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Case Study - Literary Adaptation
by Nir Bergman: From the Heart to the Screen
- A case study of Nir Bergman's film adaptation of David Grossman's novel Intimate Grammar. At a conference held at the European Film Market during the Berlinale, Bergman, Tatjana Michaelis (of publishing company Carl-Hanser Verlag) and producer Assaf Amir discuss how a director's growing success can influence the sales of a film and the novel on which it is based.
Case Study Literary Adaptation
Intimate Grammar by Nir Bergman
From the Heart to the Screen
With Nir Bergman (director, Israel), Assaf Amir (Norma Productions, Israel), Tatjana Michaelis (Hanser Verlag, Germany)
Moderator: Peter Cowie
in cooperation with Frankfurt Book Fair
You have a novel you’ve loved for years and finally you dare to bring it to the screen – with the consent of the writer who has in the meantime become a famous bestselling author. Is this too good to be true? The film version of Intimate Grammar has a very unique and personal history which we will use as a basis to also explore more general questions, such as how the changing awareness and growing success of the author influences the sales of the film and the marketing of the novel not only in the home country but worldwide.
Peter Cowie: Good morning everyone, and welcome. Two years ago, actually, we were sitting in this room discussing another adaptation of a great Israeli novel, Adam Resurrected, by Yoram Kaniuk, made by Paul Schrader. And today we have Nir Bergman, whose film Intimate Grammar was shown yesterday in Generation Plus to an absolutely packed house in the CinemaxX, and it had a very good reception. It is based on a book by David Grossman, as Sonja said. It was published first here in 1994, in Germany, under the title The Smile of the Lamb and it is now being reissued.
But the format of the panel always is we talk here amongst ourselves for about 35-40 minutes and then we open it up to you, the audience, and if you wait for a microphone we pass it to you and you can ask a question to any one of the panellists.
I start with Nir Bergman, on my right, the director of the film, who is flashed with the success of winning the Grand Prix for the film at the Tokyo International Film Festival last autumn. He is the only director, I think, in history who has won that same Grand Prix twice because his maiden film also won that prix. Nir is also known, apart from Broken Wings, in 2002 and won, not just Tokyo, it won an enormous number of awards I’m looking here (in Palm Springs, Jerusalem…), and it also was taken by Sony Classics in America for domestic and worldwide distribution. But, I am fascinated by the fact that you regenerated the TV series In Treatment in Israel.
Nir Bergman: What did I do with that?
Peter Cowie: In Treatment, you’re co-creator.
Nir: Ok, co-creator. Yes.
Peter Cowie: And this of course was taken for the United States, and it has become a huge big successful series, starring Gabriel Byrne. So for that alone you are worthy of praise and recognition.
Nir: But the producer got all the money.
Peter Cowie: On my left is Tatjana Michaelis, who is an editor from [publishing company] Carl-Hanser Verlag. I am sure you will also remember that wonderful series of books that Hanser did on cinema. They always had close ties to film and film adaptations. Tatjana joined Hanser in the 80s and while she was not responsible for the launch of David Grossman’s first novel, The Smile of the Lamb, she is now his editor in Germany, and she is also the editor of [leading] distinguished authors, among them Yasmina Reza and Henning Mankell, who just left the festival this morning.
Tatjana Michaelis: Yeah, I know that he came here. May I just say that Die Kindheit Erfindung, which is The Book of Intimate Grammar, which the film was made from, was the third book we published by David. So The Smile we started in 1988 and [so far] we have already published thirteen books by him.
Peter Cowie: On my extreme left is Assaf Amir, who is the producer of the film. His company, Norma Productions, over the last fifteen years has produced many, many documentaries. He has won prizes, not just with Nir’s films, but with pictures like Noodle, What a Wonderful Place, and The Cemetery Club. Now that we got the introductions out of the way, Nir, let me ask… You were in the fortunate position of knowing and loving this book and you also got the consent and the permission of the writer to adapt it, but was it is as easy as that? How long did it take?
