Directors Josh Cooley, Sergio Pablos & Jérémy Clapin Discuss Breaking Into Oscars’ Animated Feature Race With First Films

Toy Story 4

This year at the Oscars, three first-time directors are in the running for Best Animated Feature—Toy Story 4’s Josh Cooley, Klaus helmer Sergio Pablos and I Lost My Body’s Jérémy Clapin.

From the perspective of each director, this morning’s results demonstrate what an exciting time it is to be in animation. “It’s a great batch of films across the entire year, and not just the ones that were nominated. I think part of it’s a testament that animation can do so much,” Cooley told Deadline. “It’s not a genre, as we say. It’s a medium, and there’s so many different types of stories that you can tell.”

While working on Toy Story 4 over the course of five years, Cooley never dared dream that the film would make it to the Oscars. At the same time, the film has been a hit throughout awards season. Racking up six Annie Award nominations, with additional nods at the Golden Globes and beyond, the latest Toy Story film has followed the trajectory expected of a critically acclaimed sequel to an immensely beloved film.

For Jérémy Clapin and Marc du Pontavice, the director and producer of Netflix’s surreal existential drama I Lost My Body, an Oscar nomination seemed even further out of the realm of possibility. The first animated film to claim the Cannes Film Festival’s Nespresso Grand Prize, this story of a disembodied hand in pursuit of its anatomical companion always felt like a risk, for better or worse. “Meeting Jérémy has been a huge thing, because when I picked [up] the rights to the book, I knew that the challenge would be very, very difficult, to bring that story to the screen. I didn’t know that Jérémy would push it so far and so brilliantly, in terms of the vision, and the exposure Netflix [would give] to the film,” Du Pontavice said. “I mean, we took all the risk in the beginning. We self-funded the film, pretty much—over 50%.”

Oscar Nominations 2020: Deadline’s Complete Coverage

For Pablos and his producers—Marisa Roman and Jinko Gotah—the Santa Claus origin story Klaus also felt like a long shot for Hollywood’s biggest night. “This film has been a long list of impossible things we set out to do years ago, things that supposedly, you shouldn’t be able to do. Somehow, we found ourselves with an incredible team that helped us through, and kept breaking down all those barriers. But this one, we were not expecting at all,” the director admits.

Like I Lost My Body, Pablos’ Netflix title was snubbed by the Golden Globes—and for the director, this engendered certain expectations. “We’re used to seeing the Golden Globes be a pretty good preview of what the Oscars will be, so our expectations were not that high,” Pablos said. “We were up against animation royalty this year—properties so beloved, [like] How to Train Your Dragon and Toy Story and Frozen which, to us, were obviously a given.”

For Pablos, it’s important to note that Klaus was not only the work of a first-time director. The film was also the first to be produced by his company, Madrid’s SPA Studios—a dream finally realized after 15 years of waiting—which made today’s nomination all the more meaningful. “To be honest, as a director, I lose perspective. I have no clue how good or bad my film is, so I have to depend on other people’s reactions to know what we did,” he said. “So, to see the recognition like this—and not just for Klaus, but for other outliers—is an incredibly rewarding thing.”

Speaking with Deadline today, the filmmakers behind I Lost My Body and Klaus suggested that this year’s nominations for Best Animated Feature reflect an exciting kind of diversity never before seen in the category. “To see Klaus and I Lost My Body included in the nominations, I think, is really showing that the Academy members are really behind diversity and inclusion. I’m very proud of [Klaus], especially because artists and technicians for the movie represented 22 countries,” said Gotoh, who is involved with the Academy’s A2020 diversity initiative. “This is really making history in every which way for animation—and also, most importantly, innovating and going forward with the medium.”

“I think there is a need to see, and to give some space to more singular, original stories, maybe with more of an auteur’s perspective. It’s really encouraging,” Clapin added. “I was really stressed two hours ago, because it’s really hard to get the pulse. We are not inside the head of the AMPAS member, but we were pushed by Netflix really hard, and now we are very happy.”

For Clapin and his producer, the nomination for I Lost My Body also speaks to the Academy’s appreciation for filmmakers who are willing to take creative risks. “I think it shows somehow that risk can pay [off], or being honest in the way you want to make cinema,” the director said. “Also, trusting yourself can bring you here.”

In a season that could easily have been nominated by studio-driven sequels—with Toy Story 4, How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Frozen 2 in the mix—the first two made the Oscars cut, with the latter film missing the mark. Also in contention for Best Animated Feature is Chris Butler’s LAIKA title Missing Link, which won the Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature just last week.

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