Exclusive Giveaway and Filmmaker Interviews: War Horse
Posted April 4, 2012 02:51 PM by Webmaster
Blu-ray.com and Walt Disney Home Entertainment are offering two Blu-ray.com members the opportunity to win a copy of director Steven Spielberg's War Horse, starring Jeremy Irvine, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Thewlis and Emily Watson. War Horse arrives on Blu-ray this week.
To enter, simply add a comment to this news post with your favorite war films. (There are no right or wrong answers.) The contest is open to Blu-ray.com members in the U.S. and Canada (membership is completely free), and will close on Thursday, April 12th at approximately 11:59pm EST. Entrants will never be asked or required to post any personal information whatsoever, and will only ever be identified by their Blu-ray.com username. Winners will be asked to provide full name and a valid mailing address via PM, but their personal information will not be shared or retained in any way. Prizes that are not claimed within seven days will be awarded to other entrants.
We're also pleased to present the following two virtual roundtable Q&A interviews, held recently with director Steven Spielberg and producer Kathleen Kennedy. War Horse found both award-winning filmmakers traveling to England to shoot a truly epic project, which had already earned acclaim as a popular stage play and a successful children's novel. First up, Steven Spielberg, who needs little introduction. One of the movie industry's most successful and influential filmmakers, as well as a principal partner of DreamWorks Studios, he is the top-grossing director of all time, having helmed blockbusters including Jaws, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones franchise and Jurassic Park.
It's rare that a project is successful as a novel, as a play and as a movie. But War Horse is all three. Why do you think the story is so versatile?
Director Steven Spielberg: The bones of the story of War Horse is a love story. That's what makes it universal. It was that way in the book and it was certainly that way on the boards in the West End of London. That's also what we hoped to create with our movie adaptation. This isn't a typical war film. This is not Saving Private Ryan. This isn't Band Of Brothers. If you really look at this movie, there are only 12 to 15 minutes of combat from the cavalry charge to the fighting in the Somme. I wanted families to see this picture together. That's why there's hardly any blood in this movie.
What do you think younger audiences will learn from watching the movie?
Spielberg: Children learn exponentially from media today, so we felt responsible for there to be truth in the history of the first World War in our adaptation. We did a lot of research and the thing that really struck me was the vast number of casualties among the horses. It wasn't just the men who died on the American, British, French and German side – but there was a huge number of casualties among the horses, too. I think kids will be interested to learn that this was the era where the machine – the tank, the airplane and even chemical warfare – all converged. It was almost like an experimental war. It was the war to end all wars. At least, that's what they thought back then.
Do you think of your children when you choose a new project?
Spielberg: It's interesting you ask this question because my daughter Destry had a lot to do with me directing War Horse. She's in her teens and she's been competitively riding for around 11 years – but even before I went to see the play, she said to me, "You have to make War Horse. You have to make it for me." So I did.
Why do you have such a fondness for telling historical stories?
Spielberg: I love history. To be honest, it was the only subject I did well at in school. I'm not ashamed to admit I was not a good student, but I was great at history. My dad fought in World War II and he turned 95 in 2012. He was based in Karachi, which is now Pakistan, and he fought in Burma against the Japanese – and I used to love it when he told me war stories. I grew up hearing them. My first 8-millimeter movies when I was 13, 14 and 15 years old were mostly about war. They were mostly World War II movies. Another point to add is that war throws characters into chaos. There's no better way to test a person than to put them in the middle of a war. That's clearly going to show what kind of a character you're telling a story about.
What made actor Jeremy Irvine stand out during the casting process for War Horse?
Spielberg: I looked at hundreds of potential Alberts, but Jeremy Irvine stood out because he had an ineffable quality that certain stars have – or certain exceptional people have – that makes them stand out and rise above the rest. I looked at hundreds of very interesting actors and newcomers, but nobody had the heart or the spirit or the communication skills that Jeremy had. He possessed those qualities even in silence, even without speaking. Jeremy tested five times and he got better and better. I'm very accustomed to working with actors who have no experience. You can look back at E.T. with Drew Barrymore and Christian Bale in Empire Of The Sun to see that. They had never made a movie before, but I see a very similar career in store for Jeremy.
What's the appeal of newcomers?
Spielberg: Often what happens is you get a newcomer in front of the camera and they freeze up or they imitate actors and other performances they've admired and they stop becoming themselves. My job as a director is always to return them to what I first saw in them, which was simply an uncensored human being. I really trust the authenticity of real people and my job is to get them to be themselves in front of the camera.
