Thursday, 19 December 2013

interview: Roger La Page

Roger La Page was co-producer on the Hallmark Frankenstein. I interviewed him on set in Slovakia in August 2003.

This is a 200-year-old book with three narrators and no creation scene. How do you turn that into something that modern audiences will enjoy?
"Well, the book’s been a classic for a long time for a certain reason. There’s a genre of people who think that this is the absolute greatest of novels. Kevin Connor’s creativity comes into things that were not said in the book, almost like making segues between chapters that she left unsaid, or left to your imagination. So many people in the past have tried so hard to create elements that just could not be. Everybody ignores the fact that he was a student. He was a student in school, he was 18 years old, 19 20 21. The things in his lab are primitive and he just uses basic elements. Other productions have crowded his lab with so much unbelievable junk and techno-whizz stuff that it loses the one thing that we don’t want to lose - which is the credibility of the book.

"The book was written in a simple form at a simple time with elements that were far beyond her imagination. There was no land between Geneva, the mountains and the far north, but we’ve had to create distance. Because it took him five or six years of travel and trekking and following his creation before their tumultuous finish. The things like the lab and how this monster was created. Because he tried very hard to make it a perfect being. This was the original Six Million Dollar Man. He was tall, he was strong, he was handsome. Well, none of the other creative people have bothered to stick with that. They have tried to conceptualise what people want. The thing that has endured over the years with the book is how perfect the book really is. The story itself is simple. So we’re telling the story that Mary Shelley wrote about. Her imagination is being filled in just with segues that take us from one chapter to another. It’s good to follow the book, I think."

Have you watched many other productions?
"I have, from the comical nuts-and-bolts guys to the incredible, unbelievable fifty million dollar productions with so much stuff in the lab and the lab is like a huge, enormous space. Somebody said the word ‘lab’ and they thought: how do we make a lab? Let’s take a studio and fill it with as much junk as we can possibly get in it. We’ve not done that, we’ve brought it back to the size it should be. And we’ve created what we feel is a very faithful rendition of a very good story. This is a very well written script, and the humanity of the person inside that creature is very well told in this writing."

Why was Mark Kruger picked to write it?
"I don’t know the answer to that exactly. When I came on board, when I was asked to do this show, the script was written. The elements were there but just not as refined as they are now. With re-writes and Kevin’s input, Jim Wilberger’s input, other people’s input, is the wonderful soul of this creature and the torturedness of Victor, who has made something that he needs so much to destroy but can’t. I don’t know if you’ve read some of the dialogue but it’s well worth a read. The script itself is a well-written novella, if you will. When I read the final script with the final coloured pages in - it’s a lovely story, beautifully written, with the humanity that this creature should always have been endowed with."

In terms of dialogue it must be difficult finding something that sounds like it was written in 1818 but not too olde worlde.
"It’s taking all the conjunctions, the ‘haven’t’s and ‘can’t’s and ‘won’t’, and making it into proper, correct grammar. The thing that they’ve captured in this script that I’ve never seen in another script is the wonderfulness of the people inside the people. The creature has this person inside him. And Victor goes from this idealistic, wanting-to-step-forward young man to eventually becoming the destroyer. He has to destroy that which is the most awesome creation. I think that’s captured from the book. When he finally convinces the Captain to give up what he’s doing, which is destroying his life ‘just like I have’, and the two of them see that they are exactly mirror images of each other, that’s a wonderful transition. Then our creature also pours out his soul to the Captain. So the Captain goes through transitions. Waldman, his teacher, goes through transitions. Victor teaches everybody; that’s the wonderfulness of Victor.

"And the creature, who is given not only a body and eyes and a mind, but he’s given a soul and he’s given tears - and then he doesn’t know what to do with them because nobody will accept him for what he is. Just a person. Take the Elephant Man. The most significant thing about the Elephant Man was when he said, ‘I am a human being.’ The creature has that same thing. ‘I have a soul. I can read. I’ve read about God and I’ve read about parents and I’ve read about love. But no-one will give me love. You are the only person I can turn to for love and you reject me because you are trying to destroy that which you made. Why?’ And Victor can’t answer why. Victor can’t tell him that he just doesn’t fit in. But Victor also doesn’t fit in. Mary, when she wrote this at such a tender age, awed people at that particular juncture - and she’s doing the same thing today. We, as a film-making crew, are awed by her ideas, the very idea of this is wonderful."

How much are you playing up the horror? It’s not really a very horrific story.
"No, and I think eventually it will come true. There will be a created man. But the horror is created by us as a viewing audience because we don’t understand either. We also would not accept this person. This is a movie about tolerance, and we are still unfortunately fairly intolerant about people who don’t fit in with our patterns, our lifestyles, our neighbourhoods. So it’s a person who doesn’t fit in who needs to fit in, who needs love, who needs attention, who needs a friend. He pleads so hard with his creator: ‘Make me a friend, make me a companion, make me a female, so I can go away. You’ll never hear from me again. I just need someone to love me.’"

It’s responsibility. Victor makes him but is not prepared for the responsibility. It’s like a kid with a puppy.
"That’s exactly the right analogy. The thing about us today is: we read a book, we read it as a novel, but it’s a novel over there, it’s not in our backyard. but if that person came to our backyard, how would we react to that person? Would we create the intolerance? It’s a very, very insightful book if you look beyond the written word, just at the structure of the story. It’s a lovely story that’s just so true today. And I don’t think we are going to stress the horror aspect so much as the human aspect. Other people have been more interested in the horror because they think that’s what people want. There’s enough horror in the world. This is a story about two human beings: one created, one a creator. I think people will be generally surprised and for the first time, hopefully, watch and listen to the story of these two people."

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