Skydance Animation makes its own luck
Interview with Peggy Holmes who left Disney for Skydance
Luck, streaming on Apple TV+, is the first feature film from Skydance Animation—a new studio led by John Lasseter, the Pixar cofounder responsible for such beloved classics as Toy Story and Cars. Lasseter lost his job at Pixar in 2018 after some female employees complained he made them uncomfortable.
Christians believe in the providence of God rather than luck, but this movie has more at its heart than random chance. I recently talked with Luck’s director, Peggy Holmes, a veteran in the animation industry. We discussed what it’s like working for a start-up studio and how the pandemic affected the filmmaking process. She also shared her inspiration for the film. Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Congratulations on the new film. This is the first film for Skydance Animation, a brand new studio. Did you find there was a different creative vibe working with this upstart studio versus working inside Disney’s big franchise factory?
I loved my time at Disney. I worked at Disney as an actress, as a dancer, as a choreographer, as a director. I loved my time at Disney. I really truly did, but what I do adore about being at Skydance Animation is that we’re new. And it’s small. You’re part of building a studio, and that’s so, so exciting. Literally problems every day! You’re part of the strategy of building a studio and uncovering the problems and figuring out best practices. And I love that. I love production. I love being involved in those kinds of meetings.
At Skydance, we have three locations. We have Los Angeles, Connecticut, and Madrid. We are one studio working in three different time zones. So that’s another thing that was super challenging, but super fun, to figure out. And under COVID, by the way. We made this movie over Zoom. It was really challenging, fun, and interesting to figure out enough cross-over hours in the day to have meaningful collaboration.
And the other thing I want to say about being at Skydance is we are committed—myself, David Ellison, Dana Goldberg, John Lasseter—to telling stories with a deep emotional core in a world you’ve never seen before. So we’re all about creating these original worlds, and I’m just so into that.
You mentioned COVID. You came on right before COVID, right?
I was on for two weeks, and then we all got sent home!
The movie is Luck. It’s about how we deal with luck—good and bad. How did making the movie in the midst of a pandemic shape the way you thought about luck?
That’s interesting. At times, we’d stop in the middle of a meeting and we’d go, “Wow, you guys, we are super lucky that we’re able to keep working.” And we would take a moment to recognize and appreciate that. And to be working in something we love. We feel really lucky that we were able to work through all of COVID.
We had to as a team figure out how to share and connect, because as artists you want to feel like you trust your fellow artists. Because then you feel more free to put your ideas out there. Artists are quite vulnerable. We had to figure out a way, because you’re not having lunch together in the kitchen. You’re not having any ways to get to know each other. All of us naturally would start our meetings by sharing a little bit about our day or sharing a little about what happened yesterday or sharing something about their child. Or you’re in a Zoom meeting, and the toddler needs his Cheerios—“I’ll be right back!” We got to actually meet people’s families in a way that I think we never would have if we weren’t making this over Zoom. Those were the kinds of ways that we really connected—that were a different way to make a movie. We were in each others’ homes, and it created a trust and a bond.
The main character of Luck is an orphan. I haven’t seen an orphan adventure in a while. What went into that decision, making Sam without a family.
I was at Skydance Animation developing a series when they asked me to consider directing Luck. I looked at the materials that existed, and there were two things in the material that caught my eye. One was this idea that the lead character was in the foster care system. And the other was a little leprechaun. I come from a really big family—it’s the most important thing in my life—and I thought I would love to create a story in which someone goes from having no family to finding family.
And then with the leprechaun, I was like, OK, I could take this leprechaun and create a whole world with all the lucky creatures in it, good and bad, and tell this heartfelt story in this magical world. We didn’t know what the story was. There was no land of luck, none of that existed before. But just the potential of those two things … I said, “what if I do something like that?” And they said, “yes, yes, go!”
Was there any challenge in making a movie without a traditional villain?
I don’t think it really came up for us. Kiel (cowriter Kiel Murry) and I were able to meet with young adults who had lived very similar lives to Sam—men and women who have grown up in foster care systems and have aged out and are alone in their world now in their twenties. They were so positive and hopeful and generous of heart. We were so inspired by them, and we thought that’s the story. That’s the story for Sam. Through her generous heart, she comes upon a little bit of good luck, and she doesn’t use it for herself. She uses it for a friend. We thought that is so beautiful and so true to who these people were. And we were thinking in the end she’s just got to get a family. Her great effort and great payoff for going on this journey is that she herself finds love.
In the movie, luck is this magical quality, but it seemed to me that what you really mean is circumstances of life you can’t control.
Yeah, you’re hitting on it. The first couple of weeks, all I did was research. Humans are obsessed with luck. We just wanted luck for our audience to feel like what it feels for them in real life.
What do you hope families will be able to take away from the film?
I really hope people feel inspired to never give up. To stay hopeful. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t give up on finding family. Don’t give up on finding love. And don’t give up on yourself.
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