×

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.”

More Scene

  • First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban

    First Look at SAG Awards' Cuban-Inspired After-Party (EXCLUSIVE)

    Celebrities at this year’s SAG Awards won’t have to go far for some tropical fun. Sunday’s annual post-show gala, hosted by People magazine for the 23rd year, is set to feature a Cuban-themed party space adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium. “We’re kind of going back to more of a thematic element. I have some close [...]

  • DF-10956_R – Gwilym Lee (Brian May) and

    'Bohemian Rhapsody' Producer Confirms Bryan Singer's Reason for Leaving, Says 'No One' Was Attached to Play Mercury

    “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Graham King provided insight into some of the events surrounding the Golden Globe-winning film Saturday at the Producers Guild Awards Nominees Breakfast, including director Bryan Singer’s departure from the film partway through production. “It’s an unfortunate situation, with like 16, 17 days to go and Bryan Singer just had some issues, his [...]

  • Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce

    Mj Rodriguez, Nico Santos to Announce GLAAD Media Award Nominations

    Mj Rodriguez and Nico Santos are set to announce the nominees for the 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards. The “Pose” star and “Crazy Rich Asians” funny man will make the announcement during a live-stream hosted by AT&T and from the AT&T Hello Lounge at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday, Jan. 25. “The images and stories recognized [...]

  • Emile Hirsch, Matt SmileyEmile Hirsch hosts

    Emile Hirsch Hosts Smiley Face Art Opening at Mondrian Hotel

    Despite the rain on Wednesday night in West Hollywood, there were plenty of smiles inside the Mondrian hotel thanks to artist Matt Smiley‘s Refresh exhibition. Not only is Smiley his real last name, but several of his paintings and other pieces in the exhibit feature smiley faces. “I’ve seen more smiley symbolism lately, and I’ve [...]

  • Randall Park, left, and Constance Wu

    Constance Wu Wants Her 'Fresh Off the Boat' Co-Star Randall Park to Host the Oscars

    While the Academy may have decided to go hostless for this year’s Oscars, that doesn’t mean the rest of Hollywood has stopped thinking about who would be a good choice for the emceeing gig. Former host Whoopi Goldberg recently suggested Ken Jeong. Jeong said, when he was a guest on “The View,” Goldberg told him [...]

  • 'Schitt's Creek' Stars Reveal Dream Guest

    'Schitt's Creek' Cast Reveals Dream Guest Stars: Oprah, Beyonce and ...

    “Schitt’s Creek” has big dreams. Dan Levy, who stars as David on the series, says his wish list of guest stars includes Oprah, Beyonce, Mariah Carey and Gwyneth Paltrow. “All for different reasons, none of whom we’ll get,” he cracked at the Critics’ Choice Awards. For those who haven’t caught on to the “Schitt’s Creek” [...]

  • Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bundchen

    Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen to Be Honored at UCLA Science Gala

    Science can be very glamorous. It certainly will be during Oscar week on Feb. 21 when the UCLA Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES) honors Barbra Streisand and Gisele Bündchen for environmental activism at its annual Hollywood for Science Gala. “When I moved to LA, the air was unbreathable. Rivers were catching fire in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content