Mike Jones (‘Soul’ writer): Losing his father helped influence the animated film’s emotional punches [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Pixar has always been known for the way their films impact viewers on an emotional level and co-writer Mike Jones drew from the experience of when his father passed away to help bring that moment about in “Soul.” The moment towards the end when Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) finds objects in his pocket was drawn from when Jones looked through his dad’s belongings, Jones tells us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). “I was sitting next to him as he was passing away and as I held his hand, I would think about what’s the most important thing to him as he looks back on his life. Is it failure? Is it success? Or is it the fact that his son is next to him and holding his hand.” He immediately put that perspective into Joe’s character. “It fed right into what we wanted to say with what Joe comes to understand of what it means to live a fulfilled life.”

Jones co-wrote “Soul” alongside the film’s director, Pete Docter, as well as co-director, Kemp Powers. The film, which is currently streaming on Disney+, centers on Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher in his 40s whose true dream is to make it as a successful jazz musician. Right after getting his biggest career opportunity, Joe suffers an unfortunate accident and finds himself outside his body. He tries to navigate his way back to his body while being accompanied by an infant soul, 22 (Tina Fey), who has yet to find her spark that would allow her to be put into a human body.

Getting Foxx to voice Joe was central getting the character right. Jones says that the team wanted Joe to light up whenever he talked about jazz. “The idea of Jamie Foxx came to us and we started to put his voice from other movies against some early animatics of Joe and it just lit up. It was such a gift.” One of the more original casting choices involved having Irish talk-show host Graham Norton voice Moonwind, a rescuer of lost souls. The team needed someone could come across as totally authentic and honest. Jones adds, “You want to believe it because he’s such a wonderful goofball. I didn’t peg Graham Norton as the kind of actor who could hit that but he did it so well and it was so fortunate for us to find him.”

Prior to this, Jones actually spent several years making a living as a film journalist. While going to film school he was advised to consider screenwriting. This helped lead him to work at Filmmaker Magazine and eventually becoming their special projects manager. “To be at Filmmaker Magazine in the mid-90s was to watch a different sort of emergence of the American independent film movement. I loved it and it gave me a front-row seat to that.” While he was working that job (and future ones as well) he kept on writing screenplays and sending them out, hoping that they would get into the right hands. He would go on to have prominent editing positions at two of Gold Derby’s sister publications, IndieWire, where he served as executive editor, and Variety.

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