John Hoberg & Kat Likkel Interview: Elemental

Elemental stars with the four elements of water, air, earth, and fire co-existing peacefully in Element City. However, they live relatively separate lives, with Ember, a hot-headed fire element, and her family running a store in Firetown. When Wade, an overly emotional water element and city inspector, is sucked through the pipes and notes a number of violations, Ember’s family legacy is in danger. She and Wade work together to try and save her family’s store and slowly grow closer, with feelings developing. Although it breaks a cardinal rule about elements mixing, Wade and Ember’s feelings could change Element City forever as opposites attract and create something entirely new.


Director Peter Sohn and producer Denise Ream, the team behind The Good Dinosaur, joined forces once again to bring Pixar’s newest movie, Elemental, to the big screen. Elemental was co-written by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, and Brenda Hsueh, with Sohn working with them to create the story, pulling from his own life experiences. Elemental stars Leah Lewis, Mamoudou Athie, Ronnie del Carmen, Shila Ommi, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Catherine O’Hara, Mason Wertheimer, Joe Pera, and Matt Yang King.

Related: Elemental Teases Pixar’s Next Movie, Elio (Here’s Where To Spot The Easter Egg)

Screen Rant spoke with John Hoberg and Kat Likkel about writing Pixar’s new movie Elemental. They revealed that at one point it had a tone very similar to the noir crime film Chinatown, and they discussed the possibility of Wade staying dead. Hoberg and Likkel also shared how their experience writing for multi-cam television helped them work within the Pixar creative process.

John Hoberg & Kat Likkel on Elemental

Voice of Leah Lewis in Elemental
Voice of Leah Lewis in Elemental

Screen Rant: I love Elemental. I think it’s my favorite Pixar movie in years.

John Hoberg: Wow.

Kat Likkel: That’s great. Oh, I love to hear that.

I walked out of that. And I was like, yes, Pixar! It captures everything I love about Pixar. It’s such a unique story it’s kind of doing what I’ve really learned about Disney recently, where it’s not something where it’s like we’re fighting a villain. That’s the whole goal. So it’s really cool.

John Hoberg: What’s interesting on that subject? Is that was a huge topic of conversation. There was a huge topic of conversation about how do you have an antagonist in the dad, that is not bad. It took a lot of thinking and working to figure that out, because it’s sort of an unintentional antagonist, but he really is her captor without even knowing it, and it’d be the last thing he’d want to be. So it was a it was a challenge, but it was kind of a cool challenge to figure that out.

Kat Likkel: What’s also interesting about the Pixar process, it is so iterative. At one point, there was a villain in this story. You go through so many funny little characters that you remember, at one point, there were two little villains called Singe and Scorch, that were just like these hilarious sort of three stooges kind of idiot villains trying to bring the shop down.

John Hoberg: They were earth elements, who had to set themselves on fire to try to blend in. So they were in pain all the time,

Kat Likkel: At a certain point we’re like, “Is this good imitatable behavior to show in a Pixar movie?” So they went away, that whole storyline went away, but it’s amazing the process you go through with Pixar. To land finally, on the amazing stories they do. You talk with the producer, the director and the animators, these long conversations with everybody sharing stories, and everybody in the mix until you finally find the thing you’re going to ultimately land on.

I love that. Yeah, I have been fascinated with Pixar’s process and storytelling forever. One of the things with this that’s really interesting is I know, this story is really, really close to the director’s heart, because a lot of it is based on his own experiences. What was it like collaborating with him to really nail down what the story is for Elemental?

John Hoberg: It was a lot of talking. So we showed up, I think, January 2020 and we spent six weeks talking about everything and different iterations, but really getting to the core of it. He knew he wanted to tackle this, but I think it wasn’t as personal at first, and it became more and more personal, the deeper we dug.

