Interview: Andrew Stanton & Lindsey Collins Talk About ‘Finding Dory’s’ Story

Ben Zacuto ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

Andrew Stanton and Lindsey Collins. Photo Credit:

Last week Emertainment Monthly had the great pleasure of participating in a conference call with Director Andrew Stanton and Producer Lindsey Collins to discuss Disney-Pixar’s June 17th release of Finding Dory. Of the many interesting aspects of the interview, some of the key takeaways were the processes that Stanton and Collins went through in bringing back some of our favorite characters from the original Finding Nemo world, introducing us to many new and colorful characters for the sequel, as well as how the new characters were cast, how Stanton decided on telling Dory’s story, and even which Pixar Easter Eggs to look out in June. Check out the full interview with Finding Dory Director Andrew Stanton and Producer Lindsey Collins below:

What was it like returning to this world? Especially knowing how big the impact the first one made on so many people.

Andrew Stanton: Um, the funny thing is that we go off and we make other movies that take like four years each, and we just kind of forget how much time has passed, so it took me a while, I think, once I was actually starting to make it, about 2012, I think we were a good six months maybe a year or two before I realized, wait a minute, all the people that liked this movie are thirteen years older and they’re probably in college now or they’re parents, and it didn’t dawn on me that like wow, it’s gonna be a whole different class of an audience coming to this movie.

Lindsey Collins: I think we definitely feel like, you know, it’s the burden of responsibility to make sure that this movie is worthy of Nemo and certainly we go in with those goals on any film, but this one in particular, you know, I think we’re obviously having thirteen years go by. There’s a lot of thought as to whether or not the story feels like it needs to be told. And I feel like that was something that we kind of looked at each other and decided before we even mentioned that Andrew had an idea. It was more of like we made sure that it felt worthy before we were willing to talk about to anybody, so…

AS: In other words, we knew how hard it was like to make the first one, and four years of work, you have to make sure it’s something that you love telling so much that you, even when it’s not working on year three, you’re still gonna get out of bed and work on it. So we had to make sure that this idea was the same.

Will we be meeting any new characters in Finding Dory?

AS: Yes! You’ll be meeting a lot, a whole slew, um, ’cause that’s half the fun. The ocean is a huge place. There’s so many other species. There’s so many other locations it’s kind of almost infinite. The hard part was kind of pairing it down to what would be our favorite types of species to have, but probably our main one that maybe people have now seen in the trailers and photos of is Hank, the octopus, which is a kind of a creature that we could have never done in the first movie.

Ah, but now, technology will let us. He still almost broke the bank and we got a Beluga Whale, Bailey. We’ve got Destiny the whale shark. We’ve got a lot of natural sea life that’s around the California coast. You’ve got Sea Lions, your Otters, your loons, so even though we’re going back to a lot of familiar characters, we’ve really broadened the glossary.

Finding Dory concept art. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

We were wondering if there were any other story lines that you considered before landing on this one, and why you ended up shooting it.

AS: The truth is that we took it personally here. We’ve probably been up about three or four different roads, that maybe had a lot of overlapped similarities until we finally figured it out, but the truth is every movie we work on, whether it’s a sequel or an original, we kind of take a long time to find our way. So we’re very kind of, in a weird way, fortunate that we could work on it four years, to work on it because we go down a lot of wrong paths to find our answers.

LC: Andrew always says that these stories are like archeological digs, that you start off thinking that you’re digging for one character and you’re like oh, that’s definitely a Triceratops, and then all of sudden you’re like oh, no, it’s a water buffalo. It’s such a process of discovery and being willing to kind of let that go or kind of try new things if it is not working. So this movie was definitely no different. It was always centered around Dory, always centered around her finding out where she is from and where her family is. The road we took to get to there definitely had a long path.

AS: There’s going to be a lot of deleted scenes on the DVD. I’ll just tell you that.

