Ted Mathot talks about his Incredibles 2 short, Auntie Edna

by W. Andrew Powell
Auntie Edna

Incredibles 2 is out now on Blu-ray, and with it comes a very fun short with the one and only Edna “E” Mode as she takes on babysitting Jack-Jack, the Parr’s littlest hero. The goal? Edna has to come up with a super-suit for him, while she figures out his powers, and what he can do.

Edna has long been one of my favorite Incredibles characters, so I was thrilled to get a chance to speak with the director of Auntie Edna, Ted Mathot.

Mathot has been a story artist and storyboard artist for a number of years at Pixar, including on Wall-E, Finding Dory, and The Incredibles, and he was the story supervisor for Incredibles 2.

Ted Mathot
Ted Mathot

Andrew Powell: To start off with, as a first time director, what did you focus on to get started on Auntie Edna?

Ted Mathot: Well, being a scene that’s actually part of the story but that we never see, I had to go into the film and make a list of things that I needed to pay off for the audience, which is actually kinda fun. Because Edna says a number of things that happened, over the course of the night, so I made a list.

I’m like, ‘okay, we gotta show this, this, this.’ There’s probably five of them I think. And then, that’s kind of my starting point, like, this is what we have to do, and then with any time remaining, we can add additional things.

It was also a challenge because, when you have an open-ended thing like this, Edna and Jack-Jack, the sky’s the limit, but you have three-and-a-half minutes to do what you wanna do.

Powell: When I interviewed Brad Bird for Incredibles 2 earlier this year, one of the things I asked him was, “when are we going to get an Edna short?” so I’ve been excited about this coming for a while. So when did you start on the production for it?

Mathot: So, I started about mid-February, which was late by our normal standards.

Usually for a summer release we get started in December, but Incredibles 2 was a project that went right up to the buzzer, so I was still working in story at that point and right around mid-February, the producers approached me and they said, “Would you direct something for the short?” And I said, “I totally will, I only have one idea, well I have multiple ideas but there’s only one I wanna pitch to Brad, ’cause I think it a good one.” And they got me together with him and I pitched it, and he said, “Great, I love it. Go!”.

Powell: So then was it always going to be Edna and Jack-Jack, since it fills such a natural hole in the story?

Mathot: Totally, totally and you know a little bit on Edna and that she is a character that Brad is extremely close to. People tend to… there’s a tendency to want to do anything and everything with Edna, and that’s not really the reality and the truth of her character.

She fits into a smaller box. You know, a very intense, passionate box, but she’s not an international woman of mystery. She’s a designer for heroes who also happens to be a fashion designer on the side, which is how she pays the bill, so keeping her in character was challenging.

Powell: She is absolutely on of my favorite characters. Does the team at Pixar view Edna in any particular way?

Mathot: Oh, we love Edna! You know, and I’ve gotten asked like, what do you like so much about Edna? And you know, I had to pause for a minute because I just thought, well, Edna’s Edna!

But, how does that break down? And what’s so great about her is that she’s the diminutive little powerhouse and she can shut up a superhero like Mr. Incredible in two seconds, and I love that about her. She’s the boss!

She’s in control and that was a great thing about doing a short, it’s like, what is she like when she gets flustered? Because we don’t ever see that or we’ve never seen Edna run, we’ve never seen her jump or do a tumble or you know, get frightened. It’s just not anything we’ve seen before, so in working with Brad I had to be very careful about that, not to push the character too far, where it wasn’t Edna anymore.

Powell: And was there anything you had to convince him on for this short, or convince any of the producers on?

Mathot: Well Brad, as filmmakers, he’s got my back a hundred percent, as did John Walker and Nicole Grindle, our producers. I didn’t really have to do any convincing to them at all. They, in fact helped me push for things that originally we weren’t going to get.

It’s a fascinating and wonderful aspect of working with Brad, that you fight for the things, you fight hard for the things that you think are really worth it, and the other ones you let slide.

Powell: In terms of the story, I had heard one interview where you said that there was at least a minute and a half that was kind of in flux, but you had the music locked down from the beginning. Was that because of the sequence of events, or the music?

Mathot: Well, we had no budget for music. Zero. So they said we can only use music from the film, which is an unbelievable challenge because we have a completely different story to tell than anything that was happening in the movie.

It just so happened that tonally, the raccoon fight had the kind of music that was closest to what we were doing. So I got in touch with Michael Giacchino who’s a friend, and I said, “Hey man, is there anything you can do to help us out? Do you have additional pieces of music, or things that we could pull from?”

But he said, “You know, we used everything, but I can put you in touch with my music editor and he’ll dig up anything that you guys might need,” which was very generous on Michael’s part and, his editor’s part, so ultimately, with his help, we were able to structure the music in a way that worked for what we needed to do.

Powell: I have to say, I adore what Michael does. His work is phenomenal.

Mathot: And he’s a very, very nice guy too.

Powell: Well, in terms of making your first short, what was it like for you?

Mathot: You know to be honest, the music was the thing I probably knew the least about, when to use it, how to use it, so in a way the limitation was good for me that, you know, here’s the music we have, plug it in where you want it to go, you know?

I mean, normally, there’d be a composer and we would have meetings, we’d talk about what we wanted it to feel like. But, yeah, I guess the limitation was good for me in that respect.

At least until it came to the Mozart because, the music is a specific piece, a specific lane, and it has a specific number of bars between it, it’s transitions, and we tried our best to have those sync up with the action of the story, without corrupting the music itself too much.

Incredibles 2
Incredibles 2

Powell: Otherwise in terms of Incredibles 2, you’ve been working on story for a number of years, so working on Incredibles 2, what did you feel that you’ve learned that helped you as the story supervisor?

Mathot: I have been fortunate to work with some really great story supervisors. I pulled a lot of how I run a team from Mark Andrews, who was the story supervisor on Incredibles and Ratatouille, and his philosophy of being in the trenches and being there with the team as much as possible, so his influence was huge.

And then of course, Brad and the producers trusting me to make the decisions that I need to make in my position and that goes as far as choosing the people for the team, and things like that. That’s huge. To have the trust of those people is extremely important to do the job effectively.

Powell: So what do you want to do next then? Do you want to do more directing, or more as the story supervisor? Or where do you wanna go from here?

Mathot: I would love to make more stuff. Making the short, you get a taste of this and I loved working with all the different departments because I met so many people I hadn’t met in twenty years at the studio, and just seeing how talented they are, and what great people they are was a huge thrill and kind of a rush. So I would love to continue making things. Story supervising is great, on it’s own level, but making stuff and you know, having a bigger bubble of people to work with is really thrilling.

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