Nir: Well, I had this dream of making The Book of Internal Grammar (the title in Hebrew is The Book of Internal Grammar). I had a dream to make a film out of it for a lot of years. I read it when I was 19-20, as a soldier…and I really was shocked by this book. It is a book about the coming-of-age of a kid that actually stops growing and it is three and a half years in his life (from 11 to 14 and a half), and his body refuses to grow. He stops growing because he does not want to become like one of his parents. It is the 60’s and the parents are Holocaust survivors, or let’s say one is, and the other one is a World War II survivor, in the Independence War of Israel. They are very rough, they are very much survivors, and he is very gentle and he refuses to grow.
Although I did not grow up in the 60’s – I was born in 1969 – and did not grow up like David Grossman, I really connected to this kid as a person who did not grow up also in this age when everybody starts growing up and becoming a man and you stay behind. But especially the point of view of the boy, looking at his parents, he does not want to become like one of them, with all the hypocrisy, with all the roughness, with all the mentality of the surrounding Israeli society, that is so militant and everybody has to be the same, and everybody has to be strong.
This book really reflects my soldiery deeply, and afterwards I became a filmmaker, and in 2002 I was at a festival and Maya and I opened Broken Wings. There on the stairs I saw Mr Grossman and I came to him and said, “You know, Mr Grossman, I have this dream of making a film out of The Book of Internal Grammar.” And he smiled, sceptically of course, because it is such an inner world book and he said, “Well, there have been a few tries, but you go for it”.
But then Broken Wings came out, I became a father, took some time…could think of making another film and then we reached a point that yes, we got the rights for the book and – Assaf [Amir] will talk about it later – then we started the adaptation, and the adaptation was very long.
Peter Cowie: Did he want to collaborate with that screenwriting process?
Nir: When David Grossman gives you the rights, he chooses you in a way…. If he approves, it means that he chose you in a way, and he says, “You go for it. And you do your art, I do not want to take a part in it. Just if you need me, I will want to read the draft, but I will never tell you what to do.” So he completely gives you free space. From my point of view, I wanted him to be attached. He read a few drafts, I called him a lot, because this book as you understand was such a part of my life, and of course it was sort of a Bible to a lot of Israelis also. My generation read this book and it was very meaningful to them, because of that obviously it was very scary for me to touch the book.
It took me a long time till I closed the book and wrote the script. This process was [one] of, first of all, normal adaptation – what to do with the structure, what to do with the characters. But also being afraid of touching a piece of art, afraid that you are going to ruin one of the best books written in Hebrew to so many people. This was a responsibility that was very hard for me to take. So the process was very long.
I had a key. The key was the relationship with the brother and sister, which was, in a way, similar to what I wrote in Broken Wings. In other words, this was a key for me to start writing Aaron, the hero, from inside me. Because as a filmmaker you know you have to, the they have to get inside you and you have to take them out from you again, to the script and to the screen.
In this process, Grossman would help me in a very special way because he would hear the language, anything that cracks, that does not sound good for the language in his ears, he would change the dialogue. That would be sometimes just taking one word, putting it like this and suddenly it sounded like the period of time that the book was written. We would call him [during] production also, the art department would call him and say, “Mr. Grossman, what did they eat for bar mitzvah in the 1970s?” Because he lived it so strongly, and eventually one day I really closed the book, put it aside and said, “That’s it, now I am writing.” So that was the process.
Peter Cowie: When did normal productions get involved? I mean, having had the success of Broken Wings, were you immediately in touch with Nir about this project and how long did it take you to take the rights?
Assaf Amir: Ever since I met Nir he was talking about this book, and I advised him not to make a movie out of it, since it is such a classical novel, and such a great book, and I believe it is much easier to make good movies out of “B” books rather than to take a real good book. But since Nir was so attached to the book, and I think he is a great director and writer, I thought that we had a good chance of coming out with a good movie.
