Video: Joe Johnston Aims to “Capture the Essence” of The Silver Chair

Posted May 20, 2017 10:36 pm by Glumpuddle

For the past few weeks, Joe Johnston (Director, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair) has been accepting questions from NarniaWebbers and social media followers.  He has just posted his first video response and plans to do another one as production nears. It clocks in at nearly 17 minutes and you will not want to miss a second (notice the books in the corner).

Highlights:

  • Reboot: “Everything is new. This is the beginning of a brand-new trilogy.”
  • Adaptation: “I want this film to remain true to the essence of C.S. Lewis’s work.”
  • Cast: “[Will Poulter] is too old to play Eustace now. […] Beyond that, I want to set this apart from the other trilogy.”
  • Locations: Probably New Zealand
  • Experience with Lewis: At age 12, Joe read Out of the Silent Planet and Til We Have Faces.

(UPDATE: The video has been taken down. An official explanation has not yet been posted. You can still read our transcript below)

NarniaWeb thanks Joe Johnston for collaborating with us and taking the time to connect directly with fans! Visit Joe’s website: JoeJohnstonSketchbook.com.

UPDATE: Here is a transcript. (Thanks to NarniaWeb Moderators The Rose-Tree Dryad, AJAiken, and Meltintalle)

Joe: Hello, fellow fans of Narnia. Great questions. Hundreds of questions from all over the world. Thank you very much. Some really great ones. A lot that I can’t answer right now, but I will be able to when we do another these when we’re deeper into prep and production. So, let’s get right to it.

Q: Is this a reboot?

Joe: Everything is new. This is the beginning of a brand new trilogy. We will make reference to characters and events in the other films as the book does, but think of this as the beginning of an all-new trilogy.

Q: Will you be keeping the design aesthetic of the previous three films?

Joe: As far as the design aesthetic, not really. This is going to look different, it’s going to reflect my vision of what I think The Silver Chair is, the book. I have a production designer who’s starting very shortly who I’m very excited about who’s going to design an amazing film and I will of course be overseeing everything he does. I can’t tell you his name because we haven’t made his deal yet, but I’m confident it’s going to happen.

Q: Is there anything you find initially daunting about taking The Silver Chair on?

Joe: The only thing that I find a little bit daunting is that I want this film to remain true to the essence of C. S. Lewis’s work, the source material, and that in a way is… it is a little bit of a daunting task that I set for myself. Otherwise, no. I like these big films in a way; a film like this is easier than a little low budget film because I can have the absolute people to help me. I can hire the best in the world, so… moving on.

Q: Will The Silver Chair have Aslan in it?

Joe: Of course it will. Apparently there was a rumor that he wasn’t going to be in it. Aslan is the central character in the whole series, so yes, Aslan will play as prominent a part in this film as he does in The Silver Chair the book.

Q: How close are you going to stick to the book? Is there pressure to build a bigger climax, add more action scenes, make the story less episodic, etc?

Joe: I’m going to stick as close to the book as I can and make the most commercial version of The Silver Chair that I can. Is there pressure to build a bigger climax? There’s a pretty big climax in the book, as I recall, and there is a big battle scene. There are lots of action scenes. We all know the difference between a book and a film. When you’re reading a book, you decide what everything looks like and how characters sound and what the environment is, and it’s all up here for you. I’m going to be supplying a lot of that for you, but I also want to keep you engaged and mentally involved in the film.

Q: I’ve heard rumors that the Lady of the Green Kirtle would be replaced with the White Witch for the film. Could you clarify?

Joe: That is incorrect. Another rumor. Who knows where these rumors come from? No, the Lady of the Green Kirtle is the villain in The Silver Chair.

Q: Do you plan to keep the Christian themes in The Silver Chair?

Joe: This is a really important question. C. S. Lewis wrote the books, all the books, to be read by a very wide readership and he wanted them to be enjoyed by people who recognized and embraced the Christian themes and equally enjoyed by the people who didn’t recognize them or, you know, were unaware they were even in there. And I think the film should be the same way. I think that if you know that the themes are there and recognize them, then you will enjoy—you will recognize those Christian themes. Otherwise, you don’t need to. You’re going to enjoy the film just as much. That’s my hope, anyway.

