By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood November 7, 2013 at 3:54PM
Gabler: He knew about the movie being made and was interested in the project. He saw the movie before I did. He saw it so early on because we had to know if he was going to actually say yes. But he maintained a strong interest the whole time, and what a lovely man to go onto the scoring stage, the most beautiful scoring stage, the Newman stage on Fox lot. He had actually never worked there and had done most of his work at Sony. Originally we were going to score the movie in London, because we wanted to do it closer to home and have him with us. He came every day. It was just mesmerizing to go and listen to this process take place. It was one of the highlights of my whole life.
You shot in Babelsberg in Germany?
Rosenfelt: It's a huge studio lot with different facets. "Inglorious Basterds" shot there, "The Pianist" shot there. It was important to Ken, Brian and I that we shoot in Germany so that we could take advantage of the German actors and of the local locations. And there was obviously a wealth of history we were able to apply to the filmmaking process by being there. The Burgermeister's house is shot in Wannsee, and was two doors down from where they had the dinner that ratified the Final Solution.
You got the greenlight from Fox with a reasonable budget? But as a period film, this is hard to do.
Gabler: One of the sacrifices made was that Brian felt strongly that the book-burning square could have been built on a lot in Babelsberg for a much more economical version of the scene, but it would have had no scope. To go outside the city of Berlin and to go to a distant location where the book-burning took place was a big decision. But they were passionate about it and when you're in a studio situation, you don't want to regret the fact that we made it wrong for not that much more money. At the end of the day it was a supportive decision and still our budget was under $20 million. Everybody did it for love. Florian Ballhaus, the cinematographer who's a brilliant man we've worked with on several movies, loved it. He wanted to go back and work in Berlin and he loved it. Everybody did. There wasn't anybody who didn't do this for love.
Blancato: Florian was born in Berlin. His father is Michael Ballhaus, who did all of Martin Scorsese's pictures, so he grew up with a brilliant cinematographer, and he applied everything he knew and you see the work on the screen. He did an incredible job. We've never had a picture look like that.
The film has a global cast, and you handled the segue from German subtitles to German-accented English very well.
Rosenfelt: These are the most difficult movies to get through the studio system. One of the rare places is Fox, and with an advocate like Elizabeth. It's an international marketplace so when you get a film like this you need to make sure you're touching, in these characters, a primacy that's going to translate to the audiences in England, Australia, New Zealand, in the states. It takes passion and fortitude and hopefully everyone will tell their friends so audiences will come out for these movies so they can get made. Come that Friday night and you're looking to see a movie, there will be something that motivates you.
A lot of talent is
being driven away from studios and heading toward television.
Rosenfelt: It's great for television but I love going to the movies, and I find it extremely frustrating that during the summer, there is nothing for me to see. It's coming down to what opens between now and December, but we're a 52-week year, and there should be choices.
You premiered at Mill Valley, but why did you otherwise hold back from the fall film circuit?
Rosenfelt: We were originally scheduled to come out January 15, but we were hurrying through production. We wrapped at the end of May. As Elizabeth mentioned we showed John Williams the film not only before she saw it, but before we saw it.
Audience: Who was the voice of Death?
Gabler: He's a wonderful British stage actor named Roger Allam. He's also done film. But he was the temp voice that we never expected to be the real voice. We listened to about 50 or 60 actors' voice takes.
Rosenfelt: We didn't want a voice that would take you out of the film, or a voice that you would recognize. It needed to be seamless.
Audience: How old was Sophie Nelisse and where is she from?
Rosenfelt: Sophie started the film when she was 12, and she turned 13 while we were shooting. In the book, she is more like 9.
Gabler: She's from Quebec, and she lives in Montreal. French is her first language and English is her second language.
Rosenfelt: She brings to it the discipline of an athlete.
Audience: How did you come to hire Brian Percival?
Rosenfelt: During the process...basically, Ken got addicted to "Downton Abbey." His agent had sent it to him. I was in Vancouver working on a film, and he had gone to Elizabeth to pitch himself on "The Book Thief."
Gabler: He's a native of Liverpool, England and lives in the north of England and we had this conference call with him. He's very soft-spoken. It was hard for him to articulate his vision, but mentioned he was coming out for the Golden Globes in January and said eagerly, 'let's meet.' He came in with this book of his vision, of his images, photographs and different drawings and said, 'I know these kids, I grew up in a hardscrabble life in Liverpool.' He had made a PSA with his wife, who's a screenwriter, about teenage pregnancy and he actually won a BAFTA for it and it became one of the premier BBC public service announcements against teenage pregnancy. You could see how he had this fiber of being able to work with young people. These people are blue-collar. Where they live on that street, these kids are rough-and-tumble kids. And he had that life, and I realized this is somebody we need to take seriously. I think we were just captivated by him and there was never anybody else after that.
Audience: This summer has proven to be the summer of disaster. When you look at this movie for $20 million, that's 5 movies instead of one $100 million movie. Is it finally time for quality movies? Where are we going from here?
Gabler: There have been over the years but mostly they're coming out of specialty divisions, such as Fox Searchlight, Sony Classics, Focus, The Weinstein Company. There is a wealth of films that are made for much less money than this one is; they're just basically couched as more of an independent movie than what you'd expect from a big studio like Fox. But that's what our division is. We have the ability to make movies for any budget. It's hard to do these kind of movies but, for example, "Black Swan," grossed hundreds of millions worldwide and cost nothing. Movies via the Searchlight division like "The Descendants" are being made but they are hard to make because there is a lot of that. For every one of or two that's being made there are 40 of them.
I can't tell you how many emails I get from people with scripts who want to get their stories made. But for all of us we have to pick and choose which ones are going to break the barrier. And it is hard because the mass audiences around the world want the big tentpole movies. Those are the four-quadrant movies that are going to get the teenage boy, the 40-year-old guy and the wife to go. You have these $60, $70 million opening weekends, and they're massive. Wait until "Hunger Games" come out.
We have to make good movies. If they're big, $150, $200 million movies they have to be good. If they don't work it's because they feel fake, don't have an emotional through-line, they don't have characters you can relate to, and they don't feel unique and fresh. That's what our goal should be in creating films for the audiences of the world.
Anne Thompson: There have been a lot of management changes at the studios. It just feels like the tectonic plates are shifting. It isn't working.
Gabler: Some of the moves have been more from a corporate management level than from a creative level, because it's really hard when you have someone who's trying to manage an entire department, and they're a creative genius. Sometimes the two don't go together. It's hard to make the left and right brain work but yes, now more than ever, you can't just have some creative genius doing marketing for your movie. It has to be so calibrated around the world. You have giant machines that are moving through every territory in this globe, and it's hard.
Look at Australia, Brazil, Mexico. If you're talking about a family film, the Latin American countries are a goldmine. That's where a giant portion of the audience is, so you have to look at what that is. France and Germany are massive. It's maybe not as big as us, but there are pieces coming in that are as big, you have to pay attention to that. If you make a movie here that works really strongly here, that's great. It may not work in other places, but there's room for those films. Obviously you have to make films that people care about in other places, but they have to work here and not worry about what happens there.