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Pierre-Louis Padang Coffin: No More Minions
Tuesday, 31 October, 2017 | 20:44 WIB
Pierre-Louis Padang Coffin: No More Minions

TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - PIERRE-Louis Padang Coffin, 50, seemed to be preoccupied with just one thing at the 2017 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival: accompanying Nh. Dini, a star guest at the event held from October 25 to 29. Coffin stood behind her and was quick to give her a hand as the legendary novelist went up and down the steps. With little knowledge of the Indonesian language, he kept a blank look when people burst into laughter at some jokes. 

Coffin is none other than the son of Nh. Dini, born Nurhayati Sri Hardini Siti Nukatin, 81, and Yves Coffin, a French diplomat. Coffin is also known as Padang, the younger brother of Lintang, mentioned in the novels of his feminist writer mother. He usually skips the festival, an annual event on the Island of the Gods. 'But this time it's in honor of my mother, so I came,' he said.

Coffin directed the hugely popular Despicable Me series which comprised of three movies and the spin-off Minions. The first movie was released in 2010 and quickly became the highest-grossing animated franchise in history. Its prequel, Minions, came out in 2015 and made over Rp15 trillion. The latest sequel, Despicable Me 3, released last June, with revenues of around Rp14 trillion, has been the year's third-highest movie hit. The franchise produced by Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures has raked in Rp50 trillion in total. 

Minions- yellow imaginary creatures invented by Coffin- have taken the world by storm and are found everywhere: on mobile games, water bottle labels, toys worth millions of rupiah sold in malls, to Rp30,000 pajamas sold at traditional markets. And it is Coffin who directly manages all the affairs related to the minions. He is also the voice of the minions- who slips in some Indonesian words- in all four movies.

On the sidelines of the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival last Thursday, Coffin chatted with Tempo's Reza Maulana. Pyer as he calls himself- talked at length about the creative process and his decision to discontinue the Despicable Me and Minions sequels, his dislike of American film producers as well as his love of the Indonesian action movie, The Raid. Nh. Dini added several points during the hour-long interview.

How was the idea to create the Minions conceived?

The main concept of Despicable Me is about a villain's life and what he does after a day's work. Does he go home? Does he have bills to pay? Afterwards, the idea of an army with Gru as the main character came up because, like in James Bond's movies, villains usually have stooges to help them. Initially, we wanted to create big muscular humans for the army but we couldn't afford to create hundreds of human characters. We needed a simpler character. Then Eric Guillon, the designer of the movie, came up with the idea of little men in overalls, t-shirts and caps who carry tools, like workers. But we thought it was too human, so I and Chris Renaud, the other director, asked Guillon to invent something that didn't exist. His first attempt was a frog that wears big glasses and lives underground. From there, the idea evolved as we tried to simplify it until we got this sort of yellow capsule in overalls and goggles.

How many minions are there?

I once said that I did the voices for 999 minions. But that was a joke. There is no exact figure. There are six types of minions: tall, medium and short. Each has either one eye or two eyes.

Why aren't there any female minions? After all, your mother is a feminist.

I was asked the same question before, and I didn't know how to answer it. So I just said minions were dumb and irresponsible, and I didn't see women being like that. Then I got hate mail from men calling me names and from mothers who didn't know how to explain it to their kids. The whole thing was just a joke.

In the beginning, minions only spoke gibberish. When did you feel the need to put in real conversations?

In the first movie, we didn't translate it a lot. But when the movie became a global hit, I saw that in Italy, the whole movie was translated into Italian. I immediately gathered the international team and told them not to do that, because the audience was not supposed to fully understand these creatures. That's the magic of the movie. For Despicable Me 2 and 3, I spent about a month adding phrases in different languages here and there.

Including Indonesian?

Yes, in Minions (2015). It makes sense because according to the story, the minions have existed from the beginning of time and they traveled everywhere. So I used 'terima kasih' when they received a crown from the Queen of England. It is an important part of the whole story. And I was the one who chose the words. Everything related to the minions, including their conversations, is my job since no one else understood what they were saying.

As the series is popular among children, did you ask for input from your kids?

Before the release, I would show them parts of the movie. I showed it to them because I knew it was funny, and I was proud of it (laughs).

Which parts, for example?

The part where minions appear at the Illumination Entertainment logo at the beginning of the movie. I always worked on that part all by myself. Since it was a brief frame, we had to make sure it made the audience smile.

Despicable Me 3 was criticized for its weak plot. What is your defense?

The plot was weird because we- the directors from the French side- had to follow the pitch the producer wanted, which was Gru meeting his brother. Then two writers came in for the script, and we went back and forth with them. We had three years to make the movie. It went well for the first two movies. But it was hard to find a good storyline from that initial pitch for Despicable Me 3. That's the hard aspect of working with an American studio, where you depend on the writers and the producer. The producer is really hands-on, and he knows what he doesn't want, but he is incapable of saying what he wants. We managed it but really had a hard time with them in the third film. It was a hard process.

You are not satisfied with Minions and Despicable Me 3?

I don't know if Minions was good or not. But during the making of Despicable Me 3, I felt it could have been better.

Did you protest to your producer?

He said, 'Ok, maybe they are not as good as the previous movies, but look at the box office numbers. They are sky-high. Over one billion US dollars.' Minions is our highest grossing movie followed by Despicable Me 3.

What was your reaction?

I can't argue more about making better movies. Is the high income because of good marketing? Was the audience disappointed? Nobody knows.

Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine



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