You mentioned before about how you’ll probably be approaching a sequel thirteen years after the originally made Finding Nemo, but what were the biggest challenges or opportunities that you saw in approaching this film? And did you target it towards students that would have seen it, you know, when they were little? Did you target it towards them, or are you keeping it sort vague, sort of G-rated and sort of…

AS: So the truth is, I can only speak for myself, but I’ve never targeted for anybody. I’ve just written things that I would want to see and I think I’m just immature enough that it allows all ages. But, I really respect when I’m listening to music or see artwork or reading a book from another artist, I don’t necessarily want them to second-guess what I want. I’m more interested in what their take is, what they’re looking for and if they introduce stuff that I would have never thought of.

So I want to be respectful the same way back and just do something that I would just find really enjoyable to me and a lot of my peers that I work with. And we’re our own toughest audience. We figure if we can get past us, then there’s a good chance other people will like it. But as far as challenges for like 13 years later, I think I underestimated how difficult Dory is to write for. She was billed to be a supporting character, to make the other people look good, and putting her in the spotlight and making her the main character with short term memory loss proved to be very difficult, very difficult, to write for. And I started to hate the person that came up with her, which was me.

Finding Dory. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Ellen [Degeneres] appears to be very passionately excited about her role as Dory. What is it like, working with Ellen, and how did Ellen become the role of Dory?

LC: Well, I’ll talk about what it’s like working with her. Andrew will speak about it, about how did she get into the role. To begin, with Ellen and Dory you don’t separate the two. And certainly not trying anything different on this film, like there was no kind of thought about doing Dory without Ellen, but it was nice that she kept saying she was on board for the last twelve years on her show, so we kind of felt like we had a good chance that she was going to be up for it. But then, Ellen’s humor and her acting is so much in her delivery, in how she says the most kind of mundane line.

It’s just been a charm and kind of a genuine, kind of wisdom and kind of approachability in the way she delivers a line that, I think for us it’s gold, so every time we got to sit down and work with Ellen on a recording session, we had quite a few on this film, God bless her, she worked with us from almost the very beginning and recorded a ton…

AS: She did over 500 lines.

LC: Yeah, and she did 500 lines probably 500 times.

AS: Exactly.

LC: So she was a champ and it was always so refreshing when we would hear her read the part, because it just brought it to life and we would try to do it with temporary voices and stuff. Nobody quite does it like Ellen, but Andrew can talk about why she was Dory to begin with.

AS: Well, you know Dory would never have existed had I not heard Ellen on TV once, and this was maybe before you guys’ time, but in the late ’90’s she was in a sitcom, that was actually also called the Ellen Show, and I was in the middle of starting to write this movie that I didn’t even know was going to be called Finding Nemo at the time. It was just this fish movie and I read somewhere the fact that gold fish have a memory of three seconds, and I thought that was hilarious, and I wanted to come up with a character with short term memory loss, but I couldn’t figure out how to write it without it being kind of annoying or repetitive.

And then I happened to have the TV on and I heard her on her show change the subject of sentence five times. And the way she did it, which we’re all familiar with now, was so special it completely opened my eyes and I got out of my writer’s block. And then I couldn’t imagine writing anybody but her doing the voice, which you shouldn’t do because what if she says no. And basically that was my pitch. I wrote the movie and I sent her the script and I called her and I said, “Hi, Ellen. I wrote this part for you and if you don’t take it, I’m screwed.” And she said, “Oh, then I better take it.” And that’s how it all started.

On the minds of Ellen and her show, I had heard that you sort of casted some of the voices by watching her interviews. Is that true? And what was that process like, if so?

LC: Yeah, whenever we’re casting our movies, we have to have kind of mock conversations, between characters, because what we’re really doing is listening to hear kind of how they sound against one another and often, we don’t have the luxury of having any performances that we can use and just call it quits, from a TV show or movie of these two actors we’re interested in. But the lovely thing when one of your main characters is Ellen DeGeneres, is she has talked to, and they’re in video and audio, of her talking to almost everybody.

So, when we would come up with somebody that we thought might be great, we would instantly go on to Ellen Tube or YouTube and just say, she must have been with this person. We would kind of listen and audition voices against hers that way. So in some way, it made our editors’ jobs a lot easier when we were casting the movie.

