I recently got the opportunity to sit down with animation great Dave Needham to talk about his directorial debut with The Loud House movie, which debuts on Netflix this weekend. Nickelodeon's The Loud House is an animated comedy film based on the 2015 television series The Loud House. As the director for The Loud House movie, Dave Needham creates an adventurous story that follows the Loud family's journey to Scotland, where they discover their ancestral roots as Scottish royalty, with their home being a castle. Dave expands the original series into a film packed with epic action, villains, and comedic moments.
Dave Needham: You know, yesterday was my first interview for the movie, so I'm just getting used to doing that. This is my first time directing. So it's cool because no one ever asks you normally about the movie when you finish making it. I mean, unless you're the director or the producer, I guess maybe if you're the art director or something, I guess. But yeah, it's fun. I'm enjoying it. It's nice to talk about it.
BC: Well, that's good, because I've got a lot of questions about it. What's it like taking this show that's established in these characters, in these stories, and turning it into, I guess, not only a movie but a movie for Netflix? So it's not necessarily beholden to network television?
Yeah, that's right. I had two things in mind, really: one was that we're going to be reaching a whole new audience with it going to Netflix, and two, I wanted to make sure that we didn't isolate the existing audience. So it was a deliberate thing with the first sequence of the movie. I call it "20 years in two minutes." And so you kind of catch up with the family – where they come from, how mom and dad met and got married and fell in love and bought the loud house and had 11 kids. So by the end of two minutes, you're like, OK, it's about a big family; I've met kind of everyone very quickly. And so I wanted to bring everyone up to speed, but also give little Easter eggs in there for existing fans to see them as children, as babies, and things like that. So that was an important sequence for me. Just remind me, the first part of that question, again, is to do with.
How does it feel taking it from a series to a film?
DN: When I first came here, that's kind of the first thing they were asking me. How will you – what will you do? And obviously, I'm looking at it with an eye to make it more cinematic and to elevate it, but without changing any of the formula that makes it so successful either. So in the first act, it should feel more or less like the show in the world of Royal Woods. And then, at the end of that act, they take this trip of a lifetime and enter a new world of Scotland. And so, the world becomes more dimensional. The camerawork changes a little bit. We're going to use multi-planing and just to add depth and dimensionality to that world. And it's a lot of little things that feel subtle on their own. But I think they add up to feeling just elevated or cinematic.
What were your inspirations coming up with and telling this story specifically? What inspired you to take these characters and really entrench them in the rich history of Scotland?
DN: I'm from the U.K., and I grew up in Wales, and it's full of castles, so as a kid, Conwy Castle was just five miles down the road, and it felt normal to me to kind of be able to walk around a walled town and all of that. So I know coming to the US, it's completely fascinating. I want to know where they came from, where their ancestors are from, and a lot of people make those kinds of trips back to whichever countries their ancestors came from. So it was putting that into this cartoon and really centering it on Lincoln, making sure this is Lincoln's story and that he's the one that's driving them all to go to to make this big trip. But I think they all get something out of it; I think they all come away having learned something and having experienced something completely different.
The series itself kind of frames around Lincoln's perspective, being the only boy in a house full of women and full of very strong personalities. I think a lot of people connect to that feeling of finding your place and figuring it out. How does the film and the story deepen those narratives?
I think it does deepen it. I think it also goes back to the first and second series, which were more Lincoln-focused stories than you get in three and later seasons. The stories tend to focus on individual sisters more, and I kind of wanted to get back to Lincoln being the fulcrum of everyone. And that's kind of how he is in the film as well. He's kind of the glue that keeps the family together, and he gets them to their places on time, and he just doesn't feel appreciated for it. And he doesn't have that special, outstanding skill that all of his sisters seem to have. And so it was just about that. He's kind of an everyman in a way. He is at the center of everything in that family, and it comes out in the movie they learn to – I guess they just never tell him how much they appreciate him, normally.
And those have been very central themes of the series, specifically the first few seasons of the show. And I feel like it's going to be really good getting back to that.
