The Disney animation The BFG (abbreviation of Big Friendly Giant) directed by Steven Spielberg, is based on the 1982 classic by Roald Dahl and tells the story of an orphan, Sophie, played by newcomer Ruby Barnhill, who finds a giant whom she calls BFG, played by Oscar winner Mark Rylance. He takes her to the Giants Country, where she discovers what he does for a living, that he is the smallest giant, and the joy of having a BIG friend.
Now, think Disney, Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl, I can’t think the best and creative mix of essential ingredients to surely result in a successful box office. This is the first film that the acclaimed filmmaker makes with the studio.
Some journalists, including myself, recently had the chance to talk to Steven Spielberg, Ruby Barnhill, Mark Rylance and Penelope Wilton on roundtables during the press day to promote this new release. They gave us the scoop on the main roles, advances in technology that made the movie possible, the cast on the set, and the first fart scene directed by Spielberg. Here are some facts I got. Let’s check out them out.
Steven Spielberg spoke about technology and finding the balance between effects and the heart of the film. “Well, I think that the whole nature of my approach to The BFG was to be able to do both. Was to be able to use technology to advance the heart and create a flawless transposition between the genius of Mark Rylance to the genius of WETA, as they were able to digitally translate Mark’s soul on film in the character of The BFG. And so all the work we did was to get back to basics. I knew Mark was going to really knock this out of the ballpark, but I didn’t want the ball to land at the end of a motion-capture volume. I wanted the ball to land in the lap of the audience. I think WETA paid more careful attention to how to preserve what Mark had given us on the day. Their artists did an amazing job translating Mark. There’s about 95 percent of what Mark gave me and Ruby on the screen now. And that’s because technology today allowed us to do it. Five years ago, we could not have made BFG this way.”
“What really appealed to me was the fact that the protagonist was a girl. Not a boy. And it was a really strong girl. And the protagonist was going to allow us at a certain point to believe that four feet tall can completely outrank a twenty-five feet giant. I got very excited that this was going to be a little girl’s story and that her courage and her values were going to, in a way, turn the Cowardly Lion into the brave hero at the end, which is what she turns The BFG into”, said Spielberg.
“When I saw Ruby’s reading I went crazy because I’d been looking for over half a year—actually longer. Over eight months I’d been looking,” Spielberg said. He flew her to Berlin where they were finalizing shooting for Bridge of Spies and had her speak to his wife Kate Capshaw first. (Side note: he’s seen about 150 casting tapes from all over the world at that point, and he and Capshaw had agreed that they had to meet Barnhill).
The Oscar winner Mark Rylance told us about his first motion-capture character. “I had no idea what this would look like and I thought a lot about whether or not I should ask Steven whether I should be involved in the input, but I thought, he’ll know what’s right.”
Rylance added, “I tried to, but they’re all so busy. I tried to get through to Andy Serkis, but it’s obviously such a big thing right now that he’s so busy. Even his friend, who was trying to get through to him for me… said, ‘He never calls me back!’”
Rylance also explained how much she wanted Barnhill to be on set with him. “She makes me laugh and moves me in a totally different way. The film is about a kind of friendship between these two. I think we should always be together. So he did that. From then on we always worked together… in the afternoons we’d go to her set next door—this table would be much larger than this room. And these props would be six foot high, and there she’d be, standing in scale. And now the camera would be there…and I’d be up a high tower…to get the eyesight.”
Fart scene, filming the whizzpopper scene
When asked about the scene, Spielberg laughed and said, “Yeah, it took me a long time. I don’t know. I guess I’m kind of modest when it comes to flatulence. Except when it’s being done by either giants or corgis. I’ve gotten over my modesty.”
Penelope Wilton added, “It was hard work, that scene, because each of us had to do our own take on the farting… mine went on forever! I can’t think why—he never said ‘cut’ for ages! At the end, I was practically pink in the face!”
The film also stars Jermaine Clement, Rebecca Hall, Bill Hader and Rafe Spall. It was written by Melissa Mathison who passed away last November and features a score from John Williams.
The BFG is now playing! #TheBFG
On a side note – About Meeting and being in the same room as Steven Spielberg: What can I say? Sitting down with him and newcomer actress Ruby Barnhill last week during the press day, I found myself in the rare position of being somewhat at a loss for words, nervous, emotional…never felt that way before, he is a genius! The acclaimed director is one of the warmest and welcoming person I’ve ever met, especially for someone whose work has been such a huge part of our daily lives and don’t forget to mention his success The roundtable was casual, free and caring. I was not able to take his pictures or one with him, but I have that image right here in mind for the rest of live.