So your film’s been optioned, it’s spent years in
development and now the script has been approved, the cast and crew are pretty
well set… and finally you get that call. I still have the recording of Paula
Mazur’s message on my answering machine: ‘I’ve got good news, girlfriend. We’ve
got the green light.’
|Lea the pelican arriving on set|
And from the moment of that green light, everything springs
into action. Preproduction – finalising cast, crew, locations… all the details
so that when it goes into production, the actual filming, no time is wasted.
And when that unbelievably intense period of filming is over, there’s post
production, with editing and any special effects.
As the author, even if you’ve been a consultant on the
script, or even if you’ve written it, you’re unlikely to have any rights be
involved with any of these stages.
if you’re lucky, you’ll be invited to spend time on set.
You’re in someone else’s workplace, you have to obey their
rules – but really, it’s not that complicated. This is not the time to suggest
that they change something to the way that you envisaged it. And you can
probably work out that if someone calls for silence and then shouts, ‘Rolling!’
you need to keep quiet.
The rest of it
probably depends on the directors and cast involved – but my advice is: if you
get a chance, take it. It’s like nothing else.
|Setting up in the rainforest|
I was lucky enough to spend a couple of 3 day periods on set
for Nim’s Island, and one for Return to Nim’s Island. It was phenomenal. It’s
difficult to describe the emotion of seeing your characters embodied in flesh
and blood. The first time I arrived in the middle of the scene with Abigail
Breslin as Nim, running down the mountain with a bloody bandage on her knee and
Fred on her shoulder. It’s exactly as I described it in the book – and there it
was. It was surreal. Of course it also quickly demonstrated the perils of
filming with animals: every time Abbie turned her head to speak to Fred, played
by the Australian Bearded Dragon Goblet, he’d crossed to her other shoulder.
Goblet was more interested in staying in the sunshine than the camera.
Later I met Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler … and they were
so like the characters in my imagination that it was overwhelming, though I
didn’t cry till I met the sea lion playing Selkie. In fact the human stars were
much friendlier than the sea lion, who I’m pretty sure only kissed me because
of the fish in his trainer’s hand. And a few years later, when I met Bindi
Irwin playing Nim, it was the same – there, the storyline was different, but
Bindi embodied the older Nim just as Abbie had the younger version.
I was also an extra in Nim’s Island – I couldn’t think of a
better way to understand a bit more about the whole procedure.
So if you’re watching the film, when Alex
Rover is going through security at San Francisco airport, I’m the first person
in the scene, putting my bag on the Xray conveyor belt. You won’t see my
husband, who went through first and ended up on the cutting room floor, but
you’ll see the book’s illustrator, Kerry Millard, behind me, and then the
producer’s two children. (In fact you’re unlikely to see me, because your eyes
won’t have adjusted yet from the brilliant blue sky and sea of the previous
scene, to see the somber airport colours.)
|Filming in the airport|
The filming was in the Gold Coast international airport, so
we were going through the real security setup – over and over, to have it right
by the time Jodie Foster appeared.
when she did, as I headed back to lay my bag on the belt again, she looked at
me and called, ‘So you’re doing it today? Isn’t it boring?’
There were another 200 extras in the room, and I swear there
was a single, group intake of shocked breath. Later that night a young man came
up to me. ‘Are you family?’ he asked.
‘I wrote the book,’ I said.