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Interview: Head of Story Normand Lemay on the Making of ‘Frozen II’

February 25, 2020Ben MK

A huge hit with both adults and kids alike, Frozen not only gave animated musical fans some of the genre's most sing-along-worthy songs in recent memory, it also brought new perspective to what it meant to be a Disney princess. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the filmmakers were equally invested, if not more so, in ensuring that the movie's successor — the aptly-named Frozen II — lived up to the sky-high expectations set by the original. And to do so, they started with the basics — the story.

I caught up with Frozen II's Head of Story, Normand Lemay, to chat about the much-anticipated sequel, from the process of shaping the narrative to the most fun and the most challenging scenes to bring to life.

As Head of Story, what was the collaborative process like between you, writer-directors Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, and songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez?

Lemay: It's been a fantastic endeavor. As the Head of Story, I worked very closely with the directors early on, and the songwriters as well. The goal for both the screenplay and the songwriting is to really have them to feel seamless, so that one scene falls into a song, then [the song] becomes a resolution to the sequence that came before. So we worked in conjunction.

We have what's called Story Rooms here, and before the movie actually goes into full production or even sometimes pre-production, there's a lot of conversation about what the directors' vision for the movie is, and what's [not only] interesting enough for the directors themselves, but what will also capture an audience. So a lot of that work comes very early on. But when it does come to production, it's really the art of reacting to the things we're discussing, how that advances the story, and then working from there. But the real fun happens very, very early when we sit down and discuss our personal lives, how these characters appeal to our own personal experiences, and how these experiences can be projected into the movie in a compelling, universal way.

What was the most fun scene for you to work on, personally?

Lemay: Pretty early on in the production, the song "Into the Unknown" was written, so I was given a chance to storyboard that sequence. It was one of the first two or three songs that were approved, and it was at that point even more abstract than it ended up as. So it left room for me to explore and find out what the [motivated] these characters — especially for Elsa, who leaves Arendelle to explore the wider world — in terms of who they are, what they desire. So that song has quite an appeal for me. That was probably one of the best memories for me, working on this film.

Conversely, what was the most challenging scene for you to work on?

Lemay: I think what's always challenging with these movies is trying to find the balance between what's compelling for these characters. Because, honestly, it's an ensemble. In the first movie, we encountered [Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf] at different points, but in this case, our main cast is already formed. It was that challenge of balancing how we explore each of these characters [individually] but also keep them together as a family unit.

In general, where do you draw your inspiration from? Are there any particular films that are an influence on your work?

Lemay: It's very easy to point out movies from the Disney family itself. For me, growing up, Robin Hood and 101 Dalmatians had a huge impact. Maybe it's because they were [created with] different techniques — they were using Xerox at that point to cut costs a little bit — but to me, those movies felt richer in some ways, because I could almost see the hand that created them a bit more. And in terms of characters, both the villains and the good guys were so compelling and so full of life. Aladdin and Pinocchio were also a huge influence on me — I always found these characters that were tempted by something so compelling.

Last but not least, what kind of advice would you give to someone hoping to break into your role in the industry?

Lemay: What it was for me was a love of both movies, in general, and drawing — not just drawing anything, but drawing things that have to do with story. I was attracted to storytelling, in general, and characters. Because in storyboarding, you have to draw every day, so [you have to have] a love of both storytelling and drawing. These are the essentials, I would say.

Frozen II is now available on 4K, Blu-ray, DVD & Digital HD.

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