Movie fosters an island dream

Category: Nim's Island News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: September 14, 2007 | Publication: The Courier Mail (Australia) | Author: Michele Gierck
Publication/Article Link:The Courier Mail (Australia)

IT'S A writer's dream to have one of their books captured on celluloid and for Australian author Wendy Orr, that dream is becoming a reality.

Orr's Nim's Island is a children's book that was first published in Australia in 1999 by Allen & Unwin, and soon will be an international movie.

Filming has already started at a studio on the Gold Coast and another secret Queensland location. The movie stars Oscar-winner Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Gerard Butler (300) and a sea lion from Sea World.

The big-budget film will be released in the US on April 4, followed by Australia.

The real drive for this movie came from California-based producer Paula Mazur. She found Nim's Island by chance in a public library, and took it home to read to her son. The film producer immediately began thinking about adapting the book for cinema.

What was it about the book that made her think it would make a good movie?

"It's an action-adventure story with tremendous heart," Mazur says. "You can often find an emotional film but it's not exciting. But Nim's Island has both."

Soon after, Mazur was in contact with Orr, who can quote the email she received in the way others might recite a sacred text.

According to Orr, it read like this: "My name is Paula Mazur, and I'm a film producer in Los Angeles, in Santa Monica, living by the sea.

"Last night I got Nim's Island out of the library for my son. I was just going to read it to him to get it started and I kept on reading.

"And then my daughter came in, and then my husband who is also a film producer. Add the two fat cats, and we had the whole family in there listening. Please know that I am writing to inquire as to whether the film rights are available."

The journey from the initial inquiry about film rights to filming has taken more than four years. Orr worked with Mazur on the first two drafts of the film script. During that time Orr visited Los Angeles twice.

Finding that Mazur was so creative and also shared Orr's passion for the story produced an extraordinary working partnership and an enduring friendship.

So captivated was Jodie Foster by the film script so enthusiastic to play a role that she approached Mazur.

"Jodie fell in love with the script and pursued us. I was thrilled," says Mazur, with excitement in her voice as she recalls that initial contact.

"And Abigail (who is 11) was thrilled by the idea of playing Nim. Nim has such universal appeal. There's not anybody who doesn't want to be her.

"If Wendy hadn't written such a magical fairytale with such spectacular characters, there wouldn't be a film."

One of the most refreshing things about the book is that the main character is a young girl somewhat of a rarity in young readers' fiction.

Nim does not chase adventure, but it certainly comes her way. And when it does, she cannot refuse a challenge.

Free-spirited Nim lives on an isolated tropical island with her research-scientist father, Jack, a sometimes-mischievous marine iguana called Fred, a nurturing sea lion called Selkie and a sea turtle named Chica.

Orr, who loves animals, explains the nature of the main animals in Nim's Island: "Fred is an adaption. He's based on a dachshund, not so much a marine iguana, although there's something appealing about saltwater spraying out of his head.

"He's fiercely loyal, but he's greedy, and just a bit naughty.

"Fred and Selkie are both Nim's friends. Fred is more like a pet, while Selkie is more like her nanny.

"I don't know any sea lions, so again she's based on dogs with that real mothering thing dogs do if there's a small child in the family."

Nim's contact with the outside world is limited to satellite-linked email and a barge that drops off supplies once a year.

When Jack leaves the island for a few days, Nim quite unexpectedly begins email communication with her hero, the world-famous adventure-travel writer, Alex Rover, who lives in an apartment in a city on the other side of the world.

However, when a violent storm threatens Nim's island and renders her father's boat rudderless and delays his return Nim must survive alone.

With the help of her animal friends, Fred, Selkie and Chica, and through emails with Alex Rover, Nim faces her fears. It is a lesson not lost on the reclusive travel writer whose adventures, it turns out, are based upon rampant imagination.

The recluse finally realises real life demands action. Alex Rover is compelled to leave her world of fiction to help Nim.

In a twist of fate, perhaps destiny, the lives of Nim, Jack and Alex Rover become entwined.

The delight of the story is the way it captures a part of each of us that would love to have adventures, to live like Nim: barefoot and free-spirited, open to and acutely aware of her natural surroundings.

Nim spends her time on the island, sharpening her inquisitiveness, her resourcefulness and her playful demeanour.

This young woman does not have wardrobe worries.

Her essential gear is worn around her neck: a spy glass (for looking out to sea), a whistling shell (for calling her animal friends) and a pocket knife in a sheath.