I hope so. Yeah. I think a lot of fans are looking forward to just hearing more about Lincoln's side of things. And Lily plays quite a big role in this movie, too. It's interesting to see how their relationship sort of develops of her being the littlest one who's trying to teach her how to survive in a big family and being the big brother and stuff.
I love that; I love that story. It's kind of Good Luck, Charlie. So, moving on a little bit from the movie – as an artist, what are your primary influences? I know you've worked on a bunch of stuff before this; you have a very long and storied career, it's fantastic. What are your influences that have inspired or informed your personal style as an artist, as a visual storyteller?
That's a good question. I think the interesting thing about being an artist in animation is that every project teaches you something different, and you might be working in new styles, and some are more realistic, and some are more cartoony. You know, my personal preferences are to the more humorous side of things and the more pushed side of things. Loud House isn't necessarily that Loud House is kind of based in reality. And so my job in this movie is just really to expand out that world a little bit. And I think I think Loud House, in particular, draws a lot of interest influences from comics like Peanuts and stuff like that. And I've always been a huge fan of Charles Schulz. And so I'm kind of drawn back to that in the first again, the first couple of seasons of Loud House, you don't see the parent's heads or faces, which is very much like the Peanuts cartoons and stuff. So, yeah, I draw on different influences for different projects, I have to say. And that's where I was looking back to for this one.
You mentioned Peanuts and the similarities. Do you see a lot of similarities – I mean, Charlie Brown's kind of the quintessential schmuck, per-se, Lincoln's a little more lovable than that, but do you see that kind of kicked around aspect a lot in him?
A little bit. He gets pushed around by his sisters, but I don't think he suffers as much as Charlie Brown does. You have those great archetypal characters, though, in both Peanuts and in the Loud House. For me, it's been great to get to know all those characters even more and to dive through all of the seasons and get to know what drives each of those characters, you know, and that's a big part of it. There's a big cast on this movie, and it was important for me to understand who would say this, who would act like this? How would they react to any situation of making sure you've got the right sisters doing the right things at the right time?
That's a tricky one, especially with so many people, so many cast members to juggle, so many characters to juggle. Did you ever find characters getting not quite "lost in the sauce," but was ever a point where you looked back and thought, "this character is kind of lost like we need to do more with her?"
First of all, I had amazing support from the people on this show, and they would always like weekly meetings with Mike Rubin, the showrunner, Kevin Sullivan, who wrote the first and second draft, is the head writer from the show. So we were never going to stray too far from the path. What we did discover was that if you stay away from Lincoln for too long in the movie, it tends to drift. So we realize you can only stay away from him for about two or three minutes before you needed to either get back to him or have a key sort of sequence that you knew would affect him when we did get back to him. So as we went through the different screenings, that's one of the things that became apparent. The movie tended to drift if we stayed away from Lincoln or his story too long. And we are balancing a few stories is some of the subplots and the stories in there, which is nice, but the main plot has to keep it going. That's really the big discovery that I made.
Absolutely, and I mean, the trailer. The trailer looks amazing.
Thank you so much. You know, it's funny, Netflix got the trailer, and they sent it to us, and I watched it, and I watched the teaser with my kids. I was like, "wow, I really wanna watch this movie." And then I'm like, "Oh, then it did a good job. This trailer is working!" And I'm kind of amazed. On Saturday, one of the crews here sent me a text to say, "Hey, you know, that opening sequence of the film, they put it out for Parents Day on Sunday, just about six days ago, and it's about two million views." And that was on Saturday. I look just now at three point five million views. That's why adding like nearly a million views a day at the moment, which is, you know, I mean, I know the Loud House has a big fan base and everything, and I hope there's a lot of people watching it again and again because there's a lot of Easter eggs in there, but I'm still blown away by the scale of the fandom for this show.
It's a story that connects with a lot of people.
