Q & A with the crew behind A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

We're happy to announce MovieWeb's involvement in an ongoing series of questions, asked by you, our readers, about the details of the upcoming film adaptation of A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

In the first round, director Garth Jennings and producer Nick Goldsmith speak. Stay tuned for more opportunites to participate in upcoming continuations of this Q & A!

How did Jennings, a director with no Hollywood experience, end up helming one of the most anticipated films of 2005?

GARTH: Good question!!! The short answer is that Nick and I came up with a big, fresh way to make the film that got everyone very excited, and we could do it for less than half of what it would normally have cost to make in Hollywood.

Slightly longer answer: Nick and I have been making videos, commercials and short films together since we left art school. It was through making all this stuff that we met Spike Jonze. Jay Roach had sent the script to Spike but he passed and sent him our showreel as an alternative suggestion (we are forever in his debt!) Spyglass liked our reel too and sent us the script. Nick and I downed tools on a movie we had just written and spent the next 8 months working flat out on the HHGG script and the visuals. I also storyboarded about half of the film. 3 drafts, over 2000 drawings and ten million packets of Hob-Nobs later we had it all worked out. We had shot Zaphod head tests, made models of space ships and Vogons etc and burned all of it onto a nice little presentation DVD. The guys at Spyglass really liked what we had done so Nick and I flew out to L.A and presented it to Disney. The presentation, especially the storyboards, went down really well, so well in fact that they green lit the movie then and there. The stuff of dreams!

"When Hitchhiker's Guide was first being written, computer technology and more importantly PCs were very new and primitive and so the science fiction element of the story was very potent; it was a novel idea but something that simply couldn't be done. Nowadays we have all kinds of technologies and mobile devices: mobile phones, PDAs and other such gadgets. In this climate, how do you feel a modern Hitchhiker's Guide fits in, and do you feel the level of the 'fantastic' it once had will be subdued for a modern audience?"

GARTH: I think the Guide will always be a fantastic device for an audience because it's got such a unique personality and hilarious view of the universe. But you're right, technology has caught up with the original ideas but the technical side of the book isn't really that important. It's not about the buttons or the interface or how quickly it can stream audio. It's Douglas' take on life, and that will always fit in, even when they have invented the silliest and smallest of gadgets.

NICK: The modern Hitchhikers Guide now pretty much exists, but it almost has left itself behind, because now it can have whatever voice you want to give it. What Douglas did, and Garth has pointed out, is how in the film The Guide is clearly a character with its own very distinct opinions and thus in a way in today's world, is almost more fantastic than it used to be but for very different reasons.

I don't know if it's a good point but in my mind your work is close to the movies/ads/music videos made by some guys like the French Michel Gondry (Human Nature, Eternal Sunshine...) and the American Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovitch). Do you feel somewhat similar to them?

GARTH: High praise indeed. It strikes me that the thing we seem to have in common with those directors is that we are all very lucky to be able to make things the way we want to make them. We're all very privileged that studios have been willing to employ us to tell stories in our own, personal way.

How does it feel that a project like this, with so many fans, was you first actual movie? What made you say yes?

GARTH: our first reaction was to reject the script before it had even popped through the letter box. "They'll have ruined it!" we said to each other. But they hadn't ruined it. In fact, the script was fantastic and after some pacing about, we said yes. We aren't daunted by what the fans think because we are fans ourselves – and so are the people we were working with. We're all really proud of what we've done. The fact that it is our first feature film meant that we probably worked even harder than more established people to get the film ready to shoot.

NICK: The fact that our first film had so many fans already attracted to it, at times can be incredibly daunting, because there is such high expectation. But then you think about it from the point that you are making a film, which already has an audience, and how lucky you are. How could we not say yes?

After viewing just about all your previous work (videos, commercials, shorts) on the Tongsville website, I must say that you seem to be the exact perfect match for Douglas Adams' sensibilities. Without unduly gushing, you two are geniuses at creating hysterical and original art on a shoestring budget. (E.g., the Wanadies videos, especially Big Fan). So now to my big question: Do you feel that having a big budget altered the way your sensibilities manifest themselves, or at least made you reorganize your accustomed creative processes? Was it a whole new experience, or just the same thing writ large?

GARTH: Thanks for your kind words. If we had keys to the city of Tongsville we would certainly give them to you! Although we had a much bigger budget than anything you would normally be given to make a music video it was relative to the scale of the production. We didn't have to change the way we work, if anything, it was often more hands-on than our previous productions. We brought all of our usual crew with us too. Production designer, D.O.P, composer, costume etc. so it was pretty much business as usual.

NICK: The weird thing is that in all the work we have ever done, there never seems to be enough money, from the smallest job, to a huge feature film. It seems that with us, whatever you give us to make the thing, we will squeeze it dry for everything its got. The great thing is that when you financially come across a hurdle it forces you to come up with a more creative way to solve it.

A lot of directors now document and prepare their DVD work alongside the creation of the movie. We've also seen directors like Del Toro and Jackson release very different versions of their films on DVD than what was released in the theatres. What has your team done in preparation for the DVD release and how has this impacted the creation of the theatrical film?

GARTH: Ah ha! We had lots of fun working DVD extras out. We planned things very early on, like having Grant Gee direct his own making of/behind the scenes/round-the-bend film and a ton of great bits and bobs we made ourselves along the way (but we won't tell you about them yet.) If things continue as well as they seem to be going, then I think the theatrical release will be the directors cut – or at least a cut that director is extremely happy with. I have rarely seen a directors cut I liked more than the original – have you?

NICK: I like the idea, that when we release the DVD, you get the actual film as the bonus DVD. We have filmed a lot of extras!

What have been your favourite parts of the production (funny moments involving the cast, favourite scene to film etc) so far?

GARTH: I've loved the entire process. Except for all the annoying bits. And getting food poisoning. And the conference calls! I hate conference calls. I find it very difficult to tell if people are listening or they've popped out for a wee. It's been very hard but extremely rewarding work so far. I hope I still feel the same when it's all over. Favourite moments so far include; cycling along the canal to Hensons and designing Vogons with them late into the night, storyboarding the movie on our boat, waking up to find new pages from Karey, seeing Warwick bring Marvin to life, Martin & Zooeys' screen test, the day they finished the Heart of Gold set, testing Zaphod's 2nd head, dragging Mos Def by his ankles across the floor during the Magrathean missile sequence, seeing the 2nd unit's mice footage, listening to Joby playing the overture on his piano, watching Sam Rockwell dance on Viltvodle 6, Bill Nighy, driving a golf cart down the corridor of Elstree Studios and being chased by the Big Brother security team, the first assembly… I could go on forever. But then again, I could probably write an equally long list for all the irritating things that happened too!