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"Turbo" Director & Writer: David Soren - Sheridan College Animation Alumni

turbo | Disney Pixar
turbo | Disney Pixar

For David Soren, directing and writing Turbo was a dream come true.  And much like his story’s main character – a snail who sets his sights on racing glory – Soren realized his ambition early on in life and tapped into the talent and determination needed to make it happen.

David Soren David Soren

David Soren

“Whether you’re directing animated or live action films, the job of the director is to try to get people to care about the characters in your story.  Every creative decision should be geared towards that goal”  explains Soren.  “Turbo is an underdog story.  To help audiences develop an emotional investment, you need to create moments that allow them to root for your hero.”

While Soren did not get accepted the first time he applied to Sheridan, he persisted and completed the Animation Program at the head of his class.  “I went to Sheridan because I wanted to tell stories – and I wanted to do it through the medium of animation.”  Soren was recruited by DreamWorks after graduation and over the years, he has even returned to Sheridan as a DreamWorks representative to help recruit other budding stars to the company.  Soren recruited Jon Klassen, who upon leaving DreamWorks has achieved great acclaim as a children’s book author and illustrator.

Soren notes a number of firsts related to his film.  Turbo is not only Soren’s major directorial debut, it’s also the first film by DreamWorks in which an artist has created, written and directed.  “It is incredibly rare to find both the creative genius and an outstanding writing ability in one person,” says Dr. Angela Stukator, Associate Dean at Sheridan College and head of the animation program.   Adds Soren, “The great thing about having the writing credit is that it allowed me to influence who was selected to provide the voices for the film. From the outset when I was developing the characters, I knew that I wanted Ryan Reynolds, Snoop Dogg and Samuel Jackson, and thankfully we got them.”

Soren also appointed a number of other ‘first-timers’ to major roles on the film including the head of story, editor and the production designer.  “They were the best people for the job,” he declared.  At least 11 Sheridan grads worked on the movie.

While competition for Turbo will certainly be tough, in a summer filled with animated, blockbuster sequels that enjoy the advantage of familiar characters and established audiences, Soren does concede (when pressed), “I’m pretty proud of this one.”

Among the nicest feedback he’s gotten so far has been an observation by the film’s composer, Henry Jackman, film score composer .

Wow. This is a character story, cleverly disguised as a big summer blockbuster .- Henry Jackman

“Henry pulled me aside after a screening and said ‘Wow. This is a character story, cleverly disguised as a big summer blockbuster.’”  During the production process, Soren also met Steven Spielberg, who gave him “phenomenal notes on the film – a summary of his invaluable instincts. He told me I’d done a wonderful job directing the movie. He loved the ending. He also told me that I’d achieved my emotional pay-off at the end, but there were moments in the middle where I was being unnecessarily earnest and could just be more entertaining.  I went back to the editing room, trimmed what wasn’t needed, and made sure each scene added to the pay-off or was just more fun.”

Soren has enjoyed seeing the audience’s reaction first-hand during the film’s promotional tour in Barcelona, Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.  “The third act of the movie culminates in a big race –you can really feel that the audience is tense, that they’re pulling for Turbo and on the edge of their seats.  It’s an amazing experience to see their emotional investment in the characters.”

He also chuckled that he knew he had a winner when his film passed the crucial ‘popcorn test’ with his own young kids. “Normally when I take them to the movies, they start squirming when the popcorn runs out.  But this time, they stayed hooked on the film long after the snacks were gone.”

As for his parting words of advice to students in animation, Soren suggests, “Keep your doors open and don’t try to specialize too soon – you really need to learn all aspects of the craft.”  On the art of directing he added, “Sometimes you need to give people feedback on things that aren’t working and that’s hard when you’re dealing with something creative.  It stings a bit as an artist when someone else doesn’t like your work.  I’ve learned to use the story as the conduit in which to frame my feedback.  It’s what the story needs, not what I want.  It’s hard to argue with that. The story even trumps me and my will.  I found it to be a really useful way to keep people focused on the essence of the project.”