I think you're right. I'm just really pleased that – for me, I like to keep my head down, and when we were making the early part of the film, our writer Kevin, he goes on Twitter, and he knows what the fans like and don't like. And they always have a list of writers and who does the best episodes. And as I don't want to worry about all that kind of stuff, I just want to make the film. And it's a bit like now that I finished, I can look back and connect with everyone because it's like climbing a mountain. You don't look down when you're halfway up. You want to get to the top first and then look back. And that's what I've been thinking with the reactions from fans. So I'm just so pleased that it's so positive so far.
And I hope it will continue to be positive. It's definitely a charming story, charming characters. What is your inspiration when it comes to telling engaging stories aimed at children and families in particular? Because this is not your first foray into children's and family entertainment.
Right. I think the important thing is to just keep in mind what the theme of the movie is all about. And so that should help guide you through all of your scenes and sequences and what the characters want. I think that's the most important thing is not losing sight of your North Star for all of these things. And it's all about making sure that it's clear what your main character wants and needs.
You mentioned not losing sight of that North Star. Is that just character-wise, or do you have something that kind of acts as a North Star that guides you, like a prime directive?
I have a few, you know, I always I've been lucky enough at DreamWorks to share offices with a bunch of really talented story artists, and I was in the office with Sean Charmatz, and we wrote the word "contrast" on the wall. We used to point at it like two or three times a day. If you want something to appear fast, the best way to make someone appear fast is to show something slow just before it. And that contrast will increase how fast they feel. So whenever we hit on a good idea, I just write it down on the wall. And that way, you could just look at it and go, "Yeah, that's right. That's what we that's what we're doing here," you know. So if I whenever I have that, and it's lots of different things, per project really, but they only just get written on a Post-it note and stuck to the wall.
It's better than writing directly on the wall.
Yeah. Better than that. They might not like that, but post-it notes are OK. So the North Star for Lincoln is what makes him special – that's really what this movie is about to him. And I also mentioned that Lincoln's like an everyman and not that this is exactly in there, but everyone else has that thing. They already know what they want. All of his sisters and I always knew what I wanted; I wanted to draw. And people used to say, oh, you're lucky, you know what you want to do. And so, with Lincoln, it's almost like the message is it's OK to not know what you want to do. You're still special. Everyone is. And that's kind of the message behind the movie.
I think that's why the Loud House has such a strong fan base because that really resonates with a lot of people.
Yeah, I really think so. And especially Lincoln being the one who doesn't have that thing that is so clear as the other sisters don't detract from his place in the family and how important he is.
No, not at all. He's kind of the one that does everything, he kind of goes everywhere.
Yeah, he helps everyone out, he smooths it all out, and they wouldn't be able to do what they do without him. That's just as important.
So, you've worked on a bunch of projects? Yeah, I know the Loud House is very close, but do you have any ones that are particularly your favorite or ones that have taught you, like, very important lessons?
I find it really important with your crew to make sure you're having fun doing stuff. I think it shows on the screen, especially if your artist and your story team are laughing and enjoying themselves; it'll show in their pitch, and it'll show at the end of the day as well in the movie. And for me, I had loads of fun – I try and have fun all the time, really, because it should be fun making cartoons. But on Boss Baby in particular, with the combination of the crew on that movie and the story team, in particular, everyone's pitches were so good and so funny that you'd go back to your office like, "OK, all right, got a beat that, I've got to make everyone laugh more than the last person." And so that became a really fun crew; we encourage each other to be better. I learned a lot from Tom McGrath, the director. Every time he came in the office, he'd say something that kind of you knew maybe, but no one had put it in words before. And those got put on Post-it notes, too, and stuck on the wall with all the others. So I end up with these bits of knowledge, like Tom would come in and go, "either move the character or move the camera, but don't move both." Oh, yeah, of course. On the wall that goes. So it's one of those things I'm happy if I'm learning and the crew and people on Boss Baby made it, and the crew always makes every movie is different, but every crew is like a family for a couple of years, and it does take a long time to make an animated film. So it helps if you are all just on the same page, you're invested in making something together and have fun doing it.