Q: The Silver Chair is the darkest story in The Chronicles of Narnia. Will this be super kid-friendly and over lit like the first trilogy or will your visuals encompass the true visions C.S. Lewis gave us in the text?

Joe: That is my goal: it’s to, as I said, capture the essence and the spirit of what C. S. Lewis intended when he told the story. At the same time, I want this film to be very commercial. That doesn’t mean that it’s going to be over lit, but it also means that it’s not going to be dark… well, when I say dark, I’m talking about visually dark. It’s not going to be over lit and it’s not going to be so dim that you can’t see the characters on the screen. But I have a wonderful cinematographer who is going to make Narnia a really magical land that will be colorful without being over lit. And stick around to see what that looks like.

Q: Is there any difference between doing an adaptation and doing an original screenplay? Does this affect your approach at all?

Joe: In a way it does. When – and I’ll use The Silver Chair as an example – I feel an obligation to stick as close to the spirit of what C. S. Lewis intended. With an original screenplay I might feel like I can play a little bit more fast and loose with the material than I would with an adaptation, especially one from classic literature like The Chronicles of Narnia.

Q: Will anyone from the previous cast returning?

Joe: I don’t think so. For … really, the main reason is that that cast, those main characters, have aged more than would be natural to be playing these characters. And even though this is a different cast with Jill and Eustace, even though Eustace was in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Will Poulter, who is a very good actor but he’s too old to play Eustace now. But beyond that, I want to set this apart from the other trilogy and so I’m going to start with an all-new cast and I don’t think anyone will say “Hey, how come that person’s not in the movie?” It wouldn’t be appropriate.

Q: If you could choose from any actor in Hollywood to play the role of Puddleglum, who would you choose?

Joe: Well, we have discussed the role of Puddleglum a little bit but I’m not going to say who I would … I’ll tell you who my perfect actor would be. John Cleese at about age 25 would be a perfect Puddleglum to me. I don’t think he wants to do it now.

Q: Are you more inclined to shoot Narnia on location or is your vision of Narnia only achievable through digital effects?

Joe: I intend to shoot a lot of this on location and I will probably use digital effects to enhance the landscape and extend it. Either the landscape or the locations or the sets, the buildings, you know, castle exteriors, whatever, but I think that I want to open this film up; I don’t want it to feel like it was shot on a stage so a lot of it will be shot on location, probably in New Zealand on the South Island.

Q: Do you plan on combining CG with practical effects, animatronics or even miniatures in The Silver Chair? In your opinion is that style of filmmaking feasible anymore from a financial perspective?

Joe: I think anything that helps you tell the story is feasible. I think that these are all tools to basically help you tell the story and sometimes CG is the best way to tell it, and sometimes it’s animatronics, and sometimes it’s even miniatures, who knows. But I am open to using anything that cost-effectively tells the best story of The Silver Chair.

Q: You’ve directed many films across many genres over your long career. Why choose The Silver Chair and why now for you personally?

Joe: I’ve always been a fan of C. S. Lewis. The first book of his I read – I think I must have been twelve years old – was Out of the Silent Planet and I’ve read, of course, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength and several others. I think at the same time I read Till We Have Faces. I must have been 12 or 13 and I have to admit I didn’t fully understand it at that age. But I’ve read a lot of his stuff, I’ve always been a fan, and the opportunity to bring one of his books from The Chronicles of Narnia to the screen: I consider it a great honor and a great opportunity, so that’s why now for me personally.

Q: Will you be designing any of the visuals since you designed so many iconic characters, spaceships, and miniatures or machines for Star Wars and The Iron Giant?

