A Mystery, Inc.
Director Brian Levant On Helming Scooby
Doo: The Mystery Begins
For four decades, Brian Levant has been at the creative
helm of many of the most beloved franchises in modern family
entertainment – making him the perfect choice to direct
the first-ever telling of the Mystery Inc. origin story in
Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins.
Levant signing at Comic-Con
began his career at age 23 as a story editor on Happy Days
and went on to produce Mork & Mindy and The Bad News
Bears series before returning to Happy Days as the series’
supervising producer. After winning a CableACE Award as
Best Director of a Comedy Series for The New Leave it to
Beaver, which he developed and served as executive producer,
Levant turned his attention to feature films.
1991, Levant made his feature directorial debut on Problem
Child 2, which he followed with the original Beethoven.
In 1994, Levant directed the star-studded film adaptation
of Hanna-Barbara Productions The Flinstones for executive
producer Steven Spielberg, as well as its 1999 prequel.
Levant’s other film credits include the hits Snow
Dogs; Are We There Yet;, Jingle all the Way, starring Arnold
Schwarzenegger; and the upcoming Jackie Chan vehicle The
Spy Next Door.
who has nine large dogs of his own running around his ranch
in the Santa Monica Mountains, spent some time discussing
the latest incarnation of the Scooby-Doo franchise, the
all-new live-action cast, and the joys and challenges of
adding a new chapter to a 40-year legacy.
MIEREANU: What significance do you place
on finally telling the origin story of the Mystery Inc.
gang for a franchise that is celebrating its 40th anniversary?
LEVANT: This means that for the 40th anniversary
of Scooby-Doo, we go back and start at the very beginning
– we go back to when these are just meddling kids,
and they truly are kids. When we started filming, the youngest
member of our cast was barely 16 years old, and I think
the age of the cast reflects the innocence and energy and
an openness to new stimuli – in general and specifically
– in this franchise. By starting over, we have re-energized
the franchise and given it a new reason to exist.
GARY MIEREANU: You have some
history of converting animated cartoons into live-action
film. What’s the trick?
LEVANT: In translating an animated piece into
a live-action film, every day you walk the tightrope between
what is too silly and what is too cartoony versus what is
too real for the situation. I think we have successfully
navigated that tightrope so that we maintain our balance,
and yet stayed true to the original.
is a very contemporary, 21st century version of Scooby-Doo.
The relationships are real, they are real people, they have
real ideas, they have real problems, and they are a real
team. Then to counter that with the shtick of a six-foot-tall,
computer-generated Great Dane, that tips the balance a little
bit every day. So sometimes we have to lean a little bit
harder on the real in order to maintain the total balance.
21st Century Scooby Gang
MIEREANU: These “kids” really
seem to have made these roles their own while staying true
to the traditions of this franchise. What’s it been
like working with this cast?
LEVANT: This has been a great opportunity for
this cast to learn to become professionals and to take all
their enthusiasm and energy and channel it into a process
where they’ve become very polished performers. In
doing so, they have really learned to inhabit their roles.
you watch this film, mainly it’s composed not of singles
or individual shots, but of big tight four-shots of the
group, and they have become a group in real life as well
as on film. That’s really reflected in the performance
and in the teamwork that they display every day on screen.
MIEREANU: Let’s break down the cast
one at a time. Tell us about your Velma – Hayley Kiyoko.
LEVANT: Hayley is very different than Velma Dinkley.
She has really had to strip away who she is completely and
inhabit the soul of somebody who is a little bit cloistered,
who relies on their intellectual prowess and has less success
in their social skills. And in doing so, Hayley has found
new ways to invent.
Hayley does not look the way Velma did in the cartoons,
and I think that’s a great thing. I think that’s
one of the things that makes our project here individual
and different and contemporary, but it didn’t affect
Velma’s characterization. Velma has broadened her
appeal. She has become more human, and that is all due to
MIEREANU: What made Kate Melton your ideal
LEVANT: When Kate Melton first walked through the
door, before she uttered a word, I knew that we’d
found Daphne. I don’t know how things like that work,
but it turned out to be true, and through every step of
the way, she did not disappoint. She grew in polish, she
grew in confidence as the audition process continued, and
what you see on (screen) is the work of someone who has
no fear. And, like Daphne, Kate ventures into the unknown
every day and her hair always looks good.
have to remember that no matter what you do in animation,
you have two-dimensional characters. In order to make them
three-dimensional characters, we have to add to their beings,
and a lot of that work has to come from the actors themselves
in trying to inhabit them and trying to say, “What
would that person be like if I met them on the street?”
And then try to bring that to life. Katie has done that
very, very successfully.
MIEREANU: How close are Nick Palatas and
do find it odd Shaggy wears a Black Adam shirt...
LEVANT: Nick is not really Shaggy, but totally
Shaggy. Nick is a very unique talent in that he’s
a very, very smart young man, who’s playing a very
spaced out, somewhat dimwitted person. That’s a rough
job, and there is a lot of weight on Nick every day to be
funny, to be endearing, to be charming, to be sweet, and
not turn into a parody. I’m really proud of the way
Nick progressed every day, every scene, every week. He grew
to inhabit the role, and to say he has become Shaggy is
a credit to the hard work he put into dumbing himself down
and being open to the possibility of being a blank page
every time he walks into a room.