Kat Likkel: What’s also interesting is there’s such a diverse group of voices at Pixar. The majority of people in America one way or the other have been immigrants at some point in our histories, and so everybody could share, my grandparents came to this country sort of like Bernie does in the movie, it’s like Bernie and Cinder with his suitcase and not much else, literally coming off a ship. So we all had something to talk about with the different angles the different places we came from and how we all ended up arriving where we’re at. Everybody was so open and welcoming about sharing all of those stories. So it was just a really lovely, welcoming place to be able to talk about anything.

John Hoberg: One of the things that was really interesting is that the bow is a very personal story within Pete’s family, and I think you can feel it in the movie. That was one of the things we kind of uncovered talking to him was about Pete’s dad leaving Korea, and giving his own father the ceremonial bow in Korean that Pete’s grandfather kind of rejected. Pete knew that it really stuck with his dad a long time and as we started exploring that we’re like, “That feels like the generational thing that needs to be explored in this movie.”

Voices of Leah Lewis and Mamoudou Athie in Elemental

That was one of those moments that was like, Oh, my God just kills me. One of the things like that was so cool, because I saw this with a friend of mine and her two kids and it feels like such an adult story, but it’s so easy for kids to understand and connect with too. That’s such a really interesting balance that I think Pixar does. How do you find that balance to make sure it’s a story that literally everyone can connect to no matter their age or anything?

John Hoberg: This was really fascinating. It occurred to us two years into the process. We had never heard someone say, would kids like this? For two years that was never brought up and it was always trying to find the truth and motivations and what characters felt. But there was never a, well would kids find this interesting? I think their secret sauce in a lot of ways is they just try to find the truth in there and it’s so human that it speaks to all ages.

Kat Likkel: Obviously, this is a father daughter story, a parent daughter story. And I think all ages, my mom is going to see this, and I think she’s going to relate to it. My mom is 80 and our nephew’s I think are gonna relate to it. I think that’s the beauty of Pixar. They somehow managed to cross that long generation gap and find something for everybody. It’s just universal stories.

John Hoberg: I thought it was interesting, because we went to the audience testing. So they break down the kids, and then they’ll have a focus group with children, and then with general audiences. It was interesting, because the kids, a lot of them were like, “Well, I love this, but I don’t know if grownups will find, because it’s kind of silly.” And then they kind of said the things they loved. And then the adults were like, “It really spoke to me, but I don’t know if the kid would catch that part of it.” It was interesting. They both were sort of like, “Well, it really spoke to me, but I don’t know if the other group might get it in the same way.” Which was a really good thing. We’re like, “Okay, that’s, that means it’s working on some level.”

I completely agree. One of my favorite parts of it, honestly, is the world building. Because I’m just a huge sucker for world building in general and this is so original and so cool. What was that process like and how much of it is in the script versus just kind of what the animators and artists put into it?

John Hoberg: They do this thing, it’s an exploration. Basically you have the director, you have the writer or writers. I think we were one of the first teams ever to come to Pixar. And then they have the head of story, who is the head of all the story artists, and then your story team, and the story artists they’re not storyboard artists. They’re part of the story breaking process. So they’re coming up with story too. So the story artists would have these explorations, where there was one story artist named Jiun, who is Korean, came in with just ideas and present to the whole group. Everybody would, and you would have two hours of people just saying, “Okay, I’m exploring what kind of vehicle Ember might drive around on.” And she was walking around at first Jiun and came up with this motorcycle idea. And the story team just adds these things with deep research that you wouldn’t get if you sat there on your own and tried to think of it.

Kat Likkel: To add to that being in a writers room, because we sort of cut our teeth on live action television, I don’t know what else to call it. You have a writer’s room there, and you’re bouncing ideas off each other. It was so much like that when we showed up at Pixar with the animators, Pete, and Denise Ream, the producer, all sitting in this room together.

It was a very similar process, with all of us just talking about everything going off on tangents, telling our own personal stories, riffing off of each other and the fun part was you’d be pitching something, you’d say, “Well, you know, when my family showed up this thing happened and they came like this. And there was this funny thing happened.” And all of a sudden, one of the artists would hold up a drawing that they were making while you were talking that was either that thing or something that it made them think of, and it was just the most amazing thing to see. It was just such a fun collaboration to have it verbal and visualized at the same time. That bouncing back and forth of ideas.

