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How ‘Bumblebee’ Director Travis Knight Turned ‘Soul Crushing Rejection’ Into Success

Director Travis Knight was on top of the world as he accepted Variety’s Creative Leadership Award Wednesday night, though his journey hasn’t always been easy.

Knight bantered comfortably with an audience of industry professionals during his acceptance speech, revealing that he wasn’t always welcome in Hollywood. In fact, the director of the latest “Transformers” film “Bumblebee” recalls that the beginnings of his career were marked by “heart breaking, soul crushing rejection.”

Knight started Laika Studios with the dream of animating “Coraline” and, in Los Angeles, looked like “a clodhopping hillbilly from Oregon heading out to the big city to try to convince people that they should make this movie,” he said.

The man of the hour had the crowd at the Jeremy Hotel in West Hollywood chuckling at his self-deprecating stories about his struggle to bring “Coraline” to the big screen. He described himself through the eyes of executives as “this weird, sickly, pale, anal retentive mole person sitting in front of them.” His first attempts at making the film were less than promising.

“It went terribly. In fact, it could not have gone worse. Nobody was interested,” he said. “They told me you can’t have an animated movie with a female protagonist unless she’s a princess or maybe a fairy. One guy actually called it ‘a Roman Polanski art film for kids.”

Teri Hatcher and Travis Knight Variety New Leaders, Inside, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Oct 2018

Though the film took five years to make, Knight attributes his success to good old-fashioned perseverance.

“We soldiered on as a team and eventually, through a combination of delusion and drive, fate ultimately smiled upon us,” said Knight, who was presented with his award from ‘Coraline’ star Teri Hatcher.

After 20 years in the biz, Knight says he now tries to pay it forward to aspiring filmmakers.

“My advice is don’t do it. Find something else,” he told Variety. “And if that doesn’t discourage you, throw yourself into it,” he continued. “Go for it as hard as you can. Because if you find the thing that you were put on this earth to do, if you find your calling, it makes all the hardships easier to bare. It makes the failures turn into fuel, and it makes the highs like nothing you’ve ever felt. And that’s what animation has been for me.”

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