It took a few years. About two years after Broken Wings we decided we were going to make the move. I called the agent in Jerusalem, Deborah Harris, and then I started negotiating with Mr. Grossman’s lawyers, since Mr. Grossman keeps his rights for himself. I mean, his remake rights, I guess, in Israel are his, and I think probably worldwide. I negotiated and bought rights, an option obviously, the option was for two and a half years, with another option to renew, and Nir and myself were very busy doing all sorts of things, together with work, and other projects, and apart, we did all sorts of television and other films.
Then the time came to renew it and we asked whether Nir had already started doing the first draft, but he wasn’t really ready to dive into it. And then we renewed the option again for another two and a half years. And that’s when we started really working on the project, getting money, financing and all.
After this, when we started shooting (this is not something as a producer that I should be proud of), but when we were about to start shooting, there was no option ready for the book. I mean, we had the money, we were casting, we spent money, but we did not have the rights, the book rights. But since the relationship with Grossman was such a tight relationship there was no question that he was going to say, “Hey, guys, what about the next option? If you don’t have the rights…”, since he had worked with us. We had two options for two and a half years, which is five years, that is as long as it took for Nir to put the script together and for me to raise the money.
Peter Cowie: All the production companies are Israeli. Did you try to get a co-producer outside Israel?
Assaf: Yes, we were here and we got a good response. As a matter of fact, Match Factory was very interested, but they needed to apply for the German money, and one of the most difficult processes in making this movie with children is casting the child. We had this with Broken Wings. At one point we found the kid we were sure both of us. There was no question in our minds whether the kid was right for the part. He is 12 and is growing every day and Nir was very worried that if we did not shoot very soon we were going to lose the perfect actor (a non-actor obviously), so we could not wait. We just could not wait. We had to go out and shoot.
So at the end we did all this with Israeli money. Even though there was German interest, there was American interest, but the process was a little too long because of the child. Otherwise, if there was no child, definitely we would have had a co-production.
Peter Cowie: Do we know yet if it will be released in Germany? Have you priced over to Germany?
Affaf: We have Films Boutique as our sales company, which is launching the film now, so we hope so.
Peter Cowie: So, Tatjana, it is a good point to bring you in.
Tatjana: May I say something on the film? Because I saw the film only yesterday.
Peter Cowie: OK, right.
Tatjana: I knew the book quite well and I could not imagine the film and I liked it enormously. I think Nir did something really wonderful because he made his own story. It is really true, it is based on the book, but it is his own world and it is vivid, it is funny, it is subtle. I think he did a very, very good job.
Peter Cowie: I have a publishing question for you. If the film is released here, how will you re-launch the book? How would you do that? Would you take a new cover? Would you work with…[schools] and high schools to get extra screenings?
Tatjana: Yes, I think we will do something like that. The situation is a bit complicated because Hanser does not have its own pocket book edition, so we are working closely together with other publishers for the pocket books. So David Grossman’s book was first Deutsche dosenbach fellag, and in 2003 we moved him over to Fischer and now we have already two editions of this book: this is the paperback edition, and this is our edition, which we reprinted last year when David Grossman got that famous Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels [German Book Trade Peace Prize] and I think it was a kind of breakthrough for him on the German book market. I think when the film will come out, if the film is successful, the pocket book edition will be made with the cover of the film. Because, normally, for the hardback it is not that important.
Peter Cowie: In your experience, does the release of a film really help…book sales? Other than Hollywood films, I mean. Let’s say foreign-language films.
Tatjana: Yes, it does. Because I am sure David will come and do something for the film. When he had his last novel published, To the End of the Land, he came, I think, four times to Germany to do readings, and interviews, and so on. And I know he likes the film, so he will help us.
Peter Cowie: I assume that it will be easier for your film to be shown and appreciated outside Israel, because in Israel itself people will be judging it according to the book. Everyone will know the book and they will be immediately making comparisons, whereas people outside Israel may not know the book, and therefore will judge the film as a film.
Nir: Yes, absolutely. In Israel, we had some great audiences coming to see the film again and again, really having the experience of the film as I had with the book. And some people, of course, were [comparing] what they have seen to the book. And it is really hard. Although the book was written in 1990, or it was published in 1991, still people have remembered it so well. And, of course, we had mixed previews because of that.
