AU alumni unveil “Hoodwinked!”

Wed, 2006-01-11 10:02 -- univcomm
January 11, 2006

Everybody knows the tale of Little Red Riding Hood. But what if there was more to the story than meets the eye? What if the four characters were possible victims, witnesses and suspects to a bigger, more serious crime? The animated movie “Hoodwinked!” takes the simple children’s story to a far more complex, surprising and funny level. And maybe the best part is that it’s the work of four Anderson University graduates: Cory Edwards [BA ’90], Todd Edwards [BA ’94], Preston Stutzman [BA ’92], and Katie (Edwards) Hooten [BA ’96]. On Friday, “Hoodwinked!” — starring the voices of Glenn Close, Anne Hathaway, Jim Belushi and Patrick Warburton — will show in 1,800 theaters nationwide.

In this version of the story there has been a domestic disturbance at Granny’s cottage that filled the place with furry and feathered police officers from the animal world. What the quirky cops find are a wide-eyed girl, a seemingly-sinister wolf and a man with an ax, and a jumble of charges including breaking and entering, disturbing the peace, intent to eat and wielding an ax without a license.

The movie boasts several other local [and AU] ties. The siblings’ cousin, Tye Edwards, who voices the part of Dolph, graduated from Highland High School in 1991 and later from AU. And another voice talent, Benjy Gaither, whose character is Japeth the singing mountain goat, is from Alexandria, an AU grad and the son of Bill and Gloria Gaither.

A NEW TWIST ON AN OLD TALE

The movie begins at the end and goes back through four different versions of the “truth” — each from one of the four main characters as they are questioned by a detective.

Little Red Riding Hood, better known as Red in the movie, tells the story we all know, but in a much sassier style than we would have expected from the innocent girl. The ill-reputed wolf is actually an undercover reporter trying to get a scoop for a forest newspaper. Granny is no little, frail, helpless lady — rather an extreme sports enthusiast. And the woodsman doesn’t even know how to swing an ax — he’s an aspiring actor auditioning to be a woodsman.

Detectives are also investigating whether this case is linked to the “Goody Bandit,” who has been stealing recipes from goody shops everywhere.

“It’s a little bit of a whodunit mystery,” said associate producer Katie Hooten, 31. “The characters reveal things the audience won’t anticipate.

“I’m so proud of the movie,” she said. “It really stands shoulder-to-shoulder with some of most exciting movies in animation. The humor is sharp and witty. The characters are well-rounded and surprising. The story just keeps you guessing.”

Actor Jim Belushi, who plays the part of the woodsman, simplified it on a movie special called “Hoodwinked: The true behind-the-scenes story.” The special will air at 2:30 p.m. Thursday on ABC Family as “Behind the scenes: The making of ‘Hoodwinked!’”

“It’s kind of a ‘Law & Order’ version,” he said. “A detective comes in and starts to re-examine and interview people. It was very hip, very funny.”

“Hoodwinked” is filled with many other famous names and distinctive voices.

The first big-name actor to get on board was Patrick Warburton, who played Elaine’s boyfriend Putty on the TV series “Seinfeld” and voiced the part of Kronk in the animated movie “The Emperor’s New Groove.”

“Patrick Warburton, who plays the wolf and was on ‘Seinfeld,’ has a recognizable voice,” said 37-year-old Cory Edwards, the director. “Literally, a friend of a friend passed him the script and he said he’d do it.

“It’s still true,” he said. “If you get the right script, the right idea, and just a little bit of backing behind you, material does bring you talent. It was very encouraging with Glenn Close and Anne Hathaway saying they wanted to do it too.”

Anne Hathaway, who plays Red, is known for her sweet and clumsy character in the “Princess Diaries.” On the opposite end, Tony- and Emmy-award winner Close is known for her evil role as Cruella De Vil in “101 Dalmatians” and in “Hoodwinked!” plays the part of the over-energetic Granny.

“I immediately said yes because I thought it was really entertaining and very, very clever,” Close said, on the behind the scenes special, about joining the movie. “It really kind of keeps you interested and leads you into the story in a very clever way.”

Other actors who brought the animations to life were Anthony Anderson as Detective Bill Stork; David Ogden Stiers as Nicky Flippers; Chazz Palminteri as Woolworth the Sheep; Andy Dick as Boingo; and rap artist Xzibit as Chief Grizzly.

Cory Edwards said the group worked with Academy Award-winning sound mixers, including Gary Rizzo, who was on the sound team for “The Incredibles” and “Batman Begins.”

“This was really exciting for me,” Edwards said. “It’s like growing up a baseball fan and getting to go sit and watch all the famous players — who you have all the baseballs card for — play for you.”

A LONG PREPARATION

Making a big-time movie, which in this case took 3 1/2 years, was something the three siblings had been preparing to do for a long, long time.

“I know that I’ve always been making films, even when it was not professionally,” said Cory, who was born in Anderson and moved to Columbus, Ohio, with his family. “My brother, sister and I were always making Super 8 films together since we were 7 or 8 years old.

