What follows below is the transcript of a press conference to launch the movie Now Is Good, at London’s Cineworld Haymarket on 4th September 2012 transcribed by Spencer Hawken.
Ol Parker – Can I just say before we start, I just got off a night flight and I have no idea who I am, or what my name is so if I talk absolute ass then I apologize.
This is based on Before I Die by Jenny Downham how did this project come to you?
It came to me by the producers, I was working on another film by the same producers as this one, and they asked me if they could talk to me about this, so they pitched it to me, and I was like “that sounds absolutely lovely, but it is completely not my bag of chips” so they well just read it anyway as it might not be what you think its going to be. So I took it home, and read it that evening, and I text them about 2am the following morning in floods of tears saying “yeah were making this”. So that’s how it came to me.
Interestingly the other film you were writing at the time was The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, that film deals with people facing the final chapter of their lives at the other end of the age spectrum, where as here you have a seventeen year old girl, were there any similarities you found there?
I think, I had just turned 40, so I was confronting my own mortality… I don’t know, I think it was pure coincidence. It turned out afterwards there was a common theme, but at the time it was not running through my mind.
It’s a very British production, can you tell me what it was you saw in young Dakota Fanning (an American Girl) that made here right for Tessa?
She chased me for it, which I was very touched by, I was in Los Angeles, my wife (Thandie Newton) was working out there, and I got a message that she had read it, and her agent called with much excitement saying that Dakota and read it and she really loved it, how great is that, you should offer it to her. And I was like, I’m quite nervous about American stars, its not really how I saw the movie, I think shes amazing, but it’s a whole different reality and accents. So I thanked them and said I’m not too sure about that. And then she called up and said lets meets. So I went to meet her the next day, and she was sitting on her own, she was only sixteen. She was very early, she’s always early and self possessed, she just really wanted it, and really chased it, and she’s a movie star and I found her very riveting to look at. Ten minutes into the conversation I turned round and said, yes lets do this.
The chief interviewer declares that now the press have had chance to compose themselves, having had chance to wipe there eyes and blow there noses, its safe to hand the questions over to them. This prompts Ol to reveal the following:-
It’s a weirdly aggressive desire when making a movie, we’d go to screenings when we were making it, testing it, I’d sit at the back and being obviously bored of the movie, I’d watch the audience and I’d be just willing them to cry. It’s a really strange desire.
Dakota’s transformation into an entirely convincing English girl, what was her method?
She works really hard, she’s the most dedicated and impressive actress I’ve worked with in a long time. She’s also an absolute sweet heart, and she’s the only person I or my wife have ever worked with, that at the end of the shoot she’d written hand written notes to every head of department, and given a present to every single member of the cast and crew including the catering who really didn’t deserve it. She’s an amazing… she really worked her arse off, there was fifteen months between meeting her and actually doing it, and she was having accent lessons, she came over early and worked with me, she’s really dedicated and really committed, and even though we paid her nothing, she just really wanted to have that experience.
Is there any aspect of English life that she found baffling?
If there was then Kaya Scodelario could help her with that, I sent them off out several times, and that was handy for us.
Is it right you nearly passed on this project?
I really don’t like these sort of movies, I tend to find them… it’s really difficult to be moving, without being sentimental or fake, its really difficult. And I didn’t really quite see how it would be possible, I thought the book was beautiful, and then as we were making it, I was lucky that I was thrilled with Dakota being part of it, but then on the day that Paddy (Considine) and Olivia (Williams) both actors who have a certain kind of integrity, so when Paddy said yes particularly , I thought we might be on the right track here, we might not be making the sort of film that you might expect it to be.
Can you talk about the phases of the process, do you think separately as a writer, or do you direct separately as you write? And as a side question are you going to be the rewriting the Diablo Cody script you have been attached to or are you going to leave it as it is?
No I have re-written (the Cody script) that, she delivered an early draft and then went off to become phenomenally brilliant and successful, so in order to make that mine, it’s a very specific demotic that she writes in.
