The authors of the original childrens books talk about bringing their work to life on the silver screen
When the first book of The Spiderwick Chronicles was published in 2003, author Holly Black and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi had no idea that one book would turn into a full-fledged series. Five years later that original book and the ones spawned after it have spawned again, this time into the feature film The Spiderwick Chronicles, which becomes available on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 24. I had a chance to speak with Black and DiTerlizzi about the novels and the film adaptation over the phone, and here's what they had to say.
So where did the idea for this story come from, the story and the illustrations?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Magic gnomes! Magic gnomes! They gave us everything (Laughs).
Holly Black: Can I tell you a funny story? When Tom was a kid, he used to make a lot of field guides, for various different things.
Tom DiTerlizzi: I was pumped up on watching Dungeons & Dragons and The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. I wanted to make a scientific, John James Audobon-esque field guide, and I did it. I was maybe 12, 13 years old and I kind of forgot about it and I actually got to work for the company that publishes Dungeons & Dragons. I thought about it again and I showed it to them and I said, 'Hey, what if we did a field guide to dragons and goblins and stuff like that?' They said no. Holly actually came out to interview me when I lived out in Brooklyn for my artwork for Dungeons & Dragons and also was a huge fan of Dungeons & Dragons and Jim Henson movies.
Holly Black: So I really wanted Tony to do this book and I was bugging him to do this book. I was doing research into folklore for my first novel and I'd be happy to write little one-paragraph things if you want me to. I ended up writing a little bit more than that (Laughs).
Tony DiTerlizzi: That's what we thought. We thought we were going to do, basically, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide. We thought that was going to be the big, lavishly-illustrated book of faeries and the folklore would be dead-on with the old folklore so the faeries would be a little more prickly. I think at a time when I was walking into bookstores and faeries were getting a little more pink and glittery, this really focuses back on the real source material.
I read that the movie covers the whole series except for the majority of the fourth book. Overall, were you pleased with the adaptation and did it stay very true to the books?
Holly Black: Yeah. I think it really does stay really true to the spirit of the books. The characters feel really true. I mean Jared still gets to be really angry, the folklore feels really organic and the creatures really look like the illustrations.
Tony DiTerlizzi: We knew stuff was going to change, right? It always changes. Even Peter Jackson's adaptation of Lord of the Rings, they still had to shuffle stuff around and they still made a great film. I think we knew that going in, so we just asked the rest of the team to remember why you want to develop it. Remember the themes, both visually and storyline-wise. Just figure out ways to make them work in a 90-minute film and they really did a nice job. I mean, we were, I think, seeing books into movies that have gone horriblly awry, were thankful for that. They really blew us away and did a fantastic job.
So for something that had been living in both of your heads for so long, what was it like seeing all these characters on the big screen for the first time?
Tony DiTerlizzi: It's a strange mixture. I think the thing that blew me away the most was that it was just me for a little while and then Holly came on and Holly and I have a very collaborative process. We don't really work separately of one another. That's primarily it, and our editor and some folks at the publisher that will help out. I think when I first walked on set and saw just the sheer amount of people working to build a house, seeing the teams of people bringing the feature to life and, obviously the cast and crew, that's just an overwhelming feeling to see that army of people bringing our story and vision to life. It's a very strange experience.
Holly Black: It's strange too because you really get the sense that you're actually walking into a book. The fact that it's our book aside, it's a really strange experience seeing these places that have only been two-dimensional before, become three-dimensional and interact with them. It's sort of like when you've written dialogue for them before and you see them walking around independantly of you, it's like, 'What are you doing?' (Laughs) It felt really really weird.
You guys are both executive producers on the film and I've noticed that a lot of novelists have had that title before as well. What exactly was your role in bringing this into the movie side? How much input was sought from you guys?
Holly Black: We got to see the script, in all the many stages. We got to be involved from the beginning and part of that is the title of executive producer and part of that was because we were with a really great bunch of people who made sure to keep us involved.
