William is a coming of age story that does things just a little differently. For starters, the main character is a Neanderthal. The movie also focuses as much on family. It is a slightly different take on the genre. Director Tim Disney spoke with AiPT! about the movie and his future.
AiPT!: How would you describe William?
Tim Disney: Well I think there’s a science fiction premise to the movie and I’m interested in the science aspect of it, that’s how I got to the idea. But, really I think it’s a family drama, you know a coming of age story. I think it’s in some ways a social justice movie, because its about otherness which has been pointed out to me recently. I think that’s true. A parenting story, and the meaning at it’s core is about stories – the power of stories and who gets to control the stories. How we are fighting over them all the time. How we use them in our home lives as parents, you know not always to our children’s benefits and how we write about them on a larger scale. You know the news, that’s what the news is about everyday it’s like who tries to get to tell the story.
AiPT!: What was the inspiration behind William?
Disney: Well, you know, (I’m) sort of obsessive reader kind of nerd sort of guy and I went on a little reading jag about the emergence of early humans. You know, just read a bunch of books about that because I was quite interested in it. There’s always mention of the Neanderthals and how they co existed with humans for tens of thousands of years. They were cultural equals as homo sapiens when they co existed but somehow the homo sapiens should rival the Neanderthals and didn’t and the conventional story about it is that they died out because humans had some special thing. Some special cultural advantage you know creative hard thinking, creative thinking whatever it was and I got a little sick of reading that because it lacks of self congratulations. You know it sounded like-
So I got a little sick of hearing that because you know the saying that history is written by the living. Maybe pre history too you know and I just got the idea that what if the Neanderthals died out because they were better than we were you know not the other way around. That they weren’t virtuous enough, that the special cultural characteristics that we congratulate ourselves over has a sinister side. That is sort of the essence of the idea of the story, kinda evolved from there.
AiPT!: How much research would you say went into William? It has a lot of scientific terms in it.
Disney: You know, I’m really interested in the science part of it and I wanted that to be plausible and as realistic as possible. There is a little techno babble here and there but on the whole I think that the basic technique that they say they used to create the Neanderthal is a real thing and really even possible, practiced and done with animal species. This kind of thing is very possible and perhaps manageable so there is a bioethical theme as well in the ethics of doing this.
AiPT!: There are a lot of themes in the movie. We were talking about, techno babble aside, were you ever afraid of losing the audience with some medical terminology?
Disney: Yeah. Yeah, we didn’t want that to overwhelm the story and the core of what it’s about. So we didn’t want to go down that road too far but at the same time it’s also interesting. We wanted to have enough of it so that it would be satisfying because these are really brilliant scientists and we respect that about them.
Yeah and you know I was interested in, like I said I’m kind of nerd and I’ll digress and so I had to keep taking things out of the script and the movie because I wanted to continue to go down that road.
AiPT!: I felt that the movie was as much about just a person growing up as it was about him being a Neanderthal. It gave it a much more personal feel to it. Why did you decide to go with this route?
Disney: Well I thought that I was interested in telling a story about otherness. There is a strong echo of how society views young African American men in a way that just their very appearance is what the dominant culture finds threatening. It’s a Trayvon Martian sort of story; a young African American man in a hoodie is considered a danger. You know, that’s a story that culture created around that group. I’m not someone who can tell that story, I don’t have that life experience and I thought that this metaphor was a way to get at that, to reciprocate that. To get people to think about that, you know through the back door so that they didn’t even realize that was what they were even considering.
It’s also, I think at the time I started that piece a few years ago I had two teenage sons and what teenage boy does not feel like a Neanderthal. So, it operates on that level too about young people feeling different and trying to sort their own identity.
AiPT!: There are a lot of movies about dealing with otherness and finding your identity, being ostracized. It’s a very good coming of age story but what makes William different from other coming of age tales?
Disney: Well, I think that the hardest thing about writing script – and I had a fantastic co-writer named J.T. Allen – and we puzzled over this was we knew that he needed to be cognitively different. So how do you, because I have a human brain, how do you think about thinking differently? You know, it’s almost a conundrum or an oxymoron. At first, we didn’t know what to do about that or anything. So for a while the character was kind of blank slate like a Chauncey Gardiner sort of character. That over time as the stories built we hit upon, got to the idea that he a projection a metaphor of literal mindedness. That he understands what the things are but he does not value them in a way that humans do. So, that’s when I say he’s my virtue in the way he’s almost a person.
He calls things as they are and he tries to force himself straight into the world around him and ultimately be became lost.
AiPT!: I also think William had a love story- different types of loves. There’s obviously family love, and there was kind the unrequited misspent love being young, and just in general love of life. Was this intentional all these notions of love? Or was it just kind of byproduct of the greater story.
Disney: No I think I that’s all intentional you know, I mean he’s like the rest of us he wants to make a connection. He wants connected with his father, with his high school friends, and like the rest of us want to make a connection. He’s having trouble doing it.
It’s a very human story. Yeah, it’s just that human thing, feeling alone in a crowd of people you know.
AiPT!: It’s a very extraordinary premises however, the characters are very grounded. It’s someone you could work with or go to school with. How important was it to you to make the character so grounded and normal, for lack of a better term?
Disney: Well, the core of the idea was that when we started writing the script we kept getting tugged towards Encino Man, which we actually make references to in the story, because that’s where you want to go you want it to be entertaining, funny, you know we try to find humor and I think we did find some good humor in there. It was tempting to make easy gasps, cheaper gasps. We kept trying to pull ourselves back away from that and to think about it as a realistic thing like what would this person really be like? What would it really be like? We just tried to be realistic about it. You know if the premises is that the Neanderthals really are equals, it’s not exactly the same but equal in humanity development then of course he would have all these feelings, desires that his interior life would be similar to ours and just as people felt.
AiPT!: Well, my final question here is what future projects are you working on or will you be with William for a while now?
Disney: Well, right now we’re getting ready to launch William to the world this Friday on April 5th it comes out in New York and L.A. So that’s my focus but I’ve got ideas for some future features and I have team stories that will be good to tell them, I’ve always been interested doing something about the American Revolution sort of from the British point of view because they have very different stories about it that we did. I think that will be interesting to topics, so that’s something I’ve started working on at that complicated research heavy deal. I just fell it will take me a long time and then I have a couple of other projects as well so I’m excited to make another movie.