WEITZ TAKES ON A CHALLENGING COMPASS.
by Paul Fischer in London
Chris Weitz has gone from American Pie to About a Boy to his latest film, the ferociously challenging Golden Compass. Controversial and fascinating, Chris Weitz, who quite the project at one point, talks about his experiences to Paul Fischer in London.
THIS IS A HUGE DEPARTURE FOR YOU FEEL SO PASSIONATE ABOUT IT . . . WHY QUITAT ONE POINT?Chris Weitz
: Yeah, I did. Well, I'm very passionate about it because I love the books, Iread the books for pleasure, not with an eye to making a movie, in the firstplace, and they quickly became some of my favorite books, and Philip Pullman iskind of a literary hero to me. I think they're some of the greatest works atthe end of the last century, so that's why I did it. Why I quit briefly wasbecause it was obvious - it was kind of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.I went to New Zealand and I checked out Peter Jackson's facilities there andmet all of his - his prop master and his effects people and did some motioncapture stuff and (laughs) I learned just enough to know how little I knew, andhow for the next three years of my life I was going to be in this veryunfamiliar world. And at the time I was single, and I thought, I'm just not going tohave a life for three years and at the end of it I'll be kind of spat out theother end, and god knows what will have happened by then.So I backed away, but a few months later the opportunity came again and Icouldn't turn it down.
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THIS . . .Chris Weitz
: I think the thing that surprises me most is that directors like myself whoare used to directing actors walking around and sitting on their butts andtalking can be very scornful about the effects, as though it were just a bunch ofcomputers and things blowing up and giant robots and that sort of stuff.Actually there's a tremendous amount of arts and (artifice?) brought to thesedetails. The animators are like actors and the amount of attention to the aestheticof this aspect of the filmmaking is really extraordinary and impressive.
TALK ABOUT KATE BUSH'S CONTRIBUTION.Chris Weitz
: I just lucked out because she's a friend of Philip Pullman's and a fan of thebook. I mean in many cases in this film I lucked out because people love thebooks. Nicole and Daniel wanted to do the movie because of Philip, not becauseof me. I was just along for the ride (laughs). At least I didn't fight themoff — let's put it that way. And so . . . the books held a fascination for alot of people and drew a lot of talent and are responsible for the extraordinarycast we were able to assemble.
YOU SHOT AN ENDING WHICH YOU NEVER USED. WAS IT NEVER INTENDED TO BE USED AT THIS POINT?Chris Weitz
: No, I intend for it to be used for the next film because I wanted to protectit. We shot the last three chapters of the book which are really quite ambiguousin the ending and quite harsh and dark. It became clear that audiences whowere not familiar with the books were confused and appalled by the end of themovie, and in order to protect the character of these last few chapters, Ithought, well it can work at the beginning of a second movie, but I'm going to get alot of pressure to kind of pretty it up for the ending of the first movie, soin a way, deciding to leave it as a cliffhanger was a way ofprotecting the spirit of the end of the book. And anyway, to me, and I think Pullmanwould say, he's telling one story, Lyra's story, throughout the whole thing,and it didn't particularly matter where one movie ended or where the other onegoes. It's disappointing the fans because they want to see as much aspossible. They think of it in terms of one movie per book, but having spoken toPhilip about it, I don't think he's terribly concerned.
HOW BIG A GAMBLE IS THAT STILL? IN THE EVENT THE FILM DOESN'T DO WELL, YOUHAVE THE MOST EXPENSIVE DVD EXTRA EVER MADE.Chris Weitz
: Yeah. Well, it's not like we're going to lose any less money if people don'tgo see the movie. So yes, that's a gamble, but the whole undertaking has beena huge gamble on the part of New Line. It's the most expensive film they'veever made, because things have become so much more expensive between making LordOf The Rings and this one that I felt this was the ending that provided thebest kind of financial framework in which to shoot the next two movies.
YOU CUT A FILM WITH THE ENDING THAT'S IN THE BOOK AND YOU SCREENED THAT ANDAFTER THE REACTION, YOU THEN RECUT.Chris Weitz
: Yes, you have to remember that the ideal audience for this film has to be much larger than the number of people who are familiar with the books and the audience members who hadn't seen the books were often confused by ending. They thought - well, did Lyra go to heaven? I think that the difference between the media also accounts for it - that a novelistic ending to a novel can be quite lovely and . . . beautiful. And the last sentence of the first book is absolutely beautiful. But there is no last sentence per se in the movie. It's a last image, and what you show in that image can either be very confusing and rather avant garde . . . a person walking off into nothingness, or you can show where she goes to which then makes it quite specific and following realized. So you know, it was a challenging decision to make but I'll stand by it.
ARE YOU FREE TO GIVE THE BUDGET?Chris Weitz
: Am I free? To be completely honest with you I don't know the final budget onthe film. At one point I did when it was all about getting the budget down tosize, but eventually you had to consider that - you know - special effectsguys are being flown in from Los Angeles to be put to work 24 hours a day —around $200 million would be a bare estimate.
