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tv   Tavis Smiley  WHUT  January 30, 2013 8:00am-8:30am EST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight, a look at one of the year's most acclaimed films, "life of pi," screenwriter david magee, his second oscar nomination, the first coming ford "finding neverland." we are glad for you to be joining us with our conversation with david magee, coming up. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: david magee is now a two- time oscar-nominated writer, thanks to "life of pi," which is up for 11 oscars this year, including best picture. he are some scenes from "life of pi." >> i was sitting at a coffeehouse, and the old man next to be struck up a conversation, saying, "you have an amazing story." >> i was born and raised in one
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of the most beautiful places. i will always remember. but when our family choose to move our zoo halfway around the world, that is when my greatest journey began.
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the next part of the story you will find hard to believe. tavis: so everything readable is not the normal. when you walked on the set, i congratulate you for doing the impossible. a number of folks looked at this, trying to figure out this book, this claims, best-selling book, -- this acclaimed, a best- selling book, and after 170 iterations -- >> not full dress. there is a difference between a full draft and a couple of pages. that number has gotten a lot of play. a few pages got changed to make it work. tavis: even with that caveat, it still underscores the point that this was not easy. >> it was not easy, and i was happy to be a part of it. when i first read the book, i did not think it could be a
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film. i was pretty much hanging around backstage with nothing to do, and i went to the director, and i said, "you know, i have read this really great book." in he said, "is it a movie?" and i said i did not think so. then i got a call, asking if i wanted to do it with ang lee, and that is when i thought it was a great idea. tavis: this is not a kid's-up to ang lee, but how much does a name propel you, inspire you to give the impossible done? >> i would not have taken the project if it was not a name ike ang's or ang's specifically, because i knew it was that part of a project, and i do not think i could have seen how it could've been done
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without some of his patients and his caliber and his ability to work on the project. the advantage of working on a film with the director from the beginning is you are discussing this seen as they all. he is discussing the problems you are having with it, and he says, "we cannot do it this way or that way." and you learn how he is going to film it, so it is a collaboration from the outset. if i had been out by myself trying to make it into a screenplay, i think i would have picked up a much easier book. tavis: let me ask you, if i can -- is not often i get to talk to academy nominated screenwriters, but let me pick your brain, if i can. particularly, your process. i am not a screenwriter. i have written a number of books. and for me, there is a point
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where you have to find the hook, and once you get that one thing, then it really starts to roll. that is how i described my own riding. when i find that one thing, i am in my stride, and then the stuff starts to flow out of me. is screenwriting the same? and this is an adaptive screenplay. you find it starts to open up for you? >> absolutely. a screenplay has got to be a very tight to document. you've got to compress a lot of ideas into a very tight space. first of all, you have to have this idea of what the book means to you, what you want to focus on, because a book can be 300, 500 pages and export a lot of things, but first of all, you have to find that one notion that excites you to get up in the morning to work on it, and then you have to find that rhythm, that total, i think what
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you're talking about. in the case of "life of pi," there is a lot of culture, religion, and good if you are reading and leisurely sunday morning in your house, and you have a chance to get up and get a cup of coffee, but when you are watching a film, you have to get to the essence very quickly, and what you do not want to do is have the audience feeling lectured. we were trying to find the right tone, the sound for the dialogue. traveling to india together, we had gone back and forth a hundred times, any said it was like a young adults told by a great storyteller, like a treasure island. that was not the point, but that hit on something for me, that
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feeling that we are not talking down to our audience and try to sympathize. we are telling a great adventure story. that stuck with me, and i understood the humor of the opening in the rhythm of the opening and what kind of person the older pi was. tavis: when you told your director friend it was a great book, not sure it is a great film, and then all of a sudden, there is ang lee -- >> it is a great film. nothing against my other film friend. >> no names here. you got first that first 100 pages of history and other important detail for the reader. what was that part that you put your finger on and said, "this is the story"?
