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    • Tab and I share a fascination with Native American tribes and old west heroes like Wild Bill Hickok, so when I heard that he had directed Last of the Dogmen, a Western about a secluded Cheyenne tribe, I had questions. It's one of my favorite Western adventure movies. Also, Gorillas in the Mist left a powerful mark on my soul.

      Here's how he describes the stories he loves:

      Throughout my writing career, I have been drawn to strong characters standing up against tremendous odds for a cause they believe in.  In the case of ‘Gorillas in the Mist’, it was Dian Fossey taking a stand to protect the threatened Mountain Gorillas of the Virunga Mountains.  

      In ‘Last of the Dogmen’, Tom Berenger and Barbara Hershey discovered a lost tribe of Cheyenne living in a remote Montana valley. Both their characters put their lives on the line in order to protect the secret and allow the Cheyenne to continue living in the old way.  

      To this day, I still get people letting me know how much they identified with Quasimodo in the 'Hunchback of Notre Dame'. At that particular time in their lives they felt like an outsider, alone and different from everyone else. They identified with the character of Quasimodo and drew inspiration and hope from his story.  And that is what every writer dreams of — having their work be an inspiration to others.

      Tab joined us on April 26th and his answers have been SO FASCINATING!! They give a whole new perspective to his movies. He'll still answer questions if you have them.

    • Hey Victoria! Sorry for the delay. Chalk it up to Tab's lack of computer skills. ;) With regard to Hunchback, the inspiration was, of course, Victor Hugo's massive tome...and for me, Lon Chaney's remarkable turn as Quasimodo in the 1929 silent film. Disney wasn't certain there was an animated movie there, so my first order of business was to 'find' the movie, as it were. As you're aware, it's a complex story with adult themes. Could there be a Disney animated movie hidden away in there somewhere? One that wouldn't completely sanitize the more adult aspects and turn it into a piece of unrecognizable fluff? It was a balancing act that I think we achieved in the end. It remains the most adult animated movie Disney has ever made. In fact, I'm not sure it would be made today.

    • Absolutely - as you mention, both the book and the animated film both contain very adult, challenging themes - how did you begin to tackle them? 

    • The first thing I had to determine was whether or not there was an animated movie in the material. What made it accessible to kids? Where was the Disney magic in such a tragic, downer of a story? I mean, we're talking about a deformed young man being kept prisoner in a gloomy belltower - doesn't exactly make one break out into a song! It wasn't until I began to think of Quasimdo as having this rich, internal fantasy world that things kinda fell into place. From there, it wasn't much of a leap for him to have imaginary talking friends (the gargoyles) and a desire to leave the belltower and go out amogst the people of Paris and be accepted as one of their own.

    • The cool thing was that all along, Disney kept saying 'push the envelope'. They let me tackle the adult themes head on, always reassuring me they could pull it back if I went too far.

    • With The Hunchback of Notre Dame featuring gargoyles as sidekicks, that stood out to me as inanimate objects as Disney sidekicks is pretty unusual (Beauty & the Beast is the only one that comes to mind). Were there other suggestions or were gargoyles your first choice?

    • The day the song 'Hellfire' came in to the office in the form of a cassette tape that Alan Mencken and Steve Schwartz had put together, the producer, directors and myself listened to it in one of their offices. Slowly, all our jaws dropped open. When it was over, one of the directors clicked off the cassette player and said 'Well, that's never gonna make it in the movie!' The fact that it did is a testament to Disney's commitment to the darker aspects of the material.

    • Gargoyles were really the ONLY choice. There was some early thought about animating the bells in the belltower, and some of the stained glass in the cathedral. But in the end, the gargoyles provided the necessary comic relief and gave voice to Quasimodo's internal struggle.

    • The narrator of part of Victor Hugo’s book, Pierre Gringoire, seemed to be turned into the Clopin character. What were some other notable changes you can share with us that were made between the book and the movie?

    • One of the more significant changes we all discussed was how we were going to play the scene of Quasimodo tied to the pillory in the square. In the book he is lashed. He cries out in confusion and agony. Always a tough scene to watch. We had to find a balance that wouldn't subvert the 'want' of the character (wanting to belong) while at the same time creating just enough pathos that would play into the theme of feeling like an outsider. It couldn't be brutal. We settled for humiliation.

    • No, I never did! I heard good things about the stage adaptation. Same with Tarzan. Although Tarzan wasn't a big hit in the states (the stage play), weirdly it was a huge hit in Germany! I even got royalty checks for a couple years!

    • Disney just announced within the past few weeks they are going to make a live-action version of Hunchback based on my screenplay. I guess we'll see how that goes... ;)

    • I watched the Cathedral fire on live TV like the rest of the world. It broke my heart. I spent the better part of two years living in that cathedral in my imagination while writing Hunchback. I felt like a piece of me was going up in flames along with the Cathedral. A tough day.

    • I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that film. I thought the directors did an extraordinary job. The music was sublime. Everything about the production was first-rate and handled with such care and love. Truly a great experience.

    • Speaking of Disney films, another one you worked on was 1999's TARZAN. Phil Collins’ music almost felt like a character in the Tarzan story - how close was your collaboration in the process of making the film?

    • If you mean with Phil, I didn't meet him until after the movie was finished. We were at an awards ceremony together, seated at the same table. If memory serves, we had one too many drinks. When we were called to the stage, we were both giggling like a couple of school boys. Phil was awesome. A cool guy. And very complementary of the script, which was co-written by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White.

    • On Hunchback, I was pretty much involved with everything for the first 18 months. With Tarzan, less so, because I jumped ship to work on Atlantis with the Hunchback team.

    • Fascinating! I noticed some recurring themes in your Disney work - strong female heroines, interesting parts to play for academics. Were those conscious decisions?

    • Interestingly, Tarzan was originally slated to be a direct-to-DVD film. I turned in a treatment and didn't anything for awhile. I was thinking maybe I was gonna get canned! Then word came that the project had been shifted over to the theatrical division. I guess they liked the treatment...

    • I've always been attracted to writing strong female characters. Probably because of my mother. She was a strong woman who raised five kids (I was the oldest) while my Dad was away during the Vietnam War. My first big break was 'Gorillas in the Mist'. Dian was an extraordinarily strong and complex character. Yet, I felt like I knew her. The writing just flowed out of me. I was young and anxious to prove myself. I think I finished the first draft in two weeks!

    • This version (and it being a Disney film) gave the apes a voice. Suddenly, it wasn't just a wildman alone in the jungle with some monkeys. He was part of a community. He was a son to a loving mother, he had father issues, he had friends, etc etc. And he rose through the ranks to become a leader. All very relatable on a 'human' level. And once again, like Quasimodo, here was a character that was an outsider, who was searching for a way to belong. Couple that with my geeky 13-year-old inner self who wanted to live wild and free in the jungle and you had a rather potent cocktail from a writer's perspective.