Exclusive interview with Garth Jennings
Garth Jennings is now a well known guy for all the Hitchhiker’s fans. He had the oppotunity to shoot the Hitchhiker’s movie, a project which remained in development hell during twenty five years. And he’s also a quite nice chap , even if he really shouldn’t make fun of some of my questions ;)))) Here is anyway a quick interview with the guy who is definitly a far better director than George Lucas.
> HAMMER & TONGS
Nicolas Botti – How and when did you decide to express yourself with a camera?
Garth Jennings : When I was eleven years old I started making little action movies with my friends. They were terrible but they made my parents laugh so I kept going.
NB : With Nick Goldsmith you have founded Hammer & Tongs and had some good successes at shooting music videos and commercials. Duos are not very usual in the movie business. You work with Nick Goldsmith now for many years. How did you manage to work together during all these years and still appreciate each-other?
GJ : I think the reason we have worked together for so long is that we both love what we do and we’ve managed to get through all the very difficult stuff together. It’s like being a married couple – but without the saucy bits.
NB : Your universe and trajectory (through music videos and commercials) is very close to the world of Spike Jonze (who first introduced your name to the producers) and Michel Gondry. Do you feel close to them?
GJ : I don’t know Michel Gondry but Spike is the reason we got this job. He’s a lovely man. I wish I could say we felt close to them because that would be cool – but Nick and I work on our own on a barge so we don’t have any sense of being part of a group. Except with the ducks that are always hanging around. The ducks are part of our group.
NB : It’s your first feature movie and you were just 30 years old when you signed for the movie. Were you afraid to work on such a project ?
GJ : Never. Well, not really. A bit. Sometimes. Early on. And at the end. It’s all a blur. Nurse!!!
> H2G2 : THE BEGINNING
NB : This movie was in development hell for 25 years? Why was it not made before and why do you think it has been finally made?
GJ : There are so many planets that must align for a for film to get made. You can have a great script and all the best intentions in the world but that doesn’t mean it will happen. However, I think it was Jay finding Karey and Karey’s revision of Douglas’ draft that sent the project past the barrier it had always hit against. Suddenly it all made sense to everyone at the studio and that’s when we got involved.
NB : Hitchhikers, in all his previous incarnations (including the BBC TV series), has always been very wordy. And it is based on ideas rather than a plot. Not the best start to make a movie, is it?
GJ : The great thing about radio is you can say, “the president has two heads,” and it doesn’t cost you a penny more. But in a movie it means a ton of money, people, computers, prosthetics, blue screen, glue, hairspray, tracking markers, neck pain, paintings, even more hairspray, diagrams, budgets, tears, fights…. And just when you’ve got that covered you have the line, “they enter a planet factory,” and you start all over again. Except with slightly less hairspray.
We tried to take all that wonderful attention to detail and put as much as we could into the visuals and characters. An example is the crabs on Vogsphere. I always liked that guide entry about how the Vogons behaved – how they sat on the local deer for no good reason (snapping their backs) and would crush crabs, though it gave them no great satisfaction. We just worked the crabs into the story. Poor crabs. They don’t have a very good time. And Jeltz’s chair is a giant deer that has been completely squished. Very sad.
NB : Karey Kirkpatrick has finished Douglas’ script. Did Karey play an important part in the creation of the movie. You also worked with him on the script. How did you work with him?
GJ : As I have said before, Karey pretty much cracked the code that had been holding the film back for so long. He was the first person we called when we read the script. All our fears about it being in the wrong hands were thrown out the minute we finished reading it. He’s very smart and easy going. He stayed in London for an initial period of script development and the rest we did by phone, e-mail and meetings when Nick and I were in America. I have very fond memories of that part of the process. Karey would often write at the same café and I would talk to him about the infinite improbability drive as he ordered his 10th cappuccino. He’s very quick. Never gets stuck. And makes the best grilled prawns you’ve ever tasted. Cool dude.
NB : Why did you decide to make this movie in the first place?
GJ : How could we resist? It’s the most extraordinary project to be offered. A big budget labour of love.
>SHOOTING THE H2G2 MOVIE
NB : Jay Roach (Austin Powers) was due to release the movie in the first place, and remained a producer. Which was his part in the movie being finally released?
GJ : Jay’s collaboration with Douglas and Karey was an essential part of what finally got the movie made. He had approached Spike Jonze and through him found us. From the beginning to the very end he was the coolest advisor and enthusiast.
NB : You also worked a lot with executive producer Robbie Stamp who was a friend and a business partner with Douglas. Was it useful for you?
GJ : Of course!!! Robbie was on set every day and part of every bit of the process. He represented Douglas and Douglas’ family and friends. Nick and I knew there were lots of fans like us who were very serious about Hitchhikers’ but having Robbie made us feel sure we would never stray from what was right.
NB : Maybe surprisingly for such a big budget movie, Disney also let you work with your usual partners (director of photography Igor Jadue-Lillo / Production designer Joel Collins / Second unit director Dominic Leung / Costume designer Sammy Sheldon…) who are parts of the Hammer & Tongs family. Was it important for you?
GJ : They are all a vital part of our work up to this point so to suddenly lose them would have been incredibly silly.
NB : Which is your best memory about the shooting of the movie?… And What did you find the more difficult to cope with?