SETTING ASIDE DIRECTOR'S CAP FOR THE MOMENT, HOW MUCH OF A CHALLENGE WASDOING THE ADAPTATION AND HOW TRICKY WAS THE EXPOSITION?Chris Weitz
: Ah, a good question, both of them. It was a big challenge. It's a biggerchallenge to adapt something you care about than something that you don't. It's abigger challenge to adapt a good book than a bad book. In a good book you wantto preserve as much as possible. In a bad book, you know exactly what tothrow out. So as a fan as well, there are all these wonderful scenes in the bookthat didn't necessarily move the plot forward in a cinematic sort of way. Sodeciding which of those would have to go and what kind of (revisions,excisions?) and condensations to make is very tough. And in terms of exposition, youhave a world of incredible complexity with rules that are very complicated, andI hate expositional writing so the key is to try to be as elegant as possibleabout expressing the rules of this world.And yes, we had a prologue but we tried to make it as short as possible interms of explaining as few things as possible for an audience that wasn'tfamiliar with the book.
HOW HELPFUL WASIT TO BE BOTH WRITER AND DIRECTOR AND THE TWO HAVE ARGUMENTS WITH EACH OTHER? AND HAS PULLMAN SEEN THE FILM?Chris Weitz
: Oh, gosh, that's a mind-bending question. I suppose - there's a give andtake, because the director has to win some arguments because the writer can writesome things which are not filmable, you know, a thousand Indians coming overthe hill. And there are the visual effects equivalent to that. there's thecreation of the universe which one would like to start the movie with in someways, and you're constantly balancing the visuals one might like to have with whatreally is the best use of your resources, so for instance any scene with athousand people each of them with a demon is extraordinarily costly, so you haveto be very careful about when you do that sort of thing.
I wasn't present when Philip saw the film. That would probably have been badfor my heart . . . he likes it very much. That's what he's told me. . . . Youknow, he's a very gracious guy. The reason I say that's what he said to me isthat he's an extraordinarily gracious fellow and I'm sure he would findsomething nice to say to me even if he were deeply disappointed.
HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE COMMITTING YOURSELF TO THIS FRANCHISE IF IT ALL GOES AHEAD.Chris Weitz
: Well . . . we'll find out pretty much whether it's a going concern. Thatdepends on how the first movie does, although we're reasonably confident.
WOULD YOU OBJECT TO DOING THE NEXT TWO SIMULTANEOUSLY?Chris Weitz
: I think that would be the way to do it? Yeah, absolutely. There would be nopoint in stopping between the two productions. You would do it as one massive .
TO ME DEREK JACOBI AND HIS COHORTS LOOK LIKE OFFICIALS FROM THE INNER SANCTUM OF THE VATICAN. WE'VE BEEN TOLD ATTEMPTS TO WATER DOWN THE LINKS TO THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH, BUT I'M NOT SURE YOU'VE REALLY SUCCEEDED.Chris Weitz
: I always knew I'd kind of be stuck between a rock and a hard place, betweenfans worried about the books being watered down and religious people worriedthat the books are sort of a recruiting poster for atheism - which I don't thinkthat they are. Philip Pullman is an atheist but I don't think that His DarkMaterials are an aggressive attack either on the Catholic Church or on religion.
WHAT ABOUT C.S. LEWIS AND THE NARNIA CHRONICLES?Chris Weitz
: He doesn't like C.S. Lewis (laughs) but he's spoken to that. I wasn't a bigfan of Narnia because even when I was a child, I felt I was being soldsomething. I thought something curious was going on, that something was a bit fishy.Which is exactly why I wouldn't want to make this movie as any kind ofhidden-message film.
I did take out the use of the word "church" as the bad guy because eventhough in Pullman's ultimate universe, they use the word "church" to define themagisterium, to me in the condensation of a movie and its message, it wouldunnecessarily offend religious people who might go and see the film. I think thefilm, just like the book, still has an issue with religion or god abused inorder to gain political power, but to me the closest thing to that is thetheocracy in Iran, not any of the church's that exist in today's world. That's kindof my feeling on that.
YOUR BROTHER IS WORKING ON CIRQUE DU FREAK. HAS HE ASKED YOUR ADVICE? ARE YOU INVOLVED IN THE SCRIPT?Chris Weitz
: He does ask me about special effects. What are they (laughter). Yeah. I thinkmy role on that will be to try to help him as much as I can in the sort of steep learning curve of being a non-special effects director entering into that world, and to try and give him the benefit of my occasionally painful experience learning about all this stuff.
No, he's written the script so I won't be a co-writer. I think my bestfunction would be as a visual effects adviser . . . eminence grise of specialeffects . . . I am I guess one of the 20 or so people who've been through this kindof insane process and learned at the feet of some really great special effectspeople, like Mike Fink whos an extraordinarily talented and experiencedspecial effects supervisor.
DO YOU STILL OWN THE RIGHTS TO THE ULRICH BOOKSChris Weitz
: Yes, we do. We still have rights to the books. I think I knowenough to know how to get it made. I'm very excited about doing that becauseMichael's been very patient with us and we 're gonna do it ....
WHEN DO YOU THINK YOU'LL WORK IT INTO YOUR SCHEDULE?Chris Weitz
: As soon as I get back to L.A., we're going to look for a director Other Interviews:
Dakota Blue Richards - The Golden Compass - www.girl.com.au/dakota-blue-richards-the-golden-compass-interview.htm
Daniel Craig - The Golden Compass - www.girl.com.au/daniel-craig-the-golden-compass-interview.htm
Eva Green - The Golden Compass - www.femail.com.au/eva-green-the-golden-compass-interview.htm
Nicole Kidman - The Golden Compass - www.femail.com.au/nicole-kidman-the-golden-compass-interview.htm
Sam Elliott - The Golden Compas - www.femail.com.au/sam-elliott-the-golden-compass-interview.htm