Director Robert Schwentke Interview THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE

     August 10, 2009


If you’re a fan of Audrey Niffenegger’s novel “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, you’ve probably counting down the days till director Robert Schwentke’s adaptation hits theaters. I managed to see a screening and thought it was good. I’ll say the women in the audience were loving it, and the people I spoke with that had read the book told me they really enjoyed it. Most said they missed a few things (from the book), but isn’t that true about every movie made from a novel? Anyway, to help promote the film, I recently participated in a roundtable interview with director Robert Schwentke and it’s after the jump. During the interview he talked about why he wanted to make the film, casting Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana, his next film “Red”, and a lot more:

The Time Travelers Wife movie poster.jpgAs always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. And if you’d like to see some movie clips from “The Time Traveler’s Wife”, click here.

Question: Who’s idea was it to have Broken Social Scene doing a song at the wedding. I figured that would be the deal breaker, that they would not get paid for doing that song at a wedding.

Schwentke: [laughs] That was my choice. I actually collect versions of that song or have done that for a long time and I like Broken Social a lot. I met them in L.A. and I very early on thought that we should use that kind of a song because in the novel there’s a lot of music. Most of the music mentioned in the novel is the kind of music that I tend to listen to. So I connected to that and I felt if ma and pa pay for this affair and if we cast extras as guests who don’t look like Henry’s and Clare’s friends then at least they get to pick the song.

Question: What do you say people who see a lot of movies and say that a film is not as good as the book even though it’s not the book and couldn’t be?

Schwentke: That’s a very complicated big thing. First of all, obviously, I resort to them being two different mediums. There are very few films that work like novel. They’re more like a short story, a symphony versus sonata. Our narratives kind of move towards a cataclysmic event at the end. Keeping that in mind means that when you extract a strand that’s kind of what you have to stick to. So we committed to the love story for obvious reasons. It’s the backbone of the book and it’s what I fell in love with about the book, what we all fell in love with. No pun intended. The backbone of the book also became the backbone of the film. Whatever felt kind of off the spine didn’t make the cut. Whatever went beyond the love story, because if you start with it and you end with it, you’re already spinning a lot of plates, looking at a lifetime that these people spent together. It’s not like there’s not plenty there already. You just realize the film starts to have it’s own pulse. It’s not like you get up in the morning on the first day of shooting and say, ‘I’m so smart today I’m going to determine every choice I make from now until a year and a half from now.’ So it changes. You gain insights. The movie bucks you. The movie doesn’t do what you want it do. So it just grows and then you have a movie at the end of it, hopefully.

Question: Can you talk about the color red that was used throughout the film? Do you think the audience will pick up on that?

Schwentke: It depends on what you look for, I suppose. The first time around I hope there are other things they’re looking at rather than sort of the color schemes but I do believe that there’s a cumulative affect to all those things. It’s a way to sort of provide the audience with a bit of a manual. We color coded characters. We color coded certain situations. There’s one thought, it’s kind of an obscure thought but since you’re asking, the color red is sort of connected with the connotation of death. It comes out first during Christmas and of course she has, the little girl has in the meadow a red blanket. To me, yes he did travel to the meadow because of her, because she was going to be the most important person in his life, but also because it was going to be the locust of his death. So, to me – do I get to say that here? The color red here definitely has that same meaning. It’s not a lapse in our judgment. It was kind of a conscious decision to do that. It’s obscure, but what do you do.


Question: Can you talk about the casting? Rachel McAdams was attached to this even before you came along, right?

Schwentke: Yes, and I thought that was a great choice because she has that kind of vulnerability that you need. I mean, here’s an eight year old girl in a meadow playing by herself and a guy shows up and says, ‘I’m going to be your friend for the rest of your life -‘ or a version thereof. You have to be open and available to that kind of insanity. I think she made that very believable. Then I met Eric [Bana] for a general and I was really taken with how grounded and accessible he was. He’s a very dedicated family man. He’s a dedicated husband. He’s a good and decent, really truly decent man. Those are qualities that I felt were important for the character. Also, given his masculine persona from past films I felt that he would never play Henry as a victim which was very, very important to me. Even though time travel arguably is a metaphor for affliction, any kind of affliction I didn’t want him to play him as a victim.

Question: You obviously cut stuff for the film. What might make it onto the DVD?

Schwentke: I commit to one version and that’s it. I don’t do deleted scenes. So far I’ve always felt that the movies have arrived at a certain form and there were reasons why they arrived at that form. Insights were being gathered along the way. I think it’s okay if there’s just one film out there.

Question: I would just think that fans of the book would want to see what you cut and added to the film.

Schwentke: Yeah. When you read a book you have a dialogue as a reader and it’s the same for us. We have a dialogue with the book. Our dialogue is a little different, but I think we’ve arrived at our version of what the movie should be.


Question: Bruce [Rubin] a few minutes ago said he expects that the script was aimed at a women’s audience. What do you think about that?