War Horse doesn't shy away from the fact that many horses suffered during World War I. How did you manage to portray this without harming any animals?
Spielberg: Nothing was ever done to the horses to put them under any stress. That was very, very important to all of us. Bobby Lovgren is the name of the man who trained the horses and guarded the horses – and it was incredibly important to him to keep them safe and protected. We also had a woman from the Humane Society on set every single shooting day. When I first met Barbara, I said to her, "You've got the power over me." She replied, "What do you mean?" I said, "If you ever see an animal under any kind of duress, you can say 'cut.'" I gave her the chance to stop a take or to even stop a take from even being taken.
There is a glorious old-fashioned feel to War Horse. Did you dip into childhood memories of directing heroes like John Ford when you were making the movie?
Spielberg: My heroes are John Ford, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, David Lean, Lewis Milestone, Victor Fleming, Michael Curtiz – and many more than that, too. It goes beyond American directors because this is a very British film, so I was incredibly inspired by Britain. At the same time, the works of John Ford in How Green Was My Valley and The Quiet Man were very evocative. He painted beautiful landscapes and he included the land as part of his storytelling, so how could we not include Devon and Dartmoor in this picture? The land was a character itself and in a sense, that's what a lot of the old directors did – they featured the land they were standing on. It's fun when you get to put on a wide-angle lens and not just shoot close ups for an entire movie.
What were your initial reactions to the movie shoot locations in Devon and Castle Combe?
Spielberg: Castle Combe looks like Hollywood built it. It doesn't look real, but it's beautiful, it's very authentic and it's very old. The Devon location has some of the most natural wonders in all of England with its beautiful tors. The tors are built up in a very unusual way and I've only seen something like this one other time in my life – and that was in New Zealand. There's nothing in the world like the landscapes of Devon. We couldn't believe our eyes.
The English weather is notoriously unpredictable. Did you use any digital manipulation?
Spielberg: People often tell me how much they love the digital skies that we obviously painted for War Horse. Well, there's not a single sky that we put in through special effects. The skies you see in the movie are the skies that we experienced – but it was definitely challenging at times. It took three days to shoot the spectacular sunset at the end of the movie because the sun goes down awfully fast in Devon. We had to come back again and again to get matching skies to make that whole sequence work, but it was all worth it.
The music in War Horse has a huge emotional impact. Can you talk about your work with the movie's composer, John Williams?
Spielberg: John and I have had a 40-year relationship. We started working together in 1972 on Sugarland Express and he is the most important collaborator I've ever had in my career. He's made me look good. He's made my films look better. I get a lot of credit that really should be going to John.
Why do you tend to work with the same creative teams over and over again?
Spielberg: I do, and they now feel like family. [War Horse producer] Kathleen Kennedy has been with me since 1978. My cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, has made every movie with me since Schindler's List. Michael Kahn has cut every motion picture I've directed since 1976 when we made Close Encounters together. Rick Carter has worked as a production designer on 15 of my directed films. I really believe in the family of collaboration and so John Williams is certainly no less or no more important than the entire group of all of us. However, Johnny does make a contribution that goes right to your heart. A lot of the contributions of my other collaborators are subliminal. You don't really single them out for credit – although without them, some of the films wouldn't have the impact that they have. John certainly has the most considerable impact because his music immediately bypasses the brain. It goes right to your heart. That's the way it's always been with him. He's an amazing talent.
Your portfolio of movies is incredibly diverse. What is your decision process when you choose a new script?
Spielberg: I'm not sure I choose my movies; they choose me. I know that might sound glib, but it's true. I don't go through a torturous intellectual process to decide what to direct. I know when I want to direct the second I read something or the second I hear a story. When it grabs me in a certain way, I know I want to direct it.
Next up, Kathleen Kennedy, a six-time Academy Award nominee and one of the most successful and respected producers and executives in the film industry today. Kennedy launched her producing career via a successful association with Spielberg, which began when she served as his production assistant on the film 1941. She went on to become his associate on Raiders Of The Lost Ark and, in 1982, co-founded Amblin Entertainment with Spielberg and Frank Marshall. While at Amblin, she produced and guided two of the most successful franchises in film history: the Jurassic Park series and the Back To The Future trilogy. In addition, Kennedy produced or executive-produced a number of critical and box office hits, including Twister, The Bridges Of Madison County, Schindler's List, Cape Fear, Gremlins, Empire Of The Sun, and The Color Purple. Other collaborations with Spielberg include Munich, War Of The Worlds, A.I. Artificial Intelligence and, of course, War Horse.
