When describing his role as executive producer of the new film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Douglas Gresham sums it up with three words: "He's to blame."
He laughs while quoting one of the producers of the film who gave this answer when asked what Gresham's role was while on set. Of course, on one hand it's said in jest. But on the other it is so very true. As the stepson of prolific author C.S. Lewis, Gresham is the one who is responsible for all three of the Narnia major motion pictures that have made it to the big screen since 2005: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and next month's Fox 2000 Pictures/Walden Media release, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
A self-described "complete and utter Narnia fanatical purist," Gresham says he's thoroughly enjoyed his experience bringing the books to film. And really, who best to do so than someone who had a close personal relationship with the series' creator who he casually refers to as "Jack."
Of course, we know him better as C.S. Lewis, the creator of "Narnia" and novelist who endeared himself to so many of us as children (and still as adults) with his beloved book series, The Chronicles of Narnia.
I talked with Gresham recently to ask about his experience making a movie of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, to see if he thought the character Eustace Scrubb was bratty enough in his portrayal on-screen and to find out if there might be any future Narnia films on the horizon. …
This is your third time out with a Narnia film. But even so, is it sill thrilling to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the big screen?
Absolutely! I enjoy making these movies enormously for the most part. I spent the whole of the shooting time actually on set this time. I enjoy it enormously. This is a tough job. There's a lot of work involved, but at the same time it's a blessing for me to get to do it.
What was a typical day for you like on set? Walk us through it, if you will.
A typical day … well, I'd get up around 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning and I'd start doing my e-mails, and I'd get halfway through them by I guess 9:00 or something like that. Most of the makeup and costuming would be done by then and people would be creeping onto the actual sets themselves to start work and the camera and edit groups and everyone would be in place. I would sit behind a set of monitors, watching everything that happened and commenting sometimes and making a nuisance of myself which seems to be my focus in life most of the time. And I would watch it all happen, and then we would go on to lunch. I would go into my motor home and continue with my e-mails and then during the afternoon be back on set and then when it all stopped in the evening—sometimes quite late depending on how our schedules were running—I'd go back and finish my e-mails for the day, cook myself something to eat and go to sleep.
That's a lot to pack into one day! What made you want to be on the set for this film and not with the first two?
Well, I wanted to with the others. I was just too busy doing other things. I wanted to spend as much time as possible on the set with the others. And I did, several times, in each case. I was extremely busy with other projects and different bits and pieces at the time. During the first film, I was still running our ministry—a psychotherapy and counseling ministry in Ireland. But when it came up with this movie, I actually could spare the time to get away and take all my electronic gizmos with me so I could do most of my work in the motor home and could be there—which I enjoyed enormously.
Besides being on the set, what other responsibilities have you had as executive producer of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?
I'm not anything like an ordinary executive producer, I suppose. In a sense I'm a kind of a gadfly. I'm the guy who looks at everything to make sure that everything stays Narnian and as true as possible to the book and so on. So I'm really making a nuisance of myself to the other producers and director. That's what I do best. Mark Johnson, one of our producers who actually works with us on these movies, put it very succinctly when we were making maybe the first movie. I was in Prague in the Czech Republic and the American ambassador to the Czech Republic was visiting the set. And Mark brought him over to introduce him to me on set, and he said, "Well what does Mr. Gresham do for the project?" And Mark said, "Oh, he's to blame." And that about sums it up really, I guess.
How early did you get involved with the production—when the script was being developed or were you involved before then?
I am in the process from before the script begins being developed. This whole thing, all of these Narnian movies, is my project in the first place. So that's what Mark meant went he said "he's to blame." I sort of kicked it off and started it and decided we'd have a war like a king does. We'll have a war now, and we'll make a movie now. That kind of thing. Really I'm involved in just about every facet in the making and the production of the movie and then again, of course, with the promotion of the movie as we're doing today.
Can you give an example of something in the adaptation of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader that you took issue with or fought for or didn't want changed from book to screen?
Well there are so many. Always when you translate a book from the sort of medium of print into a movie, you're going to have to make changes. What happens in these things is that there's a sort of group of people—almost an informal committee—that decide what to do and what to put into the screenplay and so forth. And being a complete and utter Narnia fanatical purist, any comma they moved to me is an anathema. So I argue pretty strongly for what I believe in. And we always come to a compromise situation. So there are always things that I would rather not have done, and there are always things the director probably would not have done. And he's moved in my direction, and I've moved in his. This is the sort of cooperative process in making a movie from a book. And I think it probably doesn't infringe on people's consciousness when they see the movies as much as it does on mine when I'm actually making the movies. I work very hard to make my points and some of them are understood and some of them are not and so forth. But we always work as sort of a team to eventually come out with something that results in usually a first-class film.
