The Disney castle appears on screen, along with the Walt Disney Pictures logo, as an invitation to the magic that is about to begin, just as it has always done. But, for the first time, the camera enters one of the windows of the most iconic of castles and stops on a traditional opening fairytale book. That book has been present since the very first feature-length animated fairytale, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs, as Walt Disney’s homage to the great storytellers who have been providing great stories and tales for hundreds of years for children of all ages. Because no magic would ever begin without a “Once upon a time” and a good author to write it!
Bill Kelly is one of these great writers. In the creation of Enchanted, Disney’s hit romantic action-adventure, animated and live-action musical comedy that comes to DVD on March 18, he’s the one that started it all, the one who got this amazing idea to make the real world and the animated world collide. An adventure in itself is the making of this one-of-a-kind story that the author himself kindly accepted to tell us.
So, let’s open our book, now, for the first chapter of our extensive behind-the-scenes exploration of Enchanted!
Once upon a time…
Animated Views: What led you to scriptwriting?
Bill Kelly: I’m from Chicago. My background is in television production and my education is in journalism. I moved to Los Angeles to pursue television writing, but was a colossal failure. Out of desperation, I fortuitously ended up in film instead of television.
AV: How do you write a script?
BK: I work from an idea, talking about it to with my producing partner, Sunil Perkash, and a few close friends, answering questions about the story as they come up. From there I write an outline, making sure the story hopefully works on that micro level, and from there I expand the outline into a script. Every day I drink my coffee and throw myself into it, forcing myself to work until I no longer feel guilty for not working longer!
AV: How did you find the inspiration, the original idea for Enchanted, and how long did it take you to write it?
BK: Sunil Perkash and I developed the idea from a failed attempt to do a modern-day Sound of Music. The story didn’t feel believable (as far as our lead character breaking into song and outbreaks of optimism) until we made our heroine a cartoon maiden. The script took about a year to write back in approximately 1997.
AV: How did you find the right studio to shoot your script?
BK: Sunil Perkash and I orginally pitched the story to just about every studio in town, but nobody could quite see it, so I went ahead and wrote the script. The original spec script was bid on by six other studios. Disney felt like the right fit given the nature of the story.
AV: How was your first contact with Disney?
BK: Doug Short was our original executive on the project. He always had a great feeling and affection for the story and characters, and was a great champion of it. When I returned to the movie after many years absence, Doug and executive Jason Reed shepherded the movie forward.
AV: What was your first draft like?
BK: The first draft was always very similar to how the movie ended up. It was essentially the same set-up in Andalasia, the same main character story between Robert and Giselle. The journey and dynamics, the collision between fairytale romance and modern cynicism never really changed. The original script was slightly more grown-up and risque, but never at the expense of its sweetness and playfullness.
AV: At that stage, what kind of changes did you make to improve it?
BK: I did rework the script before it went to other writers. The first big change was locating the movie in New York and introducing some of the big musical numbers, like the one in the park.
AV: Did you happen to work or meet with directors before Kevin Lima was chosen?
BK: No, I never met any of the directors on a working basis prior to Kevin. After I returned to the movie and my draft was green lit, Kevin was brought on and that’s when he and I met.
AV: How did you feel when Disney called you back to work again on Enchanted?
BK: I was really pleased to be able to have the chance to make the script and story work, which I always felt was fairly straightforward.
AV: How did you deal with the different scripts done by the writers Disney hired?
BK: Some of the interim writers had nice ideas. The best one I was able to incorporate was to make Robert a divorce lawyer. While that writer had sort of a hyperbolized ‘celebrity’ divorce lawyer, my feeling was that a more realistic version, dealing with the actual pain and heartache of divorce, would make for a greater comic and dramatic dynamic with Giselle. So, I read the interim drafts. While there were ideas we incorporated, my main concern was making a consistent story in tone and character written, with a singular voice and viewpoint.
AV: To you, what was the most fun scene to write?
BK: My favorite scene to write was Prince Edward’s reunion with Giselle at Robert’s apartment. It had so many great dynamics. Giselle’s new found growth countered with Edward’s acapella sincerity, alongside Robert’s conflicting affection and hopes for Giselle’s evolution.
AV: And what was the hardest scene for you to write?
BK: Kevin Lima and I discussed the story in depth, so the challenges we faced were talked out and solved in those meetings. The actual writing while a lot of work, was fairly straight forward after that.
AV: To you, who was the most fun character you created?
BK: Giselle is my favorite. She was always the starting point to the entire story.
AV: And the hardest character?
BK: Pip. How do you write dialogue for a mute chipmunk?
AV: What did you want your story to be about?
BK: I think cynicism is the easiest of emotions. It’s really at the heart of it a cheap pose, and it takes a certain amount of strength of personality to remain idealistic in the face of it. Most stories about innocents find their humor at the expense of the innocent. I really wanted to write a story where the humor is ultimately at the expense of the cynic.
AV: Do you have a more special connection, or relationship, with any specific character?
BK: Giselle. I find her every bit as fun and joyous to watch as the audience. I like Amy Adams very much, but I’m probably slightly in love with Giselle.
AV: Do you write differently if it’s for an animated or a live-action scene?
BK: I try to write to the reality of whatever world the story takes place, so it’s the same approach. Only the reality changes.
AV: How was your meeting with Kevin? And then how did you work with him and his storyboarding crew from then on?
BK: My first meeting with Kevin was like a long lost reunion between two Disney nerds who’d never met each other. Kevin and I worked face to face across a table for a long summer going through every moment in the story and exploring all the comic, dramatic, visual possibilities, literally putting little story beats up on the wall. From there I reworked the script, creatively collaborating with Kevin and the story board artists on all the various moments in the movie.
AV: How did you work with your producer Sunil Perkash along the whole process?
BK: Sunil was involved in every aspect of the movie, both creatively, from the story inception and script all the way to the final film, as well as the physical production, everything from casting to budget. He’s a rare person in that most producers strength lie more
in one area then the other.
AV: What will you keep from that big (and long) experience? What did that bring to you personally and as a writer?
BK: It was without question my most satisfying creative and professional experience to date, working with so many talented and creative people, from our director Kevin Lima, to the actors, to our fabulous composers, Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz, and our brilliant enthusiastic crew, all collaborating to transcend the project beyond what any one of us could do alone.
AV: Can you tell me about your upcoming projects?
BK: I’m working once again with my producing partner Sunil Perkash. We have a big concept comedy at Paramount Studios about a real estate salesman that fights the forces of evil.
AV: Is there anything else about Enchanted that you would like to share with us?
BK: Happily, I think, the movie speaks best for itself!
Our special appreciation to Bill Kelly and all our gratitude to Chris Chase.