What went through your mind when you saw the stage play of War Horse for the first time?
Producer Kathleen Kennedy: When I saw War Horse in the West End of London, I fell in love with the story right away. I couldn't get the story and the emotions it evoked out of my head – and I instantly thought it was a project that Steven Spielberg could bring to moviegoers.
Why did you think he was perfect for the project?
Kennedy: The first thing I thought about was how right the story was for the audience. There was such a wide range of people responding to the story, with ages from 8 to 80. There were families going to see the play – and I think that's what struck me. When I told Steven about it, he instantly responded to the simplicity of the story of a boy that goes into World War I to find his horse, Joey. It immediately conjures up a very powerful emotional response. From the start, Steven wasn't interested in making a war movie. Rather, what he loved about War Horse was the relationship between the boy and this horse, and their journey. Everybody can identify with the primal emotions of the horse and, as a result, cannot help but care deeply for what happens to him. By following Joey's experience, Steven could show the goodness to be found in people fighting on either side in the war.
Was Spielberg heavily involved in the casting of War Horse and the discovery of newcomer Jeremy Irvine?
Kennedy: Definitely. Steven has a great track record of making really wonderful discoveries, and he was very excited by the opportunity this film provided to find the perfect ensemble to fill so many diverse and wonderful roles. Jeremy was just one of the many talented actors we discovered for this project.
What can you tell us about the creative team behind the project?
Kennedy: [Cinematographer] Janusz Kaminski, [production designer] Rick Carter and [costume designer] Joanna Johnston were really enabled to shine in this film. The extent of the research that Rick and Joanna conducted for the sets and costumes, finding examples that we haven't seen before in movies, was quite remarkable. And Janusz managed to gradually evolve the look of the film from lush, pastoral beauty to the horrors of war in a brilliant way. The combination of their talents gives the film a unique, authentic look that is very extraordinary.
What impressed you the most about the landscapes of the movie?
Kennedy: Rick's ability to transform a piece of land into what we'd only seen in photographs from the period was amazing. We could have done it all in post-production with CGI, but this gave the cast a deeper sense of the reality of what they were portraying. It was an old-fashioned way of moviemaking. And we weren't trying to do a big effects movie – we were trying to tell a story that would be true to its environment. It was the best way to capture the epic scope of the storytelling.
The British weather is notoriously inclement. Did you face any problems during the film shoot with regards to the climate?
Kennedy: It was pretty extraordinary because everyone told us that when you go down to Devon and Cornwall, you run the risk that it could be raining quite a bit – but that's partly why the area is so beautiful. We had extraordinary days with wonderful sunny skies, but we also had a fog come in and add a lot of texture to the landscape. The amazing thing is that the week after we stopped filming at the farmhouse, it literally rained so hard every day that that entire area flooded. When it comes to the weather, I guess we were blessed in some way. I think somebody was looking out for us.
How does the story of the movie compare to the story of the book and the play?
Kennedy: I think it's very interesting that the central idea of the story exists in literature and then on the stage and then as a film. Each one is very different and yet we're all borrowing from what [the novel's author] Michael Morpurgo created.
What do you think the movie will teach younger audiences?
Kennedy: The movie really moves people and it also educates them. It's interesting you ask me this question because our screenwriter, Richard Curtis, was telling me that his son recently got into the car and the first thing he said was, "You know what? I hope there's never another war." He was so moved by the movie and I think that's the power of imagery in motion pictures. People have an opportunity to put pictures to some of the things that they learn and it has a tremendous power in how it communicates the horrors of war.
The movie doesn't shy away from the fact that many horses suffered during World War I. How did you manage to portray this without harming any animals?
Kennedy: The horse's health and safety was incredibly important to us, so we spoke at great depth with their trainers. The interesting thing is that most of the trainers brought their own horses to the set. They own them, so they are incredibly attached to them. When we discussed scenes involving what we wanted the horses to do, the conversation became extremely personal because the trainers knew what each of their individual animals were capable of. It was fascinating.
How difficult was it to work with hundreds of horses on a complex movie set?
Kennedy: It was certainly difficult. The cavalry charges needed in excess of 100 horses and those were shots that we had to get right in two or three takes because the horses would get tired. It was a real challenge, but we did it.
Saving Private Ryan
Letters from Iwo Jima
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Paths of Glory
Full Metal Jacket
Born on the Fourth of July
The Deer Hunter
The Human Condition
The Battle of Algiers