Interview: David Heyman, Producer of “Paddington”

Posted on January 15, 2015 at 10:16 am

David Heyman was selected by Entertainment Weekly as one of the smartest people in Hollywood. It may be because he grabbed the rights to a children’s book called Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I enjoyed his latest movie, “Paddington,” also based on a beloved children’s book series, and it was a lot of fun to talk to him about bringing the marmalade-loving bear to life.

Paddington is known for his “hard stare,” and that is one of the highlights of the film. Have you ever tried doing a hard stare yourself?

Not frequently, but yes I have. I’m not sure I’m quite as effective as Paddington or can make people feel quite as uncomfortable but every once in a while I have to call upon my own hard stare.

It seems like Paddington’s hard stare would be a special challenge for the animators.

Copyright 2014 StudioCanal
Copyright 2014 StudioCanal

I think that one of the reasons why it has taken so long for Paddington to get the film to actually happen is because the technology was not around to realize the bear. To have a bear who you are meant to feel with and care for, you know it’s the emotional center of the film. To have that little digital creation would not have been possible 10 years ago. To have eyes that listen, to make you look into them and make you feel sympathy and when he had the hard stare make you feel frightened is a great challenge and is a real testament to the brilliant people at Framestore who did the visual effects. They also did a film I made last year called “Gravity.”

Did Ben Wishaw, who provided the voice for Paddington, get wired up like Andy Serkis?

No, the difference between “Planet of the Apes” and Gollum and Paddington is Paddington is not a humanoid. So that motion capture we felt wouldn’t work and Framestore works more with animation than taking lots of reference. They did take some reference from, the brilliant clown called Javier Marzan who did a lot of comic work and tWhishaw, we filmed him performing as well.

Ben Wishaw’s voice is just perfect for Paddington.

Well, thank you. We began with Colin Firth who we thought we were so lucky to have and Colin was brilliant but his voice was just too chocolatey and velvety and mature for Paddington. And when we put his voice inside as we began to animate it just didn’t feel right. And it was quite interesting, it was a process and we realized we need someone more youthful, more innocent, with a bigger sense of wonder, a little bit off-center. And Colin obviously came to that realization before we did and so we went to Ben. As soon as we heard his voice it just felt right. He seems less confident, less assured and that felt right for that bear in that particular story.

What makes Paddington such an enduringly popular character?

We all in some ways feel like an outsider and that’s what Paddington is, he’s an outsider. So Ben’s voice really seemed to capture that. What I love about it is that it is about the kindness offered to strangers, it’s about embracing people who are other, it’s about being yourself. Paddington learns to not try and fit in but to be himself and in being himself he finds a home and a place that he belongs. And the Brown family, in our versions they are not the perfect family. They are a little dysfunctional. But through this bear, through embracing him they become whole again. And I think that in today’s world where there is so much friction and there’s so much pointing fingers at people because they’re not like us, I think that message of the kindness to strangers, of embracing others, is a really positive thing. t’s actually is a human story. It is a story about a family coming together it’s a story about an outsider finding a home, it’s about kindness, it’s about generosity, it’s about warmth.

I enjoyed the relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Brown, with him so risk-averse and her so spontaneous.

Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville had almost a theater-length rehearsal period and over that time they begun to shape their characters. And in so doing I think gave it the truth that is not just paper thin.

And, not to give too much away, even your villain was acting out of slightly distorted but genuine family devotion.

There’s a wonderful Graham Greene line: to hate to lack imagination. And hate actually is so diminishing. There’s a context for why people do what they do, good or bad. And it doesn’t mean it’s okay. I’m not saying it justifies it but it explains it. And I think through explaining it in film and in life, in understanding the enemy you allow that not to be repeated. If you don’t understand it then it can just happen again and again if you just hate it you are diminishing it will happen again and again and again. To provide that motivation makes it more truthful.

I think that ultimately if you want to educate, encourage, effect change you need to make people realize the possibilities in life and embrace them. One thing I’m very proud of with this film is that it’s message is implicit but it’s not explicit. We don’t talk the message but the message is there. Because I think the danger with a lot of films, when you become polemic you end up preaching to the converted. That is why there is something in it for all ages. Seeing Paddington with my six-year-old and with my mother who is 77 and to share in that experience was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

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Based on a book Behind the Scenes Interview

Decoding a Movie’s “Billing Block”

Posted on February 27, 2013 at 3:49 pm

What’s the difference between an executive producer and an associate producer?  Between screenwriters billed as “Smith and Jones” and “Smith & Jones?”  Which actors get an “and” or a “with” or an “as?”  What are all those “in association with” companies on the poster and in the credits?  The New York Times has a very handy guide to a movie’s “billing block,” dictated by an intricate intersection of individual and group contracts and MPAA rulings.

