Interview With Producer John Cohen, “The Angry Birds Movie”

By Ruth on June 14, 2016 in Interview, movie
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Have you ever begun a discourse with someone who is so incredibly sagacious that you lose track of time? Well, it just so happens that is what occurred when I was invited to interview John Cohen, producer of The Angry Birds Movie.  While I have yet to see his most recent work, I have adored so many of the projects with which he has been associated from Robots to Ice Age to Despicable Me. When you have a child in the household who adores expert and clever animated films, it’s the perfect excuse to view a film that speaks to that inner kid which resides within us all. Since this was the first person I had ever interviewed who was connected with any kind of animation (except voiceover work), it was sheer delight to get to chat with John for a brief but informative time about how he got started in the business and just what his job as producer entails on such a film as The Angry Birds Movie.
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(We began our time with the pleasantries surrounding the weather, and this led to his mentioning that they were planning to take his daughter to Disneyland, but the weather was just too hot. What is more unpretentious than taking a family outing to that “Happiest Place on Earth”? It was evident this man had his priorities in the right place, and I was thoroughly impressed right off the bat.)

RH: How did you become involved with working on animated features?

JC: I have always loved animation.  I think a lot of young people love animation, but for me, it was something that never really left my system. When I was very young, I started to draw, and I loved drawing. And by the way, I look at the artists, animators and designers that are working on the movies I’m a part of today, and I don’t have even a fraction of the talent these people have. So when I say I like to draw, it was something that was really an outlet for me. At a very young age, someone showed me how to take a pad of paper to make a flip book which made a little animated film in your hands. So I began to draw very simple animation and when I was in the first grade, the teacher had a personal 8mm movie camera, and I started to film some of my animation. Growing up in a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, I was always the movie kid. I was always the kid that if the conversation came up in reference to movies, people would say, “Tell John. He’ll like that. It’s about a movie.” or “It’s about the Muppets.” Any of the things that I was just passionate about.

There was a local community film festival–I hesitate to use the word festival because it was very small and local.  It was a little film festival for students, and I entered a few of my short films, and I was lucky to win a couple awards over the next few years. It was the right amount of encouragement that told me–You know what? Even though you’re a kid from Detroit, the furthest thing in the world from California or Hollywood or anything that feels like it would be within reach, it was enough encouragement that really kept me fueled. That’s the very early answer to your question.

I continued to do this–make little movies with my friends and any stuff that I could  find locally, and I applied to film school and was lucky enough to be accepted into a few of my top choices and ended up going to New York University to the School of the Arts Film Program and living in New York, working in New York, getting a chance to do internships, PA jobs, and really immerse myself in the film world. That’s what led me to my first real opportunity working in film.

What does a producer actually do on animated features as opposed to a regular feature films?

It’s very similar in a lot of ways, and very different in a lot of ways. On the Angry Birds movie, my involvement started back in 2012. I had been a huge fan and an addict of the Angry Birds game. I love them. And played all the time and still do play all the time. When I was playing the game, I believed that this idea, these characters could potentially be turned into a movie story. And so around 2012, was when I started to work with Rovio, which is the game company that created Angry Birds. And my involvement at that time began with the inception of the story, which our core team collaborated on starting back in 2012. Our core team included Mikael Hed, who is the chair head of Rovio Animation, Mikko Pöllä, who is a creative executive at Rovio, and David Maisel, another executive producer on the movie in addition to Mikael Hed.  David Maisel is best known as the founder and original head of Marvel Studios. He did Ironman that ended up leading to film called Thor, and ultimately, Captain America: The First Avenger, which was a very, very, very good idea. A series of good ideas. And so we all began to collaborate on the movie and on the story.

Rovio is based primarily in Helsinki {Finland}, and I’m in Los Angeles. So most of my initial creative conversations with Mikael and the team were held via video conference. From working on the story, I brought on a writer that I had worked with a number of times in the past, Jon Vitti, who came from The Simpsons. He wrote Alvin and the Chipmunks for us at Fox and wrote a bunch of the Ice Age movies at Fox as well. And so he began to work on the script. I then worked with directors and hired the two directors we had on the film–Clay Kaytis and Fergal Reilly. And then I worked with my producing partner, Catherine Winder–who I’d worked with on the original Ice Age, back at Fox–and the assembled entire creative and production team that we have on the film. And we built what is really a brand new studio based in Los Angeles here and also a satellite office in Vancouver. From the very beginning of the story, all the way through the casting of the crew, casting of the actors, the development of the script, the development of the story, the oversight of the animation and then through the entire creative process to it becoming a movie up through the marketing and the distribution of the film itself around the world, we were a part of it all.

