20th Century Fox
Markus Zusak didn’t expect for his 2006 novel The Book Thief to get published. Let alone become a New York Times #1 Bestseller. Let alone receive a major movie adaptation by 20th Century Fox that’s already getting Oscar buzz two months before its Nov. 15 release. “I thought no one would read it,” Zusak says. “I mean, how would someone describe it to their friends? ‘Well, it’s set in Nazi Germany. It’s narrated by Death. There’s a high body count. And it’s 580 pages long. You’ll love it!’”
Anyone who’s read The Book Thief — and it turns out many, many people have — knows it’s the staggeringly ambitious story of Liesel Meminger, a ten-year-old girl separated from her communist mother and forced to live with foster parents Hans and Rosa Hubermann in the small German town of Molching. The year is 1939. Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party control Germany and are about to begin marching across Europe. It’s appropriate, then, that the novel is narrated by Death. But this isn’t any skeletal Grim Reaper with sickle or scythe. He’s a wry, relatively good-natured chap with a job to do. Death shows us Liesel’s experiences leading up to and during World War II: how her foster father Hans teaches her how to read a book she stole, the way she settles in to life in Molching, interacts with other kids her own age, and helps hide the son of a Jewish man who fought alongside Hans in World War I in the cellar of her foster parents’ home, just as the full savagery of the Holocaust begins. What Zusak conjures is truly unique: a panoramic view of life in a German town during World War II, a Mrs. Miniver story set on the other side.
The Book Thief is the stuff of great drama, but let’s face it…most movie adaptations of novels about adolescent girls these days feature vampires, werewolves, and witches, not Nazis. “The Book Thief was always at the forefront of my mind,” producer Karen Rosenfelt says. “I really wanted to get this made even while I was working on other projects like Twilight.” Rosenfelt has produced some of the highest-grossing movies geared to young people in recent years, including all five of the movies based on Stephenie Meyer’s vampire saga. But The Book Thief became a true passion project for her and she wanted its movie adaptation to share two qualities of the book: authenticity and honesty.
Zusak’s book is incredibly detailed, and it’s easy to see why: his parents grew up in Germany during World War II before eventually emigrating to Australia. “The best research for the book was my whole childhood, really,” Zusak says. Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush, who Rosenfelt tapped to play the loving Hans Hubermann, adds, “It’s such a personal story, because Markus developed the idea for The Book Thief from the stories his parents told him about living in Nazi Germany. So even though it seems like such a different world, there’s this level of detail he brings to it that makes it feel lived-in enough that anybody can relate to it.” Zusak’s parents also peppered their conversation with hyperlocal insults like the word “saumensch,” featured prominently in the book. In fact, Zusak even based Liesel’s personality in part on his mother’s. “I think it’s very fresh,” Rush says. “I wasn’t aware of the book when I was sent the screenplay, then read the book after having read the screenplay and thought [screenwriter] Michael Petroni did a really honorable transposition of it. It has such a whimsical, sardonic, poetic, existential sensibility…and it’s very blunt.”
So to match the book’s level of authenticity, Rosenfelt hired director Brian Percival, who’s worked on much of Downton Abbey, and insisted on shooting the movie in Germany. But there were still many challenges for the filmmakers to unpack. First, there was the matter of the book’s length. “It’s close to 600 pages, so it was tough to figure out what to leave on the cutting room floor,” Rosenfelt says. Among the things that have been changed from the book to the movie, Hans and Rosa are now childless. In the book, their son was a pretty fanatical Nazi. “One thing we couldn’t cut? Death’s voiceover,” Rosenfelt says. “We knew we wanted that from the start. But voiceover is a tricky thing. You never want too much of it or for it to take you out of the film. It should be seamless.” Producer Ken Blancato adds, “You shouldn’t be going ‘Wait, is that Morgan Freeman?’” The voice actor for Death still hasn’t been announced yet, but it’ll be the critical thread to link the many years of the story together.
There’s also the challenge of aging Sophie from a 10-year-old to a 17-year-old over the course of the movie. Thousands of girls auditioned for the role, but it was 13-year-old Canadian actress Sophie Nélisse (Monsieur Lazhar) who won out. The Book Thief makeup team then worked to shade her face in such a way to convey Sophie aging. “I wanted to go for the full Benjamin Button effect,” Nelisse jokes.
However, figuring out the basic challenges of adapting the book and casting one actress to inhabit Liesel as she grows from a child into a young woman was just the beginning in creating The Book Thief.
For part two of our behind-the-scenes look at The Book Thief, about how director Brian Percival, production designer Simon Elliott, and costume designer Anna B. Sheppard brought the world of the book to life, click here.
More: ‘The Book Thief’: Watch the Emotional Trailer for Geoffrey Rush’s Likely Oscar Contender ‘Downton Abbey’ Director Takes on ‘The Book Thief’ ‘The Counselor’ Trailer Asks Us All: Have We Been Bad?
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If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.
UPDATE: Not even a day after this original story broke, Summit Entertainment has hired Let Me In director Matt Reeves to helm its adaptation of This Dark Endeavor. Deadline reports that Jacob Aaron Estes will pen the screenplay for the picture.
EARLIER: Apparently everyone capable of making movies is sick of zombies and vampires and all the rest of that stupid crap, so that fad is being tossed aside in favor of something original: Frankenstein, but there's one problem. Everyone capable of making movies is also making their own Frankenstein. According to Deadline, there are now six different studios producing some type of Frankenstein film. The reason? Well, Frankenstein is a classic novel that's considered "public domain," so anybody can pretty much create their own monster (sorry), but in the end probably only one or two of these films will actually be made.
Anyway, the most recent film is an adaptation of Peter Ackroyd's novel The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein, which will be adapted by the talented Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Auburn (Proof). Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert's Ghost House Pictures will produce alongside RT Features. The story will focus on the "youthful days of Frankenstein," you know, the days when a young, darling Frankenstein ran through open fields of wildflowers, lilies and innocence, or something.
Universal is currently teaming with Guillermo del Toro and Scott Stuber for an update on the 1931 film; Summit Entertainment -- with Twilight Saga producer Karen Rosenfelt -- is developing an adaptation of Kenneth Oppel's novel This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstin; Columbia Pictures and producer Matt Tomach just acquired a script that retells the Frankenstein story pitched by Craig Fernandez; also, Fox 2000 is remaking The Rocky Horror Picture Show with Glee's Ryan Murphy; and finally, Guns N Roses guitar player Slash has teamed his Slasher Films with Scout Productions to do Wake the Dead, a Frankenstein tale based on the graphic novel by Steve Niles with Jay Russell attached to star -- because at this point, why the hell wouldn't Slash be making a Frankenstein film?
Steve Martin in is negotiations to join The Big Year alongside Jack Black and Owen Wilson.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the recent Oscar host would star in the comedy about three men who try to outdo each other in a bird-watching competition to spot the rarest birds in North America.
The Fox 2000 film starts shooting in May in Canada and will be directed by David Frankel. It’s based on the 1998 book The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature and Fowl Obsession, by Mark Obmascik.
The script was adapted Howard Franklin.
Producing are Karen Rosenfelt, Ben Stiller and Stuart Cornfeld of Red Hour Films along with Curtis Hanson and Carol Fenelon of Deuce Three Prods.
The project has long been in development and for a while had Dustin Hoffman attached, among others.