Michael Apted: From James Bond to The Dawn Treader
British director Michael Apted's 48 years of film credits include directing some of the biggest names in movies in the last few years: Hugh Grant, Richard Pryor, Jodie Foster, Gene Hackman, Sigourney Weaver, Tommy Lee Jones, and William Hurt to name a few. This former president of the Director's Guild has directed domestic dramas (Enough, with Jennifer Lopez), war dramas (Enigma, with Dougray Scott), documentaries (Inspirations), legal dramas (Class Action, with Gene Hackman), and action flicks (The World Is Not Enough with Pierce Brosnan as James Bond). His latest film? The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from the Chronicles of Narnia series.
A Whole New World
A Brilliant Cast
Working with Actors and CGI
Five years ago, Apted directed the epic Amazing Grace, based on the life of William Wilberforce, which brought him into contact with Walden Media, who is producing the Chronicles of Narnia series. Because he already had experience working in an established franchise, the thought of joining the Chronicles of Narnia series was not intimidating to him. "This Narnia franchise is in some ways easier because the stories are more different," Apted said in a recent interview. "We never were in Narnia on this film; Narnia is the boat, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. So it wasn't like there was a lot that I inherited.
"I did inherit the two young ones and the two older ones very briefly, as well as Reepicheep, Caspian and Aslan, obviously. That's why it's quite fun for a director to do this, because you have to create a whole new world no one has seen in the Narnia franchise before."
A Whole New World
Apted and his team took their inspiration from C.S. Lewis' book, which introduces the reader to seven different islands that are key to the story. "[We] had to decide how to make it work. There was Lewis' idea in Aslan's country to have this gigantic wave. Then you think, 'How are we going to make this work?' So that's the fun of it, taking the ideas from the book and trying to make them work.
"Then you bring your production designer and your cameraman, and they bring ideas to it, especially in the visual effects department. They're very spectacular. So everyone brings something to it.
"It's my job, in some ways, to be chairman of the board and say, 'Well, this works, but that doesn't. This is a good idea but this isn't.'"
The bulk of Apted's work came before the film even went into production. He was given the job while filming was still going on for Prince Caspian, because the studio thought they would do The Dawn Treader right after that. "Prince Caspian was difficult and sort of went over schedule and all that, and they realized they couldn't handle both films."
Apted was sent to work on the book adaptation and scout possible locations in Europe while filming finished on Prince Caspian. Because it didn't do as well in theaters as The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, there was some discussion about whether The Voyage of the Dawn Treader should be done or not.
"There was all sorts of things going on, politics and whatever, so it took perhaps longer than it should have done. But once we started actual work on the film, we all had a good time and it went smoothly."
A Brilliant Cast
Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund (Skandar Keynes) Pevensie return in key roles in this film, and we're introduced to their cousin Eustace Clarence Scrubb (played by Will Poulter). In recent interviews, both Georgie and Will remarked how well Apted shepherded them in their roles. "I've done some stuff with younger kids," Apted said, "Documentaries and such. I've found you treat them like adults. You don't talk down to them. All of the children in this film were brilliantly cast, and they know their characters much better than I do. So I listen to them and we talk about it.
"But I think with any actor, if you start imposing yourself on them, that's a mistake. You've got to encourage them to talk and think about it. The more they talk and think about it, the more like them the character becomes, and that's what you want.
"You want Georgie being Georgie, yet she's Lucy. You want to bring all the fun and spark of Georgie into Lucy. So I think it's really a question of nurturing rather than telling people what to do. I was very pleased with who they were and what they'd done, so it was great."
Working with Actors and CGI
This film has a magnitude of CGI and visual effects in it that's unequalled in any other of Apted's films, something he found challenging and adventurous. "It was very difficult [working with the CGI]. For example, with Reepicheep, we hired an actor to play Reepicheep all the way through the shooting, so they built a relationship with him, even though he's a regular bloke. Nonetheless, he was there doing all the lines so it gave them something to relate to.
"It's very, very difficult what they do and I don't know how they do it. For example, the scene with the big wave at the end was surreal. There was this big empty beach with nothing. We had the actors, the whole crew, someone holding the head of Aslan, and someone holding a wire Reepicheep, and they're doing this very emotional scene. It was very odd, very surreal, and you wonder if they'd pull it off. They did. You just try to help conjure up a scene for them."
Apted believes the director's main job is exactly that: conjuring up scenes for his actors and creating the tone of the story. "This is a real story with real children and real danger and real emotion in it, yet some of what's going on is totally garbage. It's bonkers! You know, dwarves with one foot, talking mice and all that sort of stuff.
"Somehow without being too solemn, you have to take it seriously and have them take it seriously. That was the biggest challenge, to get the tone right."
"One of the joys of doing a film like this is the more you get into the editing and the post-production, suddenly these visual effects come in and the film grows and transforms. It's amazing and scary. At times, I thought, 'Oh my God, was I ready for this?'"
Audiences will be able to gauge how ready Apted was for this film when it opens nationwide in theaters on December 10, 2010. Early reviews of the trailers released are that the film looks spectacular, and one would hope for nothing less for the beloved Chronicles of Narnia.
Read our exclusive interviews with Georgie Henley (Lucy Pevensie) and Will Poulter (Eustace Clarence Scrubb)