ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Director Mark Waters was drawn to the uniquely imaginative elements of Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's The Spiderwick Chronicles, particularly since they are played out in the context of a time and place audiences could relate to - today's America. "I've always loved movies in the fantasy genre, and when I read these books I saw the opportunity to do something that hadn't been done before - a movie that dealt with adventure, fantasy and incredibly interesting creatures, but wasn't set in a far-off land with British wizards or Gothic orphans, or just some kind of strange, unrecognizable lead actors."
Instead, Waters says, the film features kid-characters audiences can easily identify with. "They just seem to have been plunked down in an extremely extraordinary situation when the Grace family moves into this family estate they inherited and are slowly introduced to those creatures through a Field Guide. Here was an opportunity to make a movie that everyone could relate to immediately, and relate to just the fact that these kind of crazy, strange creatures could be around us at any time."
One of the reasons the children in the story are identifiable, he says, is that they struggle with problems shared by many families today. "But the enchanted and often perilous journey they embark upon allows them to discover and draw on strengths they never knew they had - as individuals, and, more importantly, as a family."
Jared Grace, played by Freddie Highmore, is at a crisis point in his life, and it is through this extraordinary adventure that he comes to terms with his feelings about his parents' separation, Waters explains. "Jared has been deeply affected by the divorce; he's very angry and rebellious and doesn't hide his bitterness, especially in his interaction with his mother and siblings. But in the end, this incredible journey, which ends up with him basically saving his family, results in him healing himself, too."
Helen Grace, played by Mary-Louise Parker, has just broken up with her husband and moves into the old family estate, a dark, dilapidated Victorian house named for her great uncle, Arthur Spiderwick. Nobody is happy about it, but she does have an ally in her daughter, Mallory, played by Sarah Bolger. "Mallory is kind of like a mini-mom. She also has the clearest sense of why the divorce took place, but doesn't initially share this with her brothers - she is very protective of them, even though they drive her crazy, particularly Jared," says Waters.
Simon Grace - who is also played by Freddie Highmore - is the nerdier of the two, but his quiet determination and attention to detail become great assets when the family is in danger. "More importantly, they overcome their differences and work together and, in the process, learn to love and appreciate each other," Waters sums up. "The fantasy world ultimately allows them to more clearly see and understand their own reality."
The adventure begins when Jared comes across Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You. What Arthur Spiderwick (David Strathairn), the man who built the estate, didn't realize when he wrote the manual was that the secrets he revealed about the hidden faerie world could act as a "how-to manual" and be dangerous if it fell into the wrong hands. So when Jared comes across this book that's been hidden in the house for some 60 or 70 years, he literally opens a Pandora's box.
At first, he's excited by the odd and altogether wondrous creatures Uncle Arthur wrote about. Then it dawns on him and his siblings that this secret world exists in their own house - which explains some of the odd things that have been happening around them. That scampering sound in the wall is actually an imp known as a brownie. And, according to the Field Guide, when brownies get angry, they become boggarts, who can only be placated, the Guide tells them, by feeding them honey, which they guzzle to satisfaction. It soon becomes clear that everything in the book - from talk of brownies and ogres - is actually their reality and not just the ramblings of their uncle's vivid imagination.
The various creatures the children come upon in the film range in size from the nine-inch brownie, Thimbletack (voiced by Martin Short) to the ten-foot fearsome ogre Mulgarath (played by Nick Nolte). "Then there are all the creatures in between," Waters explains, "like the goblins, little sprites and hobgoblins, such as Hogsqueal, who becomes the children's ally - that is, when he isn't distracted by birds, which he likes to eat." Hogsqueal is voiced, with great humor - and lots of inappropriate noises - by Seth Rogen.
The Spiderwick Chronicles began as a popular series of books by co-creators Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. There has long been interest in bringing the stories to the screen and DiTerlizzi and Black wanted to entrust their creation to capable hands. Ultimately, they saw Mark Canton as the perfect producer for the film. And Kathleen Kennedy, to DiTerlizzi and Black's delight, soon joined him.
"A lot of friends and fans who had read the books and seen the art, thought this story would make a cool movie," recalls DiTerlizzi. "It was a dream of mine as well, but a lot of books get optioned to be developed into films...so Holly and I held out hope that it might actually happen. "What we really loved about the filmmakers' approach was that they seemed to love and respect the characters, creatures and world that define The Spiderwick Chronicles. Our heroes don't have any special powers and don't live in a land far, far away. They have to rely on their wits, and each other, to get out of the extraordinary, and often dangerous, situations they find themselves in when they enter the world of the fey."
