportunities to be a story supervisor. I got a chance to direct a short here, [“Party Central”]. Then, I got the opportunity to direct this movie. I’ll never forget Pete [Docter] asking me. I had this meeting on my calendar with Pete and Jim Morris, the president of Pixar. I’m like, well, this is either the best thing in the world or this is my last day (laughs).

Luckily, it turned out to be great because Pete was like, “Hey, I was thinking about worlds that we could revisit.” I was thinking, “Oh, he’s going to ask me to direct a sequel.” I thought it’d be something I had worked on. And then, he said, “So, I was thinking about what we could go back to, and I was thinking ‘Inside Out.’ I think you’d be a good person to think of ideas of what we could do.” And, I was like, “Inside Out!” I guess Surprise was at my console there for a second. And then, very quickly, Joy. 

There’s a high bar for what we make here at Pixar, regardless of any movie, original or sequel. So, the feeling of not wanting to let people down, I’ve always had that feeling since [the first] day that I stepped onto the campus here. So, that’s not a new thing at all. And, luckily, I’ve done this before. The first film I ever worked on at Pixar was “Monsters University,” which also follows a Pete Docter-directed movie. So, I was familiar with it. And you can get caught up in the anxiety of it. Like, what if, what if, what if, you know? Instead, what I really need to do is just focus on what I can control; what’s right here in front of me. Right here in front of me is being able to tell a story that I can, hopefully, make really fun, really imaginative, and make it meaningful and come from my heart. And that’s how I’m going to make it work.

And Mark, you worked on the first “Inside Out.” What excited you about jumping back into this world?

NIELSEN: Yeah, I was the associate producer on the first film, and it was a career highlight. Absolutely. Just a dreamy experience. I love that film so much. It’s one of the gems within the walls of this studio. And the impact it had on the world…Over nine years now, we’re [still] hearing from people, teachers, counsellors, and psychologists about how they’d been able to use that film as a tool for people to talk about their emotions in a way that’s really been helpful.

We didn’t know that when we were making it, but it’s amazing. And we know it now, and we have the chance to open that conversation back up again, to get people talking about more complex emotions.

I know that Pixar movies often change drastically from the initial pitch to the final movie. So, how different is “Inside Out 2” from what it looked like four years ago to now?

NIELSEN: They’re really bad at first.

MANN: It’s true! It’s the first screening and we forget that. We do a thing here, actually, where we screen the first screening of a lot of our films that everyone loves, just to remind everyone. “Monsters Inc.” wasn’t always the movie that we love. There’s a process here. So, Mark is totally right. That’s why we do multiple screenings, so we can make it better and better and better.

NIELSEN: Yeah, we do up to ten screenings where we literally rebuild the thing from scratch. After watching it, and evaluating it, we tear it apart and make it stronger. And I think that has been part of the secret sauce of the studio over the years: Putting these things through a fire before you get them to a place where you’re ready to release them to the world.

I know I’ve used “Inside Out” with my kids as a tool to talk about emotions and feelings. What do you hope people take away in a similar fashion with “Inside Out 2?”

MANN: That they’re not alone. When I was a teenager, I really could have used a movie like this. You think you’re the only one going through what you’re going through. It’s hard to get any teenager to talk at all, let alone talk about what’s going on inside their head or their emotions. I really want teenagers to walk away with that feeling, knowing that they’re not the only ones [that are] feeling and going through what they’re going through – and it’s going to be okay.

NIELSEN: We love that the first film got to explore concepts like core memories, which has become a word people [often use] to describe memories that are important to them. This film opens the door to new areas of the mind and explores beliefs, what those are, and how they work inside us. It’s such a great way to put faces to new emotions and to build out these areas that we’ve all known are in our minds somewhere, but we’ve never seen them before in this way.

Short films are such an important part of Pixar’s history. Kelsey, as you said earlier, your first directorial experience was on a Pixar short (“Party Central”). Will there be a short film before “Inside Out 2” in theaters?

MANN: I don’t…I don’t know the answer.

NIELSEN: Yeah. You might have to stay tuned on that one.

Okay, we’ll stay tuned. Kelsey, what did you learn on “Party Central” specifically that helped you direct “Inside Out 2?”

MANN: A lot of different things. The greatest thing about doing that short was being able to interact with all of the other departments that I normally don’t get a chance to interact with. When you work in the story department, you’re very close to editorial, layout and art, but I had never really dealt with animation, lighting and effects.

What I learned was how amazing all those departments are, and it made me feel a little envious. Envy was definitely driving at my console. I wanted to work with them again because they’re such amazing craftsmen and filmmakers. So, I learned to lean on their talents and just trust [them].

Well, we’re excited to see it in theaters – not streaming. Why should people rush to the theater to see “Inside Out 2?”

NIELSEN: Yes, theaters! We designed this film to be seen in theaters. It’s made for the big screen – 2.39:1 aspect ratio. We wanted to widen the aspect ratio from the first film, which was 1.85:1 because Riley’s world is expanding. The console is bigger and [there are] more emotions behind it.

MANN: There are now nine emotions. We have to fit them all on the screen.

NIELSEN: And “Inside Out 2” is actually a journey to the outer reaches of Riley’s mind. We’re going to explore a lot of new territories that audiences have never seen. [There are] some giant effects scenes in this movie that are going to be spectacular on a big screen.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity.

“Inside Out 2” opens in theaters from Disney Pixar on June 14th

You can follow Daniel and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter @howatdk

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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