Do you think C.S. Lewis would approve of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader's leap from page to screen and the end result?
I'm very wary of ever saying of how Jack would think about things. Of course he died in 1963, and he hasn't had the 50 so or years of life to change his attitudes as I've gone through. So I'm not prepared to say what Jack would think or would not think. I'm prepared to say if he had watched what we had done with Aslan and Reepicheep and characters like this on-screen, he would be utterly thrilled. His great fear was that the Narnia Chronicles would be done sometime in cell animation, in a cartoon type way and he hated that. And so I'm very, very happy that we've been able to do it in such absolute realism. I mean that lion walking around the screen could be a real lion in the zoo. And I'm very glad we've been able to give him the majesty and dignity that he needs. And the same with Reepicheep and the other animal characters from Narnia. I think Jack would absolutely love what we've been able to do there.
Was there a time when anyone was trying to get these films made in that cell animation type of way?
Yes, of course, there was a time. But I've been trying to make these movies since long before this modern technology of computer generated imagery even existed. And there were people who came up with ideas that I said "no" to. I think the Holy Spirit of God held this whole process up until the technology had been developed sufficiently to do it justice.
What is your favorite scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?
Well, without a doubt, my favorite scene in this film is the ending of it. It's one of the most moving and beautiful scenes ever put on-screen. I think everybody will find it the same way.
What difference do you think that 3D is making for this film?
Contrary to what everyone seems to think, 3D is by no means new. There were 3D movies around when I was a child. They came and they went, sort of as a fad. At the time you wore silly looking glasses—red and green they were in those days. And you saw the film in three dimensions. The film was a black and white film to start usually. But I don't think it adds a huge dimension to the movie. It certainly does add some depth to it in various ways. It can make films more scary. When the sea serpent comes on the screen, I'm going to take off the 3D glasses. I don't want that thing to come down off of the screen at me.
So yes, there are some places that can be scary. A lady, who was at a screening I was at the other day. said to me, "Well what do I do about my eight-year-old granddaughter?" And I said at the salient points, "Pick her up and put her on your lap." I think all of us when we get into a movie with something that's really scary just wish we had a big lap to climb on. I'm lucky because I do. I have the lap of Jesus Christ. It's something one has to have a personal judgment on. I think [3D is] probably exciting to someone who's never seen it before. And I do think it can add a great deal of depth—depth of field and liveliness to a movie. But I do also think it can at times make things more scary than they need to be.
Speaking of depth and liveliness, what are your thoughts on the way Eustace Scrubb is portrayed on-screen in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?
My favorite character! They certainly could not have found a better Eustace. And to me, the most extraordinary thing about all this is that this young actor is able to play this horrible young boy absolutely to a T. Will Poulter himself is one of the most charming, sweetest, good-natured, most polite, most beautiful children I have ever met in my life. You couldn't meet a nicer kid. And yet he's able to get on-screen and do this wonderful job projecting this complete brat. And so I don't think we could've found a better Eustace.
Do you find that Eustace and his personal journey and transformation stands out most to people who have read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?
It varies an awful lot, I think. Eustace certainly does stand out to some people. Reepicheep is everybody's darling. Lucy is a lot of other people's darling and so on. People have all have different tastes in who they like to relate to and in who they like to find attractive. And of course, Caspian—King Caspian now—well Ben Barnes the actor has developed into a superb actor. He really shines in this movie. And I think there are a lot of people who are going to fall in love with Ben—not that it probably hasn't happened to him already with that character of King Caspian. Reepicheep, of course, and even Tavros the Minotaur is a fabulous character. So it all depends on your own personality, whom you're going to relate to and love the most. For me, I think probably I like Reepicheep and I also like Eustace.
What overall message do you think that C.S. Lewis was trying to convey when he wrote The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?
Jack was writing a book here about what happens to people who start trying to live the right kind of life—a life of virtue and a life of morality and ethical perfection if possible. And, of course, what happens to you when you do try to do those things is you're immediately assailed by the person who wants you to do bad stuff instead of good stuff. And temptation comes at you from all sides and all directions. This movie is all about temptation, and how we deal with it, how we should deal with it and how we can overcome it. People forget that you can never find out how strong temptation can be until you've met it, fought it and defeated it. Otherwise, you only find out the level of your own weakness. So this book is, in a sense, Screwtape Letters for kids. And I think that's what people should find here—the great lessons with how to deal with temptation.