Outside of Israel, it seems to be travelling as a film, and not as a film based on a book. So we have the benefits of both sides. We have the benefits of people knowing that this is an adaptation of Mr. Grossman’s work and they’ve heard about him – some, of course, and I guess very good things about him – but they have not read the book. So they are judging it as a film, and I think it is actually better for the film.
Peter Cowie: As far as I can tell, there are at least three different titles. We have got the original Hebrew title, which, if I can say, Hadikduk HaPnimi, and then we have got The Smile of the Lamb…
Tatjana: No, The Smile of the Lamb was another book. It was Die Kindheit Erfindung. That is the German title.
Peter Cowie: What is the German title?
Tatjana: Die Kindheit Erfindung (The Inventor of Childhood)
Peter Cowie: So completely different titles.
Tatjana: Completely different.
Peter Cowie: And the English is Intimate Grammar.
Peter Cowie: So we have three completely different titles. Is that an advantage as a producer to have the same title, as the book is already known?
Assaf: In Israel there is no question about it. It is a classic book. It is disrespectful to the author to change the name of it. So there was no question. We never ever debated the fact that maybe we should do something with it. We were aware for the English that it’s not Internal Grammar but Intimate Grammar…
Nir: You can actually say that we even thought about leaving the title as long as it was in the book. The first drafts of the script were called The Book of Intimate Grammar, not Intimate Grammar. It was The Book of Intimate Grammar, and we thought, “This will be the name of the film.”
Assaf: But then we thought, “Go and see The Book”. “You want to come and see The Book”? Well…
Tatjana: May I just say that one of the advantages for the film abroad, in my opinion, is that we learn something about childhood in Israel, this is very clear in the film. That is one of the many aspects that are internationally the same to childhood, to growing up. This boyhood group and all this [good] use of the Israeli society which the young people discuss. I think that is very interesting for us.
Peter Cowie: I know this is a literary panel but I cannot help asking you how you recreated the look of the 60’s in the architecture and the set design and so on. That must be very difficult to get exactly right.
Nir: It was horribly hard. We also had the Film Fund of Jerusalem invest in the film, and when you get the Jerusalem Film Fund, you have to shoot the film in Jerusalem. So if it was like in Haifa, my home town actually, it would have been much easier, because Haifa [has] kept an old 50-60’s atmosphere. In Jerusalem, although what you probably know of Jerusalem is a lot of stones, houses of stone, but actually in the 60’s there were no stones yet. Some stones yes, but some were just blocks. But then what they did is, in Israel, we used to have balconies, every house had balconies, they closed everything, got it into the house, made it like another half room or something and put the air conditioner out, and then they put the bars.
All the houses are like this: closed balconies, air conditioner, and bars. And you cannot shoot anything that looks like from the 60’s. We were really lucky there is one really small neighbourhood that, by coincidence, or by fate, or whatever you believe in – this is the neighbourhood where David Grossman was born. It was a very small neighbourhood, they are ruining it and they are going to ruin it and build this, you know, there was this one old neighbour that did not let anyone touch any of the forty-nine architects that was there. It was three blocks and she stopped with her body anyone trying to change the neighbourhood. So what we did is inside this neighbourhood... (To someone in the audience) Do you want to add something?
Nir: So in this neighbourhood there is this apartment of the people who are planning to ruin it. So we took this apartment and made it a part of the family so we could shoot.
Audience: You rented it?
Nir: Yeah, yeah, of course. We did not take them out, but we changed the whole design, and then we had the opportunity of this [exterior]…which you usually do not have in Israel. When you shoot [exteriors] in Tel Aviv you will probably shoot the indoors in Tel Aviv, and, of course, the [exteriors] you will shoot wherever you shoot. But this is such a right neighbourhood for the 60’s in Israel, you would go out of the window to your neighbourhood, go in from the balcony, you know, kids...
Peter Cowie: There is a scene (for those of you who have not seen the film) where the father knocks down the walls of an attractive woman’s flat. Did you rebuild that or were these walls built artificially and then destroyed?
