HARDY HOWL FILMS (formerly Blue Yonder Films) first made their splash into the film industry at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival with Todd Edwards’ directorial feature debut Chillicothe, an ambitious live-action comedy about the Midwestern woes of post-college life.
Following the Sundance success, one of the film’s investors agreed to finance Todd’s next movie on the condition that it be animated and based on a classic. Taking the challenge to heart, Todd hatched a zany “Rashomon” take on the classic Red Riding Hood tale, recruiting his brother Cory to co-develop the story with him. HOODWINKED! would go on to make box office history and pave the way for a massive wave of independent animated films vying to emulate its success.
As the Hoodwinked production was cranking up, Todd made the decision to step into the role of co-director because he was already heavily into development on a live-action fantasy feature (which would later be bought by The Weinstein Company for seven figures). Having slightly more experience at the time in the animation medium, Cory took on the role of lead director, but the two continued to share responsibilities.
“Preproduction wasn’t much different than my live-action Sundance movie,” Todd recalls. “We did all the storyboarding ourselves, and I found that creating the animatic was an exhilarating extension of that process that I was already so familiar with. So while Cory focused on the character rigging and prop design, I plotted a majority of the film’s sequences and camera moves. This was all done with a team of very young animators in the Philippines, so we had to conduct a bit of ‘film school’ with them along the way—teaching about camera terms and lenses so the movie would feel grounded in a ‘stop motion’ type of tone.”
Cory agrees, stating “Todd cracked the idea, and I thought it was brilliant. Some of the most surprising characters came from his brain, like Japeth the singing goat, the extreme sports Granny and the idea to make The Wolf an homage to 'Fletch'. Animation is a group effort so it was really helpful to have him directing right alongside me. We split up creative duties — I headed up voice recordings with the actors while Todd wrote most of the songs on the soundtrack."
“It was a real coup to land Ben Folds,” recalls Timothy Hooten, who before coming on as company CEO also helped with Hoodwinked punch-ups and soundtrack. “He’s a world-class platinum artist and when he agreed to record Todd’s song there was an exciting feeling in the camp that this project was on it’s way to greatness.”
Producer Katie Hooten had been working at Disney Feature Animation on such films as Atlantis, Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away — and once her brother Todd secured financing for the feature she left her post to join the producing team. When the Weinsteins signed on late in production, Katie oversaw all of the star talent for the L.A. and New York recording sessions, which included Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Anthony Anderson and Jim Belushi. Katie also handled all of the deliverables for international distribution.
“We only had nine people on our U.S. production team,” Todd recalls. “Katie held down the fort in Burbank while much of the team flew back and forth from the Philippines and Mumbai during production.”
Says Katie, “Hoodwinked was fueled by an ambitious vision to compete with the major studios and though it had limitations visually, the story holds. It’s amazing how many people continue to tell us that it remains one of their favorite family films.”
After Hoodwinked’s enormous success in 2006, the company enjoyed multiple script sales and guided story work and a re-edit of the hit 2008 TMNT (Ninja Turtles) movie for Warner Brothers, as well as consulting for Luc Besson’s Arthur and the Invisibles, among others.
At this same time, the company suffered a devastating yet momentary detour in the form of a cancer diagnosis for Producer/CEO Timothy Hooten, and his daughter Eva. “Right after we set up a handful of big projects, I was diagnosed with C.M.L. and Eva A.L.L.” says Timothy. “It was a challenging journey to recovery but we truly consider ourselves fortunate - the medicine exists, we had world-class physicians, and we’re grateful to be on this side of it. With the onslaught of post-Hoodwinked projects, we joke that it was just another thing for Katie to produce, only the stakes were life and death. It’s a lemons/lemonade thing - we’re alive, as productive as ever, and we’ve also been able to help raise millions for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society.”
Amidst that setback and ongoing studio work, Hardy Howl still found time to shoot an award-winning indie comedy Jeffie Was Here as well as the viral Hanson music video with Weird Al “Thinkin’ Bout Something”, which MTV named among the Top 5 Videos with Killer Dance Sequences of all time. Recently the team took on writing duties for The Marvel Experience, a traveling technology/new media immersive show featuring Marvel’s iconic characters.
Alongside her work as producer, Katie has expanded her creative horizons as a screenwriter, landing a deal with Barry Josephson to adapt a modern comedic take on a beloved classic with a strong female voice. Likewise, her husband and producing partner Timothy, who has had significant influence leading the company’s creative development, now partners with Todd as co-writer, as well as co-director of animated projects.
“When I directed our indie film ‘Jeffie’ a few years ago, I was also on camera a lot,” explains Todd. “So I depended on Tim as producer and A.D. to help maintain my vision from behind monitor on the scenes where I couldn’t physically do it myself. The experience paved the way for our directing partnership on animated projects. With our combined talents and ‘shared brain’ approach we’ve reaped very exciting results,” Todd admits.<
Timothy agrees. “Whereas Hoodwinked leaned mainly on the comedy, taking a more simple approach to the aesthetic, we’ve now raised our technical and visual game exponentially, partnering with an uber-talented team of domestic and international animators and artists. It’s the best of both worlds.”
HARDY HOWL FILMS is Todd Edwards, Timothy Hooten and Katie Hooten
A uniquely focused, visionary and prolific team dedicated to creating
commercially viable, artistically inspiring and transformative films