It’s funny how some movies come to fruition. Such is certainly the case with the upcoming Jerry Seinfeld vehicle, Bee Movie. After ending his long-running television show in 1998, Seinfeld has been on an extended hiatus. He was induced to co-write the screenplay for an animated film and voice its lead character, an anthropromorphized bee.
According to Seinfeld, Bee Movie grew out of an offhanded remark that he made at a dinner with Steven Speilberg, the celebrated director and producer at DreamWorks, Seinfeld disclaimed, "I wasn’t an idea, just kind of a joke. I didn’t have any idea for the movie, I just had the title. He said ‘That should be a movie.’ Seinfeld shook his head and intoned, "You can’t imagine what it’s like when Steven Speilberg gets excited about something you’ve said. It’s intoxicating. He’s an easy guy to believe in. After all, he must know something. He’s made all these great movies and he thinks this is a great movie idea." I asked Seinfeld whether he would have ever made the project had Speilberg not pushed him. "Definitely not. I had no interest in doing the project. In fact, if I had dinner with him one night later, I’m sure that I would have forgotten it. It just happened that the night before I had mentioned it to someone."
Seinfeld waxed rhapsodic about bees, "I crave their organization and I envy the Utopian society that they have. I think it’s impressive. They have a perfectly functioning society." He enthused, "Some of their science is fantastic. The development of the hexagon, is the world’s strongest geometric shape. It’s used in carbon fiber and race cars and spacecraft. No body can improve on it.. He also marveled at, "Their flying system. Their bodies are too heavy for their size of their wings. There’s no aviation theory that can explain how bees fly. Cal Tech did some experiments just a few months ago and they think that they’ve cracked the mystery of it. It has to do with the scooping movement of the bees’ wings. They’re just more sophisticated. I like them."
Did anyone in particular serve as a template for the lead character, a philosophical young bee looking for his niche in life? Seinfeld ackowledged, "I guess that the progenitor would have to be Benjamin Braddock from The Graduate. That’s my favorite movie so I guess there’s some influences of that in this movie."
Seinfeld turned serious when discussing the current world crisis surrounding bee colony collapse, "I’ll tell you an interesting story. One of the oddest things about making this movie, which I began writing in October of 2003, is that the story in the movie exactly tells the story of colony collapse disorder that is happening now. As this thing started cropping up in the news, we asked how could this be happening? It’s our movie." He demurred, "It was totally unplanned and inadvertent. This movie could be called the bee colony collapse story."
Seinfeld clarified why he was drawn to animation as a genre. "The medium was so different from anything I knew. "After doing 180 episodes, 90 hours of live action television, I thought this is different. Live action didn’t excite me. So I had turned down the offers of a live action film."
Seinfeld compared the process of writing for a film to his background as a writer on a weekly sit-com. "You have more time with a movie, but it has to be better be better, because you only have one shot at it. A movie is like the pilot episode and the series finale rolled into one. Those are the two hardest episodes of any tv series. So you’re doing the toughest aspect of the storytelling; introduce characters, getting the viewers interested in them through an interesting set of circumstances, then resolve the whole thing in an amusing and satisfying way. It’s torture. I would never do it again."
On animated films, usually each actor is recorded alone and then the separate tapes are spliced together. However, Seinfeld took a different approach. "I insisted that every actor play with the actor that they’re in the scene with. That would be me, so that’s how we were able to do it. Every scene you see is acted out. No one recorded by themselves. That was one thing that was new for this movie." I asked Seinfeld whether he had consciously modified his voice in any way to capture the essence of his character. "The only thing I did was to try to sound a little bit younger. I’m 53 and he’s just graduated college, so I tired not to do any hacking coughs that didn’t sound collegiate."
Seinfeld contended that Bee Movie contains an object lesson, appropriate for children, "There is a message that I tried to install. It’s really important to do your job well even if it’s a small job. That’s the code of bee living. There’s a lot of them. But each of them has a little task, but they each do it well, so it’s a big thing."
Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. he welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.