John Hoberg: By the way, that never ended. We would turn in pages for a sequence and so the way it works is you talk it out then the director is like, “Okay, where are you guys? Are you good? Can you write some pages on this.” So Kat and I would go and write a sequence, which might be three scenes or something and then that sequence is handed off by the director to one of the story artists, who then go and they make kind of poses for the sequence and then you watch it, but they have free rein to add anything that they feel.

So you might have a sequence that has Bernie is asleep at the desk, and then they have this whole other idea that then comes in that’s completely different. It just kind of jumpstart stuff and gets you thinking differently. So you can’t hold on tight to anything there. You have to be comfortable with we wrote this. Now we’ll see what happens and we’ll rewrite.

Are there any scenes you remember that maybe changed a lot or got cut? You talked about the two little villains, which sounds hilarious. Was there anything else that kind of sticks in your head that maybe just didn’t fit or didn’t have time for?

John Hoberg: Our first version, so you do multiple versions. So we showed up, there was another writer, Brenda, who was there at the beginning, and she had done I think two or three versions of the movie. I think we ended up doing eight after we got there. The first one that we worked on, almost became like Chinatown where Wade’s mother was a villain who was trying to take over sections of Firetown for real estate development.

She sent those little guys in who she would set on fire so they could infiltrate and you didn’t know until the midpoint in the movie. Wade realized he was kind of on this date with Ember as they’re trying to figure out this water problem. that his mother was a big shot, like in the city. Then you suddenly at the midpoint, discover that she’s bad news and she says, to Ember, “You either break up with my son or I destroyed Firetown.” It was so different. It was crazy.

Kat Likkel: It was very dark

John Hoberg: But it was good. But the ending was the same. So the last 25 minutes of that movie, from the moment that dam breaks to the end with the bow was the same. And then as a group, we’re all like, “Okay, that’s working. Now, let’s figure out how to get there in a different way.”

Kat Likkel: The thing that’s interesting about Pixar is you have all of these long discussions and although so much else changed in that movie, like John is saying that ending stayed the same. You have these big meetings, you do versions on animatic, and stuff, and then you have these big gosh I can’t remember what they were called, but it was like all the head, people at Pixar would watch it on a big screen, even though it was just rough drawings. And then they would give you critique and all of their thoughts and all of Pixar, every single person at Pixar, from the top level, animators whose names we all know, all the way down to all the staff who worked, support staff, everybody could give input on it. And it would all be correlated.

You would look for what was working, what was popping what wasn’t. Tt was such an interesting process going back and forth. Sometimes things that you thought were throwaway everybody would be like, “I love that.” And things that you [were] sure were going to be a big part in the movie people didn’t respond to. But one thing that stuck from very, very early on was the ending. The ending with the flood. At a certain point you’re showing all these different iterations to the brain trust at Pixar, all the top people. They watch it, and then you sit and wait like, “Oh, are they going to like it? What are they going to say?”

Pete Sohn would be really nervous about it, too, because there’s so much riding on it. I remember the day when all these people came back in the room and went, “Congratulations, guys, you found your ending.” Which was such a big moment for everybody because that’s the thing that’s so important. The story up to that can fluctuate, but once you found that ending you know you have your story. I just remember the excitement of that moment, when they walked in there was like, “You got your ending!”

John Hoberg: I do remember one other scene that was really cool. That was not in there. Wade took Ember to a dance club. It was almost like the stadium scene, where there were huge fans. Everyone was just being blown up in the air and dancing. It was this first time that Ember was truly free in the city. So she was just sort of spinning in the air like fire kind of dancing around and then all these other elements. It was almost like, was it Busby Berkeley like an old style like musical from the 20s with elements dancing all around. It was a really incredible sequence. It just ultimately didn’t fit into the movie.

Kat Likkel: You can see a feeling of it in that dream that Ember has, that fantasy and Ember has, of the two of them together. That’s how that ended up. It was a road we went down that didn’t work, but you can still see that the flavor of it stayed.

