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On the street where he lives: 5 questions for David Paul Kirkpatrick

The Address of Happiness is the bliss of author David Paul Kirkpatrick and his readers
The Address of Happiness is the bliss of author David Paul Kirkpatrick and his readers
David Paul Kirkpatrick

The address of happiness apparently is just outside Boston, Massachusetts, specifically at the desk of writer David Paul Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick is the former Paramount President of Motion Pictures, plus the former Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures President of Production. Add author of the lyrical new novella The Address of Happiness to the aforementioned tongue twister, and one forms a partial impression of the philosophical Kirkpatrick.

In an attempt to complete the picture of David Paul Kirkpatrick, the LA Animation Examiner poses a few pointed questions to him about the animation effect in his life and work:

LA ANIMATION EXAMINER: Besides your tenure as President of Production for Walt Disney Pictures and Touchstone Pictures, how has Disney, and Disney animation in particular, influenced your career?

DAVID PAUL KIRKPATRICK: You cannot be exposed to the craft and art of animation, as in my case, Little Mermaid and Lion King, without it rocking your world. Animation brings all of us back to the fundamentals of storytelling - the root, the mono-myth - of which both Joe Campbell and Carl Jung speak.

Animation returns you to childhood. There are heroes, villains, trials, resolutions, and transformations. Animation brings us back to the magic lantern, man’s earliest attempts to light a wall with moving imagery. Those magic lantern silhouettes were of images of devils, sorcerers, and ghosts. When you get to the essence of great animation, you come back to the very heartbeat of life.

Pixar is the highest standard of that heartbeat today. One cannot look at the Toy Story franchise or Finding Nemo and not experience its “deep life” running through it.

LAAE: As some readers know, Walt Disney established California Institute of the Arts in 1961. Did your CalArts education encourage an appreciation for animation? How and why?

DPK: I was a child living in a small town in Ohio when I first communicated with Walt Disney. He wrote me a letter, because a little film I made on my backyard jungle gym made him laugh. Walt Disney was dying, and I made him a two-minute film to cheer him up. I edited it with tiny slivers of scotch tape! He wrote me a letter thanking me for making him laugh. Soon after, he passed away.

But in the letter, he said he was starting a school to train animators. The school could be as great as Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This school, however, would be on the West Coast, and it would be the arts, not science. It would be called California Institute of the Arts. It mirrored MIT on many levels.

When CalArts was just a twinkle in Walt Disney’s eyes, television was making its authority known. Its programming required a huge amount of content. And Walt Disney’s little studio could not keep up with the demand for animation. He started CalArts, so Disney Studios could act as a feeder conduit for animators. Before he died, Walt Disney installed Jules Engel, one of his key animation guys, to run the animation department at CalArts. Jules was one of the forces behind Fantasia.

And Walt Disney’s dream came true: artists like Tim Burton, Pee Wee Herman, and Andrew Stanton emerged from CalArts. But the most significant graduate is probably John Lasseter, the founder of Pixar, who is now a top dog at Disney.

I have to say that the little book I just wrote, The Address of Happiness, which deals with love, time, earth and heaven would not have been written had it not been my experience with Jules Engel, Walt Disney and CalArts. If you look at the book, you can see the antecedents of Fantasia throughout The Address of Happiness. Music is a main character in the story, just as it is in Fantasia. Marlene, we all know that everything influences everything else. In fact, the Disney influence on The Address of Happiness is significant.

LAAE: What was the inspiration for your recent creation of the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based MIT Center for Future Storytelling?

DPK: We wanted to examine whether or not long-format storytelling - the two hour theatrical feature - could even survive in "snack culture,” the world of bite-size viewing and reading. Our conclusion is that it can!

This is the seminal takeaway from the Center for Future Storytelling: storytelling must be advanced by the artist, not the technologist. James Cameron drove massive changes in film technology, because he needed a morphing, liquid villain for Terminator II; John Lasseter drove changes in the way we look at everything because of his need to push the format. His revolutionary short Tin Toy became the feature Toy Story.

LAAE: Your past is full of animation! Does your future hold any animated projects? If so, please tell all!

DPK: Yes, I am working on a feature project called The Dog. I am doing this in concert with Steven James Taylor, a gifted artist, who was part of the MIT Center for Future Storytelling. The Dog is the story of a family dog, from his birth to his death, almost entirely seen from the dog’s perspective. It is also an homage to 100 years of animation, and it lovingly embraces all of the seminal animation touchstones involving animals, from Dumbo, to Bambi, to Finding Nemo.

LAAE: Your passion for mentoring is inspirational. What is your advice for aspiring professional storytellers?

DPK: You must practice, practice, and practice more. What does practice mean in storytelling? Reading the classics, watching the classics, immersing yourself in great storytelling, so that you can cultivate your own original voice. A great storyteller has a unique voice, and you can only become unique by understanding in your gut the work of those who have come before you.
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Clearly, Kirkpatrick embraces the residence about which he writes in The Address of Happiness, and spinning tales transports him to the metaphorical street where he lives. To learn more about Kirkpatrick's bliss, go to http://theaddressofhappiness.com/

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