And that definitely shows in the finished product: audiences aren't really going to enjoy it unless, you know, that love has been poured into it from every point in the process.
I really think so. I really think so. Yeah.
Like, if you don't love what you're doing, how can you expect other people to love what you're doing?
I think it shows you can't just go through the motions. It's got to be real.
Absolutely. You mentioned collaborating with teams and crew – what's it like collaborating with the series creators and the series crew to make this a movie? They're kind of going simultaneously, more or less, right?
Totally. I mean, we had a whole, almost entirely new crew and a different animation studio. And the one thing I didn't want it to do is to look like, for lack of a better word, a knockoff of the Loud House. The baseline was like it has to be the same as the series, but then we can plus it from there. And we had the support of everyone on the show know. We talked to the art directors; we talked to Karl Marshall, who's the supervising director or producer, I think. But everyone played so nice, and they were really generous with allowing us to push things beyond what they would do in an episode because it has to be a different experience watching a movie. It's a different pace of storytelling. And I wanted to move through the gears so that the first act felt familiar; it's the world of the show, the second act is Scotland; by the end of the movie, I was watching it sometimes, and I almost had to pinch myself. This is Loud House and, without any spoilers, we do go pretty big on the action and suspense by the end of the film. So it was cool that they allowed us to do that and supported us through it. And we'd also talk down to the details of when does this takes place because with it being on Netflix, we don't control exactly when it comes out. And so the in the series, things do – and I like this – they don't stay the same. So Lori moves to the big city, and she goes to college in season five, and Lily starts to become more of a toddler and less of a baby. So we were deliberately setting this between seasons four and five. We're sort of saying, no, this is the summer holiday they take before season five, and those changes take place.
That's smart because it feels very accessible to both fans of the show who have watched all of it and maybe fans that have watched some of it.
Yeah, I wanted it to be really inclusive like that and not just playing to the fans that already exist. I think anyone can watch this movie and enjoy it.
From the first little clip, the Parents Day segment, it definitely kind of catches you up on everything you need to know about the Louds.
That was my hope. And that's why I'm so pleased that this one is the one that has had so many views. I think one of the comments was not that's how to open a movie. We did it. I set out to try and expand into a whole new audience and not exclude any. And the show was great partners in that as well.
I think Netflix is the perfect platform for that inclusion especially.
It's interesting, you know, sometimes when I'd say I'm working on The Loud House, if you don't have Nickelodeon, people might not be that aware of it. And I think that it's a great idea to put it on a platform like Netflix because it's going to reach a whole new audience, and it might be a smart thing too – maybe people will come and check out the show, and that's on different platforms. So, you know, it's interesting. We're in a whole new world with all of these streaming platforms. And it's interesting to see how every year brings something different at the moment. I think this year there's something like this, more than 20 animated features are being released this year; it's the most that have ever been released. Maybe twenty-three, it's a lot of movies coming out this year, and that makes it harder to stand out. But I think coming from a property that some people already know is going to stand us in good stead.
I completely agree. I mean, Netflix had an animated film that came out earlier this year, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which did really well for the streamer. And that was not based on any underlying fandom.
That it's even harder to pull off, I think. And, you know, the guys that made that did an awesome job; I was actually over at Sony in the early days when they were making that. And I bumped into Lindsey Olivares, who's the production designer, and I worked with her a little bit, and I love her designs. She's got just such a fresh eye for things. And I think that's what's cool about Mitchells versus the Machines; everything felt just a little fresher or different. They were willing to try things, slightly different approaches. So I love that it's great and that it was on Netflix, too – it reached such a wide audience.
Do you think that because of these films being accessible on streaming, especially now with the current state of things, do you think that they are reaching more audiences, and that's better than if they had gotten their traditional cinematic release?
