“I’m not the kind of person who really likes to be looked at all the time. I was not naturally an actor…I am naturally a hermit who sits in his room and types all day,” he said.
I understand that and share in that perspective: such are the words from writer David Magee who adapted the book by Yann Martel, “THE LIFE OF PI,” to the screen released by Twentieth Century Fox (and currently at theatres nationwide and doing very well with audiences).
The film’s official trailer:
From Nikke Finke about the current box office success of THE LIFE OF PI and some interesting details about the cast and how the film was made possible as what we, the audience, now see:
Twentieth Century Fox reports that Life Of Pi opened with $47.7M worldwide gross from just 4 international day and date territories – Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, China – and the US/Canada market. Additionally, pic debuted on IMAX in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Total was $3M on 97 IMAX screens for a per screen average of $30+K. Domestic, the studio was thrilled its #5 fantasy adventure pic with Avatar-like 3D climbed a massive +24% from Wednesday to Thursday – up more than any other top film in the marketplace. Then it went up +97% Friday, prompting a studio exec to gush, “The good news keeps coming at you like a hungry Richard Parker!” It dropped -7% on Saturday. This PG pic received an ‘A-’ CinemaScore which is keeping it overperforming. Before it opened, the studio told me it would rejoice if director Ang Lee’s Oscar-buzzed pet project opened over $20M – and it accomplished that. But at a costly $120M because of all that CGI. Exit polling showed it playing to a broad cross-section of moviegoers: 54% male and 46% female, 23% under age 18 and 38% under 25. Subject matter was far and away the primary driver for interest. The first footage debuted at Cinemacon on April 26th after which Life Of Pi was the opening night film at the New York Film Festival. Now the studio has launched its Oscar campaign. I give Fox high marks for a compelling marketing campaign despite a hard-to-describe faith-based storyline. For weeks before the picture opened, Fox tried to tamp down box office expectations, telling me how Life Of Pi was “a truly unique film that studios get criticized for not taking risks to make anymore. And, like any unique original film, it takes time to seep into the broader cultural awareness. And we feel this is a steady, gradual release that will grow as acclaim comes in and word of mouth spreads. This was a bestselling book that no one thought could be made into a feature film. We took the creative risk and backed a top filmmaker’s vision to go on a journey previously thought unfilmable.” As for its faith-based campaign, Fox says it made the film for a worldwide spiritual audience. ”The thing that is different from traditional ‘faith’ campaigns is that we have reached out to all denominations of religious backgrounds – Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc – and these leaders and organizations have really taken to the film. They like the storyline that Pi as a teenager has a rabid curiosity about faith and the differences (and similarities) that impact him spiritually and allow him to survive by embracing it.” Of course, Fox is still all about the bucks and its marketing promotions included Life Of Pi ‘inspired by’ merchandise like Christmas ornaments and mango black teas.
Besides spiritualists, the overall marketing focused on book lovers and film lovers. Written by David Magee based upon Yann Martel’s novel which has sold more than 9 million copies, pic was produced by Gil Netter, David Womark, and Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) who spent 4 years trying to get the project to the screen while the book was in development for 10 years. But it probably needed to wait because that’s some CGI Bengal tiger! (Out of more than 165 shots of Richard Parker, only 24 were of real tigers.) Unlike most Hollywood movies these days, Lee worked with only the one screenwriter, Magee, the entire time in development. He shot the films in 3 countries – India, Taiwan and Canada — with the multinational cast Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall, and Gérard Depardieu. Suraj became the focus of the media campaign because of his backstory: he beat out 3,000 kids for the part and only attended the Delhi auditions because his brother was trying for the role and promised him a Subway sandwich if he came along. Suraj did not know how to swim when cast and had to learn along with perform all his own stunts.
More from Nikke Finke’s DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD, prior to the film’s release, about how the film was made possible, and, about it’s visual and theatrical impact:
Fox World Premieres Stunning Footage Of Ang Lee’s 3D ‘The Life Of Pi’: CinemaCon
– by Pete Hammond, DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD, April 26, 2012
More about the achievements of this film:
‘Life Of Pi’ Sails Into Oscar Race; Ang Lee Interview Plus Featurette: Video
– by Pete Hammond, DEADLINE HOLLYWOOD, November 21, 2012
Not to diminish attention or praise from the film’s technical, directorial or production achievements, the film represents an exceptional achievement by the screenwriter, David Magee. Though, granted, Magee adapted the material from an original novel — the story, characters, concept of the tale all-told are from someone else’s imagination — Magee accomplished quite a feat in adapting this literature to the material from whence a film could be made.
Filmmaking is more like mathematics than is generally understood: there has to be a formula from which the discussion about the formula — and toward which the objective of understanding it — occurs. Thus, a screenplay. Without a screenplay, you’re filming “random numbers” in a mathematical sense, or speaking about them, in a psychological sense, in disconnected, random bursts of information which may be captured in film, but it’s not a recognizable formula in a literary sense until there’s a script that sets a story down such that it can be studied toward further filmed development, explored, discussed (acting, for example, is an exercise in “discussing,” in a conceptual sense, the material at hand) and comprehended both individually and communally.
Those butchery-chop-chop-sake films made by the people who gush-out a script, a screenplay, on a weekend over beer and the beach in Mexico — with lime and company — are the equivalent of fifth grade math. Not to degrade what they accomplish in that method but they’re offering numbers that work regardless of how they’re strung together, mostly because their “sense” is one of randomness, of not following any formula; thus, the audience isn’t asked to learn one: it’s fun, like drinking beer at a beach in Mexico with lime and company. It’s called “shock and awe”.
But it’s the literary tales — stories, literature, characters in those “formulas” that are understood by following a communicable process — that present both real challenge and real reward if learned. If mastered, accomplished, like adapting this book, THE LIFE OF PI, to the screen as David Magee has done, these literary accomplishments are then explorable visually by both filmmaker and audience later.
The original material, the original literature by Yann Martel, is not easily, if at all, material that translates to the visual story-telling of film, it can’t be randomly accomplished, except, perhaps, as brief parody of it that also doesn’t require technical skill such as a feature film (or most films overall) require. Even acquiring the equipment and basic staff required to produce a film is no simple task to accomplish and that’s before any content for the film has been made. Einstein’s Theory Of Relativity looks and sounds simple when it’s presented — “E=MC squared” — but then consider what was involved to make it happen: not a simple, easy accomplishment. Presenting things as “solved” and resolved (in concluding terms, like what an audience views and hears in a feature film) is what the success of discovery is about but it involves a lot of whiteboards, so to speak, and a lot of typing of all those “numbers” involved up to a point of balance.
But back to the point of this post: the screenplay written by David Magee adapted from literature written (and conceived in the original) by author Yann Martel. So much of this achievement of this film, THE LIFE OF PI, is from the screenplay — the formula — discovered by David Magee. As stated already, the literature isn’t one from which a film could literally be made, as in, no clear route (or formula) that a filmmaker could follow to explain the story (or concept) involved, if any route at all. So Magee created a unique formula, or “proof” if you will, in interaction with — or as derivative of — Martel’s literature.
Thus, the importance of the how-and-why Magee discovered to tell this tale, how it was he explained the literature involved to those who wanted to understand and explain it by film afterward.
So much of discovery of these pathways to understanding are accomplished by individuals by way of isolated circumstances — time to ruminate and ponder, just like Einstein experienced, privacy in situation and enough time — whatever it takes — adequate enough to come to a point uniquely. I like how Magee refers to himself as “a hermit”. It’s how the rumination is possible, it’s where the intuitive is given time and possibility to define into the technical, or, into an application of the idea.