As for directing and writing, with Marigold I knew it was for somebody else, and that was great, and I was thrilled when it ended up being John Madden obviously. And this, I kind of knew from when I started, that I was going to direct this, not just do the screenplay, and they said well lets just wait and see. So it is different, I’m a bit more shoddy when someone else is going to do it, and when its me I cant really do that… Sorry I’m really tired!
Last time you were behind a camera it was 2005, with Imagine You And Me, why the delay?
I wasn’t that thrilled with the film to be honest, I thought I assed it up, and thought I should wait. There was a brilliant review just after we made this, I probably should not be saying this, and it showed at Toronto, and this review came out. The review was really quite nice, but at the end it said I really look forward to seeing him direct a film he really cares about. And it was an incredibly accurate, comment, it was fantastically helpful comment (critics can be hit and miss), so I waited until I got a project I cared about.
How much of the emotional impact that we got from the film , is developed in the edit process, keeping moments for as long as they need to be, and no longer. And who is your sounding board to find that right turn?
I think plenty in the edit, is very faithful, even the slightly dreamy ending. There is a long sequence where the nurse tells her how she is going to die, and weirdly that worked out as I wrote it. But in general, hugely in the editing, as your always looking, but don’t want to be too shy emotionally. And my sounding board… I’m married to an actress; she’s furiously free of bullshit. Without her my scripts would be finished in half the time.
Can you tell us about working with Paddy, and the relationship between Dakota and Paddy?
Paddy is a trip, he’s extraordinary, there is nobody like him. In all good ways, he’s ferociously honest as an actor, he can’t tell a lie, so if he knows what he’s doing he’s brilliant. If you want him to do something fake, then it becomes an issue. Dakota was utterly baffled by him for a week, and then the day, they drove around when Jeremy (Irvine) drives up on the motorbike, they were in the car all day. And I was sitting in the lorry in front of them listening to them chatting on my headphones and they had a fantastic time. So when it comes to her dying, we tried to film it as late as we could in the shoot, so as an actor you could get as much emotion out of it as you could. So from the day in the car they got on incredible well together, they were incredibly tight; they were very much like the Odd Couple, they were a mismatched paid, he’s a genius.
How faithful is the film to the book?
It’s hopefully (if you have read it) you’ll find it true to the spirit of the book, I think the scene where they go to the beach and all that, in the book they bury a dead bird. The book is much smaller, its very poetic and beautiful, and the opening and the end is pretty identical. Paddy’s breakdown comes from me, as does a lot of bits from the middle of the film. Jenny was lovely, she saw the film and was hugely supportive, which was a blessing., after all shes the reason we were all there.
Jeremy, when you first cast him, he was not quite the good looking guy we all know now, is that the case?
When we cast him he was just about to start on War Horse, Nina my brilliant casting director said you really need to go see him, he’s really special. And when I met him, he was quite chubby, and quite young, but he did this blinding audition, and I cast him with enormous excitement. But then I didn’t see him, and he went of to America and made War Horse and did lots of publicity for it, so I never saw him for a year after casting him. So when I did, he had grown three inches, lost two stone and was this insanely handsome young man, still just as talented, and just as sweet. But he had become preposterously good looking as well, so it was a really happy day when he breezed in. I thought ok, now there’s a movie, the editor and me became fascinated by his jaw in the edit, the editor said wow he’s got perfect ears.
He and Dakota share some really tender scenes, was there much rehearsal?
There wasn’t much rehearsal no, we talked quite a lot about it, then we’d just hang out and play games. It seems, its just something you generate on the day, we never knew how things would work, we’d leave just enough time to make it work on each day. The pair of them hung out, and they talked a lot, and they’d just get on set each day and it worked, we hoped, prayed and panicked.
Can we talk about The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, what drew you to sign up to do the screenplay for that project? And is it especially satisfying, to draw in a sector of the audience (the older generation) to get them into the cinemas?
