NarniaWeb Exclusive Interview with Douglas Gresham
NarniaWeb had a chance to ask Douglas Gresham some of our burning questions about the upcoming Narnia film The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He was very gracious and here’s our interview.
NarniaWeb: What were your duties as a co-producer on the film?
Douglas Gresham: One of our producers on set one day was introducing me to someone who asked “What does he do on this project?” His reply was “He’s to blame”. (laughs) Actually I am responsible for consultation on all aspects of the production as a sort of in house Narnia expert. This extends to all spin-off materials, like toys, games, books and so forth. I work with the games guys from the companies contracted to Buena Vista, the Merchandising guys from Disney, the Publishing teams at HarperCollins and represent the C.S. Lewis Company as their Creative and Artistic Director. Making the movie has been a dearly held ambition and project for me for about thirty years (my children remember me dreaming, scheming, planning, and talking about it all their lives) so every aspect of it is important to me. I suppose I represent Jack [C.S. Lewis] himself as a sort of creative ambassador. The aim of this is to use my abilities, knowledge and experience to make this movie as good as we can possibly make it.
NW: How much time did you get to spend in New Zealand?
DG: I made three or four trips out there last year spending a total of probably about four or five very enjoyable weeks in all. It’s a bit hard to remember exactly as the time seemed to go past very quickly while I was there, but when I got home after spending a week or so in Narnia, it seemed as if I had been away for ages and yet no time had passed. I suppose I should have expected that.
NW: Knowing C. S. Lewis personally, do you think that he would insist that the books were adapted exactly as he wrote them or that he would be open to the filmmakers’ ideas as long as they did not obscure the meaning of the stories or change anything essential to them?
DG: That’s a tough question. I know that Jack would want to protect the integrity of each of the books, and preserve very carefully the messages that each is intended to convey. I also know that Jack was not enamored of film as a medium of communication because he felt that too little care was taken about what was being said in the movies that he had seen. Also, one of the hardest things to do is to preserve the literary integrity of a book when adapting it to either stage or film, and it is probably far more difficult with film. I think though that Jack would be amazed and fascinated with the wonderful technology that has been developed recently but perhaps less than delighted with the uses to which it has been put. I hope we address that failing to some extent with LWW.
NW: If you could have asked Jack one question about doing the films what would it have been?
DG: That one is impossible! If Jack were around I would have thousands of questions for him. (laughs)
NW: If you think that he would have allowed a little room for other ideas and made allowances for translating the written word to the moving picture, then how does it feel to be in the position he would occupy as the judge of these questions and how do you decide whether he would approve of one idea and disapprove of another?
DG: It’s rather daunting to say the least. As to how I decide; I put together all my memory and love of Jack himself and also of Warnie and my mother (great fans of Narnia not surprisingly), everything that they taught me, my understanding of and love for the book, my understanding of the necessities of the film medium and the needs of modern human society worldwide, and I pray a lot. Once all those and other factors have come together and been thoroughly examined in the light of whatever decision is to be made, I then decide what to say.
NW: Are there any major differences from the book that we can expect?
DG: That depends on what you mean by “major differences”. Obviously a lot of what Jack could do with narrative, we have had to translate into action. Jack could tell about it, we have to make it happen. Also, for reasons of character development, balance and pacing, there will be things in the movie that do not appear in the book. I think and hope that we have added more value to it than we have taken from it (oops, now some *&^$%£# will try to charge us VAT on that). However, as a Narnian purist I ‘feel’ that any and every change from the original book is bad and thus have to contend with my emotional attachment to the book warring with my intellectual faculties and understanding of filmmaking. I have probably been a pain in the neck at times to my colleagues in the production. (grins)
NW: There have been some rumors put forward by the studio that not all seven movies will be made or that some movies may be combined. What’s your reaction to this?
DG: I didn’t know that. But how many movies are to be made by Walden and distributed by Disney would almost certainly depend on how many folks go to see each movie as it comes out, so really it’s up to you guys. What they call “Franchises” in Hollywood do seem to have varying life spans, the James Bond series is up to about 20 movies now I think. Hollywood dudes do seem to tie themselves into patterns very easily and find them much harder to break out of than to slide into. However, I would like to live long enough to see all seven made into good films. I would certainly not want to see any of them combined, or skipped for that matter.
NW: If there are future movies, do you plan on being as closely involved with them as you have been with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe?
DG: Yes indeed, if not even more so as I would hope to become more useful the more I learn about making movies.
NW: What has it been like working with Son of Adam (Andrew Adamson) and the rest of the film crew?
DG: For the most part it has been a very enjoyable time. The crew was all extremely nice people as also were the cast. I never encountered any nastiness on set or at any of our locations from anyone, and that is pretty rare in film making. Come to think of it, it’s pretty rare in any endeavor. One of my particular friends on set was annoyed by something on one occasion so she went off and sat by herself for a few minutes till she had overcome her annoyance. She did not blaze up at anyone, or inflict her feelings on anyone else. I found that interesting, for while she is a pretty impressive person in her own right, it seemed to me to be what I would expect from members of that crew. An atmosphere of friendship and good-heartedness pervaded the work; in fact it was a bit like being in Narnia during the Golden Age. Andrew is a very nice bloke, and has a way of applying quiet charm to get things done his way.
NW: Which character do you think most matches their description in the books?
DG: Hmm, now that is a tough one because I think they all do – that was part of what we set out to achieve. Will just is Peter, Anna is absolutely Susan, Skandar plays Edmund to perfection (we teased him that when he got to the part where Edmund suddenly turns into a good guy, we would have to teach him how to act, as he had just been himself up until then) and Georgie is perfect as Lucy. Tilda plays the White Witch superbly and James is a brilliantly true to character Tumnus.
NW: Can you tell us about any fun experiences on the set?
DG: My second son Tim brought his family over to join me on set at one stage, when we were about to film the White Witch’s battle camp in a thick, wooded area outside of Auckland. When we arrived early at the location, the set was fully dressed, the crew had everything ready to go but very few people had turned up yet. Smoke machines were drifting a sort of grim, ground mist across the forest floor, and racks of ugly weapons were scattered haphazardly around. My four year old grandson Jack was riding on his father’s shoulders as we approached the set. “Daddy” he said, “This place is EVIL” That was fun!
Really, it was all about as much fun as making movies can be. There was one day when five of us in the crew shared a common birthday, a day when I arrived on set wearing shoes instead of my customary boots and was promptly dragged into the limelight by the four children to show everybody, and there was a memorable helicopter location recce with the CEO of Walden (on which my wife and eldest daughter were invited to come along). But I suppose the most fun of all was meeting the great people involved with all the various aspects of the production.
It’s a strange experience to have a life-long dream slowly come true before your very eyes and to see it not only coming true but exceeding your own expectations. I made a point of trying to thank as many of the folks involved as I could, because they were each, in their own task, a part of making something happen that I have longed to see for most of my life. People forget, or don’t know, that behind every movie there are an army of folks whom no one ever hears about – people who cook, clean, paint, build, weld, service machinery and so on and so forth. They all play a vital role in making a movie happen. Making friends with wonderful people in make-up, wardrobe, production, and so on was a real joy. Making friends is after all one of the most fun parts of life.