War Horse - seen on the 28th Jan 2012 at the Henley Regal Picturehouse cinema.
Richard Curtis (co-writer of the screenplay for War Horse) talked about working on the film then answered questions from the audience.
Richard said that War Horse is a serious film. He was having tea with a friend from Dreamworks studio. Steven Spielberg joined them - Richard says he would have worked on anything Spielberg asked him to. Richard included a note with 10 things on it he thought should be done and Spielberg agreed on 8 of them. There was already a draft of the screenplay.
In 1994 Four Weddings and a Funeral (which Richard wrote) was nominated for an Oscar for best picture. Forrest Gump won. Also in 1994 Four Weddings won a Cesar (French equivalent of Oscars voted by the public) for best foreign film – but Richard said that Schindlers List should have won.
In the book by Michael Morpurgo– Albert is only at the start and the end. But in the stage play Albert is involved all the way through. Richard thought it worked better to remove Albert in the middle – his experience of the war. Richard added the third soldier - the one with the new hat. He is able to tell individual's stories quite quickly as demonstrated in Love Actually, which is why he thinks he got the job.
"As I get older I get more enthusiastic about time travel as there is more in the past than the future" - Richard Curtis. He is interested in the concept of time travel – and wrote a Dr Who episode called 'Vincent and The Doctor' 2010.
Questions from the audience
Q - Are you interested in history?
- No, I don’t do the research. Ben Elton knew all the history. I had a ladybird book of Elizabethan history. For Blackadder we covered 12 out of 13 chapters.
Q - Do you prefer starting from scratch or from a novel?
- I've done War Horse and The N.o.1 Ladies' Detective Agency – two quite different jobs. You know if it is established it works. But I prefer to make things up.
Q – Do you get writers block?
- I don’t but I get writers truth. An idea or plot may not work – so I go for a very long walk and realise there is a fundamental problem with it – you’re meant to feel sorry for a character but he sleeps with a very pretty girl he meets at a party. Emma (Freud) and I write at opposite sides of the room.
My trick for writers block is to leave notes for myself at the end of every day – try this or that. Or jobs like organising the scenes or history of the characters.
Novelists get writers block and there is an order – the words have to be correct.
I write 30 pages a week and wrote 9000 pages of dialogue for Notting Hill (a screenplay is 90 pages).
Q – Any more adaptations of Michael Morporgo?
– (Richard said) Michael wears trousers the colour of these seats (in the cinema) - Beetroot / Salmon. My kids like Michael's book Private Peaceful.
Q – If you’d directed War Horse would it have looked any different?
- Spielberg is a genius – he is not restricted by the clutter and extras. Like a painter – he dips his brush in the pot and sees what he wants to do once he has all the things around him. Not one shot would have been as good as Spielberg’s shot – such as the practice charge and when the horse went over the top into no mans land with the two soldiers cutting the horse free from barbed wire. Spielberg concentrated on the technicality of cutting the horse free. I particularly liked the scene Spielberg shot from behind a bunch of shelves giving a feeling of intimacy and fear – trapped.
Q - Was it hard to train the horses?
- There were 14 or 17 Joeys.
3 shots in the film are animated.
1) (Not all) Horses were doubled.
2) In the night the horse fell down and up again.
3) Jumping over the tank may not have been a tank.
But the horses did everything else. The horses picked up on the tension and the atmosphere. When the horses did the charge – it was for real for the horses.
Q (asked by Female Arts) – The screenplay for War Horse was written with someone else, could you talk about the writing process?
- I co wrote with Lee Hall. Lee wrote the first draft and I wrote the’ second’ – although it was more like 10 drafts from Lee and many from Lee we discussed.
With Ben Elton (Blackadder) I wrote 2/3rds and would send a disc to Ben and ask him to solve the problems. Ben had a rule that if one of us took something out it couldn’t be put back in by the other – if a joke didn’t work at a dinner party then it wouldn’t work. With Anthony Minghella (No.1 Ladies Detective Agency) I co-wrote and he directed.
Q – Who was your favourite character in War Horse?
- Joey. Joey and Top Form are two of my favourite characters. The leads are horses. I would pretend I am the horse and think that way. How would the horse feel about dead horses on the road?
My 3 favourite things on twitter (about War Horse)
- Benedict Cumberbatch’s moustache
- Sarah Jessica Parker should have won an Oscar (for the horse)
- (missed by FA)
Q – Favourite film you've written?
- Love Actually – I'm very fond of it at Christmas – it’s a thing people love to watch at Christmas. I love Elf and White Christmas.
When I’ve written for other directors things have happened I didn’t like – the reason I started directing is that it became impossible to work with the director on a film I’d written – e.g. Notting Hill I asked Hugh Grant’s hair guy to pass on notes about pronouncing the word ‘love’.
Q – Very picturesque – filmed for an overseas market?
- No, it’s exactly what Steven wanted. There was no test audience. He was happy with it. It was filmed in Devon. It should be shot like Lawrence of Arabia or (Monument Valley?) Spielberg shot in little villages. Cumulative effect is stately and old fashioned but done because that’s what Speilberg wanted – how Britain looked in 1920’s.
Q – Any films you wished you were involved in?
-Two films – Like Crazy – it’s improvised. Done by pictures. A girl and a boy are separated by customs. 500 Days of Summer I liked. Glad I did Four Weddings and a Funeral. – You are fantastic question askers, thank you.
Q - Do you prefer writing something new or adaptations?
- Sometimes it takes 3 years to write something myself from scratch. But adaptations can only take two months. Would like to work on a Dickens.
Q – How would comic relief do War Horse?
- The auction at the beginning then pantomime horse with Fearne Cotton.
Q – Almost Blackadderesque moment with the wire cutters?
- Kathy Kennedy (producer) asked him not to include this but Spielberg’s childish sense of humour won. He insisted on 8 wire cutters thrown on (she wanted 2).
Q – Anything you would change after watching the movie?
- Actors only notice what is cut out and don’t think it’s the best version of what they said. Second time they watch it they get it. The same with me – puzzled, perplexed and ashamed. Second time I watched it I enjoyed it.
Q – Do you think every film of yours will be a success?
- Of 10 films I like, about 8 were not successes. Scarlett listened to the DVD commentary of Bridesmaids and they had no inkling it would be a success. Not foolproof it will be a success. I made the mistake of going into cinemas and waiting for people to laugh, but there are just people trying to keep warm. Not necessarily a commercial success.
My recommendation is to watch the film ‘Like Crazy’ 2011
(c) Wendy Thomson - Female Arts 2012