Stefan Fangmeier talks about making the film, working with a first time actor and the possibilities of an sequel
Going very big with Eragon in his feature film debut, director/visual effects guru Stefan Fangmeier didn't seem at all daunted by this task.
Based on the Christopher Paolini-penned bestselling fantasy novel about a youth whose discovery of a dragon egg leads him to become a knight and battle an evil king. The medieval-set tale revolves around a farm boy who learns he is the last of a breed of benevolent Dragon Riders, whose magical powers derived from their bond with the beasts.
Fangmeier recently took some time out of his schedule to discuss the expedited experience of bringing Eragon to life.
What attracted you to the material of Eragon?
Stefan Fangmeier: To be truthful, I read the script before I ever read the book. It was actually sent to me by Fox 2000... mostly because I'd met a lot of the Fox people on Master and Commander. I did a lot of the visual effects. I came in during post production. They were a little bit in a jam and I helped them a lot. During that process I built a lot of relationships with different people in the studio and different departments. I even had a meeting with their head of production to just talk about my desire to direct.
Fast forward to about a year and a half later and I guess they had some sort of meeting... some of the people said, "Why don't you send the Eragon script to Stefan? This is right up his alley." It was really quite a great stroke of fate. It's very much the way things work, I think, in Hollywood. You build a lot of things out of relationships.
Once you read the script and then you read the book were you daunted by the prospect of what you had to bring to life on screen? Or, did you not think about that so much because of your visual effects background?
Stefan Fangmeier: From the visual effects aspect of creating that scale of film, that wasn't daunting to me. In some ways, one is a little bit ignorant of all the challenges and that's maybe better so or else someone might hesitate in jumping into a movie of this size. The fact that in the end I ended up with a first time lead character, Edward (Speelers) had never been in front of the camera, he'd only done a few school plays, that was certainly something that one wouldn't necessarily suggest a first time director doing. Also, the scope of the battles and the end was quite an undertaking. Also, shooting all of this stuff in so many different locations. We were always on the road. Different exteriors, different places, traveling to the mountains here and there. There were a lot of challenges.
Also, creating something in the fantasy world where everything has to be created and designed. It's not like you're doing a period film where you say, "What does this stuff look like?" Everything you come up with... had to be designed so it was definitely a very creative effort and a challenge to come up with something new. Especially because of The Lord of the Rings and the other films that had come before.
Was casting an unknown like Edward Speelers in the title role important to you?
Stefan Fangmeier: I don't think that it was done on purpose. We basically got to the point, we aged the role up a bit in order to... there was always this desire in terms of marketing to bring in this young male audience. The audience that probably made 300 so successful over the last weekend. That is easier when your lead character is a little bit older because it's hard to get a self respecting, 18 year old to go and see kids their age or a little bit younger and admire that hero for succeeding in the story. We went down that road, we did five screentests with different guys of that age group 21, 22, 23, but it just never rang true.
We were about six weeks prior to our filming starting and we had not found Eragon, yet. It was really starting to get stressful and the studio said, "If you don't find him in the next week or so we're going to have to postpone the filming until next spring." We were going to basically run out of weather in Hungary and Slovakia... I was under a tremendous amount of pressure to find somebody. And somebody younger who we're suddenly looking for... somebody in the 17-19 age range. I flew to London and did a reading with 25 guys and he was just the one who really popped out to me. In terms of being natural and having a great projection. He had an inner quality that I very much liked. Thankfully the studio agreed with me and we were able to move over with the filming.
What for you was the most difficult part of making Eragon?
Stefan Fangmeier: The creative challenge of putting it all together so very quickly. I got the script in October of 2004, they sort of decided in mid-December that I was going to get the opportunity to direct it. Then I worked with two writers to do some rewrites on the script. In March, for the first time, I flew out to Hungary to look at some locations. Do some scouting... you have to hire all these people. Costume designers, production designers... we had planned to start filming in July and that is not a whole lot of time if you consider that basically, from the day I received the script to the day the film was completed it was essentially 2 years. For a movie of this size and scope that was not a very long time to have that kind of planning and to make it all happen. It seemed like everything we tried to do was a little bit behind schedule, already.
Are there any plans to make any of the other books in the Eragon trilogy? Might you be a part of that?
Stefan Fangmeier: I'm not quite sure what is currently going on. My own personal perspective is that until we sort of figure out what happens in the third book. Evidentially, I asked Christopher (Paolini; writer of the Eragon trilogy)..., about that and he was not volunteering much of what was going to happen. I think it's very important to see where this ends up; how it's resolved. I think until you kind of have an understanding of what the third piece of that puzzle is, it's kind of hard to look at that second book, of course I read it, it's very much a transitional story element. I think one would be best off to write the third film first, and then, being happy with that, going back to the second one and doing all the set-up work that will pay off in the third. Then probably filming two and three together as they did with Pirates of the Caribbean; as one production.
That means, given the time frame, it might still be another year before there are actually are scripts for both films and these things can move ahead. I don't know if Fox is waiting to see the revenues the DVD will create. I think they were modestly happy with the worldwide box office.
What do you have coming up next?
Stefan Fangmeier: I've certainly been reading a lot of different scripts. I would love to shoot a film this year sometime. Something small. There's one script right now that I'm reading, that I'm talking to the producers about. This is more of a science fiction, present day, a little bit of time travel involved that is kind of a slightly political thriller. I think the script is quite brilliant. It's a smaller movie which is good. I definitely don't want to get pigeonholed into doing these big, fantasy, spectacle movies with lots of visual effects. I want to expand my range.
Obviously, it's a very competitive field for directing out there. I just have to wait for the right thing to come along and for the right match-up with producers and studio. Everyone is very critical of what you do as your second film. In terms how well it succeeds critically and how successful it can be at the box office. I want to make sure I make the right move there.
Eragon soars to DVD March 20 from Fox Home Entertainment.
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