Tony DiTerlizzi: I think, when we started seeing the first take on the script, Holly and I came back to them, not necessarily with a hammer to make it more like the book, because that was the last thing we wanted was a facsimilie. What we really tried to do was to create a better screenplay. I think when they saw that we were more interested in trying to get the same goal as they were, it really allowed us to be much more involved. I know with me, it was a lot of the visual aspects of the book and how to incorporate them into the film. Like Holly said, the faeries are very organic and very natural and real, man and nature rubbing against each other.
Have you guys had a chance to check out the DVD yet? It looks like they have quite a wealth of features on the disc.
Tony DiTerlizzi: I actually... did you watch it over the weekend, Holly?
Holly Black: I did. I watched the movie. We watched some of the 'about the movie' stuff together, last week, which was a little scary because our faces were on it (Laughs). I can only watch my face for so long.
Tony DiTerlizzi: I sat and watched every single thing.
Holly Black: I watched everything that didn't have my face on it.
Tony DiTerlizzi: I'm a big consumer of huge discs. I got the super five-disc version of Blade Runner over Christmas.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Yeah. I'm a huge fan of process. Even if it's a movie that I don't think is quite as successful, I'm really intrigued by the process of it. I was really glad to be able to watch it and actually realize that were a tremendous part of that process. It's kind of a surreal feeling. I just wanted to make sure I didn't look like a total idiot. But yes, I sounded OK. I sounded sane.
Holly Black: Did I sound like an idiot?
Tony DiTerlizzi: No, no. You were good.
Holly Black: OK. Just checking.
Tony DiTerlizzi: I thought it was nice, very respectfully done. I was hoping the DVD does well enough that it sparks enough fans down the road. There are a lot of stuff when you're behind-the-scenes. It's great. I actually think fans of the book will be quite excited. A lot of the stuff from the first book that was trimmed out, because they just made the first act a little too long. They wanted the audience to get into the faerie world and into the roller-coaster ride so they trimmed out some of the events from Book 1. They think Jared freezes the tadpoles and all that stuff, ah it's great.
So do you guys have any new Spiderwick books coming out in the near future or any other book or film projects you're working on?
Holly Black: We do have more Spiderwick books. We've been working on another series called Beyond The Spiderwick Chronicles, that deals with a different group of kids in a different location in Florida. We tried to do some things in the book that would surprise people. Perhaps certain assumptions were made after the five books in the original Spiderwick series and perhaps maybe everything in Arthur's book isn't entirely right. It's just the work of one man.
Nice. So do you have any of those done so far or how big of a series are you looking at?
Tony DiTerlizzi: That's a three-book series. They're a little bit longer than their predecessors so they'll be close to the same length of story by the time it's all said and done. We've released the first book last fall, called The Nixie's Song and the one we're literally putting the finishing touches on is called A Giant Problem. I think that's due out this fall. The third one will be out next year.
Finally, you hear so many horror stories about authors who ended up just hating the adaptations, like Hollywood screwed up their book. How would you sum up your overall experience with the book going to the silver screen?
Holly Black: Incredibly lucky, given what you just said (Laughs).
Tony DiTerlizzi: A dream come true. I love that it feels somewhat Speilbergian. I would say that there's a lot of that in the inspiration for the tone of the story. I remember Holly said, early on, that the kids have to wear something red, the colors the faeries don't like, so I immediately thought red hoodie. Then I thought, 'Oh my God. Elliot had a red hoodie.' It was really weird to see Jared wear the red hoodie. He wears it on one of the covers of the books and then in the film and then to know that the people who worked on E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, worked on this film, is pretty intense. It's an amazing realization.
Great. That's about all I have for you guys. Thank you so much for your time.
Holly Black: Thank you.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Thank you.
You can find the cinematic realization of The Spiderwick Chronicles on DVD and Blu-Ray on June 24.