The difference between being interviewed about Sonic the Hedgehog prior to its theatrical release and being interviewed about its home video release, director Jeff Fowler says, is he is now “much more relaxed.” That’s understandable. The film had a fraught journey to the screen. When the film’s first trailer was released, social media blew up with Sonic’s devoted fan base expressing disapproval with the iconic character’s toothy character design. The film’s opening was delayed while Fowler and his team returned to the drawing board. Sonic the Hedgehog went on to enjoy the largest opening for a movie based on a video game. It is currently the year’s third-biggest box office hit).
The PG-rated Paramount Home Entertainment release is available to buy on demand from Redbox. Fowler spoke with Redbox about being a first-time feature film director, not ruining people’s childhoods and working with the ultimate visual effect: Jim Carrey, who costars as the quite-mad scientific genius determined to capture the Earth-bound “blue blur” (voiced by Ben Schwartz).
Redbox: What was the movie that made you fall in love with movies and visual effects?
Jeff Fowler: First and foremost, it was Star Wars. I was born in ‘78. I probably saw it for the first time when I was three or four. It made me fall in love with the magic of movies.
RB: You made an Oscar-winning animated short (2004’s Gopher Broke), but you set yourself a lot of challenges for your first feature film: an iconic video game character, epic-scale visual effects and working with an international superstar.
JF: It goes back to the fandom of it all. I grew up with Sonic, I love Sonic. I love video games. I love animation. That’s why this was such a perfect fit for me. You go into this with eyes wide open knowing it will be three years of your life. You have to love it. That’s the biggest prerequisite of all.
RB: How did you approach it?
JF: I worked really hard in pre-production on storyboards and concept art. I wanted to get the crew excited about the work we were going to do and get everyone on the same page. I also got a great piece of advice from director Tim Miller, who hired me out of art school in 2004 and has been a friend and a mentor. He was in the same situation when he was shooting Deadpool. He said, ‘Don’t be afraid to ask for help.’ It rang true. The crew wants you have a vision and a plan, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be honest if you don’t know how to do something. My experience was that people really appreciate the honesty and will roll up their sleeves and jump in to help.
RB: This is Jim Carrey’s first flat-out comedic role since 2014. What was your working relationship with him?
JF: From our first meeting, he had a twinkle in his eye when we discussed Dr. Robotnik. What’s great about Jim is he wants to be involved in every part of developing the character. We had so many discussions about the costume. He must have tried on 40 or 50 different pairs of sunglasses to find the right ones. There is no detail too small and he goes all in. He’d call me on a weekend to pitch ideas. It was a great collaboration. He is such a generational talent.
RB: Was there a lot of improvisation?
JF: He shows up prepared. He isn’t just winging it. He has ideas he’s really thought about before the cameras roll. We would always welcome ideas that came out of the scene as we were filming it, but for the most part, we always had a pretty good plan on the day when we were ready to shoot. But yes, there are lots of great little ad libs and improvs.
RB: The reaction to the film’s first trailer must have been gut-wrenching. But a shout-out to Paramount for allowing you to delay the release to get Sonic just right.
JF: I credit Paramount a lot. Everyone was on the same page. We really loved our movie, but we didn’t want this (flawed) character design to spoil people’s interest in seeing it. We came together quickly to come up with a plan how to fix it.
RB: But a shout-out to you for putting ego aside and listening to the fan base and addressing their feedback.
JF: It was very important to us that the fans be happy. Sonic has been around for 30 years. He has quite a fan base. They made their opinions well known. That’s a great problem to have a lot of people out there who care very deeply about this character and are very vocal about it. I would be more worried about the reverse, where it’s just silence and no one was even talking about it. A reaction, even if it’s negative, means people care and they want to you to get this right. We wanted every one of those people in our corner and excited about the movie and to get other people excited.
RB: So the success at the box office must have been very gratifying.
JF: You don’t make movies with just box office totals in mind, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. To have gone through the journey that we had going back to the first trailer and posters to be as well received as they were and for people to be loving the film was really the best outcome.
RB: If you had a dollar for every time you’ve been asked about a sequel, you could probably finance one yourself. Where do things stand?
JF: Everyone is excited that we had a great theatrical run and now people are able to enjoy Sonic on their couch amidst all this crazy sheltering at home. Hopefully we can ride all that into a big sequel announcement. There’s nothing to say just yet.