I mean, I love going to the movies and stuff to see a film, but unless it's something, it's only a few times in my life I've been to see the same film twice at the theaters. So you normally end up watching it again at home. And I think I think there's definitely going to be movies you want to watch in the cinema. But I've got kids now. They've got a five and a six-year-old, and when they like something, they'll watch it 50 times. And I know if it's so it's great to make a movie that, you know, everyone watches. That's one thing. But that people want to watch 50 times. That's when you strike gold, and certain films I know my kids watch Trolls 50 times and Moana 50 times and stuff like that. It's interesting to see what they respond to and why they want to watch particular movies more than others, you know.
Have you noticed anything in particular that kids really respond to that maybe surprised you?
Well, this is a musical; I haven't really mentioned that but we have nine original songs in the movie, and so we have characters like Lincoln has a couple of songs. David Tennant has a song, and Michelle Gomez has a song, too. So I don't know if this is the secret, but a lot of the things that my kids watch tend to be musicals, and they sometimes just want to hear the songs as well. So musicals are slightly more difficult in a way. And the trick is, I think that the songs have to progress the story. You can't stop for a song. And when I was at Warner Brothers, I was working on Smallfoot, and that had a lot of original songs in too. And what I learned from the director, Karey Kirkpatrick, was that you have to have a reason for the character to burst into song, whether it's because they overjoyed or they're down, or whatever it is, you've got to put them in a position where there's nothing they can do but sing about it. And that that kind of resonated with me as I was making this film. I don't know if that's the secret to everything, but I think it's important if you're making a musical to know why those moments have to have, you know.
So this is a musical – was that your idea to make it a musical? Was went into that?
I think it was probably built in from the beginning. I think when I first talked to Ramsey Naito, head of animation at Nickelodeon, she was also a producer on Boss Baby – and so when she started the job here, she got in touch. And that's how I ended up coming to Nickelodeon. And when I joined, I think the day that I joined, Kevin Sullivan pitched the movie to Ramsey and me and the people from the Lighthouse and Chris Viscardi and everyone. And at that point, yes, it was always intended to be a musical. So I think I think that was probably Ramsay's influence – that's where that came from.
Being a musical, did that influence story beats that influence anything else? Like did that influence cast choices deeper cast choices?
Not so much. I think all of the guests cast are Scottish; I was just eager to try and keep it as realistic as possible in that way. As for the musical sequences, I had a great head of story; her name is Claire Morrissey, and she worked on Trolls, and she did some of the amazing song sequences on that movie. And so I knew that with her help, we'd be able to make all of these song sequences special. Yesterday, because it was on my desktop and I'm back in the office, I watched the first screening. We didn't have those songs in the first screening. And things take longer to explain in a way. I think you get to the core of where someone's head is up, and then their feelings are emotionally easier and quicker through a song. So in the first act, Lincoln has his song where he kind of sings about what he wants, what he's facing, and that first screening didn't have that. And so, in my head yesterday, I was comparing those two things. I think it just clues you in emotionally quicker to the character if you do it right. Claire is amazing at getting those sequences, bring them to life, and infusing them with that emotion.
I think that's why children especially are drawn to song and music so heavily. You mentioned David Tennant – what was it like working with him, such an established and beloved actor?
It was he was like one of the crew in a way. It was in COVID, so when we first recorded him, he was either in his apartment or the shed at the bottom of his garden or something. And there are duvets hanging up to create his own sound booth, but he really felt like a real team player – he's eager to do anything. He kept asking when he gets to sing a song because we didn't have the song written for him the first time. He was just eager to get involved. And because we're in this strange situation of all working from home, he'd have to record it locally. When our engineers were at the end of the session, he'd talk to them and say, just post it now, and I'll upload it, but if there's a problem, I'll check back in half an hour, and I'll let you know if there's anything. It was just like one of the team. So he was amazing to work with. Really fantastic.
Sounds like a fantastically collaborative process.
Yeah, and that's my favorite thing about animation, is when you get to collaborate all together, it's different than when you're doing an illustration or something that's just one person. It takes a team to make anything in animation, and everyone played their part putting this together. David Tennant included.
The Loud House movie is streaming on Netflix as of August 20. Many thanks to Dave Needham for chatting with us about the animation process and the film.