Producer Jonas Rivera on ‘Inside Out’ director Pete Docter’s specific genius

Last week, I joined a group of journalists at Pixar in Emeryville, where we were shown the first hour of “Inside Out,” this summer's new Pixar film. You can get a look at some of what we did in this gallery, and you can see some concept art for the film embedded below.

The last interview of my day was with Jonas Rivera, who produced “Inside Out.” Rivera started at Pixar as an intern, making him pretty much the walking incarnation of a success story at the studio. We”d spoken earlier in the day as part of a round-table along with director Pete Docter, but this was my chance to speak to Rivera one-on-one.

DREW MCWEENY:  I said this when you were in the room earlier: I feel like each Pixar director at this point has a signature and has something that they bring to the table that makes their films different. I don't think of Pixar as this monolithic style. I think that its strongest quality, because it has so many very strong voices that work under that banner. I don't know what it is about Pete, though. His films punch a hole in me. Just the hour we saw last night, there were about four or five moments that gutted me. It's interesting that he seems to not be afraid to express loss, which is something that American movies are hugely terrified of. Yet those are some of the strongest moments in his films, where he embraces that and takes a moment to reflect on it.

JONAS RIVERA:  Well, that's why I love working with him. I mean, that's why I'm proud to be his partner, because that's what I love about the movies. I mean, I look at Pete, and I think of the trifecta. The original Pixar is John [Lasseter], Andrew [Stanton] and Pete [Docter], right? This is how I've always thought of it. John has his finger on the pulse of the world. He”s a populist. The biggest high-concept ideas, that's John. Andrew is on the other side of the spectrum. He's more of an auteur and a writer.

I've always seen him as a story guy. Stanton has a huge sense of story.

Oh, he does. He's our structuralist, and his notes are the loudest on the screen, and Pete is sort of in the middle of those two. He's sort of the heart and the charm, but he takes from both schools. I always think Pete rides that pendulum right to this sweet spot that I equate to how I felt with the Spielberg movies of the '80s, something like “E.T.” that were structurally sound, with finger on the pulse, but they were very truthful. Do you know what I mean?

I think the best moments of those movies are the ones where something raw and real happens. That's what grounds those giant concepts. I have one son who is about to turn ten, I have one who just turned seven, and the death of Goofball Island, as weird as that sentence is to say out loud, sums up so much about what we lose at a certain age with them when suddenly they're too cool or they're worried about things and they start to carry stress of their own or whatever. It is an incredibly difficult moment as a parent, and in that one image, I think you guys have shown it in a way that externalizes it. That's what so impressive, the externalization of giant ideas and giant emotions.

Pete's skilled in that way. He's more skilled than he realizes. He really is what you see, that's him. He's very kind, he's very sweet, he's successful as a director, and I know as a producer and as his partner that no matter what, even when we get off-track and maybe run the movie into the weeds, which happens on every movie, I always know it's coming from a real place, and if we do our job right, it's going to have an impact on the audience. He pitched “Up” to me while we were sitting on the couches down there, and he killed me with it. I used to say, “I don't even know if we should make the movie. We should just have Pete go around and tell it.  That's its purest delivery, like vaudeville or something. Let's travel. He just has this ability to throw strikes with that.