Pedro Morelli on Why Gael Garcia Bernal Was the Perfect Actor for an Animated Role in ‘Zoom’

A cartoonist who works at a sex doll factory is drawing on a comic book about a dashing film director who is currently shooting and editing a feature on a Brazilian model who is writing a novel about… a cartoonist working at a sex doll factory. This description for Pedro Morelli’s quirky meta-fictional comedy Zoom should have you thinking of Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation — the Brazilian director openly credits that Meryl Streep/Nicolas Cage film as an inspiration for this three-pronged film, one third of which is entirely animated.

At its core though, Zoom is a film fascinated with exploring modern society’s obsession with the “perfect body” and the expectations that come from that line of thinking: Emma (Alison Pill), the cartoonist is intent on giving herself bigger boobs and when that backfires, she takes it out on her director character (played by Gael García Bernal) shrinking his manhood to embarrassing proportions which in itself derails his movie about a model (Brazilian actress Mariana Ximenes) committed to proving to the world that she’s more than a pretty face. The interconnected stories get increasingly more out of control, with issues of sexual anxiety, artistic integrity, and body image crashing into each other with surprising hilarity. I mean, did we mention Gael’s animated character spends the majority of the film trying to find ways of enlarging his penis going so far as to looking into prosthetics?

Following a screening of the film at the Museum of the Moving Image as part of the Havana Film Festival in New York, Morelli sat down for a Q&A with those in attendance. Find some highlights from that chat below.

On The Film’s Influences

It all started with an invitation from a Canadian producer, Niv Fichman. I was just 23 years old and he invited me to come up with a project. And he was making a couple of films with some first time filmmakers and he just told, you wanna make a film? And I said, okay, but what are you looking for? What’s the brief? And he said, I’m just getting young filmmakers because I want something fresh and something original so go do what you want. Just don’t make something square. Don’t make any concessions. Go wild! And it was kind of a producer coming from heaven saying, do whatever you want! So I started to think about something different and my first inspiration was Charlie Kaufman, the screenwriter of Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. So that was the first inspiration and we worked for five and a half years on this.

On The Film’s Bleak Vision of Hollywood Producers

I have to say, my producer gave me all the freedom I could have. But when I hear about Brazilian filmmakers going to the States, to Hollywood, to film. It’s definitely like [how we show it in the film]. They say that out of ten ideas, nine they can’t do because the producers just don’t want to. So this is something that happens for sure. But I was lucky that it wasn’t even close to that.

On Casting Gael García Bernal

Well, it’s a Brazil and Canada co-production. So we had to have a Canadian and Brazilian cast. So that’s why we got Alison [Pill]. And Gael was the only exception, because he’s Mexican. And we got him because he’s a great actor. And since, he was going to be animated we needed an actor with very recognizable traces. I think he’s one of those guys who you can totally see that it’s him when he’s animated. That was important. We didn’t want to lose our star completely when he got painted.

On Animating One-Third of the Film

In the first things I wrote about the project, we used to have four stories instead of three. The fourth layer was a musician making the score for a theater play about one of the characters. But that was too much! [Laughs] It was already giving me headaches, but from the beginning one of the stories was going to be animated in this technique. Our main reference was Waking Life. So we shot the actors and we drew frame by frame on top of that. So we had very simple sceneries; just the studio with pretty much nothing on it. And we added that. We have 30 minutes of animation on the film. That means 21000 frames that were drawn one by one by a team of 25 Brazilian illustrators. It was a huge amount of work.

On Taking On Body Image

The idea was to critique both [male and female body image issues]. Because at the same time we have the dolls and the girl trying to look like dolls and the guy needs to have a perfect body as well. We talk a lot about how women are objectified in our society, and the dolls are a great symbol for that. They are literally objectified. But the men, most of the time, people don’t even think about that. But the situation is kind of similar. But the idea was to do that in an ironic way, showing that the guy had to have that. I think maybe the man side of the film is more ironic than the women’s side. I wanted to talk about how everyone’s obsessed with the perfect body and all that.

On What’s Next For Him

Definitely not an animation. Definitely not a multi-plot film with crazy connections. I don’t know. I like directors who do different kinds of genres and try to reinvent themselves in every film rather than doing the same thing. And that’s what I’m gonna try. I’m working on a few things. I have a few TV series in Brazil that I’ll probably be shooting this semester coming up and some future projects that I’m writing now.