Joe: I’m going to oversee the design of all this stuff but I believe in leaving this kind of to the professional. I have a wonderful production designer who will have a team of illustrators and designers to help bring that vision to the screen. And I think that you’re going to love it. I know I will. And you’re going to see that it is set apart from the films in the other trilogy. Or in the original trilogy.

Q: Of all the movies you’ve directed so far, which one is your favorite and why? Is that like asking which child is your favorite?

Joe: No, it’s not quite like that. But, I would have to say October Sky mostly because it let me sort of break out of this kids’ fantasy genre that I had been in for a long time. And it also – ah, I was allowed pretty much to make the film I wanted to make. It was fairly low budget and we were sort of under the radar out in Tennessee, and I didn’t have a lot of involvement from the studio. And I got to pretty much make the film I wanted to make, which I’m very happy with the way it turned out.

Q: How will you craft this movie in such a way that it stands out from run-of-the-mill big, pointless, battle-at-the-end believe-in-yourself fantasy films?

Joe: Well, believing in yourself is not a terrible thing. But I know what you mean. It seems like a lot of films like this, sort of feel like they’re out of the same mold. All I can say is this one, because I intend to stay as close to the essence of C. S. Lewis’s work as possible I think that you’ll recognize that it goes a bit deeper, than the, as you call them, run- of-the-mill, big pointless battle at the end. Although, there is a battle at the end in the book. And there will be a battle at this but not quite the battle you think it’s going to be.

Q: What do you as a filmmaker feel is absolutely necessary to bring to the Narnia franchise that was lacking in the last film or even all the previous films? What can you specifically bring to this film universe that will it make it unique and separate it from the mindlessness of other action blockbusters and popcorn fluff?

Joe: Well I sort of answered that with the last question but, I think that what’s really necessary is, this is just me, the way I feel about it, is focus and using your instincts and not letting other factors tell the story. I like to really focus on what my initial instinct is. And I’m usually right; not 100% of the time, but, usually 98% of the time (*smiles*). Okay, and again, like I said before in a couple of other questions, the essence; staying true to the essence of what C. S. Lewis wrote. Doesn’t mean that it’s going to be word for word; every, you know, there won’t be every scene, and won’t be every line of dialogue, but it will be true to the material and I think that you as Narnia fans will recognize that. That’s my hope anyway. And it’ll have a lot of heart. That I can guarantee.

Q: What is the main point and theme of this specific story?

Joe: I think that there are a few things that run through this. And for me, it’s about hope. It’s about working together and recognizing what others can, how you can share responsibility with others, and how you can work together. It’s about standing up to tyranny; whether you call it a bully, or however you like to phrase it. But it’s about standing up and not running from tyranny. And it is about knowing who you are and finding out who you are and recognizing who you are. Who is that person that you call yourself? And that’s, to me that’s a really interesting aspect of the story, and it’s something that in our culture there’s almost a taboo against recognizing who you are, and knowing who you are and embracing that; and that’s an element of the theme in The Silver Chair.

Q (from Andy): Please don’t let this one suck.

Joe: Okay, Andy. I won’t let it suck.

So, thanks for all the questions. There were some great ones! Thanks to Narnia.com and NarniaWeb and Entertainment One and The Mark Gordan Company and Tristar. And we will do this again when you send in another 800 questions, of which I’ll pick a dozen or so. All right, thanks a lot guys.

44 Comments For This Story

  • HPofNARNIA says:

    I’m really hoping he’ll answer my questions in the next episode.

  • Narnians says:

    Will Poulter is older to appear in Narnia but is the best choice for him to play the role of Eustace. If they change actors What will happen if they do the last battle that Eustace will put? I agree with everything Mr. Jonston said less about what he said about the cast

    • coracle says:

      Sorry but he’s too old, tall, mature looking and deep voiced to play an early teen.

    • Beth says:

      I mean I agree that Will Poulter was fantastic as Eustace….But Eustace is 9 years old int he silver chair so it would not work at all

    • Beth says:

      I mean I agree that Will Poulter was fantastic as Eustace….But Eustace is 9 years old in The Silver Chair so it would not work at all

  • Adam Dens says:

    I really like everything he said, except his references to a battle at the end, even at the end of the book? Am I missing what he is referring to here? Or is he just trying to get away with it by falsely claiming it is also in the book?