Keegan-Michael Key, Billy Eichner, Tony Hale, Ike Barinholtz, Josh Gad, Blake Shelton, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis seen at Columbia Pictures and Rovio Animations Premiere of "The Angry Birds Movie" at Regency Village Theatre on Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony Pictures/AP Images)

Keegan-Michael Key, Billy Eichner, Tony Hale, Ike Barinholtz, Josh Gad, Blake Shelton, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader and Jason Sudeikis seen at Columbia Pictures and Rovio Animations Premiere of The Angry Birds Movie at Regency Village Theatre on Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Sony Pictures/AP Images)

How long does it take for one of these animated films to get made from the inception of the idea to the film?

It takes years. And again, back to what I’d said originally, at the beginning of this production, I didn’t have any children. And now I have a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. So that all happened over the course of making the film, which is amazing.

I’ll admit that John is the kind of person that I could just sit and listen to for hours. He is engaging, relatable, well-spoken, and thoroughly down-to-earth. In so many ways, our conversation had just begun before it had to be terminated, but I am grateful that we got the time we did. It honestly encourages me to no end to know that people like John exist in this business. It seems that the more I explore the world of entertainment, the more convinced I am that good truly does outweigh evil. John is a true marvel who has not forgotten his roots. Therefore, when success came knocking at his door, he didn’t turn his back on those who have contributed to that success. I hope he and his family made it to Disneyland eventually (something tells me that little girl of his eventually got her parents to do her bidding, even if the weather did not cooperate), and I can only hope that good fortune will continue in his professional as well as private life. If you have not seen The Angry Birds Movie (or any other projects for which John is known), I would invite you to plan a trip very soon to the theater with your family and have some special moments of watching a feel-good, humorous film that can cause us to forget the problems that surround us on a daily basis. Be sure to check out all the links below, and purpose to begin this summer in a positive frame of mind with a smile on your face. There’s enough sorrow and pain in the world, and this film provides the perfect escape!

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About The Angry Birds Movie
The 3D animated comedy, The Angry Birds Movie, features the voice talents of Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers, Horrible Bosses), Josh Gad in his first animated role since Frozen and Danny McBride (This Is the End, Eastbound & Down), Bill Hader (Trainwreck, Inside Out), Maya Rudolph ( Bridesmaids, Sisters ), and Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) among others.

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The Angry Birds Movie

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About the Author

RuthView all posts by Ruth

43-year-old single mother of an active 14-year-old girl
Born in Tacoma, WA; lives in Yelm, WA
Entertainment Writer
Available For Interviews and Reviews
Substitute Teacher

8 Comments

  1. Kimberley Meier June 18, 2016 Reply

    I’m excited to see this! It has an awesome cast of comedians so I’m sure it will be hilarious!

    • Author
      Ruth June 18, 2016 Reply

      Me too Kimberly!

  2. Lauryn R June 18, 2016 Reply

    Awesome interview! This movie looks so cute and fun, I definitely need to get it for my kids and I to watch together! 🙂

    • Author
      Ruth June 18, 2016 Reply

      Thank you Lauryn. I agree. Looking forward to seeing it myself.

  3. Debbie Welchert June 19, 2016 Reply

    Interesting story. I had no idea that it took years to make one of these. I haven’t seen this movie yet and can’t wait to see it with my grandchildren…

    • Author
      Ruth June 19, 2016 Reply

      Debbie, thank you for stopping by. I learned so much, too. Amazing, isn’t it?

  4. Sue E June 26, 2016 Reply

    I have to admit that I wouldn’t have even have seen this film if it wasn’t for my 5 year old grandson, who LOVES the angry birds! I did get a few chuckles from them. I almost let the name angry birds stop him from seeing them & playing with them. Thanks for the interview with the producer, Mr. John Cohen.

    • Author
      Ruth June 26, 2016 Reply

      Sue, I do understand. The things we do for kids. I have yet to see the film–on my to-do list. But this interview was really cool.

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