The duo was inspired by the classics like Grimm's Fairy Tales. "There was always a clever Jack to outwit the giant, or a resourceful princess who had to do something ingenious to escape the goblin's castle," Di Terlizzi continues. "The idea is that knowledge is power, and how they use it (in this case, how the kids use Arthur's Field Guide), is the crux of the plot. Mark Waters really embraced that idea and ran with it."
"When the first books were finished and people approached us about optioning them, I had a sense that they might become a movie but I'm not practiced in believing anything good will ever happen to me," laughs Black. "So I was stunned and thrilled when Mark Waters and Mark Canton got involved and later, the incredible cast. When I saw the sets, it was like walking into the book. The whole thing was incredible."
Producer and co-writer Karey Kirkpatrick says that when he was first approached to help adapt the Spiderwick books into a screenplay, he immediately read the books to his children to gauge their reaction. "They were enthralled by the books and by the possibility that I might be involved with them in some way. I, like them, was really taken by the notion that the things we are unable to see - or choose not to see - are actually there all around us. That's thematically what I started connecting with - something with a lot of fantasy elements, but with a human story at the center of it, which relates to the special world around it. I was drawn to the kids in the middle of this broken family and how the whole situation ultimately helped to bring them together," Kirkpatrick says.
It is precisely this unique balance of fantasy and reality that separates "The Spiderwick Chronicles" from other fantasy adventure films, according to producer Canton. It is darker, scarier and much more grounded in the real world. "The idea here was to have a real world where inexplicable and often frightening things happen. What grounds it and makes it resonate is that we are dealing with a real family with real problems, and through this adventure they are able to find the magic inside themselves."
The story rings true to how many dysfunctional families cope in times of strife, he says, by making an effort to work together to get through the tough patches. "We wanted to make a movie that is honest to the language of the teenagers and the adults in the story, and honest to the problems teenagers have with one other and with their parents."
Canton offers that his fellow producers, who include Kirkpatrick, Larry Franco and Ellen Goldsmith-Vein, put together a superlative crew. "When you're on set and amongst the legends and the Oscar winners from all areas, it's hard not to be blown away." Canton is referring to the dream-team of ILM visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman, creature supervisor Phil Tippett of Tippett Studio, and special effects supervisor Michael Lantieri, who handled on-set effects. Add to that director of photography Caleb Deschanel, composer James Horner, editor Michael Kahn and production designer Jim Bissell, all of whom contribute to the enchanting feel of the movie.
"Also, Mark Waters and the casting folks did a fantastic job in assembling a very eclectic, wonderful cast," Canton says. "When I first saw Freddie Highmore's work I knew I wanted to work with him. You feel he's older than his chronological age, but at the same time he's still very much a kid. And he had a big challenge here, in that he plays both Jared and Simon (which was also a very courageous way for Mark Waters to direct the movie). Of course, Sarah Bolger was so brilliant in Jim Sheridan's 'In America.' Like Freddie, Sarah's a natural, but yet an experienced actress. And Mary-Louise Parker is just great and so brilliantly conveys this young divorced mother's hopes and fears and overriding love for her kids. Joan Plowright is such an amazingly accomplished actress. And you don't find actors much better than David Strathairn."
While Waters, who previously specialized in hilarious contemporary comedies, would seem an offbeat choice for the material, Canton deliberately chose him to direct because he was uniquely capable of grounding all the fantasy elements in a palpable reality. "The idea I had for 'Spiderwick' was to have a real world in which amazing things happened. Mark is the perfect director because of his understanding of the dynamics between sisters and brothers, mothers and children and of contemporary family life."
Canton is referring to Waters' previous hit comedies such as "Mean Girls" and "Freaky Friday." "I thought 'Mean Girls' was a very honest look at the teenage world and he particularly got the teen vernacular. The speech and the attitude of those young women felt very real to me. The key to this story was to have a family of characters we all related to and, through their adventure, have them find the magic inside themselves." Canton noted a similar approach by Waters to the mother-daughter comedy "Freaky Friday," in which the two female characters exchange bodies and, through that, come to terms with their own lives and with each other. "He has a way of conveying this without talking down to his audience. He was ideally suited to making a movie that is honest to the language and feelings of teenagers and their parents. Mark connected with the subject and understood how to convey it."