Nir: I cannot tell you.
Peter Cowie: OK.
Nir: No, I am kidding. It was the same apartment that we took, or rented. We actually built walls there that were not there, destroyed them, and built them back and then we had two apartments in the same apartment and only one balcony was making it look like it is upstairs, like two apartments. He is bringing the neighbour’s apartment, which he is in love with.
Assaf: Nir mentioned that the Jerusalem Fund is a new thing in Israel, it is like a regional fund. You know how it is in Germany; we did not have regional funds. So up to now, most Israeli movies you have seen in the last twelve years are shot in Tel Aviv, most of them, and all the crews are in Tel Aviv. And now you are going to see more and more films shot in Jerusalem. Sometimes, Tel Aviv stories were written in Tel Aviv for Tel Aviv. [We] found money in Jerusalem and we are now going to see more and more movies in Jerusalem. Remember, it is because of the money.
Peter Cowie: Did David Grossman like the film when it came out, and if so, would he help you to promote it in some way?
Assaf: First of all, Nir did not mention it, but the set, every other day, every time I came to the set, David Grossman was there, and what amazed me (whoever read the book or saw the film) is his parents. His parents were there portrayed in the book, and they were standing in the balcony watching Nir making the film. He helped us, and in the premiere he spoke very nicely about the film, about his collaboration with Nir.
He is a very gentle and very nice person. I have worked also obviously with scriptwriters, with writers of things we adapted, and Grossman is at a stage where he really lets you, you know… Once he said, as Nir said, “Yes, I want Nir to make this”, he really let [Nir] do it and make his own film rather than adapt his book in a very meticulous way.
Peter Cowie: Nir, I was going to say that the challenge of bringing it to the screen is if you change it, if you betray the original, if you do it absolutely faithfully you are dismissed as a literary film.
Nir: True. This is why it is so good, you know, to have the film travel. Because you do not have to think about it. You know, these people come to see the film. But you just grabbed it perfectly. It is true. This is the problematic thing you have in adaptations, and of course you know this cliché that you do not take a good book and adapt it, you have to take a bad book and adapt it. But you know, I am so happy that I did it.
I just want to refer to your first question and then maybe combine the answers to your other question of the way Grossman referred to the book. David Grossman has a problem with the book, and the problem is the character of the mother. The character of the mother from his point of view is too strong, too [much of a] survivor, too like a machine of surviving, and he told me, “Please, make her softer”. And I would call him and say, “How can I make this monster softer? She is a monster, come on.” And he said, “Find ways, make her softer.” I tried to make her softer.
Audience: You do, you do.
Nir: Oh, I do not believe so. I am sorry. She, the actress, has humour. She brings humour to the screen, but still. When [Grossman] saw it, this was his only critique, because he loved the film. But he said, “You did not make her softer. She is still a monster.” But what I wanted to say, now connecting to your question, is that what happens is: I did make her softer, I did use humour, but when you see something on the screen, it has so much power, sometimes it seems that you are reading the book and you imagine you in a way, help yourself to how much you are, what volume you put this on the scene. But when you see it, when you see the boy is real, when the girl, his sister, is real, and when the mother does what she does to this kids, it is real, you see it, it is on the screen, it is so strong….
So, although I made her softer, I think she is still very strong. But, connecting to your other question, I believe that these characters are worthy to be on the big screen and I am happy that they are.
Peter Cowie: I cannot think that you made her softer, but you made her very human. So now, let’s open it up to questions. Anyone like to ask the first question to all of us, or any of us?
Assaf: I just want to add that the book was republished. (To some of the panellists) Did we talk about it?
Assaf: The book was republished in Hebrew in Israel, alongside the film and they used the poster, the image that we had on the poster for the book. No mention of the film, of course, we decided it together with the publishing house, that it is a disrespect to say “Now, a major motion picture. Actually the book did it very well now, in its re-edition.
Peter Cowie: Using a better cover?
Assaf: I do not know if [it’s] a better cover. I love the old cover, I think this is a very good image.
