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Toy Story 3 Director Lee Unkrich and Writer Michael Arndt on Their Oscar Nominations

This morning, Pixar's Toy Story 3 scored five Oscar nods and became just the third animated film in history to be nominated for Best Picture. To celebrate, we spoke with director Lee Unkrich and writer Michael Arndt (a previous winner for his screenplay for Little Miss Sunshine).

Toy Story 3 Director Lee Unkrich:

Congratulations! Where were you when you heard the film was nominated?
I was in bed with my wife and my 13-year-old daughter climbed in with us and we all watched the announcement, with our hearts pounding. It was pretty amazing.

What happens at Pixar on a day like today?
I'm sure there will be a lot of happy people. But at the same time, it's a busy working studio and people are under deadlines for the next movie. I'm sure everyone will take a moment to celebrate before they lock themselves away again.

Are they making you work, though?
No, I get to celebrate all day! I'm not working on anything right now, so I can just kick back and enjoy all this. I get to celebrate every day until the Oscars.

Were any of the film's nominations a surprise?
Well, I didn't take Best Picture for granted. It's rare for an animated film to crack that category — we're only the third animated film in the history of the Oscars ever to get a Best Picture nomination. I'm just so honored to be in there. I'm thrilled about the screenplay nomination. I'm really happy for Michael Arndt, who's two for two — his last screenplay was Little Miss Sunshine, which was also nominated. I'm excited for Randy Newman. And our sound guys, too. I was actually surprised that Black Swan wasn't nominated for sound. I thought that film had some of the innovative sound work of any film this year.

What will it take for the director of an animated film to finally be nominated for Best Director?
I don't know. I honestly can't answer that. It's a strange business and unfortunately what we do in animation is a mystery, especially the directors. The question I get more than any other is, "What does it mean to direct an animated film?" And the reality is that it's not a whole lot different from what you do in live action. In the industry, people aren't quite aware of what we do. But we've made strides over the years, and animation's been better recognized by our peers, so we'll see. I think it'll happen someday.

Was there anything you were surprised wasn't nominated?
I was disappointed that Tangled didn't get nominated for Best Animated Film. But it was a ruthless category this year, because there were only three slots. My disappointment is really more that we didn't have five spots. Tangled absolutely deserved to be there. But I'm happy for The Illusionist. It's a beautiful film.

Toy Story 3 Writer Michael Arndt:

Congratulations on your nomination. How are you celebrating today?
Thank you very much. I have to pack up and drive into work at Pixar in about ten minutes. It’s just going to be another day at work basically.

I spoke with Lee Unkrich earlier and he told me he’s not working or anything right now, and he just gets to celebrate all day.
That’s the difference between directors and writers. [Laughs.]

Are you writing something else for Pixar now?
Well I’m driving to Pixar today, but that’s as much as I can say.

Your last script, for Little Miss Sunshine, won an Oscar. Now you're nominated for your second screenplay. The pressure's on for your third one.
Yeah, I think that anyone who's waiting for me to fail won't have to wait for very long. There's just so much to making movies that you have no control over, especially as a writer, that I just feel incredibly lucky to have been a part of two films that turned out as well as they did.

Having been through this before, then, do you think you know what to expect from the next month? Has this Oscar season been much different from last time?
With Little Miss Sunshine, any time I went to any sort of event, I always felt like I was ten seconds away from someone coming up to me and going, Hey you, you don’t belong here. Get the hell out of here!. And I’d be like, Yeah, okay sure. Sorry. But this time, having won and having had Toy Story 3 do so well, that sense of being a total impostor has lessened slightly. But not entirely.

Screenplays for sequels can only be considered in the Adapted Screenplay category, because they're based on preexisting characters. But it's not like you had a book to crib from, like your fellow nominees — i.e., you wrote the story and all the dialogue yourself. Do you think that gives you an advantage?
Honestly, half of screen writing is figuring out who your characters are, so I was very lucky to have these characters from the previous two movies that were so clearly defined and had such strong voices. But we had to make up the whole story out of old cloth and introduce new characters, like Lots-O’, and try and make them funny, so it was much more invention, especially for the plot, than I think adapting another previous piece of material. But I doubt that gives us any advantage against the other nominees.

So what's next for you?
For years now I’ve been postponing having a nervous breakdown, but I think 2011 might be the year.

You've earned it!
Yeah, I’m looking forward to having a meltdown.

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images