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>> right. well, first of all, those first 100 pages were a challenge, because for both ang and for me, the wonder of this is that it is about storytelling. it is the power of stories to transform your life, either spiritual stories or great adventure stories. movies. stories have that power to help figure out how to get through the chaos of your life, and this is essentially what pi learns, so finding the storyteller is the challenge. the first part of the film was the greatest problem, i think, for us to solve cough to get that tone, but the book is also written in 100 chapters. you can hear how it is broken up in thoughts and ideas and reflections. "on this day, i learned how to fish." i think the big challenge for us after that tones thing was
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finding the narrative, the journey, rather than just find him out fc. tavis: how much effort did you have to give, how much attention did you have to give to not offend any? as you mentioned, there is so much in here. there is religion -- there is so much here. was that a consideration at all? >> sure. we talk about several different religions, but we are nothing but respectful in talking about them. there are references in the dialogue and in the various scenes, the way we are relating to hinduism, islam, christianity, hinduism. if anything, we thought we were going to offend by not being inclusive enough. saying that these are all traditions that have their narratives that inform people's lives, that get people through their david elias, and one of the characters in the story, the father, he is an atheist, and he
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has his own narrative of how the world works, how the world should be seen, so if we offended anyone, i would think it would be someone who believed that only one of them was the one true story and then the others should not been listened to. i hope we did honor by finding each viewpoint that people in the religion themselves could be most proud of or would want to see reflected in a film. powerpoint was not to proselytize. our point was not to say you should believe in a faith. a report was to say that everyone has is different narrative's that help us get to the chaos of our lives. everyone has something that when they are down, at their low point, they look at this and say, "i understand what is happening to me, and as a result, i know how to get through." where they have nothing to fall back on. tavis: one more thing to get
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inside the process of david magee. there are no talking animals. there is no mr. ed here, but the animals play a very important role. you are writing a story that this kid's father owned a zoo, and they are on a barge, trying to get to canada, when you are screenwriting, and you are storytelling, but some of your characters are animals -- >> right. tavis: how does that challenge you? or is that a turn on for you? >> it is interesting. we wanted to make sure that we did not turn these animals into mini humans, that we did not anthropomorphize them. this was a tiger. if you get too close to the tiger, the tiger can hurt you. that was the goal of our riding.
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so in order to research the film, we met along the way with an indian tiger trainer who was 105 years old and worked on the old jungle movies back in the old days of cinema, and we had a french tiger trainer who was an expert, probably one of the greatest tiger traders in the world right now, and we talked to them when we wrote a scene. what would it do in this scene? what would a tiger do in this moment? a tiger in a boat, and they do things you do not expect, and that becomes part of the narrative, too. most of the time, we had incredible special effects artists who had been watching these tigers for weeks on end, who created that tiger, but there are a couple of shots of a real tiger in there that surprised us. tavis: what type of angst does a
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screenwriter experience when you have done your part and then there is not a whole lot for you to do? >> on this very particular film, ang was very trusting and brought me in all of the way up to the preproduction. he had to pre-visualize all of these ocean shots in an animated form before we ever shot, in order to plan where the camera would be. i actually knew what everything was going to look like. i knew it was going to look a lot better than the animated version i was looking at, but when the shooting finished and the assembly of the film went on, he brought me back in, and we continued to work through the process. you hear the stories of screenwriters you are, "thank you for the script. nice to have met you." this was him being very generous in allowing me to be a part of the whole thing. i was both a grateful and blown
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away by the result. i was not worried when i went away that he would come back with something i did not expect, because i knew this story that was being told, but no one can anticipate how spectacular, and i take no credit for that. tavis: this is your said the nomination. your first was for "finding neverland," both adapted screenplay is, and you know what my next question is going to be. >> you are going to asked me where my original writing comes from? tavis: you are also a mind reader. >> i have things i am marking on on my own. i have had tremendous good fortune that after "finding neverland," i was able to work
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regularly. the studios bring you something. i have three kids and a mortgage. it is a lot more challenging to say, "i am going to go and disappear in six months and bring it up, and then i will ask you what you think of it." it is a lot more challenging than have somebody say, "would you write to this dormmate?" tavis: i am glad we are in this now, because i am wondering, is there any sort of pressure you feel, either pressure you put on yourself, or pressure from some other outside entity or source, once you have done a really good job and of a number of adapted screenplay is -- let's put it this way. if you could keep doing adapted screenplay for the rest of your life and keep getting academy award nominations, that would not be a bad life. >> no. tavis: is there a pressure that you feel from yourself or others
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that "i have got to do an original screenplay and"? >> i put pressure on myself to keep trying new things. yes, i am the one who puts the most pressure on myself in this life. i intend to do an original one in my life, but i am more concerned that i do not repeat myself, and to credit who has a reputation -- to credits ang, who has a reputation of never doing the same thing twice, that does not mean that they will not have similar themes, but i want to make sure i do something that stretches me. yes, i do want to get my own out there at some day to say i did that. tavis: if a studio comes to you and says, "david, we want you to work on this, " how do you do that? >> they are looking for the
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right match, too, and if i say, "listen. i have got to be honest, that subject matter does not appeal to me," or," i do not know how i would do this. this does not work for may." they may have a project they want me to take seriously, and i have made a mistake, and i won't tell you which, being convinced to do something, when i did not have it in my system. you cannot spend eight months writing something that you are not passionate about. tavis: but having that in your system, does that mean you have to be emotionally, spiritually, socially, connected to the material to do it? what you have is a gift. you are an artist in your own right. one does not necessarily have to be -- maybe that is your process. >> i do not disagree with you.