Elemental Wade and Ember

That’s so cool. I love Elemental, but I want the Pixar mob movie. What? That’s insane!

John Hoberg: We were talking to Pete about it last night. And we were all like, “We kind of like that version too. It was pretty cool.” There was some really nutty stuff in that and then there was some stuff that didn’t work where they went to a museum, and it was a long sequence. Then the villain scene with the mom. I remember Andrew Stanton gave the note back. Lots of talking! Because it was such a long scene to have to explain this whole mob thing going on, but there was something in there that was really fun.

I love that. It’s so cool. You guys tell such a deep story, very human story, and then mix it with this fantastical element. I just love it so much. What did you find was the most surprising going into this? You came from more the live-action TV world, and I love Galavant and Better Off Ted.

John Hoberg: Oh, thank you. We do too.

Coming into film, what did you find was the most surprising element of working on an animated movie?

John Hoberg: There’s so much rewriting, right? We’re used to TV where you do rewrite, you have to rewrite, we did a lot of multi camera where you [rewrite] right in front of an audience, you have to do it fast. I think one of the things was really interesting is it was stressful at first, like, “Okay, you’re gonna be generating scene after scene, and they may not use it.” And then one of the writers, Jason Headley, who did Lightyear and Onward, he was like, “You know what, think about it this way they all communicate, like Kat was talking about, where they’ll be like, I have an idea. And then they’ll just sketch it and show you, right?”And he’s like, “They don’t sit there and make it the perfect drawing, when they’re trying to tell you what they’re thinking. They make it enough that you get it and he was like, our superpower is we can do that with pages.”

And then Kat and I because we’ve learned how to rewrite quickly on television and it takes a lot of trust with our director, but we trusted him and we’re like, “We’re going to sometimes try things. And we’re going to do it quickly, just like a sketch, so you can get the idea. And then that way, we’re not so invested, because we made everything so perfect.And you’re not going to have a problem saying I don’t like it if you don’t like it, because you’re gonna feel bad that we put all this time into it. And if you like it, then we can make it really good.” And that was a big breakthrough for us there. But that was the thing we weren’t expecting when we showed up is how much rewriting.

Kat Likkel: It was the coming together of styles and languages in a way. They use the language of art, pen on paper and we use pen on paper, but just with words instead of pictures. So that ended up being a lot of fun and it sparked so many things that I’m not sure we all would have come up with otherwise, having that really quick back and forth.

John Hoberg: The other thing that was shocking when we showed up there because we had to be at Pixar is that they start at nine in the morning, which as writers we’re just not used to. I remember on day one, I was like, “Are we farmers or are we are we like creatives here?”

Kat Likkel: Does this happen everyday like this? It was crazy during the pandemic, because of course, everything had to shut down. There literally was one day when we came in, we heard, like, “Oh, so and so is sick.” Somebody had been in China for one of the premieres or something and came back sick. And we’re like, “Oh, well, that’s weird.” And then you started hearing what’s going on and very quickly, once it was clear what was happening Pixar moved so fast that we were all sent home within like, two days, three days with all the equipment that everybody needed to make the movie from our living rooms.

All the animators had all of their big animation equipment sent to them. They have these big printers, these big computers like everything. It just happened like that and it was like a miracle. We were down for two days and then suddenly we were all on Zoom again like this. So we probably did 75% of this movie from where you see us sitting right now. Over zoom.

Wow! That’s insane.

John Hoberg: I remember it happened it was a week after Tom Hanks got it. That’s when it all got real. Tom Hanks got COVID and then we all shut down. Before you know what a week later, we’re just doing….what’s also interesting is this is I think one of the movies that only had a couple screenings in person. Then we were all watching it on our laptops instead of going to the theater.

Usually you would watch each of those hand drawn versions, in the movie theaters there to get the full theater experience. Our first theater experience as a crew was the audience preview, which was a really interesting thing, because you learn so much just hearing people and you can feel when an audience gets restless or when an audience is engaged. That was really interesting that we didn’t have that up until the audience preview.

