Tuesday 14 December 2010

*** Interview with Douglas Gresham, Executive Producer of the Narnia films & Stepson of C.S. Lewis

Some of my earliest (and fondest) memories of independent reading are the Narnia books. This may fly in the face of popular public opinion but my favourite in the series was Prince Caspian, with The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe in equal second place with The Magician's Nephew. These are stories that have stayed with me for my whole life, and are still loved by thousands of children today. With the fantastic films that have been made over the past few years I am sure that there are even more children finding the motivation to read the books, when previously they may not have even thought about picking them up and giving them a go. The latest of these films (which I have not yet seen but am very much looking forward to) is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

One of the driving forces behind the films is Doug Gresham, executive producer of the franchise and also the stepson of C.S. Lewis himself. As you can no doubt imagine, when I was offered the chance to ask Doug some questions I nearly fell over. My huge thanks go to Doug for taking the time to provide answers to my questions:

Why do you think that the Narnia stories have such timeless appeal?

There is built in to the human species, whether we are aware of it or not, a deep-seated automatic ability to recognise truth on a sub-conscious emotional level and to be attracted and drawn to it. The Narnian Chronicles contain truth and thus, as long as people read books (in any form at all), people will love The Chronicles of Narnia.

Do you have a favourite Narnia book? If so, why is it your favourite?

Yes, it is whichever one I am reading at the time that somebody asks me that question. Right now, it’s The Silver Chair. :-)

Do you have a favourite character in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader film?

I am presuming that you mean apart from Aslan Himself, and in that case, it's Reepicheep.

How close to the original story is the plot of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader movie?

That is a very big question. It's always difficult to transform words written down on paper into a visual medium. To put the story on to a cinema screen changes do have to be made, but I think you will find that the essence of the book – the messages underlying the wild and beautiful adventure – are all there. Go and see it, take your friends and your friend's friends and take your enemies too (you are supposed to love your enemies too don't forget) and then tell me what you think.

How much involvement did you have in the scripting of the film?

As the active Executive Producer I am heavily involved in all facets of making the film. Making a film is always a collaborative affair with many voices discussing all the different tasks and challenges that go into the process. I am one (probably rather loud) voice on the team. I suspect that some of the team think I'm a bit of a nuisance. :-D

How was the filming of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in comparison with the previous two films?

This one was difficult, but not because of the people on the team. To begin with, it's a difficult story to work with because there is really just too much of it, but we had a change of Distributor and all sorts of other challenges that came up while we were making this film. We had howling winds while filming in a sand location, we had a dust storm at once stage and had to retreat to an indoor set, we had gales while filming, and all sorts of things. But I am proud to say that the reaction of the team was always to work harder and with more determination to get the job done and done well.

Did you spend a lot of time on set during the filming?

More than anybody else I suppose, I lived on set in my motor-home for the duration of shooting, so I was there day and night.

Each of the Narnia books conveys some form of message or lesson - what in your opinion do you think that C.S. Lewis was hoping to convey in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? Do you think that this comes across in the film?

The Voyage of The Dawn Treader is all about temptation. Everybody on earth soon becomes familiar with the experience of being tempted to do bad stuff instead of good stuff, and this book shows us pretty graphically how it happens and what to do about it. But it's not in anyway "preachy" and it all happens in the throes of amazing adventures as the ship sails from island to island in parts of Narnia, which we have never seen before, meeting Narnian characters that we have never met before. I think this message and more comes through very strongly in the film. After all there wouldn't really be much point in making it if it didn't.

Why is it that The Magician's Nephew is always left out when screen adaptations of the stories are produced?

We haven't left it out; we simply haven't filmed it yet. We are all longing to do so, but we started with the best know Narnian story of all, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, and for that film we found four wonderful young people to play our leading roles. Now, because The Chronicles are each individual stand-alone adventures and not sequels of each other (indeed there is more than a Millennium in Narnian time between LWW and Prince Caspian), it made very good sense to us to link the movies by utilising a continuity of casting with Will M., Anna, Skandar and Georgie and to try to get the movies that feature Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy as children all done before they grew up too much. Now we have done that I would like to use Will P. as Eustace again for The Silver Chair before he grows up too much (he's already shot up to about 6 feet tall!). But, if you and the rest of the public all support our movies really well, so that I can keep on asking for budgets from our financial supporters, we will bring you The Magician's Nephew in due course.

How did you feel when you saw the final edit of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe for the first time?

It could have been quite embarrassing. The final work wasn't finished on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe until about 0300 on the day that we had to show the movie at The Director's Guild Theatre in Los Angeles, and that was scary! I went to the theatre with the CEO of Wordsmith Media, hoping desperately that we would have a print to exhibit and sure enough the movie began to roll. I lasted until Lucy first made her wandering way into Narnia before the emotion of all the years of working and hoping and praying finally caught up with me and I started to shed tears. I glanced quickly at Jim sitting beside me and was relieved to see that his eyes were glued to the screen and tears were running down his cheeks too!

Do you intend to transfer any more of the Narnia stories to the big screen? If so, which one do you hope to do next?

As I said that all depends on how many people go and how often they go to watch The Voyage of The Dawn Treader and thus what our box office figures show. If we can show our investors a return on their investment we can make the next movie. I would like that to be The Silver Chair so that we can cast Will P as Eustace again before he gets so tall that we have to cast him as a giant or something.

What books/authors did you enjoy reading as a child/teenager?

Wow, that is a big question. I read voraciously from the age of about ten. I used to read encyclopaedias for fun. I read Mark Twain (all of his not too serious works), same for John Buchan, H. Rider-Haggard, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, E. Nesbit, George MacDonald, Jane Austen, Sir Walter Scott, Rudyard Kipling, John Steinbeck, R.M. Ballantyne, Arthur Conan Doyle, Joseph Conrad, and many others on and on ad nauseam. And what is even worse, I am still doing it! I read at a pace that most folks find astonishingly fast and devour books all the time whenever it’s not my duty to be doing something else. The wisdom of the universe is only to be found in the pages of books, so why waste good reading time on anything else?

If there is one question that you would love an interviewer to ask you about C.S. Lewis, what is it? And what would your answer be?

Hmm sneaky one. Do you know, I think I have been asked just about all the questions that the human mind is capable of coming up with in the 30 or so years that I have been speaking about Jack and doing Q & A sessions – and then somebody comes up with a new one like that one. Honestly I haven't a clue. :-D

Thank you so much for your time - the Narnia books are amongst my earliest memories of independent reading. Is there anything else you would like to say to readers of this blog?

Yes, please do go along and see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I think you won't be disappointed. I am naturally a bit biased being the Executive Producer, but I reckon it’s a really amazing movie.


Thanks again to Doug for providing such great answers to my questions. Please come back tomorrow when I will be running a competition where you could win a book set of the complete Chronicles of Narnia.

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