    • narnia fan 7 says:

      Maybe he meant the fight against the serpent? I hope that’s what he meant I really don’t want a big battle with the gnomes.

      • Adam Dens says:

        I hope so. He did specifically say ‘big battle’, which to me seems different from a ‘fight’. But this might just be a case of interpretation, of course.

  • narnia fan 7 says:

    So much info at once! Overall I’d this is encouraging stuff, he seems to respect Lewis’ works. Definitely encouraging to hear him say that he wants too stay close to the book. Really exciting to me that he wants to film on location. Also interesting that they do indeed seem too be going for a complete reboot with SC not exactly sure how I feel about that, but at least it confirms no green mist!

    The one thing that worrys my is that he says Silver Chair has a battle at the end. I hope he was talking about the fight with the serpent I don’t want there to be a battle against the earthmen that would be terrible.

    • The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

      This concerns me a bit as well, but to be fair to Joe, Peter slaying Maugrim is called "Peter’s First Battle" in LWW. So the word battle doesn’t always mean standing armies and huge scale!

      • narnia fan 7 says:

        That’s true. Now that I’ve had a little more time to processes all this, I do think Joe was most likely referring to the fight with the serpent.

      • Lord Argoz says:

        He must have meant the serpent fight. I can’t imagine a director mistaking an important point like that – "Oh, wait a second, is there a battle at the end of that book we’re about to film?" He’s probably been poring over the book for the last few months.

  • Fans narnia says:

    I don’t agree with the decision to change the cast, what about Caspian? And in the last battle will they also change the old cast? You can not do that, we need the Pevensie, Caspian and Eustace

  • Lord Argoz says:

    Overall, pretty encouraged with his desire to remain true to the spirit of C.S. Lewis’s book. There were a few things he said that made me raise my eyebrows (John Cleese as Puddleglum would be ridiculous!) but overall, pretty pleased (no White Witch, Aslan is going to be as prominent as in the book etc.). He also seems to be very excited about the project in his own unexpressive, monotone way:) he seems to be getting a talented team together and it looks like the film is not going to be so low-budget after all. Quote: ‘A film like this is easier than a little low-budget film because I can have the absolute best people to help me. I can hire the best in the world.’ That sounds pretty good to me!

    I am also glad that everything is going to be new. I think that after such a long period, it will be nice to get a refresh. Interesting how he said – ‘A whole new Trilogy.’ What are the other two films they are thinking of doing…?

    • Fireberry says:

      Cleese at 25? That was way pre-Python (1964?). Interesting question though: is Puddleglum a young marsh-wiggle, or an elder? … I still nominate Mackenzie Crook. OR … Cumberbatch.

      • Anhun says:

        The book gives no direct indication of his age or even age range. It implies that he is an adult, but the film makers are free to hire a young adult, middle aged man or elder without being unfaithful.

  • Rick kuhn says:

    Joe very bullish on your responses.

  • Anfinwen says:

    Something that stood out to me was when he talked about working on a "big movie" like this as opposed to smaller budget films. He also referred to being able to hire "the best." It’s official then; this is going to be a big movie. I’m ok with that as long as it’s good. Narnia deserves "the best."
    It was interesting, though, that his favorite movie was the one that was smaller and gave him more freedom and control. I kind of wish he could do that for Narnia.
    I also like that he seems to have great respect for C. S. Lewis and more of his work than just Narnia. I think this will show in how faithful he tries to be. It’s not "Oh I like this cute story; lets make a movie." His comments gave me more the feeling of "I respect the man and I want to do justice to his work."
    In all, I’m really excited and I think SC is going to be a great movie.

  • Louloudi the Centaur says:

    It’s not very surprising that this is a reboot at this point.