Yeah, that would be nerve-wracking for me.

John Hoberg: I remember the first joke hit and there was a laugh, and we all looked around like, “Oh, that’s a joke. It worked. Good.” Because no one ever heard a laugh, really because we’re all in our own homes.

Wade and Ember at the Cyclone Stadium in Elemental 

Can you talk about incorporating aspects of the actual elements into the characterization?

John Hoberg: There was a lot of discussion about that, too. That is where Pete really, I’d say held the line. It was easy for all of us to be like, we might think of ember this way, but Pete would always bring it back to, we got to remember she’s a fire element. Wade is a water element. Their characterizations, yes, but also personality traits. The core of Wade, is this guy who kind of goes with the flow, but because of that he’s missing out on something in his own life, too.

Which is he’s never stood up against kind of the current and that’s what he does when he goes to tell Ember he loves her. He actually kind of goes against what the waters pulling him to do. And Ember obviously has this heat to her and kind of a defensiveness, that there’s a danger there if you get too close. That’s deep into her character as well. That was Pete really made sure that that always was there.

Kat Likkel: In the process of creating the other Elemental characters. We’ve talked about like, Oh, it’d be cool. What other elements are there? There’s Earth, there’s air, there’s water, there’s fire. What are these earth elements going to look like?” And man, when the animators started coming back, the story artists started coming back with all of their different characterizations. Some of them work.

Some of them you would look at and they were hilarious and wonderful, but it’s like, that one is not going to work on film. We weren’t the ones making that decision, but seeing just the imagination, the creativity and the artistry of these story artists coming back with these. I wish there were a gallery online that everybody could go look at. Look at all the different iterations of the characters, what they went through, and what all of them look like at one time or another. It was amazing to to be a part of and see it happen.

John Hoberg: Do you want to hear another thing that didn’t make the cut that was so funny and weird. It was based on what Kat’s talking about. It was when we got sucked into the pipe, you saw him down there testing the water. When the wave came one of the story artists had him looked down, it might have been Pete, and see a little earth element, a tiny little earth element, he goes, “Be free!” He threw him to the side and saved his life. So when they’re in the hot air balloon, they’re floating by and then that little guy is down there.

He’s like, “Hey, buddy, thanks for saving my life.” And then Wade’s like, “Oh, how you doing?” And he goes, “And my family thinks you too!” And he kind of, it doesn’t make any sense because he holds his breath and all these dandelions on top of his head, all the seeds start floating. They’re little children who are like, “Thank you. Thank you.” They’re floating by. Then they came back through the movie three times. When Wade was broken up with two of them went floating by at one point, they’re like, “Oh, man, this is really depressing. This is heartbreaking for him.” And I remember they landed on his shoulder, and they’re like, “Oh, this is awkward now.”

Kat Likkel: It was like little dandelion fluff. That lasted for a little while. We all loved it, but you can only do so many side trips when you have like a limited amount of time.

John Hoberg: But it also became like, “Well, that’s a plant not earth.” And so it got really confusing although it made us all laugh. It just broke all the rules like “Okay, well, we can’t do that.”

Oh my gosh, I love it. Just commentary on his life as he’s going through really rough things. That’s so much fun.

John Hoberg: This is one of those things we’re like, “Pete it’s too much.” And it was like a paragraph of them just commenting on wage terrible situation and how brokenhearted. How this must be horrible for him. It was so funny.

One of the things I found really interesting is when Wade and his family play that game of making each other cry. It made me think of that Ernest Hemingway “tell a story in six words” thing. How did you guys come up with those moments? Because they did need to be genuinely something that understandably makes these characters sad. While still not almost like making the movie super depressing for a few minutes.

Kat Likkel: Actually, that Ernest Hemingway thing came up.

John Hoberg: It did.

Kat Likkel: In the discussion of all of this.