Peter Cowie: Any questions? It is always hard to get the first question. Has anyone here seen the film? Here in the festival?
Nir: Anybody read the book?
Peter Cowie: That is probably one of the biases.
Nir: The question can be about anything by the way.
Peter Cowie: Somebody back there...
Audience 1: I have not seen the film. But at the moment I am packaging a film that has a Jewish thing to it, and one thing I hear from the sales agencies, the problem that a lot of parts of the world are experiencing an anti-Semitic moment. So I am just wondering if you have any kind of experience of that with releasing the film, if you have any problems of the fact that it is an Israeli film.
Assaf: You mean the political situation? No, we did not face any problem up to now. We travelled with the film to Jerusalem, there was an international jury, and we won the first prize in the Jerusalem International Film Festival. Then we travelled to Tokyo, we got the Grand Prize, so up to now we are fine. I did not encounter any problem. Nir?
Audience 1: So the things I have been told by sales agencies is that in certain territories, the UK at the moment, it is much harder to sell the films that has anything Jewish in it.
Nir: In the UK it’s harder?
Audience 1: The US is fine, although it is still a little bit hard. They said the UK is a real hard sale.
Nir: If it is a David Grossman book or a film by Nir Bergman, I find it hard to believe. But what exactly are you saying… Your package that you are trying to do, is it a political piece...?
Audience 1: Not at all. There is any sign of anything Jewish in it, a lot of biased that has been completely turned off.
Nir: If there is any sign of...
Audience 1: Anything Jewish in the film. That you can mark anything Jewish in the film.
Assaf: I just finished filming a film yesterday about a Jewish family, and I hope you are wrong.
Audience 1: I totally hope I am wrong as well. I am just asking if you had any of these experiences.
Assaf: No, no.
Audience 1: OK, it is good then.
Nir: You know…Broken Wings was released in the UK, we had a very, very nice review in The Times by one of the good critics, he was an immigrant in the UK and he referred to the film. The film is not political, not in the way a political thing from Israel would be and then all the other reviews were extremely bad and all they said were three lines saying, “A film from Israel, and nothing about the Palestinian issue.”
So the UK is very extreme towards pieces coming from Israel that do not deal with Palestinian issues. They do not believe we are allowed to make films that do not deal with the issue, and our film is actually not dealing also with the political issue of the conflict with the Palestinians, but it is of course dealing with it in a different way, dealing with the generation that grew up after the Holocaust and made Israel what it is based on the book of one of Israel’s most appreciated peace speakers, maybe the greatest one.
Michaelis: Exactly, I think that is the point, because last year we had a lot of very critical articles in newspapers on Israeli politics and it was at the same moment that David Grossman got the Friedenspreis, so he is a symbol for–
Tatjana: He is a symbol for peace. He is Israel’s greatest peace speaker and we are very proud to be part of his work. And I think from that point of view, anybody who will know what this film is actually about will just want to help us pass the word.
Peter Cowie: I think also that you are right probably in saying that people expect you to cover the Palestinian-Israeli divisions, but if you think of two huge successes of Israeli cinema has had – Lebanon, which won the top prize at Venice, Waltz with Bashir, which was a worldwide success – they happen to deal with war, but they are Israeli films and they are good films. I think that, ultimately, if the film is good, it will find an audience.
Nir: Yeah. It is true.
Assaf: Even though, in the beginning of this Israeli, I do not know if I call it a little wave or whatever, there was Dover Koshashvili’s Late Marriage and Broken Wings, which also were both very intimate stories about families. Obviously, the political situation in Israel is terrible and I think, for me as a filmmaker, as a producer, every time that we make a film that is not political, there are times like, I produced Elia Suleiman’s first film, Chronicle of a Disappearance, and then I went on to produce a few films that were intimate. And there was also this feeling, pieces around the corner, and maybe we were allowed to makes stories that asked about people, and obviously we were wrong, because it is all over the place.
Peter Cowie: I think there is a lady here in the front wanting to ask.