THE SPIDERWICK ESTATE AS A CHARACTER
The Spiderwick Estate is virtually a complete character itself in the movie. What at first seems to be a musty, secluded old mansion in bad need of repair, slowly opens up to reveal a fascinating and mysterious history. Odd creatures lurk in the walls; even odder ones are trying to get in to steal the Field Guide, the lifelong research of the home's original owner, Arthur Spiderwick - who lived there with his young daughter, Lucinda, and then vanished and is presumed dead. So many pivotal events in the film unfold there (both in the distant past and the present) that production designer Jim Bissell had to design it in such a way that audiences were able to appreciate the way it once looked and what remains special about it to this day.
"Arthur Spiderwick built the estate in the early decades of the 20th century," Bissell explains. "He came from an old New England family and studied to be a naturalist. In the course of his work, he discovered an unseen world he'd read about when studying European myths but didn't realize also existed in the United States. This led him to embark upon his studies, which culminated in his masterwork, Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You (The Field Guide). So his estate is unique in that it reflects his old-time New England values and, at the same time, has a tower built atop the house, which Arthur used as an observation post for keeping an eye on the forest around him - the goblins, fairies and other creatures. He also kept a secret study where he documented his findings and observations," Bissell explains.
Bissell referenced the work of designer William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s, known for their emphasis on organic motifs, for his design inspiration, as well as the Spiderwick books themselves. "The books are fantastic. I was familiar with them because my kids love them, and that's what drew me to the project in the first place. Tony's illustrations, his pencil drawings, his pen and inks, are just fabulous. So when I was designing the film, I kept them on the wall to inspire me. They always had relevant information for me," Bissell says.
The house had to reflect Arthur Spiderwick's interest in the enchanted world, requiring a fairly isolated location in the Montreal, Canada area, where the film was shot. "We found a beautiful glade in a park called Cap-Saint-Jacques, and there was a little shack there, probably built in the 1950s. The city and the park graciously let us tear it down and build our house there," he describes.
The company built a shell of the house, though an elaborate one. "It was four stories with a tower - a full 360 degree structure surrounded by woods, which also worked in the film. We also built the ground floor, including the foyer, the parlor and library and the staircase to the second floor. And we constructed bits of the second and third story windows for POV shots, as well as the interior tower, so that the kids could run in and out, and so the scenes that directly related to the outside could be filmed on location."
On soundstages, the company replicated the ground floor for all of the complicated effects shots in which Mulgarath crashes through the house and the goblins mount their final assault. "We also built a second floor where the kids' bedrooms are and created the goblin glade, with a grotesque oak tree where we first see Mulgarath," Bissell explains.
To Bissell, "The Spiderwick Chronicles" is fundamentally a film about discovery, he says. "It's about city kids discovering nature, discovering their families and the heritage of their families - the people who preceded them and their own immediate family, for better or worse, and the transition that kids go through between their wild imaginations and into the world that they never knew - a world of logic, of reason, of danger, but of magic, too! All those elements came into play in creating the Spiderwick Estate."
Two of the biggest challenges for Bissell were the seasons and the weather. Filming from late summer all the way through the fall into early winter created some potential continuity issues. "So we built 60 trees between 20 and 30 feet high that had varying degrees of foliage and color. When we began filming in late summer, when the trees were leafy and green, we added some trees with colorful autumn foliage, and by late autumn we added some green trees to maintain a continuous look."
Bissell also wanted the Spiderwick estate to look like it had been there for years and years, he says. "But we knew we'd have a crew of 80 people or more on it every day, tromping around, moving equipment and setting up camera shots. If it rained, the place would turn into a mud hole. As it turns out, we did have lots of rain, and even though we laid down a lot of decomposed granite to make sure we had good drainage, and whenever possible also put flagstone on the ground and covered it with leaves so that we'd have a solid surface, it still got to be quite a mire. But we added a series of grass and moss tufts that were easy to replace on a daily basis and covered them with leaves so that audiences won't notice what a quagmire it actually was."
Acclaimed children's book creator TONY DiTERLIZZI (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/BASED ON THE BOOKS BY) was born into an artistic household on September 6, 1969. Being the first of three visually adept children, it didn't take long for his family and friends to realize that he was one talented kid. At an early age, DiTerlizzi began embracing the whimsical, the wondrous, and the fantastic, all of which sparked his wild imagination.