John Hoberg: We had a back and forth with Pete. We worked it where we would like email stuff back and forth to Pete kind of at all hours, because we’re night owls and he is too. We had this back and forth on the saddest story and Pete came up with this windshield wiper butterfly half a butterfly thing that just made us laugh so much like “Okay, that’s exactly right.”

Kat Likkel: It’s also fun. It’s like, what would the happiest people in the world what would their game be? Or the the most emotional people in the world, I should say. It was also such a nightmare for Ember. It’s not based on me and John, but we related to it because John comes from this very happy welcoming. First time I walked into the door to meet them, they were like, “Kat!” It was just overwhelming for me, because my family is a little more buttoned up a little more standoffish.

Not as quick to do those kinds of things. It was already kind of baked into the movie, but it was something that John and I couldn really relate to, with all of that. It would sometimes be so awkward for me to walk into his house especially when I was first meeting the family and all of a sudden, it’s all this overwhelming love. I would have to be like, John, I gotta go take a break. I gotta lock myself in the bathroom for a while. I just can’t. It’s just too much emotion.

John Hoberg: We had a friend with us at the premiere last night, and he was like, “I couldn’t stop seeing the two of you in that relationship the entire time.” And then he said, I look like Wade, which I don’t know if that’s true or not.

I felt so bad because I laughed at the butterfly thing. The person next to me was crying and I’m like, “Oh, I, Okay.” It came out of nowhere.

John Hoberg: I think we wanted people to think it was ridiculous and exactly how you felt. Just knowing that was gonna come back at the very end to it. I don’t know if that’s the part you’re talking about, but that was so funny. That was a great moment when you know the audience is with you when he’s died. I remember at the test screening, there was a woman who sat in front of us, and they could tell all the Pixar people were behind, and then when Wade died she turned around and looked at us like, “What the hell?” we’re all like just give it a second. Her kid was there and she’s like, what are you doing? But then there was this little wimpery cry, and then the entire audience started laughing like, “Okay, great!” They’re with us, and they get it. That was such a great moment.

Was there ever any consideration of him actually being gone forever?

John Hoberg: Yeah, there was.

Kat Likkel: We talked about everything. Another thing about the Pixar process is you do go through every possible thing and you really explore them. There was a version where Wade died, but that’s what gave her the courage, very much like she does in the movie but with Wade coming back, but that was what gave her the courage to be able to say to her father, “I think I need to live a different life. I love you and I love my family, but I think I need to live a different life” We managed to find a way to get him to come back.

John Hoberg: I don’t know if we ever even made it because we are all like “It’d be such a bummer he doesn’t [come back]. It would be so upsetting.” But then I remember there was also a talk, people in the room are like, it’s Pixar, someone’s got to die.

It was so because we all paused, and the best part is the kids are like, “He’s fine.” And we’re like, “It’s Pixar. We’re not sure, guys.”

Kat Likkel: There was actually one moment, and I can’t remember if this came up when John and I were there or if it was something that was a holdover from before. There was a big cloud character, who ended up being sort of changed to the cloud character now, but there was one cloud character that when Wade was evaporating, was sitting on top of the chimney, and absorbed Wade. And could basically kind of rain him back down again.

John Hoberg: It was so weird.

Kat Likkel: And then we’re like, “Do we really want this cloud to absorb Wade and then more or less just…is he peeing him out?”

Is this how water elementals are made?

Kat Likkel: Too many questions of too many kinds. And so it went away.

John Hoberg: But there was a funny talk of everyone like, “Wade’s gone!” And then the Cloud Guy going “Actually this is a little awkward, but he’s not completely gone.”

I got you guys. Don’t worry about it.

John Hoberg: Don’t worry. If you can all turn the other way.

I was like, oh, no, he might be gone. And I’m sitting next to like, a seven-year-old.

John Hoberg: It’s funny, because Andrew Stanton in one of these versions, when Bernie coughed, he’s like, “My wife would say Bernie is dead by the end of the movie, the guy coughed on screen, that’s a sign.”