Schwentke: Unfortunately I don’t think in those categories. I think it’s never mono-causal why you fall in love with something that you want to do. I read a script or I read a project or I read a novel and I know that I’m going to spend two to three years of my life with that, exclusively. So you better like it. There better be an honorable, real need to make that movie. Despite the fact that we were adapting someone else’s work to make the movie it’s a very, very personal film to me. When I read the novel a lot of the things in it resonated with me and I felt that if we just trusted those things that touched us then we would be halfway there. Then I’d been looking for a love story very specifically because I wanted to make a film about a stage in my life. I have a family. I’m married. I’m very, very happy. I wanted to make a movie for my wife and a movie that speaks to what it is to be in a long term, very, very committed relationship because at the heart that’s really what it is. It’s very grounded that way.

Question: How did the film come to you?

Schwentke: I heard about it and had read the group and I lobbied for myself. I really wanted to make the movie.

Question: I know your also adapting Warren Ellis’s ‘Red’ which is very different than this, a comic book. What interested you in that?

Schwentke: I’m very eclectic in terms of what I like, what I read, what I watch, my own consumer behavior. I hope that I can keep doing that in my professional life and just try out different things, put new colors on the palette as it were. I feel like my first film was a thriller. ‘Flightplan’ was similar to that. Then my second film dealt with very similar themes and issues as this one does, mortality. It was autobiographical. I went through a pretty serious illness early in my life and I made a movie about that. So it feels like I revisited those things a little bit. Now I just feel like I want to do something that’s not quite so intense and is maybe a little lighter on it’s feet and where I can maybe have a little more fun myself.

Question: Are you going to take visual cues from the art in the comic book?


Schwentke: No. When I met on this film they asked me what the movie was going to look like, and in all honestly, I always answer, ‘I have no idea. It’s going to look fine.’ It’s a real process for me to figure out what the right form for the content is. I don’t have one set way. I approach it the same way. A comic book is one thing and it works for the comic book and the movie and is going to b different. It has a bit of a different tonality than the comic book. It’s very funny and very irreverent. I’m looking forward to doing that.

Question: Will that be your next project?

Schwentke: Yeah, it looks like it.

Question: How much artistic license did you have going into this to stray away from the screenplay?

Schwentke: I mean, the screenplay is a great document because it makes you have many discussions prior to actually being on the floor. I mean, the day you step on the floor the meter is ticking and time is of the essence. You can’t really afford to not know what you’re doing. So I think the screenplay is a great tool to get everybody on the same page, as it were. So I’m not looking for artistic license with the script. I tend to arrive at a form with the script and feel that that should be for the time being what we aim for.

Question: Eric and Rachel were asked about chemistry earlier and they kind of passed that onto you.

Schwentke: [laughs] Yeah. They’re not giving themselves enough credit there. I think you either have chemistry or you don’t. If you could create chemistry in the editing room then there would be no films without chemistry, obviously, because there are a lot of good editors out there who’d be able to take care of that then if that’s how it really worked. They had a great rapport and we had an instinct when we cast it and that instinct was born out hopefully by the facts.

Question: Did you know that Bruce had been interested in doing this script before you two met?

Schwentke: Yeah. Actually, I was a huge fan of Bruce’s from ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ onwards. I was a bit of a geek and I knew all his interviews from the time. One of the great things working in this business is that you grow up and you admire these people and you admire these actors for their work and these actors for their work and then one day you might actually get to spend time with them and do something with them. So when I sat down with him I already loved his work. He said to me, ‘I don’t even know if I want to be here. I don’t even know if I want to talk to about this again because I already lobbied once and I got kicked out of the room. I’m not sure that I want to get kicked out of the room again.’ We started to discuss the themes and what was important to us. We were so very much on the same page on a lot of the big issues that it was a no brainer for me and I was very, very happy again.


Question: Would you like to work together again?

Schwentke: I would love to, yeah, sure. We had a great time working together.

Question: Are you based here now?

Schwentke: I’m based in Los Angeles.

Question: Is there any kind of film industry to speak of in Germany?

Schwentke: Film industry is probably a little bit big of a word. One of the reasons – I did two movies over there and I was getting ready to do a third movie – I came over was because at that time, once again, went right into yet another crisis where it becomes impossible to get a movie made for two or three years. The choice that you really have is that you can go and work for TV which is so badly paid that you have to really churn them out which I think probably helps you develop certain muscles. I’m not sure though that you really want to have those muscles as a director. That’s when we decided to come over here. I studied at AFI and so I had a lot of friends from that time in my life, and my wife is actually from L.A. It just kind of played out that way. But I didn’t get off the boat all teary, like, ‘I’m so lonely.’ I had a real social support there.

Question: What did your wife think about the movie?

Schwentke: She hasn’t seen it yet because in the past, for every single I’ve ever made, have put her through the ringer. I would show her dailies. On my first film I made her sit through every single shot I’d ever done and that was terribly traumatizing to her. Then the second film I showed her out of sequence. I can’t even fathom why I did that but I did. I showed her the ending first. I mean, it was bizarre. The third movie she had seen, I would bring home these cuts and edits and so by the time she went to the premiere she was like, ‘Okay, fine.’ Since this is aimed at her, this is for her I made the decision along with her to spare her the pain until she actually has to sit through the premiere. So she hasn’t seen it but I hope she enjoys it, obviously.

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