Young DiTerlizzi grew up in South Florida amid palm trees and year-round sunshine. While he enjoyed the outdoors and nature, he also loved to draw, write, and create his own little books. During his childhood he was introduced to the work of Norman Rockwell, Arthur Rackham, Dr. Suess, Roald Dahl and Jim Henson, all of whom inspired him and became major creative influences. With the support of family and teachers, DiTerlizzi was able to cultivate his natural artistic talents. In college, he honed these talents at the Florida School of the Arts and later, at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, where he earned a degree in Graphic Design in 1992.
After art school, the young artist began a freelance illustration career, working for TSR's Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. He continued to illustrate in the gaming field for most of the 1990s, working on games such as "Planescape," "Changeling" and the trading card phenomenon "Magic the Gathering," forging a place for himself in the field of fantasy art.
After seven years of successful work as a gaming and fantasy artist, DiTerlizzi delved into the field of creating children's picture books. With the publication in 2000 of Jimmy Zangwow's Out-of-this-World Moon Pie Adventure (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), he fulfilled a childhood dream of writing and illustrating his own book. Jimmy Zangwow, which was lauded by critics, was followed the next year by Ted (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), which also received high praise, including the 2002 Zena Sutherland Award. It was followed with his spooky picture book of Mary Howitt's classic poem The Spider and the Fly (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2002), garnering him the 2003 Caldecott Honor and the moniker of New York Times bestseller.
In an effort to bring fantasy to younger readers, DiTerlizzi and author/friend Holly Black co-created the The Spiderwick Chronicles. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing launched the series in 2003, and it met with immediate success. Children and adults alike loved the adventures of Simon, Jared, and Mallory Grace in a world of faeries, trolls and goblins. Since then, Spiderwick has been published all over the world and translated into over 30 languages. The year 2005 saw the publication of Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, a complete culmination of DiTerlizzi's passion for fantasy combined with his love for children's literature.
DiTerlizzi lives and works in western Massachusetts with his wife (and manager) Angela, and their pug, Goblin. His latest picture book, G is for One Gzonk (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2006) is not only a nonsense alphabet book, but an homage to the late Dr. Seuss, who inspired a young boy from Florida with dreams of one day becoming a children's book creator.
HOLLY BLACK (EXECUTIVE PRODUCER/BASED ON THE BOOKS BY)
is the bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children. Born in New Jersey in 1971, Black grew up in a decrepit Victorian house piled with novels and oddments.
Her first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster. Tithe was called "dark, edgy, beautifully written and compulsively readable" by Booklist, received starred reviews from Publisher's Weekly and Kirkus Reviews and was included in the American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults. Black has since written two other books in the same universe, Valiant (2005) and Ironside (2007). Valiant was the recipient of the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Ironside spent five weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Black collaborated with her long-time friend, Caldecott Award-winning artist Tony DiTerlizzi, to create The Spiderwick Chronicles. The first two books, The Field Guide and The Seeing Stone, were released together in 2003 by Simon & Schuster, with the next three, Lucinda's Secret (2003), The Ironwood Tree (2004) and The Wrath of Mulgarath (2004) following in rapid succession. The Wrath of Mulgarath climbed to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The five-book serial has been called "vintage Victorian fantasy" by the New York Post, and Time Magazine reported that "the books wallow in their dusty Olde Worlde charm." The chapter books were recorded as an audiobook by Mark Hamill for Listening Library.
The lavishly illustrated Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to The Fantastical World Around You (2005), The Notebook for Fantastical Observations (2005) and Care and Feeding of Sprites (2006) expanded the Spiderwick universe. Three more Spiderwick chapter books are planned. The first one, The Nixie's Song, was released in September 2007.
Black lives in a Tudor Revival house in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, and an ever-expanding collection of books. She spends a lot of her time in cafes, drinking endless cups of coffee and glaring at her laptop.
READ MORE ABOUT THE UNSEEN WORLD AND "SPIDERWICK'S" YOUNG STARS - AND SOME ADULT ONES
READ MORE ABOUT THE VISUAL EFFECTS EXPERTS
READ MORE ABOUT DIRECTOR MARK WATERS AND SCREENWRITERS KAREY KIRKPATRICK, DAVID BERENBAUM AND JOHN SAYLES
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