London-based writer Kelly Marcel wrote the 2011 Black List screenplay Saving Mr. Banks which was produced starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Colin Farrell, and Paul Giamatti. She is involved writing several other high profile movie projects including The Little Mermaid and Fifty Shades of Grey.
Kelly and I engaged in a wide-ranging Q&A, the focus of which is her thought process in writing Saving Mr. Banks. You will find her responses insightful, frank and hugely entertaining. Today in Part 2, Kelly talks about the TV series “Terra Nova” and how she got involved with Saving Mr. Banks:
Scott: After some success as a writer in England, your transition to Hollywood involved selling a project that became the TV series “Terra Nova.” Could you describe how that deal happened and what it meant to your career?
Kelly: Blimey, here’s where I bore everyone to death. The “Terra Nova” thing was all a bit bonkers. I had finished Bronson and Tom and I had sold two TV pilots that we had somehow managed to write during that time as well. Off the back of those sales and Bronson I got my British agent and then bombarded her with scribblings. Two of the outlines I gave her were TV show ideas—one was “Terra Nova,” the other was for a show called “Westbridge.” She immediately jumped on “Terra Nova,” which I have to admit was my least favorite idea, and sent it to an agent turned producer out here in LA called Aaron Kaplan. He called and told me to get on a plane because I was going to pitch it to networks immediately. I thought everyone had gone stark raving mad, but I gathered up some pennies, jumped on a plane and went to stay at the stunningly gorgeous Oakwood apartments in Burbank. Aaron introduced me to a writer called Craig Silverstein who joined me on the project and helped me craft the pitch and off we went to sell our wares. Never in a MILLION YEARS did I think we’d sell it, but we ended up with offers from competing networks in the very first week, and then, incredibly cheekily, I decided to pitch “Westbridge” and sold that too.
Once we decided to go with FOX, Craig and I wrote the pilot via Skype (I was back in England and back at the video store.) Aaron called one night and said that Steven Spielberg was reading it and I was like “don’t be ridiculous you silly man. You’ve been drinking the silly tea.” But, Steven came on board as the producer and FOX decided to go straight to series. BONKERS! And then came a really hard decision: Should I stay with “Terra Nova,” which was rapidly turning into something very different from the show I had created? Or stay with “Westbridge,” which looked very unlikely to go to series? I decided not to continue with TN and so the wonderful, beautiful Brannon Braga took over on TN and I stayed at the video store because “Westbridge” did not in fact go to series. Either way though, I couldn’t have stayed with Terra Nova; it wasn’t what I had initially dreamed up, and I knew that writing something I couldn’t find a voice for would potentially stop me writing altogether. It was during this period that Saving Mr. Banks came into my life, so looking back, the best decision I ever made.
Scott: Let’s talk about your movie Saving Mr. Banks. Here is the IMDB plot summary: “Author P. L. Travers reflects on her difficult childhood while meeting with filmmaker Walt Disney during production for the adaptation of her novel, Mary Poppins.”
The movie stars Emma Thompson as Pamela Travers, the author of “Mary Poppins,” Tom Hanks as Walt Disney, and Colin Firth as Pamela’s father Robert Travers.
How did you get involved with the movie’s producer Alison Owen and what was the genesis of the project?
Kelly: Alison had read the “Westbridge” pilot and had aggressively pursued me ever since. There were lots of ideas that were floated about but nothing that had made me jump up and down. And then finally, she asked me whether I had any interest in Mary Poppins, and I can’t remember what she said after that because she had me at Poppins.
In short, there was a script that had been knocking around for a while by an Australian writer who had been commissioned to write a film about PL Travers’ life based on a documentary called “The Shadow Of Mary Poppins.” Alison thought there was something interesting in there that she couldn’t quite leave alone. I felt the same.
Scott: What was it that made you think this would make a great story?
Kelly: I loved the idea that this sweet film, this huge part of all of our childhoods, was born out of terrible tragedy. I was taken with the idea of redemption and the effect that our parents can have on us all the way into adulthood.
Scott: The script Saving Mr. Banks made the Black List in 2011. What has that meant to you both personally and professionally?
Kelly: Both Alison and I will tell you that The Black List was a MASSIVE part of helping get this film made. It was being on that list that brought people’s attention to SMB. After the Black List, a whirlwind of attention arrived and very quickly built a hype around it. We all owe a great deal to Franklin and everyone involved in the Black List, and I cannot underestimate how important it was in the process of getting Banks noticed and into the hands of the people who would eventually give it life.
Tomorrow in Part 3, Kelly sheds light on some of the unconventional choices she made in writing Saving Mr. Banks.
For Part 1 of the interview, go here.
Please stop by comments to thank Kelly.
Kelly is repped by WME.