“They got to be pretty elaborate when we got older,” he said. “By the time we were 18 we were storyboarding every shot, building miniatures, doing stunts. Some would take months to complete and we added sound and effects later.”

Film school is not always necessary, Cory pointed out. He graduated with a broadcasting major and art minor. Todd received a degree in studio arts with a minor in mass communication. Katie’s major was in theater and her minor in secondary education.

“That (AU) was a really good place for all of us,” Katie said. “People are surprised that we went to a small Christian liberal arts school. That’s what makes Anderson so unique. The professors took an interest in us. They knew what our capabilities and interests were.

“I definitely feel AU contributed to what we do, because of the professors’ support,” she said.

Todd agrees that the time they spent at Anderson University was valuable preparation for what they are doing now.

“We had great art professors and even though there was no film program in Anderson, the art professors really got what I was trying to do by allowing me to do independent film studies,” he said. “It gave me a chance to work with a lot of people. We used to do the comedy show Cheap Thrills, Cory and I both. That was real training ground for what we are doing now — putting on a show for a huge group.”

After Cory graduated from AU, he got a job with a production company in Tulsa, Okla., as an editor and production assistant, and later as a writer and director. Todd joined him a few years later.

While in Tulsa the brothers and a few other guys founded Blue Yonder Films and began pursuing their own projects. Todd wrote and the group filmed their first live action movie, “Chillicothe,” in Tulsa and Anderson, which went to the Sundance Film Festival.

The brothers almost put films together once or twice but funding fell apart. They finally found an investor in San Francisco who was willing to work with them.

“None of the live action (story ideas) were interesting to him,” Cory said. “Then he saw the animated stuff with ‘wobots’ that I’d created and he became very excited. He was a huge animation fan.

“We weren’t looking for an animated film,” he said. “We wanted a grown-up film, based on the scripts we had been working on for five years. But we said we’d first do something to pay our bills — we were starving at the time.”

The investor wanted something based on a known fairy tale with a different spin.

“We went through a lot of stories and went back to Red Riding Hood,” Cory said. “Nobody had made a film about it before. It’s a simple story — hard to get 80 minutes out of a simple story.

“We decided to make it like ‘Run Lola Run’ or an old crime story with flashbacks of each person’s story,” he said. “I realized this is worth putting three years of my life into.”

IT WAS WORTH IT

Cory traveled to the Philippines 15 times over two years, where the movie was being put together and animated. The group hired 30 to 50 animators, and all together made with film with a staff of less than 100 people. Most films have 500 to 600 people working on them, he said.

“In the Philippines it was like Monopoly money,” Cory said. “It’s a different world. We were able to pay the artists very well but it was still a third of what we would have had to pay here.

“The entire studio that fit 50 animators on computers was a mansion-sized house. We rented in a nicer part of Manila — the Beverly Hills of Manila — and we rented it for a little more than the rent for my apartment in L.A.”

Investors expanded the budget with the directors and producers, but they were all able to make the movie for way under normal costs. The official budget, Cory said, was an amazing $15 million to $20 million — one-tenth of what it may cost to make a big animated film like “Chicken Little.”

The Edwards kept the costs down by adding their voices to the cast, and by having everyone involved in the film do a voice in the movie. Cory plays the part of a speeded-up Twitchy, the wolf’s squirrel sidekick.

Co-director Todd Edwards, in addition to playing a woodchuck who is the lead singer in an all-animal rock band, wrote several songs for the movie, nine of which were used. He also sang four songs himself.

“Initially I did songs that the characters would sing and they needed to be animated,” Todd, 34, said. “Toward the end of the project we decided to make it a contemporary rock soundtrack, kind of like the ‘Shrek’ movies. We needed songs that complement the scenes.

“Usually if a studio movie requires rock music, they would use old familiar songs that parents are familiar with but we didn’t have the budget,” he said. “We needed a John Lennon-sounding song, so I wrote something like one. Or if we needed a Green Day-sounding song, I’d write something like that.”

For Todd, writing and singing the songs was the most enjoyable part of the movie-making process. It came naturally to him to write the funny rock and pop songs, and he is now working on his own album. The soundtrack is already on sale.

The siblings all feel like the movie caters to both kids and adults. The characters and their actions will keep kids entertained, while a lot of the humor is aimed at adults, they said.

The movie is a first, Cory said. No other computer-animated film has been produced with such a small budget and speed to earn a nationwide release, he said.

“There is a feeling, as the reviews start to come out, that you are standing in your underwear and everybody is looking at you,” Katie said, chuckling. “It’s something so personal — these characters are friends of ours. To send it out nationwide, I’m like a protective mother hen — but the response has been fantastic.”

— Melanie Hayes is a reporter with the Anderson Herald-Bulletin. Click on the Herald-Bulletin Web site at www.theheraldbulletin.com