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i do not have to be connected on every single level, but there has to be something that makes me want to get up in the morning. when i saw that and said, "yes," i want to explore that idea, or i want to show that to my kids. something that really moves me when i read it. it could be anything in it that makes me excited about seeing that project through. if i do not have the, or, again, without saying names, there was a book presented to me, and i read it, and i said, "this does not work. i have a lot of problems. i think if i cut it down, it will be more obvious." so i told that to the studio, and they said, "you are so right. that is why we need you to do this project." and i said, "and there is
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something else." and they said, "you are brilliant." i got snowed into doing it. tavis: i assume you learned something from that experience. >> yes, to be polite and say no, and that is the answer. that is what you have to do. tavis: by your own confession, "life of pi," when you read it, you're not certain it was a film. even with ang lee, what was it you connected to that made you want to endure the challenge of writing the screenplay? >> absolutely connected with the ending of the book, and i do not want to give it away. i found the ending of the film very powerful, surprising, and very moving, and for me, is some of a lot of what i felt about the power of stories, be their religious stories, spiritual stories, whenever they are.
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the power of those two get us through life, and that resonated -- resonated with me. i also thought it was a great yarn, being on the ocean and having to deal with this tiger. when i was saying i did not think it would be a good film, i was not say that it would not be a good film, it was that i did not know how you would pull it off. 10 years ago, we did not even have the technology to do that with the tiger. it was just beginning, and it was prohibitively expensive, and if you did it with real animals, it would have been even more expensive. you cannot put a boy and a real tiger on a boat together unless it is the last day of shooting, because you will not end up with but one. the question just kind of went right out of my mind, but when you get a filmmaker as powerful as ang, and he says he can do
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it, let's do it. if, for some reason, the two of us went on that journey, and they had tried several other times -- i had a chance to work with a great filmmaker. i would not have passed that up for anything. tavis: and here comes the soft ball underhand right down the plate, which you have been waiting for all night, right down the middle. i want to get your take on this. i know you can articulate this better than i can, even though i feel this. i cannot imagine life without storytellers, without these narratives. it is the best part of hollywood when they get it right. >> absolutely. tavis: at hollywood's best, there are narrative's and stories that are told. they encourage us and inspire us. how fortunate do you feel, whether to be nominated or not, and you certainly have been, and now for a "life of pi," how
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fortunate do you feel to be among the best storytellers? >> you through it a compliment in the end, but when i was a kid, this is what i wanted to do. when i watched butch cassidy and the sundance kid, and i saw paul newman and robert redford up there, and that adventure, going along with them, and i felt terrible. when they got shot. when i saw all of that, i was a part of it. when i watched a movie is going through high school, and i am struggling with try to figure out how to talk to a girl, and i see movies that explore that same subject, i was learning, you know? i was learning that we all suffer through those things. stories help you get through. of course, there are more profound stories. there are a big, spiritual stories. what is like to live in the south during the depression. what it is like being an okie, trying to get out to california.
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those things can what in your view of the world. i knew a lot more about europe from films until i was aged 25 or 30. i did not get over there. i did not get a chance to see it, but i learned about cultures and people and places far from me. it is all i wanted to do. i wanted to be an actor for a while, but i always wanted to be a part of this. tavis: if you are. >> and i am, and very proud to be. tavis: an academy award nominated. the movie is "life of pi." david magee, good to have you on the program. that is our show. until next time, keep the faith.
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stormy skies ♪ today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with the geomagic ceo, ping fu. that is next time. we will see you then.
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>> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> be more. pbs. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with
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the geomagic ceo, ping fu,
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