Yes it’s great, we were all completely stunned. I thought it was funny, a really lovely idea, I was sent the second draft of Deborah Moggach’s novel, and for whatever reason Working Title had let it go. But as a project it was dead when the producers got hold of it, I changed everything about it, if you even get hold of the book you’ll be stunned, nothing about it, not even the title is the same. Once Judy (Dench) signed up that was amazing, it became self-fulfilling as the cast began to grow, then Bill Nighy rang up and said, “what is this film, why aren’t I doing it?” Then shooting it, we thought it was going well, and then I watched the edit I thought, yes this had a chance, but nobody expected what it has done.
Do you normally find studio bosses are unhappy when they find a film that is tracking with older audiences?
They were wrong, everyone was wrong, and all the people saw it, that had a chance to invest in it. We just started shooting it and the money looked a bit wobbly, and we had that cast, and that script, and that director, and they still thought there was money in this. It’s a thrill to bring in people that don’t normally come. When I flew over last night, it was on, and as I was walking down the aisle people were sleeping.
Has the film bought you any change, any money?
No not a penny, or a project… I’m broke!
Are you surprised by that?
It might come soon, who knows… Lots of people are now scrambling to make another old peoples film, its not just an old peoples film. But in the three years it takes to make a film, maybe the zeitgeist will move on.
What is your process for deciding where to put the camera?
I don’t do a shot list, I rely on my crew to tell me when I’m in trouble, and how much time we’ve got to put it right. I get on set with the actors, and plan the scene, but with the director of photography Erik Wilson, who also did Tyranosaur and The Imposter. So I would start with the actors, and watch, and then I would adjust as we went looking for the truth in the blocking, we’d say if he goes to there we could do this, or that. It’s a slightly more risky approach, but I think its more true to the actors, I hope it works out.
Does it get you in trouble?
Always, yes… tough days, but no the plan is if you get it right and the actors aren’t inhibited, then you get there quicker with them, and go to work with them, and make it fast and brilliant, more importantly we came in on budget and on time.
To what extent does adapting a screenplay for another director, informs the choices you might make when it comes to this project. Obviously you have tons of experience as a director yourself, does it open your eyes to how John Maddon, might make particular choices on that film?
It’s personally and professional, John has a tremendously polite way of saying absolutely no to everybody “of course I understand why you would want to do that, but it’s completely not going to happen”. He’s just great, he’s incredibly charming and gorgeous, he’s vigorous, and well prepared, because you never know what your going to want in the edit and that was imagining your going to find yourself in the edit, and you should have done this, or that. So I was much better prepared this time, I was in India for three months doing the shoot, so I was able to learn, and this was a much better film for it.
Can you tell us about Brighton, it was as much a character in the film as perhaps Tessa, tell us about filming there in the crowded streets? Did the council give you much leeway?
They were fine, we had no money for extras, all the people are real people. So I had to stand on a box and shout, Dakota Fanning is just walking down the street, she’s just been told she’s dying so if you could not ask her for autographs that would be great. Some still asked her if they could sign this, and she’d say “I’m dying, I’m dying”. The book is set nowhere specific, and I spent many happy years in Brighton (most of which I cant remember) so I knew I would have to set it there. At the beginning she starts running down to the sea, and I always had that shot in my mind. Erik is also from Brighton, so he knew the area and had been planning shots on movies for years. I Went down to stay with him, and we would go out and he’d say “I can put a camera here”, so yeah it was great.
Two part question, where there any problems on the cliff?
No none at all, I’d just tear my hair out if ayone went near them, as we were shooting by the cliff. I actually suffer from Vertigo which I’m told is a desire to throw yourself off, so I could threaten the actors that if they didn’t do it my way I’d just take a running jump, but no. I just went up there, and put a bench there.
Second part, how did you decide what you were going to show on the process of dying? What it’s like, how are you going to show the reality of that?