Audience 2: Yes, I have a question for Nir. Could you talk a little more about the process that you went through that helped you unlock the book and turn it into a cinematic form? Because that is often the biggest challenge with adaptation, it is how to be true to the spirit of the book, which is often completely unsuitable for the screen, and how to make it cinematic.
Nir: I am not sure if it is completely, what was this word, “unsuitable”? I am not sure if it is unsuitable, I was just talking about this yesterday. Because I think storytelling is being changed right now in front of our eyes, you know? I mean, the stories that we are used to being told, and it is a sort of crisis, they say, and I believe it is true. So something is changing and maybe we are looking at this whole thing of adaptation as something that is going to grow and maybe change a little bit the language of films. I do not know. I believe so. I think we have to explore things in cinema-making and I think this is one way to explore it, by taking this different language and searching it, and see what we can get from it, because I think this is art and it is a way of growing.
But from my point of view, yes, I wanted to tell a story, but first of all, the problematic thing is that you have four years in a life of a hero. You know, usually in stories, we have like a day in a life for a short film or a week in the life of a drama, or we can tell three months, or we can tell a year, and it is hard to tell a year in a feature film, it is an epic film, and then you have four years.
So I had to look for a structure and the structure I found was to divide the book into two stories. One is early childhood and then you go into the really age, this age that you are thirteen now, the film stops, tells the important relationship for the kid in the first story, and then you jump two years, and he has not grown an inch, and everybody grew up. So this was one structure key, and that gave me the opportunity to gather the time and still show the dramatic arc that the kid is going through. He is thirteen now, it is raining, the kids are like here, and he is small. He is left behind. So this is a key that I looked for a lot of time.
Another key is taking the plot out, looking at the book and taking the plot out and combining them to the right peak together. Sometimes the plots, one ends here and the other one ends here in the book, and I made them together to the same peak, and I had to do some changes, but it did some good things to each plot.
Other things had to do with the inner voice. There is an inner voice in the book, and because the book is about a boy who is losing his mind a bit, I took the voice-over and I used it to show the mental problems of the boy growing on him, and as the film reaches its last act, the voice-over takes over the kid, and it takes over the film.
Peter Cowie: But the dialogue is very important in the film.
Nir: Yes, of course, all the inner things, you take them out and you make them dialogue. For instance, I could give you one example which maybe can help. You look for image-related ways of telling the ideas of the book. For instance, there is this thing in Hebrew. In Hebrew, we have three [tenses]: we have past, present, and future. I do not know if we have future. I hope we have future. In English, there are so many [tenses], like one of them is the present continuous. The boy studies the present continuous in school and there is this idea of “I am playing”, “I am jumping”, and he is shocked by it; his whole soul is playing. He wants to be inside this present continuous. He does not want to grow up.
In the book it is an inner voice, in the film it is a dialogue with a friend of his, and while he is saying the dialogue he is playing with a ball. Suddenly, when he reaches this idea of thinking about this present continuous, the camera goes up and the ball, the game, starts slowing into slow motion, and it becomes a present continuous of playing. So you look at all these sorts of ideas all the time.
Peter Cowie: I encourage everyone here to see the film because there is so much humour in it. Yesterday, at the screening, people were laughing in all the right places. There is so much humour, particularly in the relationship with the neighbour, and in the relationship to the mother…I think that is why you made the mother a human figure, because you enabled the audience to laugh at her.
Audience 3: Hi, I am Minda, from the Deutsche Welle Academy. I am very much concerned about the entire process of production, and in connection with the Berlinale Co-production Market, is the film project completely independent in terms of the entire process of production, especially when it comes to content and artistic aspects? Does the Berlinale Co-production Market have something to do within the process of production of the project?
Assaf: Are you talking about the Co-production Market?
Audience 3: Right.
Assaf: Whether we have influence over the...
Audience 3: Yeah. Or is it totally independent?
