A Chat with Director Peter Ramsey

It isn’t often that we interview a movie director, let alone the first African-American to direct a big budget CG-animated major motion picture. Here’s a look into the heart of Peter Ramsey, director of Rise of the Guardians.

“I was raised Catholic and have great respect and a love for the things I was taught and know about the Christian faith,” says Ramsey. “For me, those who profess faith can connect with this movie because it is about values.”

Ramsey is a family man who has been married over 20 years. He has three children—a set of 16-year-old twins (a boy and a girl) and a 20-year-old son in art school. His goal was to make a family-friendly movie that appeals to everyone. “The interesting thing for me is that the movie relates to holiday characters who represent very basic values and a message that can uplift anyone in any religion,” says Ramsey. The movie’s underlying themes involve hope, wonder, memories, loyalty, important lessons in maturing, and the power of dreams and imagination.

Over 400 people worked on the project. Of this Dream Works Studios film Ramsey says, “Real people make movies, and many of us who worked so hard on Rise of the Guardians have families and kids. Everyone felt so good and so proud, and all had great attitudes. That came from the values in movie.” The goal was to create characters who inspire against real-life problems. Ramsey endeavored to show a little darkness, a little scariness, and a few nightmares to contrast against Guardians, who deal with a big fear—and how to face that fear.

Says Ramsey: “This movie parable is about using imagination and creativity to triumph against fear. The goal was honor the idea that these characters represent something “real” for kids. Our premise was agree with kids and treat the characters as real, characters with dimension, attitude, real emotions, real interactions, happiness, doubt, conflict—all toward idea of respecting a notion of belief. Perhaps people who revisit what it’s like to feel like a kid again will come out of the theater believing. Perhaps this could be their first experience with faith— believing in something and living by it and seeing results.”

The story is adapted from ‘Guardians of the Childhood’ by renowned author Williams Joyce and his bestselling book series. The film is dedicated to his daughter Mary Katherine Joyce, who in 2010 died tragically at the age of 18 from a brain tumor. She had once asked her father if he thought Santa Claus had ever met the Easter Bunny, and from there sprung the concept. In the film, the characters of our childhoods are surprisingly re-imagined and work against “type.”

In fact, the characters are “Guardians,”—super heroes who safeguard the children of the world from harm. The Easter Bunny (Bunnymund) is 7-feet-tall and no-nonsense. “North” is the nickname for Santa Claus, a real tough guy. “After all,” says Ramsey, “There’s this guy who delivers presents to kids all over world—with reindeers. That’s crazy! So we made him a wild man.” There’s also the seemingly harmless and silent little Sandman, whose outward appearance hides his ample skills in defense of the children. Plus, there’s the Tooth fairy who seems to be part hummingbird. They need Jack Frost to join their ranks against “Pitch,” the villain Nightmare King, who seeks to terrify the children of the world. The problem is, Jack doesn’t believe in the Guardians, despite the fact he’s been hand-picked by the Man on the Moon to do just that.

Says Ramsey of his career as an African-American in Hollywood: “My journey has been great and I’ve never experienced anything that felt like an obstacle, though obviously others who came before me were not as lucky. Growing up in central Los Angeles a stone’s throw from Hollywood, I didn’t know it would be possible. A series of lucky breaks opened doors, and I walked through, beginning by doing something creative, like story boards, and helping directors lay out movies. When they see you do a good job, they’re supportive.” His advice is to never stop trying and to follow your dreams.  Rise of the Guardians is in theaters now for the holidays.

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