Written by Tara de Bach
It goes without saying that scripting the follow-up to a film that earned over $745 million dollars in its theatrical release has its advantages, but for Andrew Adamson, writing and directing a sequel to a blockbuster can be likened to a double-edged Narnian sword. “It's positive because you've already done something that you're expanding upon,” says the Oscar-nominated hyphenate, who also helmed Shrek and Shrek 2. “The difficulty comes with making sure you don't tread into the same territory with the characters.”
With his latest epic adventure, The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian, Adamson revisits the world he and Emmy-winning writing partners Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely helped realize in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but this time on a vastly different battlefield. In the second installment of C.S. Lewis' classic series of novels, the wardrobe has disappeared, the witch is dead, and the Aslan has been missing for over 1,000 years. With all of the changes to this timeless fantasy landscape, came new challenges as well as new opportunities for Adamson, who was determined to make the second Narnian adventure bigger, better, and even more dazzling.
The Writers Guild of America, West Web site sat down with Adamson to hear the tale of how he went about creating an epic world and story that's bigger and bolder than ever and, in the process, discovered that you can truly never go home again.
How difficult was it for you to break down the material from a classic book and factor in your own new ideas while working in partnership with your fellow co-writers?
Well, this film was much more difficult to adapt than the previous one, largely because the book itself didn't read as cinematically and was not so lean with structure. The last one was a pretty basic five-act structure that was pretty simple and easy to adapt to three acts, whereas this was a little less linear and wandered. So we had to put a significant amount of work into restructuring the story, which in turn, placed more demands on us, but I think in the end, we came up with a structure that is more interesting than that of the prior film.
Photo: © 2008 Disney Enterprises, Inc.
Ben Barnes in The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian.
Then, of course, the other difficulty is the number of fans of the book -- finding the elements that are important to maintain and keep, and then still be able to reorder, and in some places, move material without losing the existing fan base… I had read these books as a kid, and so I wrote down what I remembered about them. I immersed myself in them for a period of time and let it incubate to see what came out, and then I got to the outline phase relatively quickly. From there, it was a continuation with Markus and McFeely --one of us would write a scene, pass it on, and we would pass it around many times. The interesting thing is that you defend your ideas, and the ones that can't be defended go away so you end up with a pretty tight script because we were editing each other as we went.
This is your second blockbuster franchise. How do you keep the material fresh when working on a sequel?
I think a lot of sequels are basically the same story told in a different location. I've done a couple of sequels now, and I learned a lot on the first [Narnia film] and working on Shrek 2. In any film, you want to surprise the audience, take them to new places, and have the characters learn new things. You have to keep challenging yourself to do that. When you come up with any solution, you question that solution and ask, “How can this be better?” More often than not, the first one you come up with is a cliché, the easiest thing. So you have to question it and ask, “Is this a cliché because it's good or because it fits?” And you have to do that on every level in terms of character and action, making sure you're not treading on your own territory as well as someone else's.
There are over 1600 CGI shots in your film. How do your factor that into your writing?
I try not to let it influence my writing, especially in the beginning. When it enters into your process is when you get to the budget. The disadvantage of being a writer, director, and producer is that at some point, yes, you do need to consider the budget, and you do need to evaluate your work with the other hats on. I find the changes happen more in the editing process, where you decide you need to come up with an equally creative solution for less money.
This film is an epic in every way. Did you look at other films in this genre before you started writing?
The films that I went back to watch again were based on the nature of where this film starts, meaning things that are out of the wardrobe -- the last film started in the wardrobe and ended on the battlefield. I knew I had to start a lot bigger because that's what the audience now knows, but at the same time I wanted to cinematically capture the Narnia world. So I went back to watch films like Ran and Lawrence of Arabia that had affected me and for me were cinematically epic. Then there are those films you grow up with, like Star Wars. I've often said my memory of the [Prince Caspian ] book has been updated by those films. You remember a battle scene from the book, then you see these epic films, and your memory is then rewritten and updated.
You've sort of become the king of this genre. Is there an arena that you haven't explored but would like to?
All of them [laughs]. I think the most important thing with any film is that you create a character that an audience connects to, relates to, can feel the emotions of -- all of those things. So whether they're CGI characters or fantasy creatures, gangsters, or a local guy on the street corner…you always want to create characters the audience connects with.
Do you have any words of wisdom for upcoming writers, directors, creators?
My success happened so much by accident rather than by any formal planning. Looking back at a few films, why those films were a success, and what I brought to them, I feel like the most important things as a writer, the most important traits, are tenacity and empathy. Tenacity is just banging your head against whatever wall until the bricks eventually break. And empathy is required on many levels -- empathy for your characters when you're writing, empathy for the actors when you're trying to understand what they're feeling and what the characters are feeling and helping to bridge the gap between them, empathy for the people that are working with you, whether it's other writers, your crew or whatever, to have some understanding of what they're going through so that you're able to motivate them. Those are the main traits that I tried to draw upon.
So do you believe you can never really go home again?
I do, strangely enough. I'm about to move back to New Zealand, and I've lived in L.A. longer than anywhere, but the place that I was most formed by was New Guinea because I was there from 11 to 18, my formative years. That's a place that has gone from the Stone Age to modern technology in 90 years. So much change and political unrest has transpired -- my high school no longer exists, the bush I used to ride my motorcycle back into doesn't exist anymore.
I have this sense that that's what I hooked into and what helped me connect to the material. When I started this, I was thinking, what is my emotional connection to the material? [My personal experience], that's what I found connected me and helped me find an honesty to the characters and what they were going through. And I think it expands to a more universal level because it's all about not being able to go back to your childhood. At some point you have to let go of your childhood.