MIEREANU: Robbie Amell is the most experienced
of the four main actors. How did that play into his filling
the role of the leader of Mystery Inc.?
LEVANT: Robbie Amell is obviously one of those
guys who, in his high school class, was picked to be most
likely to succeed. He’s obviously a good-looking kid.
He’s a great athlete. He’s a really strong actor,
and every day, once again, he’s improved – he’s
worked on his energy, on his command of the lines. But what
has never faltered is his natural leadership abilities.
And it is not a great leap for him, the person, the guy
who was the captain of the hockey team, to become captain
of Mystery Inc.
GARY MIEREANU: What is it about these
characters and this franchise that is so endearing and enduring?
LEVANT: The reason that Scooby Doo is celebrating
its 40th anniversary this year is due to its creators. Bill
Hanna and Joe Barbera were the gentlest, kindest, sweetest
men who ever lived, and they spent their long illustrious
careers doing nothing more than trying to make people laugh.
And they created very sweet characters. There is no evil
in the world that they created.
a testimony to their generosity of spirit that their work
survives for so long and so intact. We are doing a project
that I think they really would have loved. I remember very
fondly the first time I ever showed Hanna and Barbera a
finished version of The Flintstones movie. When
the lights came on, they stood up with tears in their eyes,
and they both rushed over to me and threw their arms around
me and swore that they couldn’t believe that they
had lived to see something like that made of their work.
And I think if they were still around today, they would
feel the same way when they saw this film.
GARY MIEREANU: What is it about
this story that makes it accessible to everyone?
LEVANT: What makes Mystery Inc. unusual is that
it really does gather people from the different sides of
a high school. It’s the jock, the drama queen, the
brain and however you want to describe Shaggy – a
collection of individuals who would normally not have much
to do with each other.
they’re all thrown together and find that they have
a lot in common, and that they can support and help each
other solve a mystery and grow as people. We all went to
school, I think we all associate with one of those four
segments of the high school social scene, and so we can
in some way relate to these kids and their adventures.
GARY MIEREANU: Did you direct
this film with a target audience in mind?
LEVANT: In my work, I aspire not to make a kiddie
film, but to create a family film that can be enjoyed equally
by all segments of the audience. With Scooby-Doo, we have
an audience who grew up with the show on Saturday mornings
and now have kids of their own, and they do want to share
what they experienced and what they felt as kids with their
kids. That works best when the project radiates their best
hopes and ambitions for this series and this film. That’s
what we’ve sought to accomplish.
mysterious object in the foreground? A book.
GARY MIEREANU: As much as
you want to present a modernized Scooby-Doo tale, how important
was it to include the familiar, iconic symbols of Scooby-Doo?
LEVANT: There are definitely elements of the program
that you want to continue. These are what we call “runners”
– things you’ve got to see the characters do.
You want to see the Mystery Machine. You want to hear Velma
say, “Jinkies.” You want to hear Shaggy go,
“Zoinks!” You have to hear Scooby start every
sentence with an “Arr.” (he laughs)
like that ground you and remind you of the foundation of
the franchise. And we try and build on top of that with
real characters, real relationships and hopefully some topnotch
comedy effects, as well big blocked scenes to give you a
much larger vista than just the touchstones that the franchise
was built upon.
the future will still hold some surprises. In this initial
outing, we did want to have the classic villain-unmasked-by-meddling-kids,
but I think there’s many more areas of the supernatural,
and many different kinds of mysteries that we can delve
into in future films. The limits are only those of imagination
here, and I think we’re just opening the door to something
very new and exciting and very unsuspected for this franchise.
MIEREANU: You’ve created some fairly
elaborate twists on commonplace sets, and not gone with
huge amounts of green screen or computer special effects.
What was your mindset on that approach?
LEVANT: We have really worked hard – and
by “we” I’m saying people like our producer
Brian Gilbert, production manager Chris Foss, art director
Tyler Haron and storyboard artist Darryl Henley –
in trying to create very different visuals for this film.
Different than you’ve seen in the cartoons, different
than you’ve seen in many comedies.
example, the underground school offered some tremendous
visual possibilities that really intrigued us. We’ve
also tried to take the everyday things that you see in life
and imbue them with an air of mystery, with some suspense,
so that the kids really don’t look at the world the
same way at the end of this journey. I think that audiences
are going to respond to it.
all-new, live-action/CGI film, Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins
premieres Sunday, September 13 at 7 p.m. ET/PT on Cartoon
Network, and will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray™
Hi-Def Combo Pack on September 22 from Warner Home Video.
co-production of Warner Premiere and Cartoon Network, Scooby-Doo!
The Mystery Begins uses adventurous storytelling and stylized
visuals of both live-action and CGI technology to entertain
fans of all ages. Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins follows
the Mystery Inc. gang, a mismatched quartet of unlikely
teenage pals, uniting for the first time to solve the haunting
of their high school. Along the way, fans will discover
the backstory of Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby-Doo.
Sept. 13 premiere coincides with the 40th anniversary of
the Scooby-Doo franchise – Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
made its CBS debut on that date in 1969.
live-action cast features Robbie Amell (Cheaper By The Dozen
2, True Jackson) as Fred along with Kate Melton as Daphne,
Hayley Kiyoko as Velma and Nick Palatas as Shaggy. Frank
Welker, a member of the original Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!
voice-cast, provides the voice of Scooby-Doo. The film is
produced by Brian Gilbert (Skinwalkers).