Friday, August 7, 2015

Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet"

About 5 years ago, I was contacted by a Hollywood producer, Ron Senkowski, who asked me to meet with him in L.A. when I was attending the Annies. 

We met at a Bob's Big Boy in the Valley and he asked if I wanted to create some animation for a feature film he was producing, a version of Kahlil Gibran's best-selling cult book "The Prophet".

I asked him if he had financing yet, and he told me something I've never heard before in Hollywood (and probably will never hear again) - "We have too much money."  I liked hearing that, so I said, "Sign me up."

It was a long road of production and organization - they had a wish-list of animators including Sylvain Chomet and Marjane Satrapi (both of whom had other obligations).  And they brought on the great Roger Allers ("Aladdin", "The Lion King") to write and direct the story.  Also, the great and beautiful actress Salma Hayek came on board as a producer.  Apparently her grandfather, being from Lebanon, was a big fan of "The Prophet" and he read the book to her during her childhood.

They divided the film into segments, representing different chapters from Gibran's book, and some of the other artists who contributed animation are Joan Gratz, Nina Paley, Tomm Moore and Joann Sfar.  They even invited me to Cannes to watch a sneak preview of a few of the scenes and to do some interviews to help spread the word.  It was a fabulous trip - they put me up in a fancy hotel and I got to hang out with Salma Hayek, although she was pretty busy with her press and social obligations.  The film got introduced by Gerard Depardieu, and I got to walk on the red carpet like a real celebrity.  Then there was an A-list party with famous people like Paris Hilton and Zoe Saldana - but I was too shy to talk to them.

                                    On the red carpet at Cannes in 2014 with Tomm Moore,
                                              Salma Hayek, Roger Allers and Joan Gratz.

Finally, last week I was invited to see the NYC premiere, at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema, and I got to chat with Salma, which was enjoyable.  The sell-out crowd was mostly made up of young women, and they adored the film.  The original book appeals to more women than men, I think, but it somehow manages to touch people from many different countries and religious backgrounds.

But, I have a few criticisms to makeabout the film.  The person who did the shadows on the faces just didn't seem to understand how shadows work - they were all out of shape and that detracted from the facial detail, and it bugged the hell out of me.  Whoever did that should check out my book "Make Toons That Sell...Without Selling Out" from Focal Press - I have a whole chapter on shadows in there. 

Otherwise, I loved the visual style of the film - it's unique in the animation world.  I can't think of another feature that put the work of so many different animators together so well.  I particularly loved Joann Sfar's segment, "On Marriage", and the one from the Brizzi Brothers, "On Death". 

One interesting observation that occurred to me is that, because of the structure of the film, Roger Allers had to make some changes to the main story, and as a result the framing sequence doesn't accurately follow the original book by Khalil Gibran.  So, if the book continues to gather fans and followers, and eventually becomes the foundation for a major religion, then just like St. Luke and St. John for the New Testament, Roger will become St. Roger for "The Prophet".  Next time I see him, I'll get on my knees and genuflect.

So, before "The Prophet" becomes a religous movement, run out and see it for the beautiful thoughts and gorgeous art.  And watch for my segment, "On Eating & Drinking"!

The film opens Friday, August 7 in NYC's Landmark Sunshine and L.A.'s Landmark theater.
Then it opens up in more cities later in August, so check out this list to find a theater near you:

--Bill Plympton

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