Let's talk a little more about Eustace. I'm rereading the book right now but am not quite to the end. There's a scene near the end of the film where Eustace talks about his transformation from boy to dragon and back to boy again and how it was painful, yet good, for him. Is this from the book or was the scene created specifically for the film?
That's a very curly question. I can't completely answer it. While I know that there is a scene where he does apologize and makes amends for being such a brat, I'm not sure if it actually takes place in the rowboat or in the Dawn Treader or on the shore. I simply can't recall at the moment. You see, I'm already on to the next one. I'm starting to read the next book and figure out what we need to do with that one. So I've sort of put The Dawn Treader a bit on the back burner, as far as myself is concerned. But yes, there is a scene where he apologizes to everybody. There's a lovely remark that I think came from the scriptwriter where he says, "I think I was a better dragon than I was a boy." It's a lovely scene … that last bit on the beach is so moving and so powerful and so beautiful.
There are so many teachable moments in this film. For parents, what do you suggest that they talk about with their children after seeing the movie?
The fact that every child gets tempted to do bad stuff, and I think they have to learn to deal with it and I think that's the sort of thing that parents can gently point out to them. "Wow, they were tempted to bad things. But they didn't, because. …" But I do think if you're going to take very young children to this movie, which I hope a lot of people will, you should be prepared to pick them up and put them on your laps at the right points whenever the sea serpent is sort of leaping out of the screen at you.
In order to have a good moviegoing experience, do you recommend that people read the book first before they see the film or does it matter?
I don't think it really matters a great deal. I think people ought to read the books if they have them. When they see the movie, I think they'll read the book after the movie. Certainly. But I do think it's important, in this case, that you see the first two movies before you see the third one. Because we've got characters in this movie who stem back all the way to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. You've got Edmund and Lucy. And then you've got Reepicheep and Caspian, who comes from Prince Caspian. So you really need to see the first two movies before you see the third one, just to keep things in order to understand what's happening and who's who.
Whether they're familiar with the story or The Chronicles of Narnia or not, why do you think people should consider seeing The Voyage of the Dawn Treader?
Oh you should definitely go to see this movie, because I need the money to make the next one. [Chuckles]. No, because it's exciting and it's beautiful and it's full of life and fun and hope and joy and all the sorts of things that Narnia stands for. I think there are many good reasons to see this movie. It's going to be a first-class evening of entertainment for everyone.
So will there be another film?
Well, it depends on whether the public supports us well enough to make us go with free conscience to our sponsors asking for another budget for the next one, you know? We have to do well each time. Obviously no one's going to sponsor a group of people who make movies that don't succeed.
Which book would make sense to adapt next?
I think we would look very strongly at doing The Silver Chair next. Because again, we have this continuity of casting which we've had right through, and we would continue that with Eustace and the story of The Silver Chair. I also think it would be a very beautiful story to film. That's the one I would look at initially for the next one. And I hope that people will support [The Voyage of the Dawn Treader] enough to allow us to make the next one.
I'll have to read that one next after The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Speaking of which, when I was buying my book at the bookstore, I noticed editions from two different publishers. And one had a special note inside that said the books were numbered in the way that C.S. Lewis would have wanted them to be read as opposed to the order in which he wrote them or the order in which they were published. What is that all about?
Originally, the American publisher of The Chronicles of Narnia decided that Americans needed numbers on the spine of the books to tell them what order to read them in. And they did it in the publication order that Jack actually published the books which meant that The Magician's Nephew and the creation of Narnia came about fourth or fifth or somewhere, or maybe sixth. So when HarperCollins took over the global production of these books and publication of them, they asked me and said, "You know we think Americans probably do need numbers to read them." And they asked, "What order do you think we ought to do them in?" And I said, "Well … I actually asked Jack himself what order he preferred and thought they should be read in. And he said he thought they should be read in the order of Narnian chronology." So I said, "Why don't you go with what Jack himself wanted?" So, it's my fault basically—the order of Narnian chronology. And I'm not the least bit ashamed of it.
For more information about Fox 2000 Pictures' and Walden Media's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, please visit Crosswalk's Narnia channel. Starring Ben Barnes, Skandar Keynes, Georgie Henley and Will Poulter, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader releases wide in 3D and 2D in theaters on Friday, December 10, 2010 and is rated PG for some frightening images and sequences of fantasy action.
To view the trailer for The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.