Assaf: It is independent. What I find, because now I am with the project at the Co-production Market, and it is like twenty meetings, very tiring, but the same nearly two years ago. In connection to content, you hear a lot of people, from a lot of places, who read the script, who know the idea they tell you, when you think about it they think, in one way or another, you get something from it. When you go back and continue working on the project there is no…we were completely free to do what we wanted, and there were no strings attached whatsoever.
Nir: Can I add just one more thing about this? When we were here two years ago, we were kind of, Assaf said it before, we were kind of too fast for a co-production, we were rushing with our cast. We came late. I think this Co-production Market is something that you come here and maybe there is a project that you are doing right now will happen... You need time, first of all, and also you do not know who you are going to meet here and who you are going to work with five years from now.
Assaf: When we came last time, we said we were going to shoot the movie in, I do not know, five or six months, or whatever. And now with the project, the first thing I understood that we were shooting in April in 2012 because, otherwise, most of our partners would not have sufficient time to come up with whatever we need to bring the film together. Obviously, if we could do it in a fast way they would be happy.
Nir: We were too fast.
Assaf: There is no point in coming here and thinking that in four months your German co-producers would be able to juggle some funds and become your partner in such a short time.
Audience 3: Thank you.
Peter Cowie: Time for another question, I think. Anybody else?
Audience 4: I have a short, general question. Because, as Assaf said, you consider [that] generally it is better to turn a “B” book or a bad book into a movie, and I just wanted to ask why.
Assaf: Because if you read great literature, and you experience whatever you experience while you are reading the book, and each [person] can see it differently. And then, when you see a movie, in a way a lot of the work is done for us, our imagination is there but usually does not need to be as active as it is when you are reading a book, so when it is a great book and you have your own experience and now I am looking at Nir’s experience of the book, unless he brings in something completely new, which I think he did.
In a way, it is like with music, unless you bring in some new elements and you change the story a little bit… When I [was] reading Nir’s draft, in the beginning it was still the book, and at one point we said, “OK, now it reads itself, now the script is a movie.” The script is not an adaptation of the book, but now it has life of its own. That is when you are ready to shoot the movie, I think.
Audience 4: Is it because you think it’s more difficult to make an independent movie or to make a story of the movie more independent from the book when so many people have read the book and have maybe higher expectations?
Assaf: Absolutely. But it also has the advantage of people knowing the book and wanting to go and relive it in a different way, and it may be ten years ago, fifteen years ago. And they are going to read it after they have seen the film, because there is a dialogue between the film and the book, I am sure. Always.
Peter Cowie: Tatjana, I would like to ask you: Do you think that Generation K Plus [was] the right home for this particular film here in the Berlinale? I mean, is it an advantage for you that this film is presented a little bit as a film for a lesson to read and to experience?
Tatjana: I think it is very important that the film is shown and there will [be] a discussion and we are waiting eagerly what will happen with that film, and how it will be distributed. And I think that Die Kindheit Erfindung is one of David’s most famous books. I think he will be very well received at that very moment now.
Audience 5: I have a question for the director. I have not seen the movie yet, but just talking about the ball play and the inner dialogue and stuff, I started thinking about the visual identity of the movie, and since I am a director, I am kind of interested in how did you find an inspiration for this movie, for your visual identity. Was it drawn from the book, something, some picture? What is your camera style, your colour style, does it have anything to do with the book itself or a style?
Nir: This was the inspiration, you see, the little boy, he is inside a paper boat and it is like in a lost planet, you do not know where he is and so the poster was the visual inspiration for the film. It is the time that he is lost inside his head and it is like the end of the film. This, in a way, was the visual image that I waited to reach, there are a few other images in the book that you have to speak about after you see the film. It is hard for me to say without a dialogue of the film. But this was the inspiration for the whole film, this boy.
Also, I can tell you one image that I really loved. It is not the same in the film, but I had it in my head when I was writing. It is just a boy sitting in front of a block on the pavement, and calling his friend and the friend is not answering. So that is just one image, and one time when Mr. Grossman said something at the hotel about how hard it is going to be, the film, making it and everything, I told him: “I have this image of Aaron sitting at this pavement and calling and no one answers. And I have to make the film because of this.”
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