This is a book that draws in readers of all ages. It is beautifully written with humour, earthiness and stacks of emotion.

We may not have had Nim's adventures, but all of us children that we are, have been, or still are deep down inside recognise the emotions. And emotions are central to Orr's writing.

While many writers say they write out of their own experience, Orr reflects: "I think it doesn't have to be the facts about what you know, but that you have to write out of the emotion of what you know. So you need to tap into the emotions. The rest is imagination, and research."

Orr says children write to her from all over the world. What they often connect with is the emotion.

One child wrote saying he felt like Nim because he was living on a farm. "It was the isolation he related to," says Orr, who lives on Mornington Peninsula, in southern Victoria.

Another child wrote worried that Nim needed a friend.

When Orr began writing Nim's Island, she had the setting, the characters and the main drama in mind, but it was through writing a series of drafts that the story really developed.

Orr explains her writing process takes time, "redrafting excessively" until she finds the story style.

"Working out the style of Nim's Island took a long time," Orr says.

"I actually thought it was going to be letters, then journals, but then it still didn't work.

"But one of the things that changed was thinking about the story I wrote when I was eight about an orphan living alone on an island and really getting myself to re-enter that world, remembering how exciting that was, making oyster plates and things like that.

"So I sometimes say that I wrote the first draft of Nim when I was eight. In a way that's true. That's when Nim really came to life, when I went back into those memories.

"There were times however, when I wondered if I was going to write this book over and over for the rest of my life," Orr says, smiling as she pats her dog.

"When I wrote the first few pages of Nim, in the format that they are now, I knew I'd found the voice, the style."

These days Orr seems to get a lot more of the development of the story and the characters into her head before she commits pen to paper. Certainly that was the case with the sequel to Nim's Island, Nim At Sea, which was launched at Bulimba in Brisbane's east in July.

And not unlike Nim's adventures, things didn't quite go to plan.

When I arrived at Riverbend Books, Orr was sitting at the back of the shop signing books. The front counter was piled up with copies of Nim At Sea and Nim's Island. Rows of chairs were packed with children and their parents. Orr is popular with young fans, many of whom were happy to sit cross-legged and wriggle about up front.

Suzy Wilson of Riverbend Books began the introductions, then made a surprising announcement. Paula Mazur who was supposed to launch Nim At Sea, had actually been marooned on a sandbar while scouting locations for the Nim's Island film. And the rescue vessel, when it finally arrived, had broken down.

Not deterred by unexpected events, Murray Pope, a producer of Animalia, who had initially worked on the movie concept of Nim's Island with Mazur, stepped in and spoke with aplomb.

When I chatted to him later, Pope said it was Nim's imagination that he had found so riveting, and this, in part, had inspired Mazur and him to believe that it would make a wonderful film.

Finally Orr's moment in the spotlight arrived. She spoke with joy and enthusiasm, reassuring her young fans that Nim would always find her way out of trouble. She then read a piece from Nim At Sea. At the end there was a flurry of questions from the cross-legged brigade sitting on the floor. Hands were popping up in the air, children were bursting to ask the author a question or to have her talk to them.

But again things did not go to plan. Just when the microphone started working properly, one child who shared Orr's love of animals, and had possibly been inspired by Nim's imagination, went way off course and told the author about his guinea pig's bowel habits. Orr was not the slightest bit fazed.

And the author was delighted when, just before the end of proceedings, Mazur's daughter, Lulu, jogged in. The 15-year-old hugged Orr, then delivered her mother's story of finding the book.

As I write, Orr is in the Gold Coast studios with her husband, Tom, and Nim's Island illustrator Kerry Millard. Not content to simply watch, all three will be extras in the movie.

When I asked Orr how it felt to have one of her books turned into a movie, she responded: "It's like winning a literary award. I feel the same way I did when Ark in the Park won the CBC Book of the Year (for junior readers) or when Peeling the Onion was on the American Library Association's Best of the Best List the best 100 books for young adult readers in the past 50 years a combination of realising that people love and believe in the book enough to award it a prize, or to invest their money in it, and the thrill of having my book stand beside some of the great names in youth literature."

Orr and her Australian publisher, Allen & Unwin, believe that Nim's Island may be the first Australian children's book to be made into a major international movie.

Before the movie deal was signed, Nim's Island had been published in five countries, and by the time the film is released it will have been translated into at least nine languages.