The Loud House Movie brings the characters of the hit Nickelodeon series to Netflix as they take their first overseas adventure. In the animated film, the Louds go to Scotland and uncover something very interesting about their family history. It’s bigger, literally and metaphorically, than anything they’ve ever done before.
It’s also a milestone for Dave Needham, an animation veteran who’s worked in the field for a decade. Dave has experience at several major animation studios and The Loud House Movie is the first film that he’s directed. He spoke to me recently about what that means to him, how every animation company has their own style, and what he loves most about this movie.
Brittany Frederick: How did The Loud House Movie become your directorial debut? Were you looking for a project to direct, or was there something about this film that spoke to you, or both?
Dave Needham: I’ve always wanted to direct a feature. I’ve been working on features for the last ten years. I worked on The Boss Baby with Ramsey Naito—she was the producer of that movie—[and] a few years ago she moved to Nickelodeon, where I think she started her career about twenty-something years ago, to run the studio. She knew I wanted to direct and got in touch because she wanted to make features at Nick. She asked me if I would like to direct The Loud House Movie and I accepted!
BF: Because you’ve had an eye toward directing, and have worked in the field for so long, was it easier to make the transition into a director’s role? Or how would you describe the experience of finally being in the director’s chair?
DN: I felt relatively comfortable, at least with the first half of making a movie, which is the pre-production. I’ve been an art director before and I’ve been head of story before, so building the story, working with a team, I kind of knew what I was getting into there. But all of a sudden you’re in charge of everything! I remember going to a meeting once, maybe a few months into the job—everyone’s sat down and everyone’s quiet and then [I’m] realizing “Oh, they’re waiting for me to speak!” (laughs)
Things are certainly a little bit different and you’re suddenly asked questions that you might not have been asked before, like who do you want to cast in this movie? What kind of music do you want? The further we got into the movie, the more I found myself in new territory. You’ve got mixes, you’ve got voice recordings with actors who are all over the world and sometimes in their own houses because it was a pandemic, so lots of new situations and lots of new learning experiences.
BF: The Loud House is rapidly growing as a franchise. Aside from the original series and the spinoff, there’s this movie and a live-action movie in the works. So how do you make The Loud House Movie stand out not only among other animated films, but among the other ideas in this brand?
DN: What I like about it is they keep expanding the world. Things don’t stay the same in The Loud House…so Lori goes to college and she moves to the big city and you have this cross pollination with characters like Bobby and Ronnie Anne [Santiago]. You start to grow the world. That’s what the movie is doing. It’s taking another step into growing the world. They take a trip to Scotland and we meet all new characters, but because it’s a movie I wanted to make it feel familiar but different and a little elevated compared to the series too.
That meant doing a little bit more with the camera, so you’re going to get a sense of depth that you haven’t seen in The Loud House before. That was very deliberate. The story is really about going from sharing one house, a two-bedroom with one bathroom, [to] taking over a whole castle in Scotland where everyone gets their own room. There’s a lot more space. I wanted that sense of space to be apparent in the movie once they got to Scotland, so it was a nice chance to keep growing the world with The Loud House.
BF: You’re working here with a Nickelodeon property but you’ve also done a lot of DreamWorks projects and have worked for other animation studios. Since every animation house has their own brand, does having that variation of experience help you creatively?
DN: When you’re an artist in animation one of the things you have to learn is to become kind of a chameleon. One of my first jobs was Stressed Eric, and that’s Klasky Csupo style and that’s a very different style to Mr. Bean, which was my next design job. As you have these different roles, you start to pick up all these different styles and they just become part of your repertoire. It’s the same with studios. Dreamworks, like you said, has its own distinct brand and style. Nickelodeon is a place I’ve never worked before, but it knows exactly what its brand is and it knows exactly who its characters are. It’s nice to be in that kind of environment. It’s a great animation studio and a great place to call home.
BF: Is there any particular skill you picked up, or any specific past project, that really helped you as you directed The Loud House Movie? Or is it just a culmination of all that experience?
DN: Kind of everything informs what you do. When I was in the UK, I was mostly working in TV. That meant getting to work on things like Gumball. Later getting a chance to work in movies, you realize what the difference is in a CG [computer-generated] film. It’s all this dimensionality. I think it was on Penguins of Madagascar, my director said okay, so the penguins run to the end of the building, and they jump off and the camera follows and tilts down and races, and I was like “I’ve never drawn that before in my life!”
You sit down and you’re like “Well, I’d better just start drawing!” That’s all you really have to do. If you’re stuck on something, just start drawing. Try drawing your way out of the problem and it’ll either work or it won’t. If it doesn’t work, you know not to go that way again and just try something else. All of the things I’ve ever worked on I think help prepare you and inform you of what kind of director you want to be and what kind of crew you want to have and how you want to run things. For me, animation is at its best a very collaborative art form, and I love working with my team, the story team and all the artists.
BF: Now that you’ve done this film, are there any of those past characters or projects you’d love to go back and revisit, if you had the chance? Anything that still intrigues you?
DN: Before even the first music video was out, I worked on the Gorillaz at Jamie Hewlett’s studio, and at that time he was always talking about how the second album would be the soundtrack to a Gorillaz movie. Something about that has always intrigued me. To do a Gorillaz movie, I think that would be something pretty amazing.
BF: Are there parts of The Loud House Movie that you really love? What should fans watch for as they stream the movie?
DN: The thing that made me pinch myself is when you get towards the end of the movie and the action has gone pretty big. We’re watching this crazy action set piece but it’s still The Loud House. In fact, when we first did the ending we realized we probably went too heavy into action and forgot to be funny, so we had to tone it back just enough and keep it a little bit lighter, because we didn’t want to get too dark of an action movie. We had to remind ourselves that we’re still making The Loud House!
The first act very deliberately feels like the series. When they go to Scotland, that’s when the cameras start to feel a little bit different. That’s when the world opens up, and little by little we add more ingredients so that by the time you reach the closing stages of the movie, I think we’ve earned the action. We’ve allowed ourselves to not just suddenly go from the world of the series to a full action movie; we get there by moving through the gears, and that’s what I really like about it. When you look at it you’re like, this is still The Loud House. It’s been fun pushing it to its limits a little bit.
BF: Now that you’ve gotten your first movie as director under your belt, what comes next? Or what would you like to see come next in your career?
DN: I’m going to be developing a new project at Nickelodeon, but after that, I really want to do something of my own creation. I’ve been out of development a few years now, and it would be nice to get back to that one day and make your own series or movie with your own characters. That’s still a dream of mine.
The Loud House Movie is now streaming on Netflix.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.