Written Interview: David Magee (“Life of Pi”)

November 24th, 2012 by

Script magazine interview with screenwriter David Magee who adapted Life of Pi. Here is an excerpt:

SM    What specific challenges did you face adapting it?

DM    So much of it takes place in the mind of Pi as he goes on this amazing journey. And the greatest challenges were finding ways to communicate what he’s going through emotionally through action and his relationship with the tiger.

In a novel, you can have episodes from a person’s life that sum up who they are and what the character is all about. You can go through their head and listen to their thoughts as they go through things.

But in a film, you have a much shorter time to tell the story. The events have to thread together as a series of actions that take a person on a journey.

So, the first part of the story when Pi is in India became much more challenging, i.e. setting up who Pi is in a dramatic way.

It’s easy to flip through the book and set it aside when the pace is not right or you want to reflect on the emotions of a certain scene. But we had a limited amount of time to tell audiences who he was so the journey would have an impact, and we could get him on this boat. Introducing his world (India), the religious themes, and launching him on that journey, provided the greatest challenge.

SM    The book reminds me a little of The Old Man and the Sea. When writing, were you influenced by other maritime novels and films? Did you think of Tom Hanks talking to a volleyball?

DM    I was really afraid I would end up doing a volleyball scene! I did my best to avoid that. No slight to that movie; it’s a wonderful film, but you don’t want to rely on the solutions that other people have come up with; especially when they are very familiar to everyone. I wanted to avoid the obvious comparisons, even to The Old Man and the Sea, which is a brilliant book.

So, we did a lot of reading and research. The greatest influence was Steve Callahan. Right from the beginning, my nephew mentioned there was a book called Adrift by Steve Callahan about the real-life experiences of a man who was ship wrecked or set adrift in a life raft for 76 days, floating across the Atlantic.

Steve had gone to Europe for a sailboat competition with a woman who was more of a companion than an actual girlfriend. But they had a bit of a falling out. She decided to travel back on her own. So, he got in his boat and headed back to the States. As he was sleeping one night, he awoke to a loud thump and a crack. He thinks a whale surfaced and rammed the underside of his boat. So, as water gushed inside, he grabbed his supply bag and his inflatable raft just as the ship sank and floated across the Atlantic.

SM    And you met with him?

DM    Yes. Steve was more than willing to meet with us. Ang and I went up to Maine and went out on a boat with him. Then Ang got all these crazy ideas that Steve should take us out on a boat and leave us floating out on the ocean for a half a day or so, which I thought was a perfectly horrible idea! But Ang loves to experience things directly (Laughs).

For the rest of the interview, go here.

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