Good Reading : December January 2010
DECEMBER 2009 / JANUARY 2010 ı goodreading 29 book to film Photo of Philippa Boyens and Saoirse Ronan by Barry Wetcher / SMPSP. © 2009 by Paramount Pictures. All Rights R Philippa says she is looking forward to seeing what audiences think of the film. 'I think that Saoirse Ronan, who plays Susie Salmon, is one of the most extraordinary actors I've ever seen. The performances in this film are really outstanding, including Stanley Tucci as Mr Harvey -- he's utterly compelling at the same time as being repulsive.' The cast bringing Sebold's story to life also includes Susan Sarandon, Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg. Incredibly, Philippa originally came to screenwriting with little film experience or background. Although she'd always liked storytelling, and even had 'a look at some of the film schools' when she was contemplating some overseas travel adventures, she ended up taking a different path. 'I probably concentrated more on creative writing at high school. Growing up in West Auckland in the late 1970s and early 1980s, you didn't really have an ability to think of screenwriting as a career.' After heading back to the University of Auckland in the 1990s to study history and English part-time, Philippa got a job with a local theatre company, training to teach as part of the attached drama school. 'I first started writing for theatre because I was writing pieces for my students so I was, in effect, writing for actors,' she says. A few years later she was involved with the New Zealand Writers Guild and came in contact with Peter Jackson. He asked her to do some script editing on early drafts he and partner Fran Walsh had written for what would later become 'The Lord of the Rings' movies. 'They first asked me to read some stuff that they'd done, which was a bizar re situation because they were already two of our most successful filmmakers, but they are like that: they listen to people, they want feedback,' says Philippa. 'They knew I loved 'The Lord of the Rings' and was familiar with [the story], so I started off and I was going to do some script editing for them, and then we got to that tricky prologue, and Pete said, "Do you want to have a go at this?", and I did, and he really liked it. They didn't mind that I didn't have film experience ... then at some stage we just clicked.' Philippa joined their filmmaking team as a fully fledged screenwriter, developing and writing the screenplays for The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003) with Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh, and rewriting them on set with Walsh as Jackson directed. Illustrating her lifelong love of 'writing anything', she also wrote the lyrics to two songs on the soundtrack of The Return of the King. 'I've been really lucky, because each time I've lear ned a craft, it's been a really practical and hands-on experience, which I think is actually the best way to lear n,' she says. She was certainly thrown in at the deep end -- her first project being arguably the world's est loved book. A decade on, heisakeypartofoneofthe most acclaimed filmmaking eams in the world. The trio also wrote King Kong (2005), and are currently working on the screenplay for The Hobbit (scheduled for 2011). Trailers and behind- the-scenes footage has already been released online, and early indications have been very positive for The Lovely Bones, which is already getting Oscar 'buzz'. But in the end, says Philippa, awards, fame or acclaim (as nice as they can be) aren't good reasons to become a filmmaker.You have to love spending a massive chunk of your life, over months and even years, striving to tell a visual story well. 'It really is about the work, about doing something you love, having fun doing it, even though it's really hard, and being excited by what you do,' she says. 'It's about creating a movie that you feel proud of. And bringing to life something you've connected with, in a specific way.' The Lovely Bones opens in Australia and New Zealand on Boxing Day. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold is published by Picador, r rp $22.99.