    My main concern, though, is the starting point for the reboot. If the book to be adapted next was The Magician’s Nephew, it might have more sense since it is chronologically the first in the series. Then again, there really isn’t too much in The Silver Chair that you couldn’t understand without reading the other books first.

    Great to see the answers coming though! I can tell that he is very excited to be working on this.

  • edmundP0519 says:

    I really hope that Joe isn’t just adapting 3 of the chronicles, but all 7! From what it sounds like, he seems to be THE director that would be THE BEST choice to adapt all 7/the entire Narnia series to the big screen, especially since he started that he is rebooting the entire series. Recasting all the characters (hopefully with the correct look and ages this time around), starting true/faithful to the original source material, and maybe even doing what Jackson did with The Lord of the Rings trilogy (filming all the movies within 1-2 years of each other (and since Johnston wants to film in New Zealand!))

  • farsightings says:

    Trilogy? Say what? Is he confused…. or has he signed on to direct three movies? That is what it sounds like, or at least as if three movies are being planned for together. If so, I have a bad feeling about HHB being omitted. SC, MN, LB is the only ‘trilogy’ I could imagine he would be referring to. The use of ‘trilogy’ also conveys a connected story. SC and LB, have Eustace, Jill, Father Time, descendants of Caspian, plot to overthrow Narnia, darkness, lies. MN and LB have Digory, Polly, rings, eschatological themes, Tree of Youth. SC and MN…… a bit more of a stretch connecting those two.

    • dufflehunter01 says:

      I hope joe doesn’t mean trilogy like the hobbit movies were; being based off of one book and made into three movies! That would be awful.

  • Narnia fan says:

    I wonder if there will be open auditions and if ethnicity will be specified for the character of Jill ??

  • tom says:

    christopher Lloyd would be a great puddleglum
    !

    • Fireberry says:

      I think Jack would want a very English marsh-wiggle. But if Lloyd can do a good Yorkie accent, sure!

  • imaginatvytitle says:

    I want to start by saying: wow! Thank you so much to Mr. Johnston for taking the time to do this for us fans. It is much appreciated! And I love that there’s at least one other episode coming! I can’t wait!

    Most of what he said wasn’t too surprising, although it is nice to hear confirmation from the man himself that the White Witch is not going to be in this movie! 😉 And although I knew Will Poulter wouldn’t be returning, I’ll miss Liam Neeson, Peter Dinklage, and Ben Barnes (if they do young Caspian).

    The uses of the words "battle," "commercial," and "trilogy" are interesting. Commercial is not much of a surprise but trilogy?? Are they planning on skipping a book? And what did he mean when he said there’s a battle at the end of the book? Is he talking about the small fight with the snake? Or maybe he didn’t mean a physical but a mental battle? He did say it’s not the kind of battle you may think… Hmm…

    It was also interesting that he said it will be a big budget film. And strange how he stated that he likes doing bigger budget films because they’re easier, but his favorite film that he’s done so far was October Sky because it was a smaller film and he could do what he wanted with it.

    The last tidbit that jumped out at me was the fact that he said his dream actor to play Puddleglum was John Cleese AT THE AGE OF 25. I never thought of Puddleglum as being played by a young actor before. I guess it would be a similar thing to what they did with Tumnus (taking a character that most people thought of as more middle-aged and casting a young actor), and I thought that worked great! The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a young Puddleglum. Interesting…

  • James Robinson says:

    The battle at the end Joe was probably talking about, is what happens when Jill, Eustace, Caspian, and Aslan go back to Experiment House and defeat the bullies.

  • Ramandu77 says:

    I would really like to know what he meant by "Triology."
    I’m glade he did this, it was great to hear what he had to say, but i wounder if he’ll regret it. Probably raised more questions than he answered.

    • Gandalf the Grey says:

      I don’t think he will answer all the questions because some of the questions are meant to answered after filming, or even to answered by the film itself when it release. But our answers may prove helpful to him that he wanted to know the thought of the fans of the Narnians, both our positive and negative.