Characters in a cinema in the Elemental post credits scene

I was like, “He’s puffing smoke. Oh, boy, this is not gonna go well.” There were so many times. I’m like, someone’s gonna die. I can feel it. And then they didn’t. I was like, “Oh, good. It’s a happy ending.”

John Hoberg: It was interesting, because it’s sort of like standing on two canoes trying to do like a romantic comedy, but then also this family drama at the same time. Keeping the tone in the right place was really tricky. It took a long time to kind of get that tone where you could get away with kind of that, “Oh, is somebody going to die?” But also you needed to be a love story. So you can’t go too far one direction or the other direction. So there’s a lot of correcting on that.

I love that it was a love story because we have a little that was Pixar with Wall-E, but this really leans into it in a way that we haven’t seen before. So what was it like to almost blaze a new trail for Pixar?

Kat Likkel: It was a joy to do and it was a little intimidating because it is. I think it’s the first real love story for Pixar. I’m sure somebody will call me and say, “You idiot. No, it’s not!” But that’s what it feels like to us. So it’s a little intimidating because it does feel like it’s not a grown up story, but it’s a little bit of a more complicated story, a little bit more emotionally complicated because of that. So it was a little intimidating and it was hard to find the right balance on it.Where you don’t go too far and it doesn’t all just become a giant mushy romance. The thing that I love about it at the end is when the two characters finally come together and kiss.

That cut, cut, cut of the kiss is such a Korean cinema thing. That it’s something that is done in those movies. Pete, when he put that in, the first time we all saw that in there all of us just exploded. It was the perfect culmination for this story in a very grown up way that you don’t usually see in a Pixar movie. So it was really interesting to listen to the audience. We were really curious how it was gonna go over and from the very first screenings, you could just hear people roaring with like, “Ahhh!” There was such excitement about it. It was great and it’s been like that, I think ,in every screening.

John Hoberg: It was a little intimidating. The thing we just kept going back to Pete is Korean and married an Italian woman outside of the their his culture, and Kat and I, every family has different cultures and we just kept going back to our own true love stories. And there’s a moment at the end Wade comes and lists all the reasons that they can’t be together. That came from a story that Kat and I told and Anna Benedict, one of the story artists came and figured out how to make that work.

Where Kat and I were dating and very logically, we’re talking about the reasons why our relationship wouldn’t work and we were basically breaking up. We got to the end of it and we’re like, “But we don’t want to break up.” And we didn’t. We told that story and then Anna’s like, “Well, what if Wade shows up and instead he’s telling all the reasons it doesn’t work, but there’s one reason that it does. Which is they changed each other’s chemistry.” And we’re like, “Okay, that’s great.” It gave us chills. It was like, “Okay, that’s perfect.” So it was a lot of going to all of our own personal experiences to try to make it feel real.

I love that speech. That was such a good speech because it wasn’t just a pick-me type thing. It was this shouldn’t work, but it does. We need to do something about it.

Kat Likkel: That’s one of the truest things about love, I think it’s like it’s a mystery. It’s kind of a magical mystery. That whole opposites attract kind of thing. I love the tagline, opposites react. It’s true and it’s that chemistry between people in relationships with friends, with parents, with all of those things. It’s that chemistry, that unknowable chemistry that brings us all together. And I think it’s what makes love special, it makes friendship special, and I think it makes it makes human relationships, special.

John Hoberg: In some ways, one of the scariest things about doing a love story is you have to put the heart on its sleeve, which is a vulnerable place to be just as filmmakers. You can’t be cynical, really, in a love story like this. So I think that was also, back to that question of like, what did it feel like? I think there’s a little bit of apprehension there too, of like, you got to really just put your heart out there and hopefully people respond, but you can’t just try to hide it with cynicism. You got to be sincere and that was that was also part of it. That was really rewarding.

About Elemental


In Element City, where air, fire, earth, and water live together, Wade, a water element, and Ember, a fire element, become an unlikely pair. As they work together to try and save Ember’s family shop, they slowly begin to fall in love and ask the question, can fire and water ever be together?

Check out our other Elemental interviews here:

Elemental is now playing in theaters.

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