Andrew Stanton and Lindsey Collins. Photo Credit:

I was wondering what kind of response you hope the audience will have for this film, especially in terms of, you know, finding identity and protecting the oceans?

AS: Well it’s the same thing after the first movie, I grew up by the ocean. I just thought it would be a fascinating place to talk about life issues because it’s such a living thing and it represents sort of both life and death and it’s something that’s very beautiful and you’re afraid of it at the same time. So I wasn’t even thinking about it from that an ecological standpoint at the time. But I learned to really appreciate all the concerns and issues, even after the first movie, about the erosion of coral reefs and things.

So I went into this one with a little bit, what kind of past also, and climate change has become much more of issue that everybody is aware of. And so the whole issue of conservation, I’ve worried about it. I didn’t want to come across preachy or anything like that, and I don’t think anybody wants me preaching when they’re watching movies, but it matters if you, I think you’re more successful if you care for the characters, you care for the story. So I think we managed to make basically include conservation and the respect for sea life and taking care of nature as part of the actual narrative of the story.

So I think we integrated it really well this time, without it coming across as preachy or anything like that. And I’m trying to remember the other part of your question…

It was just the reaction in terms of both protecting the ocean and, you know, finding identity.

AS: Oh, yeah, yeah. I think basically identity, whenever I’m writing I kind of smell what I think that I want the movie to be about, but I’m not sure and the more we explore, then we get to refine and it’s like being on a therapy couch and you kind of realize oh, this is what I really care about. And I realize that I felt that Dory saw her short-term memory loss as a burden, or as a handicap, and we love her for it. But, I wanted her to see and like herself as much as the rest of the world liked her and all the other characters in the movie, and I realized that it’s a bit of a metaphor for everybody.

Everybody has something about them that’s not perfect, maybe they put themselves down on, but it’s actually what’s making you special and unique, and you learn as you grow older to own that part of yourself and to embrace it, and know that’s what makes you different than somebody else in a good way. As so with this sort of expression of self-confidence, of discovering sort of a self-confidence, that we realize that’s we are saying with the movie.

Finding Dory concept art. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

My question for both of you is, you both worked on different animated films, why do you think the Finding series is such a successful? What about it resonates enough to make a sequel after so much time?

LC: The Finding series is like my new favorite ever.

AS: Um, well Nemo, it turns out that it was way more popular than anybody expected to be when it came out.

LC: Certainly more popular than Andrew expected.

AS: Yeah, I’m quite a pessimist. And to this day, I guess it’s the number one DVD, so it’s been seen in the most households, I think, and its very much like for my generation what it was like to have Wizard of Oz come up on TV every year growing up. It’s just something everybody seems to know whether they like the movie or not, and there’s just a lot of love for it. So it was really nice to know that there was the desire to go back there.

It’s up there with the Toy Story movies, as far as people who wanted to go back to that world and know more about it. And I think that’s part of the reason that I didn’t go back right away, because I just didn’t want to go back unless there was something worthy to talk about. And because I knew how hard it was and how much depth there was to what I was saying in the first movie. And so that’s like why I think thirteen years or, you know, for me it was about nine years because we started four years ago, I know when an idea has got a deep well, and I know when it’s kind of shallow.

And I had no deep ideas and then suddenly one struck me four years ago, so that’s kind of why it happened. And the brain’s a funny thing. You don’t know when you’re going get inspired.

LC: It’s funny when we talk to people, I don’t know how old you guys are, but a lot of kids when they saw it were young enough and most of the parents have skipped, if they didn’t see it in the theatres, but when they watched at home on DVD, would skip that first chapter, so a lot of people don’t know what happened to Nemo’s mom. So I was talking to a little boy and I would say, oh, yeah, we’re working on Finding Dory here, but “I think you should do a Finding Nemo’s mom because we don’t know what happened to her.” And I’m like, uh-huh. You should probably go back and watch the first chapter of the DVD.

What is your personal connection to Dory? Are there any specific characters or features of her that make her dear and significant to you, or maybe is there a person that served and inspired you to create Dory’s character?

