An Interview With the Creators of “Nim’s Island”

Our family has a new favorite film. “Nim’s Island” captured our attention, treated our eyes and pulled at our hearts as we watched it. Now our kids want to show it to their grandparents. Families attending the KIDS FIRST! Film Festival have the opportunity to bask the magic of the film, too. Here’s the inside scoop on the film from directors Mark Levin & Jennifer Flackett:

CP:  What is the story behind getting this classic tale up on the movie screen?

ML & JF: The book “Nim’s Island” was shared with us by Walden Media, Fox and the film’s producer Paula Mazur. We were inspired by the character of Nim, an adventurous and heroic young girl. She at once reminded us of our own daughter, and seemed like the kind of hero that young girls don’t get to see in movies these days. We spent several months working on the script, trying to imagine what the life of a girl who grew up only on a deserted island must be like. Jodie Foster discovered the script and decided that she would like to play the role of Alexandra Rover, which was one of the great days of our lives when we heard that. Abigail Breslin was the first girl we met for the role of Nim and, once we met her, we knew we shouldn’t bother to continue looking. She has a very sincere and winning everygirl quality which we felt was perfect for the role of Nim. We didn’t want Nim to be too Tarzan-like but very real and identifiable. The final piece of the puzzle came together when we lit upon the idea of casting Gerard Butler as both the father and the great adventure hero Alex Rover. Until that time, we had thought we were going to cast the roles separately, but Gerry inspired us to use one actor for both, enhancing the storybook quality of the movie.

CP:  What were some of the more difficult aspects of filming this particular movie?

ML & JF: There is an old saying in the film business that you shouldn’t work with children or animals, and on this movie we worked with both. Certainly, when the child is Abigail Breslin, it’s not a problem at all  The animals were a slightly different story. The sea lions (there were two) were quite experienced, on loan from Sea World. They did a variety of tricks and became easily bonded with Abigail. The pelicans (also on loan from Sea World) were a slightly different story. Pelicans are less trainable than sea lions and, if you get to close to them, they might peck at you dangerously. We spent a lot of time and energy trying to get the pelican and the actors into the same frame together. In “Nim’s Island”, there were also many giant storms which is always a challenging aspect for a film crew, having to create wind and rain and lightning and roll cameras through the whole thing.

CP:  The cinematography is amazing, and the mix of mediums added a lot to the story, how did you come up with the mix?

ML & JF: Our cinematographer was Stuart Dryburgh, a highly talented fellow who had shot movies like “The Piano” and “Bridget Jones’ Diary”, two very different movies that we admired. When we first considered the look of the movie, we discussed “enhanced realism” — making it feel real, but slightly better than real at the same time, which seemed appropriate because Nim lives so much in her imagination. The opening of the movie is created entirely out of paper, which was created by a special team from our art department. It took dozens of weeks to designed and create and puppet the cut-outs for each of the shots in the beginning of the movie. We wanted it to feel handmade and slightly childlike, like a kid who grew up only on books might imagine a story.

CP:  Please tell me an anecdote regarding something that happened on set that was ether funny or inspiring or both.

ML & JF: When we started making “Nim’s Island,” Abigail confessed that she was a bit concerned about all the climbing and swimming and running she would have to do. She had never done a role with so much physicality before. She asked “What if when I’m running, I fall down.”  We said, “If you fall down, just get up and keep running because that’s the most important thing about Nim. She keeps going.”

CP:  What does it mean to you to have your title featured in the KIDS FIRST! film festival?

ML & JF: It’s great to have a festival dedicated to quality movies for kids which has always been very important to us. From the first movie that we wrote “Madeline,” through “Little Manhattan”, through “Nim’s Island,” we’ve tried to make films that reminded us of the films that entertained and inspired us when we were young. It’s a pleasure to have “Nim’s Island” included in KIDS FIRST!

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