SECRETS OF "NIM'S": DIRECTORS TALK NEW FAMILY ADVENTURE FILM
Category: Nim's Island News | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: April 1, 2008 | Publication: ComicBookResources | Author: Jami Philbrick
The great W. C. Fields once said, “Bever work with children or animals,” a rule directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett have clearly ignored. The husband and wife team wrote the kid-starring films “Madeline” and “Little Manhattan,” the latter of which they also directed. And this is not a recent trend either. Flackett wrote for “Beverly Hills 90210” and Levin was a writer on “The Wonder Years.” One can hear Mr. Fields turning over in his grave.
Levin and Flackett’s second film as co-writers and co-directors, the family adventure “Nim’s Island,” hits theatres this Friday. Based on the book by Wendy Orr about a young girl who enlists a dubious adventurer’s help in finding her lost scientist father, the film boasts an impressive cast including Academy Award Winner Jodie Foster (“The Silence Of The Lambs”), Academy Award Nominee Abigail Breslin (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and Gerard Butler (“300”).
CBR News spoke with the filmmakers about their new movie, their stellar cast, and what it’s like to break one of Hollywood’s golden rules.
To start with, tell us a little bit more about the story of your new film, “Nim’s Island.”
LEVINE: It’s about a girl who lives on an island in the South Pacific alone with her father. Her father is a scientist and her mother died when she was very young. She and her father set off together and found this island and made a home for themselves there. Now she’s eleven-years=old, her father goes off on a scientific expedition over night. A storm hits and he never returns. The girl, Nim (Abigail Breslin), is in contact with this person who is a great adventurer and who writes books. His name's Alex Rover. He’s been writing to her father as research for a new book he’s writing. They begin to correspond and she asks for Alex Rover’s help in finding her father.
What the audience learns is that Alex Rover is not this great, Indiana Jones type of adventure hero, but he’s in fact Jodie Foster. She’s an agoraphobic author sitting all alone in her apartment in San Francisco and she hasn’t left the house in months. She’s drawn out on this adventure across the world to help this little girl. It’s about the girl’s adventure and Jodie Foster’s journey to get to the girl and the father played by Gerard Butler from “300,” in a big role as well. Gerard [not only] plays the father of the girl but he also plays Alex Rover, the adventure hero who is Jodie Foster’s alter ego.
What was Jodie Foster like to work with and what does she bring to the role?
LEVIN: Jodie Foster is a gift to a director to be able to work with. She’s really funny in the movie and she hasn’t had a chance to show her sense of humor in a lot of her recent movies. She’s just as great an actor as you can hope to work with. She’s amazing. She was really collaborative, really smart and really open all the way through the process. I think that she’s one of the reasons that we all made the movie.
But we also had Abigail Breslin who is the eleven-year-old girl from “Little Miss Sunshine” and she was a delight as well. She had to go through some rigorous training, she grew up in New York and had never really done a lot of the things that you do on an island.
We’ve had the fortune of working with some really good child actors, actually. Josh Hutcherson (“Bridge To Terabithia”), who starred in our last film, is a total pro. But [Breslin’s] really carrying a large portion of this movie on her shoulders. We knew that it would take a child actor who was experienced, knew what it was like to go through the rigors of making a movie and had the natural charm that Abbey has. She’s incredible. She’s as good as anyone we’ve ever worked with. I think that the great challenge for her and the fun thing was learning how to swim with sea-lions, do the underwater scenes, climb mountains, climb trees and do all this athletic stuff that she hadn’t had a chance to show off before. She had to spend a lot of time with animals because we have a lot of animals in the movie.
What’s it like filming with all those animals?
LEVIN: That was hard. It depends on the animal. Sea lions are very easy to direct. They’re really well trained, the ones that we had. They were fantastic to work with. The pelicans are a little harder to work with. They aren’t as trained and not that interested in doing what they’re told. So that was a little more time consuming. Then we had lizards as well, bearded dragons. They were actually very sluggish. It was hard to get them to do anything at all to tell you the truth.
FLACKETT: But with that said they also really stayed on their marks.
LEVIN: They did, they never moved. You know everyone says that your not supposed to work with children or animals but we did both on this film and they were both really a pleasure. But I’d rather work with children then animals if I had a choice.
How did you end up casting Gerard Butler? Had you seen him in “300”?
LEVIN: We had seen him in a movie called “Dear Frankie” and in “300.” We really saw this great range that he has. I mean he can do the big stuff that was in “300.” He can do the action, comic book thing. And that’s where we really saw an inspiration for the Alex Rover character, this big adventure hero. And then in “Dear Frankie” we had seen that he has this very tender, sensitive side. Which made us think that he would be good for the father as well. We hadn’t thought that one actor would play both roles until Gerry came up.
You originally planned to cast a different actor for each role?
LEVIN: Yes, the parts were going to be played by two separate actors. And then we realized that Gerard Butler would be the best person for both roles. So we got him to do both and we were lucky for it. He’s amazing, a very, very charismatic, and talented guy.
This movie is much bigger in scale then your last film, “Little Manhattan.” What kind of adjustments as directors did you have to make?
LEVIN: This was a giant step up for us in terms of scale. “Little Manhattan” was a sweet little movie set in New York.
FLACKET: I think we only had eight visual effects shots on that movie.
LEVIN: And on this one we had four hundred and fifty. So it was a giant education, in terms of visual effects and having the opportunity to play with all those toys. We’re making volcanoes explode, volcanoes that aren’t even there. We’re making pelicans and lizards do all this fun stuff that they don’t normally do. And we also got the chance to work with big movie stars, which was really exciting for us. To be able to work with the likes of a Jodie Foster was thrilling. It’s just a bigger movie. It’s a big adventure movie now and it does teach you how to use all the toys and all the tools.
This is the second family film you’ve made in a row. Are you interested in making other types of movies or do you plan to continue just making films for the whole family?
LEVIN: Well we love it because we have young kids and we love making movies that the whole family can enjoy. There’s nothing worse for us as parents then having to go to a movie that the kids might have fun with but it’s kind of painful for us to sit through. We definitely pride ourselves on making movies that everybody can experience on their own level and enjoy and “Nim’s Island” is definitely that. But we’re definitely going to expand. Having done a couple of movies that star kids, our last two movies in fact, I think we’d like to start doing stuff that goes beyond that and involves more adult characters and adult themes. But it’s a great niche to have and I’m sure we’ll make another big family movie at some point.