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Steven Spielberg Talks The BFG

Jun 27, 2016

By: Lynn Barker

The BFG was a fave novel for many kids and teens. After many years in development, famous director Steven Spielberg brings it to life on the big screen with modern technology and very cool new 12-year-old actress Ruby Barnhill.

Setting up a shotSetting up a shotCourtesy of Disney

In this interview, Spielberg talks about the differences between making big films in the 1980’s and now and how the “BFG” story was updated for today’s audiences. He loved filming a silly farting scene and he mentions his next movie based on a popular YA novel. Check it out!

Q: Was this film both fun and easier to make than it would have been a few years ago? There are a lot of special effects.

  • Spielberg: It was fun. We could not have made the movie the way you saw the film even five years ago. We wouldn't have been able to get a virtual performance, where you actually can feel the emotion from the character five years ago. Things have really evolved to a point where I really believe (a motion capture character). It’s not just in the eyes. It's every single part of the emotional contours of bodily expression, of facial expression, of the vocalizations. Capturing (the giant) Mark (Rylance) and trying to preserve the magic that he gave us every day and transposing that onto an animated character, could not have been possible in this way five years ago.

Hitching a ride on the Big Friendly GiantHitching a ride on the Big Friendly GiantCourtesy of Disney

Q: How did you find and cast young Ruby Barnhill? She’s a natural.

  • Spielberg: When I first met Ruby the first thing I realized was she's comfortable in her own skin. Very. She's very confident and she has a tremendous heart. She puts so much love and interest out there into the world. She was more interested in asking questions than answering my questions. Her questions scooped my questions.
  • We interviewed 300, 400 girls in every English-speaking country in the world. We found Ruby at the very, very end of the casting process in Manchester, England. Ruby came in and did a reading and I had seen many, many young girls between the ages of 8 and 11, sometimes 12 just in our search. All I focused on was, "Can you fly her to Berlin (where he was shooting another film), like tomorrow? I need to meet this young actress." She came out with her dad, who I also put in the movie because her dad's a wonderful actor. He was the one that ushers BFG into the Queen's corridor, going down the corridor, using nautical terms like “full stop”, “hard to port”, “watch out”, “priceless antiques”. That's her dad. I was very lucky to meet Ruby.

Going over a scene with RubyGoing over a scene with RubyCourtesy of Disney

Q: Is the E.T. audience from 1982 different and is the way you approach making a film different now?

  • Spielberg: It’s different because I'm a lot different than I was in 1982. The one thing that doesn't change is when I can find a good story and the story tells me what it needs, as opposed to me overruling all the values of the story to somehow impose my maturity on to a piece that needed more of a kid than an adult. A book like “The BFG” or any other movie I see that has young values can just bring the memories of what it was like being a kid right back to me in a flash. You can get your childhood back in a millesecond.

Ruby, as Sophie, confronts The BFGRuby, as Sophie, confronts The BFGCourtesy of Disney

Q: Did you have a scene that was your favorite to direct? I don't know how you guys got through the “whizpopper” (farting) scene.

  • Spielberg: We got through the whizpopper. Barely got through it. Mark had to be put on wires and he had to be jerked into the air every time he whizpops. Mark loved it. He had never made a movie like this before. He does mainly stage plays. He's been in some rigs in theater, but he's never been pulled into the air with an off camera, whizpopping sound effect before. Ruby and Mark are working in a big, big, white space called a motion capture volume. The sets are all made of wire. Ruby is on huge sets to be able to reduce her in scale. There's huge dream jars, and the table is humongous. Mark is on a scissor lift 20 feet above Ruby, looking down, so they can make eye contact.

Director and star share a smile on setDirector and star share a smile on setCourtesy of Disney

Q: What is the biggest struggle for you making movies that work today?

  • Spielberg: I wouldn't characterize it as a struggle, but I think it's more of a duel between story and technology and what should triumph in any project. I believe it should always be story. If there's any kind of a struggle going on, it is basically deciding what we offer audiences today. Are we offering them stories that they will remember the rest of their lives, or are we offering them spectacle that will be appreciated perhaps in the short term, but then forgotten very soon after?
  • When I personalize that, I say that's my struggle, too. I get very seduced sometimes by concepts that have a wow factor. I have to always ask why am I going to go and spend two years of my life on something for a wow factor when I'm not sure the story has any social value or any lasting value that will be remembered in 10 years, let alone a year? I get like everybody else, seduced by big ideas and big franchises and big possible franchises. I think I've gotten to a point in my life where it's easy to say, "No." It used to be hard for me to say "No." I've said "No" to so many humongous, hit franchises that I think I'm getting pretty good at it.

Ruby, Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and producers share a cellphone laughRuby, Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy and producers share a cellphone laughCourtesy of Disney

Q: This is your very first, full on film for Disney. Can you talk about Walt Disney himself and the way that he paved for you as a filmmaker?

  • Spielberg: Watching a Disney film was the first time I realized you could be scared half to death and then rescued minutes later. Not hours later, minutes later. Disney had this incredible power to create images that were so frightening you had to turn away from the screen, but then suddenly those images would turn into a beautiful moment of transcendence. When you've finally vanquished the foe, you're left with the damsel in distress but Disney would take the damsel in distress and turn the damsel into the proactive heroine, so Disney also had strong women in all the animated films like Cinderella, Snow White.  You look at all the animated films, very strong women. I find that Disney probably influenced me in that sense. It also made me feel that it was ok to scare as long as there was light at the end of the little vignettes of darkness.
  • With this movie I think we have one of the strongest young women I've ever had the pleasure of working with. I think in a sense Disney was a big influence maybe even over (author of “The BFG” book) Roald Dahl in that way, because he wrote a very strong female protagonist in his book.

Ruby Barnhill listens to her director SpielbergRuby Barnhill listens to her director SpielbergCourtesy of Disney

Q: On a more recent note, is George Lucas going to be involved at all in the next Indiana Jones movie ?

  • Spielberg: George will be inputting. George is going to be an executive producer on it with me. I would never make an Indiana Jones film without George Lucas. That would be insane. By the way, George Lucas' fingerprints are on The Force Awakens because that movie is an homage to Star Wars episodes 4, 5, and 6. A complete homage, so George Lucas is all over The Force Awakens, lest we ever forget that.

Spielberg uses clapboard to start the productionSpielberg uses clapboard to start the productionCourtesy of Disney

Q: What are you shooting next ?

  • Spielberg: I'm doing Ready Player One. I start shooting a week from today in Europe.

Note: The film is based on the YA novel by Ernest Cline. It’s the year 2044 and the only time teenager Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past. They promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he faces players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. He’ll have to confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape.

The BFG PosterThe BFG PosterCourtesy of Disney

The BFG is in theaters this Friday, July 1st!


Have Your Say

Are you growing up watching Spielberg classic films that he has either directed or produced? Do you have a favorite? Have you read “The BFG”? Comment below.