“I think the moment you try to make something for kids, you are making something really cruddy that even kids don’t want to watch most of the time.”
Lee Unkrich, Toy Story 3 director
Chagrin Falls, Ohio has actually popped up a few times on my posts. Mostly because that’s the area where screenwriter Joe Eszterhas moved to in part because he believed it was a better place than Malibu to raise his family.
I’ve been to Chagrin Falls a couple of times and the Cleveland suburb appears to be an idyllic place to grow up. Newsweek has named Chagrin Falls High School several times as one of the top 100 high schools in the country. And grow up in Chagrin Falls and graduate from Chagrin Falls High School is exactly what Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich did.
Long before Unkrich co-directed the Pixar films Finding Nemo; Monsters, Inc. and Toy Story 2, he joined the Cleveland Play House as an 11-year-old and spent four years working on children’s shows.Unkrich told Clint O’Connor of The Plain Dealer of his four years of performing children’s plays and musicals in Cleveland, ”I loved it. We got to put on our shows on the big sets and on the big stages.”
An interesting (and Toy Story-connected) side note is since Lee Unkrich was born in 1967 and began doing theater in Cleveland when he was 11, that means he started in 1978. In 1978-79 there was a young actor in Cleveland cutting his chops performing Shakespeare (and moving sets) with the Great Lakes Theater Festival, where artistic director Vincent Dowling had lured the student away from California.
That student was Tom Hanks who would go on two win two Best Actor Academy Awards as well as be a a few other films, including providing the voice for Woody in the Toy Story movies. That’s right, before he starred in the TV show Bosom Buddies in 1980, Hanks was performing Hamlet night after night in Cleveland, Ohio.
“[I have] an artistic bent, almost a philosophy, which I learned for the first time onstage in Cleveland.”
Unkrich graduated from high school in 1985 and headed to USC to attend film school where he graduated in 1990. He won some awards for his short films, edited some TV programs, and eventually joined Pixar in 1994.
In an article in The Columbus Dispatch Unkrich was interviewed by Nick Chordas:
Chordas: Does it feel as if you’ve come a long way from Chagrin Falls?
Unkrich: It does. I headed off from Chagrin Falls with dreams of making movies, although I don’t think I really understood what that meant then. But, yes, I do have to pinch myself that I’m here doing this now.
My mom still lives in Chagrin Falls, and she’ll be at the premiere on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m sure it will be a thrill for both of us.
You can follow Unkrich on Twitter @leeunkrich .
P.S. Pixar’s Bob Peterson (who directed Up) is from Wooster, Ohio. And next door in Michigan, they can claim the voice of Buzz Lightyear provided by Tim Allen. Allen went to high school in Birmingham, Michigan, earned a degree in TV from Western Michigan University, and started his stand up comedy routine in Detroit.
Some of the “Screenwriting from Iowa” related posts on Ohio:
Screenwriting & the Little Fat Girl in Ohio
Screenwriting Quote #129 (Bob Peterson)
Rod Serling’s Ohio Epiphany
First Screenplay=9 Oscar Nominations
Youngstown’s Hollywood Connection
Screenwriting Quote #116 (Chris Colunbus)
William Goldman Stands Alone
Screenwriting Quote #72 (Michael Eisner)
Screenwriting from Sunset Blvd.
And though I haven’t written about him yet, writer/director Jim Jarmusch is from the Akron, Ohio area. For what it’s worth, Jarmusch’s fascinating film Stranger Than Paradise was released in 1984—the same year that basketball’s “King James,” LeBron James, was born in Akron.