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An interview with PARANORMAN co-director, Sam Fell

“On the surface, I was attracted to the zombies.” Personally, I can think of worse reasons to make a movie but this is the reason PARANORMAN co-director, Sam Fell (FLUSHED AWAY) gives me when I ask what first drew him to his latest stop-motion feature film. When you allow him to elaborate, it doesn’t sound quite so creepy.

Fell, fell further in love with PARANORMAN as he got deeper into co-director, Chris Butler’s personal screenplay. “Chris was cooking this for years before I came on board. As I got into it further, I think what attracted me most was the emotion. It has so much heart and packs an emotional punch.”

Heart on the page does not always translate to the screen, especially when it needs to be communicated to children by another child. Enter Kodi Smit-McPhee, an actor no older than 16 (he was 13, the same age as his character, when the film went into production). Having caught him in THE ROAD, opposite Viggo Mortensen, Fell knew there were few young actors out there who could take on Norman like he could.

“A clever kid character can so easily be precocious. A troubled kid character can be whiny and self-pitying. There are so many ways that you can lose the audience with a kid character. We were so fortunate to find Kodi.” Fell doesn’t stop there either. His praise continues, “That kind of maturity in that young an actor is rare.”

Heart can also have a hard time getting through to an audience when its being served in a zombie movie package. This is especially true if parents worry PARANORMAN might be too scary for their younger brood. Fell, a parent himself, hopes kids don’t miss out on what PARANORMAN has to offer. “I think parents tend to worry more than they need. Kids enjoy scares. I think kids enjoy challenges as well. I think fiction can provide some challenges to kids in a safe environment. They can try out the emotion of fear and test themselves.”

Fell, centre, with Butler, to his right

Even adults have to put themselves in potentially uncomfortable positions from time to time. Going into PARANORMAN, Fell had some concerns about working with Butler on a project he was already so close to. “I didn’t sign on to be a technician; I was there to be a filmmaker,” he says about his initial concerns. He quickly dismisses these though. “In the end, we just liked each other. Some things are just a true collaboration and you’re twice as strong because there’s two of you.”

Having two people at the helm of a demanding stop-motion animation project is probably best for all, considering how much work is involved. “It’s not just people sitting at computers. It involves many disciplines, like a costume department, a lighting department, engineers that do all the rigging,” Fell explains of just a few of the elements he had to oversee during the production. All the hard work is well worth it in the end though. “It’s a very human endeavour and I think it comes across on the screen. You can see that it’s handmade and all the lovely imperfections that come with that. It’s like it’s coming to life on screen.”

So PARANORMAN has heart, scares and comes to life on screen but when it comes down to it, none of these reasons are the true reason Fell wanted to make this movie. The real reason? “This is zombies for kids. I’ve got a kid; I like to make things for him. I like to score points with my son, to be honest.”

Points scored, I’m sure.


  1. Thanks for the review.. I’m looking forward to seeing this tonight with my son!

  2. I think it would have been better without the profanity (jack-a, hell-yeah), rude words, and reference to a teen boy with a boyfriend. Won’t be buying it when it comes out on DVD. Sorry.

  3. In response to the anonymous comment, I can understand how rude language might be problematic for you because you’d rather not hear the words repeated at the dinner table but calling out a reference to a gay teenager – which is practically unheard of in an animated feature – as something that shouldn’t be shown to kids only truly highlights your own homophobia.

    I published your comment because I believe every one is entitled to their opinion but let it be known that I do not condone your ignorance. Exposing young people to these kinds of images will only further the acceptance of homosexuals and prevent other young gay people from feeling completely alone.

    Truly, it just saddens me that there are parents out there who would still have this kind of reaction. It doesn’t surprise me but definitely saddens.

    Paranorman teaches children to not judge. Parents should learn to do the same.

    • Black Sheep nice response bro… i totally agree with you. The film was beautifully made with a great message, by critisizing it for that last bit where one of the charecters is gay just tells us that the adult that said that missed the whole point of the film. Shame on them to teach their kids to judge. Lets hkpe the lil one grasped the message.

  4. Thanks, Roberto! I read that comment first thing in the morning, made a coffee and then it just came out like it was nothing. I appreciate the support!

    Go Paranorman!

  5. I didn’t even catch the gay reference; had to rewatch it to find it. Maybe because it’s not an usual thing to me.


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