‘Spirit Untamed’ Director Elaine Bogan on Directing Her First Feature Remotely
Art and Experience:
The new animated feature “Spirit Untamed,” in theaters June 4, celebrates the power and importance of friendships, but at its heart is a theme of fearlessness.
Director Elaine Bogan makes her feature in the follow-up to the popular 2002 movie “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” This time the focus is on a new character, 12-year old Lucky (voiced by Isabela Merced), a headstrong girl with a sense of adventure, who learns about her true self when she moves from the Eastern U.S. to the Wild West during the frontier era. Along the way, she forms an unlikely connection with Spirit, a wild mustang.
She also collaborated with composer and songwriter Amie Doherty to create the film’s theme song, “Fearless” which runs through the movie, reflecting Lucky’s resilience. Bogan discusses the film and how it came together in a pandemic.
Where did the idea for “Spirit Untamed” stem from — it’s a beautiful story about a girl and this dynamic with this horse too?
I’ve been riding horses since I was a young tyke. As soon as the project was on the table and being offered as something I could come on to, I was immediately excited by that.
As a storyteller, one of the most important things is being able to authentically connect to the story and the characters that you’re communicating on screen. With this project, there was so much of that. It is not just a story about a girl and a horse. It is about family dynamics and relationships and struggling to fit into new places. It’s about relying on the strength of your friends.
How long did it take to come together for you?
From start to finish. It took us about two years. When I first came onto the project there was a very popular TV series “Spirit Riding Free.” Coming on to the project, the studio already knew who the characters were, and where the characters live. We had that advantage. We just needed to figure out how to take that and dive much deeper into a bigger cinematic world, and figure out what story we were telling with these characters.
What was that story?
This was an amazing platform to tell a story that would not only empower the characters within the story but also help empower young female voices watching the movie by letting them see pieces of themselves up on the screen.
We have this really great cast of three young women and they’re all so different in so many ways. There’s such diversity in their personality, in their culture and their backgrounds and in the way that they all approach problems. I can only hope that that lends to every member of the audience being able to at least deeply connect with one of those characters in a special way.
What was the process of working with Amie Doherty and the score idea?
A big goal for me on this was to make sure we were telling our story with every element in the film, as possible. Music became a big and important component of that. The more interaction we had with Amie upfront when we first started working with her, the more crucial that music and that score became in supporting the story and the emotional journey the characters were all going through.
Amie took this concept right away and ran with it. I remember having a big conversation was about having a big hook theme song.
What were those concepts?
We needed the song to serve multiple purposes. In the beginning, it needed to be a lullaby being sung to a baby by her mother. Later in the movie, we needed that same theme music to come back into the score and remind the audience that Lucky is thinking of her mother. Finally, we needed to come back at the end of the movie and for it to be this big, celebratory journey.
Amie went away and came back. The final product in the film is her first pass. She had these lyrics that she imagined were just temp music. But that song is known as “Fearless.”
This was your first animated feature, and done in the pandemic, what was that like?
That was one of the most challenging parts about the production. We were not even a year into the making of it and we were all sent home to our living rooms. Not only was I to the challenge of figuring out my first feature film to direct, but halfway through I was sent home to figure out how to do that.
We had about 55 recording sessions with our actors and about 50 of them were done at home. We frantically mailed recording equipment to the actor’s home so they could build their own little soundproof bunkers in their closet and set up microphones.
We would Skype call in and direct them remotely. We ended up having to ADR more than half of the film’s dialogue. So a lot of what the audience is going to be seeing is ADR with the actors trying to match the performances on screen. It was a challenge.