  • Narnian of the North says:

    On the whole, I think the movie is in good hands. I think he really does appreciate Lewis. Till we Have Faces and Out of the Silent Planets are fantastic books and really great places to start when trying to understand C.S. Lewis.

    I also very much appreciate that he is focusing on getting the spirit, the essence, of the book right. That was one thing I felt was severely lacking on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie adaptation. They butchered the spirit of the original book. If Joe Johnston can nail the essence of the Silver Chair, get the spirit and themes spot on, that goes a long way to making a good adaptation.

    But I have to agree with Ramandu77 that he probably raised more questions than provided answers…

    What is this battle he speaks of? I can just see the Earthmen swarming up out of the hillside, marching through the forest, sneaking up on Narnia…

    What does he mean by "commercial"? He used that word several times. What does it mean to make Narnia "commercial"?

    And trilogy?? Which book is going to get left out of this trilogy? I can see the Silver Chair and the Last Battle going together, since they both feature Jill and Eustace. But neither of the other two really fit with those.

    This is going to be an interesting ride!

    • Luis Curiel says:

      There are some connections: MN and LB share locations (i.e, Garden), themes (Origin and End of Narnia), Characters (Diggory, Polly), etc. HHB have the appearences of two of the enemies of LB: Tash (only mentioned) and the calormens.

    • Gandalf the Grey says:

      1) Indeed. It is good that he seek to capture the essence of the book, the mind of Lewis.

      2) Don’t worry about questions. I think, he needs it to spring him up into our (fans) pace of the understanding of the book. I say, the more specific and personal those questions are, the better. We must request Joe a piece worth of discussion from our parts – from anywhere from the SC story. But only something that you think worth.

      3) What he meant by ‘commercial’, is to make this movie as attractive as possibly can be; that it may talk to a wide variety of audiences as Lewis always did in all his literary work. It is one of the charisma of Lewis’s literary work. His works were not for Christians only but to all reasonable men and women. Anyone with common sense. Joe is saying, ‘This film’s soul will be at home, but its messages is going to be all-embracing.’

      4) For my thought on Joe words on that ‘battle’, see below: May 22nd, 2017 on 10:49 PM

  • Brian Boru says:

    It is interesting to note that Joe Johnston is making a trilogy of Narnia movies. I suspect that because The Silver Chair refers to The Horse and his Boy, which sets up Susan not returning to Narnia in The Last Battle, the movies that follow The Silver Chair will be the latter two respectively. Furthermore, because The Last Battle includes Diggory and Polly, the movie will probably reference The Magician’s Nephew, which will probably be made in the future with perhaps the intention of tying both trilogies together.

    I note too that Johnston was first introduced to Lewis through Out of the Silent Planet, which has two sequels, Perelandra/Voyage to Venus and That Hideous Strength, which are collectively like an adult Narnia and preceded Narnia and has characters in that are precursors to characters in Narnia so perhaps movies will be made out of those as well. Perhaps they might become a movie trilogy about the famous Professor Kirke, who Professor Ransom is a precursor for in the books, or a trilogy with the titles The Magician’s Nephew, Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength. This is with the events of The Magician’s Nephew being the first movie and the events of the last two movies of the trilogy being set slightly earlier than the books, with the second movie being made up of the events of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and the characters of Mark and Jane Studdock in That Hideous Strength being Mr and Mrs Pevensie in the movies before their children were born.

  • Gandalf the Grey says:

    The battle that Joe talks about will be different. I think he meant that it going to be a psychological (or a philosophical) kind of battle. A battle between mind’s power. A battle between the four, especially Puddleglum and the Green Witch.

  • Anfinwen says:

    I wonder why the video is now unavailable?

  • dufflehunter01 says:

    I hope joe doesn’t mean trilogy like the hobbit movies were; being based off of one book and made into three movies! That would be awful.

  • Daniel says:

    Cara, eu realmente gostei muito de Joe, espero que ele se mantenha fiel a Lewis como disse! Ficaria bastante feliz se eles iniciassem a SAGA novamente!

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