GJ : I have a load of wonderful memories. Too many to count. Getting green lit was pretty incredible. Recording the orchestra and Neil singing “So Long And Thanks For All The Fish” was goose-bumpingly brilliant. Seeing the final version of the planet factory. Zooey and Martins’ screen test. The first time Jeltz walked…. the list is endless!
Worst bit? Getting a horrible stomach bug on Viltvodle 6.
NB : The movie is a mix between CGIs, real props made by Jim Henson Creature shop, miniatures and studio scenery. Why did you make such a choice?
GJ : On the whole it’s a good balance between CGI and in camera effects. It’s more fun to shoot real things if you can. You get better performances, better textures, you can be more spontaneous and you don’t get as bored as you do shooting in a blue room. I swear that when you walk on to a blue screen set you lose exactly 38% percent of your energy. A little part of your brain sees that there’s nothing to look at and switches off. It happens to everyone in the room and you have to work much, much harder to get good stuff out of it.
NB : Despite the fact there is no big star, the casting is one of the big successes of this movie. Was it difficult to chose the actors? What was your leading principle regarding the casting?
GJ : The cast were easy to find and brilliant to work with. Doesn’t that make you sick!? I know you’d rather hear that it was all very tricky and nasty but it wasn’t. Once it was established that the star was the title, we had the luxury of finding the best people for the job.
NB : The movie is full of clever in-jokes for the fans. Was it your idea? Were you not afraid of destabilising the ones who don’t know much about Hitchhikers?
GJ : We hope we’ve made something that appeals as much to fans as it does to newcomers.
NB : There has been already many versions of Hitchhikers (radio series, books, TV series,…). What is new with this one and do you think it’s still a part of the Hitchhiker’s canon ?
GJ : It’s the movie!!!!!! It’s not the definitive version. There isn’t one. It doesn’t matter. It’s all wonderful stuff. More!
NB : The opening title is quite surprising! Can you tell us the story behind this opening sequence?
GJ : We wanted to start with something that set the tone of what the movie was going to be, ie. loyal to the spirit and humour but be clear that it was a celebration of Hitchhiker’s – not a tedious adaptation. You can’t beat a good show tune to kick things off.
NB : The music is very important in the movie. How did you work with composer Joby Talbot?
GJ : He’s a genius and a huge Hitchhiker’s fan. He’s also a good friend, so for me it was the easiest and most fun part of the process.
NB : The guide entries and narrator bits are also quite important (and remind us all the previous versions of Hitchhikers) but they are very unusual in a movie. Was it a bit of a challenge?
GJ : The guide entries fluctuated in length and numbers until the very end of the editing process but I’m really happy with the final results. Shynola rule!
> THE H2G2 MOVIE, AN AMERICAN MOVIE OR A NEW KIND OF BRITISH MOVIE?
NB : Some new British comedies hit the screen like “Shaun of the dead” and “league of gentlemen” made by guys who come from notorious and insolent TV series. There are several links between these movies and “Hitchhiker’s” (and not only in the casting). Do you feel close to them? Do you think these are a new kind of British movies that could regenerate the British movie industry?
GJ : I don’t know any of the League of Gentlemen personally although we have worked with them and they are heroes of ours. I just saw their film which is amazing! In fact, you must stop reading this and go to see that film right away! Edgar Wright who directed “Shaun of the Dead” appears in our film as a return favour for making us zombies in his. But again, there isn’t a ‘scene’ or feeling of a movement to my knowledge. Maybe there is but they aren’t telling Nick and I? Maybe they are all having coffee in a smokey bar somewhere right now, discussing movies and how to regenerate British film industry. But then again, maybe not.
NB : Even if the money comes from the States, can we say it’s rather a British movie than a typical Hollywood movie?
GJ : Yeah, what the hell!? You can say it’s Swedish if you like!
NB : In UK and in the Sates, the Hitchhiker’s Guide is part of the people culture. Do you think the H2G2 movie can work in countries where Douglas is almost unknown? Did you think of that problem when you read the script for the first time?
GJ : I love Hitchhiker’s and think Douglas wrote something that is funny to people all over the planet. I hope the movie hasn’t limited it’s wide appeal.
NB : The movie is quite peculiar, and has a very personal tone due to Douglas’ imagination and your own visual choices. Do you think it can appeal to every kind of pubic?
GJ : I assume you have misspelt the word ‘public’ instead of ‘pubic.’ However, I do think this film could appeal to pubic hair as well as the public. It’s an odd film but it’s great fun. I always want to see something like this at the movies and I hope lots of other people do too.
> AND AFTERWARDS….
NB : Are you happy with the reactions (press, fans and public) regarding the movie? Do you think Douglas would be happy with it ?
GJ : I am overwhelmed and delighted by the response. It’s been such a lovely reaction to the film. I know Douglas’ family like the movie and that’s the best I can hope for.
NB : The end of the movie make us hope there will be a sequel. If Touchstone offers you to make a sequel, would you say yes?
GJ : Only if I get my own 1000ft trailer with a jacuzzi, bouncy castle and wood burning pizza oven.
NB : What a typical day of Garth Jennings looks like now that the Hitchhiker’s movie is finished?
GJ : Nappies, Finding Nemo, tea and more nappies.
NB : What is your next project?
GJ : To make a film that we have written ourselves. It’s a very exciting time. Let’s hope those planets align again…