Long time fans of ‘Ender’s Game’ know that it’s been a tough road to production. Our visit to the ‘Ender’s Game’ movie set last May shed light on why it took so long to bring this unique story to the big screen, and what kinds of work went into the film’s pre-production. We were allowed to pour over the film’s production art, which you can see throughout this article.
“Enough people in the world who read the book at a certain age in their lives had to grow up and find their way into Hollywood and achieve a certain amount of power to actually get it made,” says ‘Ender’s Game’ producer Linda McDonough. Lynn Hendee had been protecting the ‘Ender’s Game’ film with Orson Scott Card for fifteen years when she met OddLot’s Gigi Pritzker and Linda McDonough, and then the Kurtzman-Orci team. “It was cautiously that we all approached each other. It was that kind of sniff test. Do we all have the same agenda? Which was that nobody wanted to make this movie at the cost of [losing] some to the integrity of the story that would disappoint- I want to say the fans, but Bob, Gigi, Lynn, are the fans- so disappoint ourselves,” says McDonough. It’s true that almost everyone who’s had a helping hand in the making of this film read and loved the book at a very young age, including producer Bob Orci who was just twelve-years-old when he first read ‘Ender’s Game’.
With the help of Digital Domain, this team of fans created a forty-five second teaser featuring combative dialogue between Colonel Graff and Major Anderson.
Anderson (female voice): He’s not ready.
Graff: You’re never ready. You go when you’re ready or not.
Anderson: He’s too young.
Graff: He’s a genius. He’ll figure it out.
Anderson: He’s exhausted.
Graff: He’s decisive.
Anderson: You’re changing the rules!
Graff: In the battle with the Formics there will be no rules.
Anderson: Erase the game.
Graff: He’s the one.
They shopped this teaser around the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and sold the foreign rights to the film, earning what became the cornerstone piece of financing for the ‘Ender’s Game’ movie. Cash in hand, the team searched for a writer and director who could say, ”I respect this piece of material enough that I’m not just going to turn it into an easy, black and white, good guys versus bad guys ending, which had been a struggle in development of the material for a long time,” says McDonough.
“I was in many studio meetings over the years,” shares Hendee. “Some with Scott and some without, where high level studio executives who shall not be named- many of the different studios [had] ideas such as ‘We’ll make this movie if it’s clear cut that the Formics are evil, we are good, Ender is physically in a fighter at the end of the battle, he knows it’s real… We’ll finance those things today, these are the conditions.’ This was over many years, and so it was ‘no thank you’, ‘no thank you’, ‘no thank you.’” “Maybe it’s ok that it took this long,” admits McDonough.
With Gavin Hood signed on as script writer and director, the team set out to cast the movie. They auditioned a wide range of children to play the role of Ender, but ultimately decided to age up Ender Wiggin’s age from five-years-old, to around ten-years-old at the beginning of the film. “Ultimately the only thing that mattered was who would we believe could be Ender and who would we believe could be the leader of his peers by the end of the film in a believable way,” says McDonough. “He [Asa Butterfield] has that deep, wise, soulfulness in his performance. It’s so great that he’s a taller kid, but he’s so willowy. All the things that you get in the book are [that] people judge him at first blush as an underdog. We still have that in Asa’s interpretation of the character.” The producers feel that very young actors who auditioned for the role of Ender Wiggin had too high of a voice and too much trouble with pronunciation to be a believable commander.
Asa Butterfield grew a whopping two and half inches over the seventy day filming. “He starts the movie seeming like a much smaller kid and by the end of it, as he becomes a leader, he’s actually grown into it. I think it’s going to have a weird subtle psychological effect when you’re watch the movie actually,” says Orci.
Fans should not slight the ‘Ender’s Game’ producers for this deviation from the book. Fans were informed at the start of this project that this film is a live-action adaption of a novel, not a verbatim script. “It’s haiku compared to a book,” says McDonough. Fans should rest assured that the most important aspects of the ‘Ender’s Game’ story have remained intact. “We want to and have always been mindful, not doing anything sacrilegious and on top of that making sure to include the things that were super important. In the terms of Ender’s journey you have to set the stage with Stilson, he has to go to Battle School, he has to have the altercation with Bonzo, and the result of it is that he has to go to veteran’s retreat.”
