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Aug 2, 2022

5 Questions with Peggy Holmes, Director of 'Luck,' From Apple & Skydance Animation

It’s an exciting time in animation, as elaborate films like The Sea Beast and Encanto delight families with fantastic tales that express unexpected truths.

Aiming to stand alongside studios like Disney and DreamWorks producing all-ages animated movies, Skydance Animation rolls out its first feature, Luck, on Apple TV+ on Aug. 5.

“This is an original story, with a deeply emotional heart — told in a world that you’ve never seen before,” said director Peggy Holmes.

If that sounds like past Pixar hits like Inside Out and Cars, it may not be coincidence. Longtime Pixar executive John Lasseter serves as head of animation at Skydance, after exiting Disney in 2018.

Reminiscent of Annie and Newsies (which Holmes worked on), Luck introduces just-out-of-foster-care Sam Greenfield, who sets out on a quest to help her best friend.

In a phone interview, director Holmes speaks about the heart of her film Luck, making people laugh, and briefly addresses the questions around Skydance.

Resilience of Kids in Foster Care

 Luck centers on kids hoping to be adopted. How did you work to make this aspect authentic?

Peggy Holmes: For Keil Murray, the writer of Luck, and myself, it’s how we came to the heart of the story. We met with these amazing young adults, both men and women, who had been through very similar life experiences as our character Sam.

They had grown up in the foster-care system, aged out and were alone in the world. It's some real bad luck to not have family.

What Keil and I were so taken by is, despite their real-life bad luck, they were so positive and hopeful. They're working hard. They understand the value and meaning of love, and they are super generous of heart.

They would do anything for their friends. We were so inspired by their heroism, and Luck went from there.

Bringing Big Ideas to Life

In this film, audiences get to explore the fantastic realm of Luck — both good and bad. What story rules guided how you and your team constructed this world?

Holmes: Right at the beginning, we researched all about luck itself. Humans are obsessed with luck! I read so many academic papers and watched many lectures about good luck and bad luck.

One big rule became very clear: luck is random. You can't create it or predict it. You don't know if it's going to be good or bad luck. You don't know when it's going to come or when it's not.

In the story, we had to make sure luck was random, because that’s how we all experience it every single day. Automatically, there is no villain creating luck.

There's nobody targeting a human about luck, good or bad. It eliminated the storyline going that way.

The world took shape with the very first piece of artwork done for the film. We gave our production designer, Fred Warter, all this research on lucky icons all around the world — lucky symbols, numbers, and colors.

I talked to him about my research, about luck being random. The first piece that Fred created was two worlds on either side of a coin, good luck on the top and bad luck on the bottom. We were like: Here we go. Let's create it.

As a parent, I appreciate that the humor here is character-driven and slapstick rather than fart jokes or pop culture references. How did you and the writers work to make audiences laugh?

Holmes: Early in my career, I was a dancer in film and television, and a choreographer — and I loved it so much. So I grew up watching Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Donald O'Connor.

With this film, it was super fun to come up with all these slapstick gags and really pay homage to those physical comedy greats.

Because when you have a character like Sam, who's alone in the world, she doesn't have anyone to talk to.

We literally held hands and said: This is how we're going to learn about her and get the audience to see themselves in Sam. We're going to take the unluckiest girl in the world, put her in her apartment, and see how her day goes.

The story team was incredible, coming up with everyday comedy that we all relate to and experience.

Behind the Scenes at Skydance

Having worked at Disney, how was it different or similar to linking up with Skydance Animation?

Holmes: Skydance is just getting off the ground, which is so exciting. For years, I worked with Disney as an actress, a dancer, a choreographer, and then a director. And I loved my time at Disney. But what I'm very excited about in being at Skydance Animation is, we're new.

So I’m part of building the culture of a studio and building the pipeline and figuring out: how do we communicate in three different locations? We’ve seen this team come up with strategies and problem-solve.

Being such a small company, you have a lot of access to John Lasseter, David Ellison, and Dana Goldberg. It's really fun to be able to say: We have a new idea, can we pitch it to you on Friday? And they’re like, Yes, let's do it. It's fantastic and I really love being here.

You mentioned John Lasseter, whom you worked with on Luck as executive producer. Several past allegations about improper behavior have been leveled against Lasseter. What is your perspective on these issues?

Holmes: Yeah, I wasn't at Skydance at that time, so I can't speak to any of that stuff that happened. But I have to say, John has been a real mentor on Luck.

One of his superpowers is, when you go to pitch John a sequence that you're trying to build, he has this ability to become an audience member. Pitch him an idea, or read him some script pages, and he can just sit back and watch it. Then you can really see: if he laughs or cries, if he doesn't or gets confused, it can help plus up an idea.

It's an amazing tool to have in your toolbox, someone with that kind of talent able to give you advice. 

‘You Can Get Through It’

In the film, Sam at one point says: “I hope to do something good with my life, and not let bad luck get in the way.” What’s the message here about luck and trying?

Holmes: It goes back to our meeting with those young adults and how they just keep going. At some point in your life, you will have some bad luck, and it seems like the worst thing ever.

But then when you look back, maybe it opened a door to another path that you never would have taken. It ended up being the luckiest thing you've ever done or the best good luck ever.

Bad luck doesn't have to stop everything. It definitely is real, but you can get through it.

 Luck, rated G, will premiere worldwide via streaming service Apple TV Plus on August 5.

 

Editor's note: While Luck draws on many views of luck from different cultures and folktales, Catholicism has its own perspective on the subject. So, I checked in with FTP's Head of Production Father David Guffey, C.S.C., and this is what he had to say:

In some ways, we might say that the Catholic word for luck is Providence. Catholics believe that God works through creation, events, and even through other people -- Providence.

We benefit from it, are offered consolation, and protection by it, and it shapes our lives, if we are open to it.

Through prayer and the effort to live well, our lives are open to new possibilities, we can recognize and say yes to the opportunities God gives for help, inspiration, extra support.

What we cannot do is shape Providence to our own will, by our own effort.  You cannot control Providence with a four-leaf clover. Providence is not some whimsical, temperamental force that we must cooperate with or solicit.

God always wants the best for us, so there is never “bad Providence.” You cannot be in bad favor with Providence, by breaking a mirror or stepping under a ladder.

We can, however, ignore or reject Providence, with bad consequences for ourselves or others.

I also checked in with another Catholic, Deacon Kevin McCardle. Take it away, Deacon:

If we think of luck with regard to one-off events, then we would say someone is lucky if the good alternative happens and unlucky if the bad alternative happens, and we would generally understand that it was a matter of chance.

Where confusion tends to creep in is if the event happens repeatedly, such as roulette or craps.

The mistake that sometimes happens then is ascribing the luck to the person and not to chance, confusing runs of good outcomes with something supernaturally lucky.

Absent a miracle, even runs of good outcomes can be shown to be due entirely to chance.

Image: Apple TV+

Josh M. Shepherd covers culture, faith and public-policy issues for various media outlets. He and his wife are raising two children in Northern Virginia.

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