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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Interview: Brian Wells of ‘Secrets of the Mountain’

Posted on June 6, 2010 at 3:59 pm

One of the happiest surprises of the year on television so far is “Secrets of the Mountain,” an excellent movie for the whole family that premiered on April 16, 2010 on NBC. I interviewed the executive producer, Brian Wells, who talked about his commitment to making something that was both “great” and “good,” the films that inspired him, and his hope for making more films that families can enjoy together. For DVD giveaway info, see below.

Your movie inspired a lot of enthusiasm from audiences. How do you achieve that?

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It’s always exciting when something’s kind of birthed in your heart and then connects with other people. This movie, like all the other projects we’re working on, it comes from the heart, it’s not a bunch of creatives that say, “Oh, I think this would be interesting.” We start with sitting down with moms, sitting down with kids, sitting down with teens, understanding what motivates them, understanding the kind of challenges they’re facing with their families. Maybe that entertainment could even help. It was birthed in the heart of a father and has been by the same kind of people that watched the movie.

The person who came up with the original concept is Dante Amodeo, a father down in Jacksonville Florida, and he came up with the idea of the family dealing with some challenges and going on an adventure, and by going through the adventure they come to understand that when families go through bad times they are not supposed to run away from each other; they are supposed to run toward each other.

How do you bring that spirit to the screen?

This also came out of sitting down and talking to families around the country. We talked about it in terms of “great and good.” Every element of the story from the writing to the filming to the casting to the special effects had to be great and good. “Greatness” is how we think of entertainment — is it exciting? If it’s a comedy does the humor flow from the characters or is it just somebody slipping on a rug? If it’s a drama, do I care about these people? If it’s adventure, does it keep me on the edge of my seat? What’s the production value of the whole thing? It’s got to be great to engage us. But we can’t stop there. We all know that there’s a lot of entertainment out there that achieves its greatness of entertainment value by preying on what’s worst in the human condition. And there’s enough of those stories out there.

What was your goal in making this film?

We were looking for stories that achieve greatness by calling out what is best in us. And so at every point of the way, we asked ourselves, “Is this both great and good?” A lot of people settle for the idea that it can’t be both. But it can. Our constant drive at every point of development was to do both. As a father, my constant litmus test was: could I sit on a couch with my 11 year old daughter and my 14 year old son and my wife and have each of us enjoy it equally?

Was it difficult to get backing for this film?

it is challenging to get any movie made. But to try to say we’re setting the bar that a 40-something will want to watch this like a 10 year old. But we were fortunate to have a couple of sponsors, Wall-Mart and Proctor & Gamble that were behind it because they believe we need to see more content that the whole family can watch together. The challenge along the way was the execution, but all the details, everything, wardrobe, music, we had to get a team together where everyone believed in this great/good concept.

On the outside there’s a conception that a movie is made because of the singular vision of a director but while that is a really big part of it, there’s at least 100 people that make these things happen. If you can surround yourself with people who are talented and who believe in making great/good stories, it’s a lot easier to make.

We look for people who are great actors and for people who have voted with their talent to show they’re interested in the things we’re interested in. Paige Turco brought such nuance to her role as a mom, dealing the the tension of being a sole parent and provider, dealing with some pain from her past, she was outstanding. Barry Bostwick is the kind of guy as a kid I would want to hang out with. People who’ve watched it, in the industry and people who watched in their homes, everyone has a different favorite.

What are some of the movies that inspired you to become a film-maker?

The movies that have really moved me, I’m dating myself here, but I am a fan of the old Hitchcock movies, “North by Northwest.” The movie “Rain Man” with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise — the emotional journey that it took me on is amazing. My all-time favorite movie is “To Kill a Mockingbird.” If I could ever make a movie like that I would have fulfilled my purpose.

What are you working on next?

We won the night on April 16, meaning we got the most viewers of any show that night, so that should make it easier for us. We already have another movie coming up on July 16. It’s called “The Jensen Project” and it is a high-tech thriller about a secret society of geniuses. A mom and dad and son get sucked into this adventure. There will be more and we’re hoping some of these might get picked up as series as well.

Great news! I have FIVE DVDs to give away and there is a very special extra: it includes a bonus CD with eleven songs inspired by the film, some used on the soundtrack. The first five people to write to me at moviemom@moviemom.com and tell me your favorite family movie will get the prize.

NOTE: Prizes provided by the studio; all opinions are my own.

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