AS: Well, basically Marlin is me. I spent my whole life being worried and fearful, obsessing about the past and nervous about the future, which makes it very hard to be in the present. And so Dory is sort of like who I always wanted to be. I always wanted to just be caught up in the moment and just enjoy it, everything for what it is and always see the best in everything, see everything half full.

So I think, I want to believe that this is why so many people universally have fallen for her, because I think who doesn’t want to be like that. And I’m very jealous of people that are like that.

LC: I would add, I think Dory is, because of her condition and is permanently in the moment in a way, and I think that’s part of why, I think people really love her, is that she just takes everything as it comes…

AS: She’s very accepting.

LC: Yeah, and I think in some ways about the why part of this movie is about her giving herself the kind of acceptance, the kind of gives everybody else. So…

AS: I admire how much she doesn’t judge others.

LC: Yeah. I don’t know. I wish there were more people in my life like that. We’re looking for more of those people.

I’m currently looking for such people, too.

AS : Yeah.

Finding Dory. Photo Credit: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

My question, and actually is directed more towards Andrew, so since you have been a part of Pixar since the very beginning, what do you believe is in store for Pixar after this sequel, I mean, the Toy Story sequels and The Incredibles?

AS: Well I think it’s really hard to say. I mean, I’m always aware of sort of thinking about the next five, six years down the line, but as far as like anything wider than that, I know we’re a little boring in the sense that we’re not trying to break new ground technology wise, but story wise, we’re always trying to surprise ourselves. I guess what’s been fascinating for me is now that we’ve grown larger and we put a larger pool of talent that’s coming up with movies and there’s so much more animation out there in world, and has been for at least the last ten or fifteen years, I spend a lot of my time thinking what is left to say in animation, what is left to see. And I’m always pleasantly surprised, not by just other animated movies but, what in-house people come up with. I go my gosh, I didn’t even think of that, and I think that’s part of what I love about it, is just the surprise factor that, I can’t predict what’s gonna come next, but all I hope and know is when it comes out of Pixar, that we’ll try our darndest to make it as engaging of a story as all the other ones.

But hopefully everything else breaks the rule books. But there’s no big strategy. I mean, I hate to say it, but there’s nobody really flying the flame. We’re sort of making it up as we go along.

Do you think the future of Pixar lies in its sequels, or do you think more original works will come?

AS: You know, there is no big plan. And no matter how much we look like a pattern or something, it’s honestly how quickly we come up with a story, how quickly we solve a story. So some of these sequels we come up with, that haven’t come out right away, because we haven’t liked how good the stories come together, and some we’ve come up with quicker. We’re all victims to just how well we solve the story.

And we only come up with a sequel if one of the original filmmakers, likes the idea or came up with the idea themselves. So again, there is no plan, so believe me there’s a lot of originals that have always been in the works. They’re just the toughest to solve, so they end up sometimes getting a delay until we get them just right.

Andrew Stanton, Lindsey Collins and Angus MacLane. Photo Credit:

I think a lot of us here grew up with Pixar. You guys are famous for Easter eggs. I love searching for those. Um, I recently heard Pete Docter put, like kind of foreshadows to The Good Dinosaur in Inside Out, and that’s happening in a lot of your films. Are we going to see hints to the future Pixar projects in Finding Dory?

LC: You will. You will, we always try to do something from the film that’s gonna come out after, so you will definitely see them in the film. You’re going to have to look hard, but you’ll see it — another thing I’m gonna tell you guys that we haven’t said before, so this is a breaking news, make sure you stay through the credits.

AS: To the end of the credits.

LC: The end of the credits.

The very end.

LC: Nobody else has heard this bit, so we’re telling it to you here first.

AS: And, but A113 is in there, the pizza planet truck is hidden in there.

LC: There’s some other…

AS: Anytime you see a number anywhere, it means something, and you know, we have a lot of fun.

LC: There’s a few.

Thank you so much.

This interview has been condensed from its original form. Finding Dory opens in theaters everywhere June 17th. 


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