By Matt Petras
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
When Jesse Andrews, a Pittsburgh-native book and film writer, spoke with Pittsburgh Current, he treated his interview answers like a rough draft that’s been frustrating him. The Harvard graduate with three published novels and recent experience at Pixar kept apologizing, saying he wished he had interesting stories to tell journalists about his life.
“But maybe that’s ultimately a fact of being a writer, that you go into writing because you’re not much of a campfire storyteller,” Andrews said, “That you need to sit at a typing machine and word, and reword, and reword, and read it, and realize it’s not very good, and scrap the whole thing and start over and do it a thousand times until you actually have something worth putting out into the world.”
Andrews, who grew up in Point Breeze, currently resides in Berkeley, where he’s been contributing to the script for the upcoming Pixar film “Luca” for the last three years, among other projects.
Andrews is most well-known for writing the 2012 novel “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” later adapted into a 2015 film for which he wrote the script. He also wrote the 2016 novel “The Haters,” another irreverent coming-of-age comedy following teenagers, and the 2018 “Munmum,” a satire following an impoverished, rat-sized boy in a world in which one’s wealth directly translates to their physical size.
Back in 2017, Andrews was trying to direct his first feature film, a movie headlined by Issa Rae and Bill Hader called “Empress of Serenity,” but it didn’t end up receiving funding. However, the script got passed around, and eventually, Pixar got their eyes on it and liked it, according to Andrews.
After enjoying that script, Pixar flew Andrews in and ended up giving him some work. In December of 2017, Andrews started working on “Luca,” a Pixar movie directed by Enrico Casarosa coming this June that follows a young boy in Italy’s coming-of-age story mashed up with fantastical elements like sea monsters.
“It’s exhilarating. It’s a rush,” Andrews said. “It’s my first time working on a movie with this kind of visibility, for one thing. When you’re working on a smaller movie, it’s still going to go out to a lot of people, but not on a scale that a Pixar movie does.
Seeing something resembling the final product after working on it for so long is incredibly exciting, Andrews said. The public got a glimpse of it recently as well when a teaser trailer for the film released online Feb. 25, featuring the lush, endearing, and colorful CG animation Pixar fans have come to expect.
“There is this moment after you finish work on it, where you see the movie largely animated for the first time, and your breath is taken away,” Andrews said. “You’re meeting for the first time, almost this child, that you’ve been midwifing and you left right after it was born, and now it’s this person who’s talking and has a personality.”
Andrews’ work on “Luca” dovetails with the career path he’s been on since the release of his first novel about nine years ago, splitting his professional time between making films and books, which both typically involve comedy and young characters.
“I feel very happy to split time between the two,” Andrews said. “In a way, each of them are designed for the two kinds of myself, in a way.”
Writing books is for his introverted side, who’s happy to spend months working alone on a project.
“[Film]-making is for the side of me that really loves people and [is] just really excited to find people to work with who are funnier and smarter than me,” Andrews said, laughing. “They can hand off whatever I do, to them, and they make it so much better.”
Andrews has also been working on a new novel that he doesn’t want to talk much about, as it hasn’t yet been purchased. However, he did say it follows a character the same age as him, 38, which marks a departure for him considering his usual tendency to write teens.
“I’ve been a young person, and I haven’t been an older person, you know?” Andrews said. “Part of it is, I feel like I’m more drawn, I feel like I have more to say about that part of one’s life. But I do find myself interested in stretching out a little and not just exploring the same thing. My nightmare is to do the same thing twice and just run out of ideas.”
Andrews appears to be no stranger to self-criticism and cognizance of ways his work could be better. The flipside of the thrill and joy of working on a movie that will be widely seen as a Pixar movie is that millions of critical eyes are going to be on it, he said.
“At the same time, though, you’re also operating, as a writer, with this massive safety net, which is to say a studio that will transform anything you write into something so beautiful and expressive,” Andrews said.