Bean, Petra, Alai and Dink all remain Ender’s close companions. Peter and Valentine will continue to influence Ender on his journey through battle school and command school, although their appearances in this film may be more limited than most fans would like. The Locke and Demosthenes story line has been cut. Bob Orci says that the politic interwoven in that story line might date the movie in a negative way. The “lake scene” is included in the movie.
Interestingly, despite initial reports, Gavin Hood has elected to keep the Mind Game in the ‘Ender’s Game’ movie as several short scenes scattered throughout the film using motion-capture technology. “At the beginning, of course, the avatar is the mouse, but at the end it’s more the dream than the game version of Ender. It’s not animated, but it’s not photorealistic,” describes McDonough.
The ‘Ender’s Game’ film will try to capture and reflect the high level of violence in the novel, although the producers are aiming for a PG-13 rating. Producer Linda McDonough describes her excitement over the successfully-marketed ‘Hunger Games’ film, which also showcases a heightened level of violence in children. “Historically [violence] has been one of the big challenges, reasons, why this film hasn’t gotten made. The marketing mind set at a studio [is] not being sure if an audience could be delivered for a film that had a budget this big and dealt with those themes.”
Fans will be happy to note that the famous “shower scene” will be included in the film. We even saw a still of Ender surrounded in the shower, and Petra standing in the doorway. A few of the producers had jokes ready for questions about the shower scene!
Q: What about the scenes like the shower fight where there’s a lot of nudity in the book? How do you creatively get around that?
Orci: DVD extras!
McDonough: The director’s cut!
Q: Are they wearing clothes in it or just carefully shot scenes?
McDonough: Ender is in the shower without clothes on, but we’re not doing nudity in the film.
One of the biggest book to film changes is the battle room. The nine, cubic, and opaque battle rooms design by Steve Sywak have been exchanged for a single, spherical, transparent battle room. “You can figure the stars anyway you want. So Graff can do that from his desk,” says Bob Orci. “Every time we go in there, [it] will be a different cinematic feeling to it,” says McDonough. “There’s one environment where it’s opaque so you can’t see anything outside, which is more similar to the way it always is in the book.”
Not CGI. The battle school students trained for weeks on wires on achieve the effect of weightlessness. Lynn Hendee says Orson Scott Card was very pleased with the final results. She says, “When Scott did his set visit, he said to me, I’m happy we didn’t get the movie made until now. And that was a direct result of meeting Garrett, the stunt coordinator. Scott was always worried about battle room and traditional wires. He was obsessed in a good way. He really wanted to simulate zero-g. It was very important to him, and even though there is wire-work as you saw a little in that piece, the rigs that Garrett designed […] there is all kinds of technology that is making the battle room and the flying really simulate zero-g instead of looking like wire-work. We had all kinds of zero-g consultants, astronauts… it was taken very seriously how we can make it.” Astronauts weren’t the only consultants on the set of ‘Ender’s Game’. Other consultants on and off set included Elon Musk, Bill Gates and his son, a Navy Seal, NASA engineers and more.
The producers hope that all of these consultants will be a recipe for a very relatable ‘Ender’s Game’ adaption that fans will enjoy. If the film does well, there may be an opportunity for sequels. “We’re adapting something precious and so we don’t want to have the arrogance at this stage, [saying] that we know exactly where we’re going to go with it,” says Bob Orci. The film can be a standalone piece if it needs to, “by making sure that it is emotionally over in a way. It is a chapter. The emotional chapter is ‘I now know the truth and I won’t standby and let that stand. I must make this right and I will make it right.’ That is him coming into his own. It’s all about what you feel at the end. […] The idea is to make it feel like he is making a promise to do right.”
“You have to accept or know the right things to do,” says McDonough. “We think we’ll end up with a PG-13, but we have to be willing to do it, which means it’s not a film for three and four-year-old kids. It’s not! It’s a four quadrant film, but it’s not a family film in the way that an animated movie is. If we tried to do that, which some people have argued has better box office, we betray fundamentally the themes of the movie.” These producers, who are true fans of the book, have worked very hard to adapt ‘Ender’s Game’ into a believable film. Come back tomorrow, when we’ll share our interview with another ‘Ender’s Game’ fan, writer and director Gavin Hood!
‘The ‘Ender’s Game’ film will be released in U.S. theaters on November 1, 2013.