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Peter Jackson improvises with ‘District 9’

“(The film) was the first time I had ever worked with a degree of improvisation. Normally, we write the dialogue and the actors say the dialogue,” producer Peter Jackson says about his new film.
/ Source: Reuters

Sci-fi film “District 9” is expected to lure huge crowds to theaters when it debuts on Friday after drawing throngs of fanboys to previews at last month’s Comic-Con pop culture convention in San Diego.

The movie, about aliens on Earth who possess powerful weapons that humans want to control, was co-written and directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Oscar-winning “Lord of the Rings” director Peter Jackson.

Jackson spoke to Reuters about making movies and adapting books like J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the upcoming “The Lovely Bones” and “The Hobbit” for film:

Reuters: Tell us about your creative process for making movies.

Jackson: It starts and finishes with the screenplay because I just believe totally in the script and the need for the script to be solid and secure and to be structured and to be the blueprint that you build the whole film around. Once the script’s written, the going out and shooting the movie becomes a process of interpreting the script and working with terrific actors to make it come to life.

The script is the time I have the most creative freedom. You don’t have to worry about the budget, not initially. You don’t have to worry about the weather, you don’t have to worry if you’ve got your shot schedule that day. You can write, and take as long as you need. It has less pressure and it has the most creativity. It’s a fun part of the process.

Reuters: How was your process with “District 9” different from what you were used to?

Jackson: “District 9” was the first time I had ever worked with a degree of improvisation. Normally, we write the dialogue and the actors say the dialogue. And we very carefully fine-tune it. But because Neill wanted “District 9” to have a degree of reality, he wanted it to be almost like a spontaneous, unrehearsed feel. We decided that we were going to have to use actors that improvise a little of the dialogue.

Reuters: How did this impact casting?

Jackson: We cast Sharlto Copley, an old school friend of Neill’s. Neill thought that Sharlto would do a fantastic job in the film, which he ultimately was actually right. What we did with “District 9” was structured the screenplay and got the storyline right. Every scene was written in terms of what the scene had to achieve and what had to happen, but we never wrote the actual dialogue.

Reuters: How creative can you be when adapting a film based on a literary product?

Jackson: It’s a slightly different vibe. There’s a difference between an original screenplay and an adapted screenplay. They both have to be structured in a very formal way. But once you have a structure in place, an original screenplay is fun because you’re able to ... create a world in your mind. You have to create the rules of that world, the characters that are inhabited it, the time, the events ... Whereas, with an adaptation, you’re basing it more on your personal experience of reading that book.

Reuters: You had huge success with the “Rings” movies and you have two more adaptations with “The Lovely Bones” and “The Hobbit.” How do you decide what to bring to the big screen?

Jackson: Often when I read books, I’m imagining a movie. It’s just the way my brain works. So I imagine camera angles and my brain is sort of assembling the film as I read the book. Sometimes I read a book and I get very excited and I think, “Wow, this would make a terrific film.”

Reuters: What role does technology play in your creativity?

Jackson: Technology is interesting because it advances with time. What is happening with technology at the moment is everything is getting cheaper and the quality is improving. And I think that’s really terrific from the point of view of filmmaking becoming less elitist.

You know, in the old days it was very difficult to make movie 'cause you had to have 35 millimeter cameras, which were phenomenally expensive. Or you had to have rich parents that could send you to film school. Nowadays, anybody, any kid or young person with a desire to make films ... (has) access to this equipment. You have great video cameras and the quality’s fantastic. You can make soundtracks and do visual effects. You can do very competent computer effects quite easily.

Reuters: What impact do you see this having on Hollywood?

Jackson: There are no excuses anymore. If people really want to make movies, they can go out and do it. And I think we’re going see in the next 20 or 30 years a real influx of creativity to the world of entertainment because I believe a lot in the young generation coming along ... the pop culture generation who now can grab these cameras and go make films with them.