special effects

Diary of a Desperate Disney Director

rs_1024x576-160928081437-1024.lion-king.92816Monday: somewhere in Africa. (Assistant director says I should name a specific place because “Africa is not a country”. This seems incredibly racist to me: so far Africa seems like a very nice country, with roads and shops and airports and everything. Will have a word with him about his bigotry.)

Still can’t believe I have been hired by Disney to direct the live-action remake of The Lion King as part of their wonderful new plan to remake everything, all the time, forever. This is the fulfilment of my lifelong dream: to be employed.

Honestly thought it was all over after the failure of my last documentary, Shear Courage: The Butch McNutt Story: One Sheep-Shearer’s Journey Back From Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. But just last night I got the call saying that their first choice dropped out and here I am. (Apparently their second, third, fourth, 18th, 22nd and 47th choices also dropped out, can’t imagine why. Am truly living the dream.)

Tuesday. Amazing start to day: Sir Elton wants to do new version of ‘Circle of Life’, possibly with additional verse about Donald Trump. Budget meeting less positive. Apparently the studio spent most of my budget on the Beast makeup in the new live-action Beauty and the Beast: turns out they grew an actual Beast face in a secret military lab in Russia and then grafted it onto the lead’s face. Incredible passion for cinema! The downside is that budget constraints mean we have to hunt and cook our own food. No matter. Tonight’s lizard tasted just like chicken that’s been fed on nothing but the choicest lizard.

First rehearsals for Simba birth scene. The baboon is very regal and beautifully trained but keeps throwing the prop cub off Pride Rock. Still, we have time.

Wednesday. Exciting developments. Studio hoping for uptake in China so they’re asking for a panda to be inserted into the story. Have roughed out a storyline where a panda washes up in Zanzibar, then invests a huge amount of money in return for access to fertile farmland and a 99-year mineral extraction lease.

Baboon has stopped throwing prop cubs off cliff. Success!

Thursday. Difficult compromise on the stampede scene. Most of our effects budget is ring-fenced for the computer-generated scene where Mufasa talks to Simba out of a cloud, so we can’t afford a stunt-lion any more. Solution: we are going to have the wildebeest start running and then use a crane to toss into their midst a sack of potatoes dressed in officially licensed Lion King pajamas. Still taking this as a win.

they used to work for a dried mopani worm and a pat on the head

Tough meeting with meerkat’s agent, Babs, demanding a trailer and a tiny massage table for her client. Babs says she’d love to be accommodating but times have changed since the early 2000s. Back then they used to work for a dried mopani worm and a pat on the head but then Animal Planet made Meerkat Manor and the rest is showbiz history. Have asked props department to make a massage table out of a breadboard.

On the up side, was introduced to the warthog by the executive producer. He is very hairy and eats all the time and farts constantly. The warthog is also quite hairy.

Friday. Simba birth scene very traumatic for crew. Baboon was perfect: took live cub in his arms, walked up Pride Rock, held up Simba – and then Simba’s mother ran up behind him and removed the baboon’s entire spinal column with her index-claw. Am quickly discovering that lions are method actors, really inhabit their roles. Passion! Also blood and crying. Lots of sugar-water on set. Baboon’s agent is suing. Says he was booked for a big commercial next month selling almond milk in Japan.

Saturday. Sombre mood on set gets more sombre as Sir Elton’s demo arrives with covering note saying he has been questioning what it’s all for. Note explains that the version of ‘Circle of Life’ is an “ironic, satirical reinvention” of the original. We play it. It’s called ‘Circle of Death’ and is about how we are all circling the drain of obliteration. Probably not going to be able to use this.

Sunday. Budget halved once more, Beauty and the Beast again. Apparently they grew an entirely new Emma Watson in a lab in Russia, one who didn’t swallow her words. Can no longer afford computer-generated Mufasa cloud scene so am planning to go old-school, with an actual cloud (diesel fumes, probably) and Mufasa’s face painted on a weather balloon that sort of looms in and out of the cloud.

Monday. Call from the studio. They need to halve the budget again and that means consolidating crew. Directing duties to be shared between assistant director and the meerkat. Am gutted but this is the circle of life. I would quote the line but can’t afford to pay royalties. But you know how it goes.


Published in The Times