HOLES - Q&A with director Andrew Davis and screenwriter/author Louis Sacher
Movie Interview by Susan Hodgetts
We've seen the sorry way that writers are treated in Hollywood - Louis tell us about your trepidation as a first time screenwriter entering into this project.
LOUIS SACHAR: Well I was very worried about that. I figured I'd sell the rights and hope for the best, but I didn't have high expectations. I was very worried going into it and very surprised when Andrew asked me to write the screenplay.
ANDREW DAVIS: We felt that Louis was the only man to adapt it; we liked the book and we didn't want to change it into anything else. It would have felt unjust to have someone else get the credit for his idea. My partner Teresa Tucker-Davies and I felt we could work with Louis to take what we loved about the book and put it into the film. And we figured Louis would only blame himself if it didn't work! There were concerns initially about this great interior voice in the book, of how Stanley feels. This was quite difficult to get around as the book is told in Stanley's voice, so did we get around this with a voice over or introduce another character to act as the narrator? So we invented a character that's not in the book, Stanley's grandfather, who plays the part of the narrator in the film.
How did you simplify quite a sophisticated story?
LOUIS SACHAR: I knew the book was successful because people liked the puzzle in it, so I was never going to lose that.
ANDREW DAVIS: We didn't have to apologise for the complexity because kids and teachers loved it as it was.
How did you search for the right kids for the characters?
LOUIS SACHAR: Well, the character of Stanley in the book is overweight, Shia is not. But this wasn't integral to the story, the point was more that he felt like an outsider, that he could display vulnerability, and Shia conveys the right amount of emotion and vulnerability and quirkiness, so the overweight thing wasn't important.
Didn't you consider a fat-suit?
ANDREW DAVIS: Yes, we did, but in the book he loses weight as the story evolves and as he digs the holes etc. And we shot the movie out of continuity so this wouldn't have worked. And Shia just jumped out at as having the qualities to carry the movie anyway.
Regarding the casting of Henry Winkler, did you always have him in mind for that part?
ANDREW DAVIS: No, not until we chose Shia near the end. We needed to make sure that the father had similarities to the kid. But I was very taken by Henry's acting. He was so sharp and coming up with loads of stuff all the time. Also the guy we cast as the great grandfather looks a lot like Shia, which was just kinda lucky.
How did you come upon your other casting choices?
ANDREW DAVIS: Teresa was an advocate for Sigourney Weaver right from the start. We felt she could pull off the arrogance and snideness, and she was familiar with the book, her daughter having loved it. Jon Voight wasn't familiar with the book at all but when we sent it to him to read he said I want to play this part like Waylon Jennings. I've wanted to work with Jon for a long time and he was so collaborative, and he was great with the kids. Eartha Kitt was a big surprise, and Dule' Hill who plays Sam is in the West Wing and is very popular in the US. The kids were mostly unknowns and mostly came from California.
LOUIS SACHAR: Sigourney was very much like the way I'd always imagined her. She didn't do Cruella de Ville but made the warden pathetic and easy to feel sorry for. And Jon Voight just transformed Mr Sir.
Did the character of Mr Sir owe anything to CATCH 22?
LOUIS SACHAR: Not consciously, no. I think I read it sometime when I was younger but it wasn't a conscious thing, no.
Do you think it was because of the book that this movie got made?
ANDREW DAVIS: Yes I do.
Did you build the town out in the desert or was it a prop town?
ANDREW DAVIS: Well the Western town was 2 towns. Kissin' Kate's town was Melody Ranch and the boys' camp was a remnant from an old Eddie Murphy movie, from LIFE. It was constructed three hours from LA in the Mujabi desert, right near some military installations that were preparing for Afghanistan!
Andrew, this is a departure for you in terms of directing, as you normally direct thrillers - how different was it for you to direct something like this?
ANDREW DAVIS: Well, making movies is making movies, but working with the kids was a lot of fun and the adults and the kids really inspired each other.
What projects would you like to do?
ANDREW DAVIS: I'd like to make a film in Europe. Something like Much Ado About Nothing where I get to spend the whole summer in a stately villa in Italy with a bunch of star names! I've always been tied down to realistic movies, but there's always a lot more work involved with period dramas.
Screenwriters don't normally get to hang around on set that much, how far did your influence actually extend on set?
LOUIS SACHAR: I constantly bugged Andy but I had to pick my battles. Sometimes I just had to kind of sneak away and listen with the sound guys but I spoke up if it was something I felt really strongly about. I can't actually think of any specific examples.
ANDREW DAVIS: You wanted my father to cry! [Davis' real-life father plays the character of the grandfather in the film].
Was it emotional for you when you saw the finished film?
LOUIS SACHAR: Oh yeah. It was so much better than I thought!
Were you inspired by prison movies?
LOUIS SACHAR: I'd written 17 other books before Holes so I wanted to do something grander with a much bigger story. The first thing I came up with was the setting of a really hot place, so hot that the lake had dried up. And besides the magic of the story, the kids would like the toughness aspect of being in the prison.
What's the moral message you'd want kids to leave the cinema with at the end of this film?
LOUIS SACHAR: To learn from Stanley's value of believing in yourself and finding your own inner strength.
ANDREW DAVIS: I was drawn to it because I think we're all immigrants. I was very involved in the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King and people don't seem to be aware of their history any more, the message is about good guys and bad guys, of all types, but that ultimately we all have to live together.
Which was more difficult to tame, the yellow spotted lizards or Eartha Kitt?
ANDREW DAVIS: The lizards were from Australia, they were Australian bearded dragons. We used safe yellow colouring to paint the spots on. Patricia Arquette had most of the scenes with them, she hated them before but learned to appreciate them!
LOUIS SACHAR: Hollywood seems such a rat race, it's so difficult with like 14 studio execs changing everything all the time so we'll see what happens.
ANDREW DAVIS: There's a couple of scripts in the pipeline that I don't actually own yet but really love. One is about the Chess Records Empire, it's an R&B thing about Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters.... It's about immigrants from Poland who started up a record studio.