It doesn’t go into the detail of being nasty, bowels voiding themselves, I thought the nosebleed scene was bad and shocking enough, by then I wanted to move into a more poetic, that’s a crappy word! I don’t know it seemed to dictate itself, what we would show, and what we wouldn’t. I mean, there is clearly an element of license in there, I mean I don’t know who dies, with just there parents and their brother in the room, but we looked at it from the aspect that there were more people behind the camera, you just didn’t get to see them.
I think it is David Lean who said actors are easier to direct when they are wet, how enthused were your actors with the nocturnal swimming scenes?
They they were great, it was a cracking night. There was a point, having done all the fireside stuff, it was about half-past-three in the morning, and then we were going to do the motorbike scene at dawn, so it was a long old night. But there was a point when I said to Dakota, are you going to run out and join him, when you do that, make sure you turn round so we can see its you, and not a stunt double, and she was like “I’m swimming at 4 in the morning, your gonna know its me”. And sure enough, she immediately turns round, and being a child of the camera she makes it look very natural, but that’s Dakota Fanning. We didn’t do that many takes, and we’d talked about it before, and it was freezing, we were all pretty chilly. The nice effect, was for the scene on the motorbike, they had been up all night swimming, and it made the scene kind of giddy, and beautiful. It was a happy dawn for us all, and were driving along in a lorry beside them, and they were shrieking with laughter. That was a good one for me, and I’ll take that to the grave.
What do you find harder adapting someone elses screenplay, or doing your own film?
Adapting books is great, so whenever you go wrong, you can just look at the book, and they’ve probable done it better than you anyway. So yeah, adapting is easier, Marigold was effectively an original with respect to Deborah, and that was because there were seven people who go to India, and Dev who was out there making eight, means that there were several storylines that you have to juggle, it was a tough old script to write, there were many, many draughts.
Is there is a specific reason why the movie is Now Is Good, and the book is called Before I Die?
I think it’s a tough sell, if you are a multiplex on a Friday night, you are probably going to see all other movies, than the one in which the teenage girl dies. It’s a strong title, Before I Die, but it’s a cinematic nightmare. Plus there was a slight change of emphasis in the movie it suggests there is more joy, its all about seizing the moments.
My friends refer to it as the dying girl movie.
What was Jenny’s input?
We had a long dinner, and she had to approve of me, which was absolutely the right and appropriate way, and I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if she hadn’t approved of me. I told her what I was hoping to do, then she saw other things I had done. Then I sent her the first script I was happy with, which was the third. And she came on set a couple of times, she recognized it to be a different animal, but was completely supportive.
Did she meet with Dakota at all?
Yes but only when she came on set, and they went off into a corner, I don’t know what they spoke about, it was none of my business. Her son Louis also worked on the film for about a month which was lovely.
Tell me about your music choices, for me there is an ethereal haunting soundtrack here, tell us about the score?
The score is by Dustin O’Halloran, who I stalked basically, he did Like Crazy, but he didn’t have time, he also did Marie Antoinette as well, I refused to take no for an answer, so I went to L.A. and stalked him, and it’s very beautiful. And as for the soundtrack, that’s just what’s on my iPod. I put them in the script at the writing point, and that normally does not work out, but it all worked out.
No issues with clearances? You got everything you wanted?
Yeah, I think if you ask nicely, and we showed people the film sometimes, and I think pretty much everybody came aboard. Ellie Goulding gave us the end credit track, and Lana Del Rey gave us the title track, which was a remix, which nobody else has. It worked out all really well.
In the UK the movie is getting really good distribution, how’s it looking in America, having Dakota onboard?
I think it comes out over there next February, which is great.
Given that perhaps there might be girls who drag their boyfriends or partners to this film, what is the reaction that you want men to have?
We had this test screening, Warner’s did a test and it was all 16-20 year old girls, you could here the tissue boxes opening. And there were two guys at a screening, and they were lovely, and I said would you go and see it, and they said “no way” and I said they really should because you’d be well in with the girls, and they were like “yeah good point”.