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netribution > features > press conference with john madden, kevin loader & shawn slavo > page one

Adapting a best-seller which is still selling immensely well is a tricky business if you've plans to make drastic alterations to the story - many would say that it depends on the book of course. It has clearly worked with Bridget Jones, the formula was already in place but can one honestly adapt Captain Corelli's Mandolin? A rich and controversial 430 page novel set in Cephallonia over 50 years? Do you include every one of the dozens of expertly crafted characters? The earthquake and its effects on the characters? The political intricacies and war time atrocities? After all those choices you have deal with the ending. John Madden took over the directing role from Roger Michell, who'd suffered a heart attack six months prior to the first day of shooting, and decided to start pretty much from scratch with writer Shawn Slovo. At the press conference he pointed out quite rightly that 'One can't step into someone else's shoes,' but one wonders whether he was prepared for the breadth of possible criticism waiting for him on the film's release.
Much of the original material has been altered, much removed and daily reports (all conflicting) last week suggest disapproval from the author. Reviews have offered those ignorant of the novel little to help them decide to see this film - there is no consensus as to whether this film will succeed. $50m, a love in wartime plot and a starry cast could send it over $100m in no time but just look at The Mexican's performance this week.
In this interview John Madden, Shawn Slovo and Kevin Loader (producer) share their experiences of making the film, defend plot alterations and cancel myths concerning de Bernieres' views on the film.


| by tom fogg |

photos by tom fogg |
| in the dorchester |

Kevin (left, top), what first attracted you to the idea of turning the book into a film?
Kevin Loader - I've worked on quite a few literary adaptations for television over the years and you have to feel an instant connection with the book I think. You have to see what can be done with the characters, the spirit and the essential narrative of the original to make a screen adaptation. In the case of Corelli, I just thought it was a wonderful piece of writing; it took me to a place I didn't know much about; it had a fantastic set of characters and the most engaging and passionate love story in the middle of it. It's very hard, as any producer will tell you, to find love stories that work on screen. What also impressed me was the scale of the thing; it felt like a big old fashioned love story and you don't find many books that can work for you in that way.

Shawn (left, middle), taking into account the length of the novel, how hard did you find retaining the essence of the story when writing the screenplay?
Shawn Slovo - Well it is a very long book; it's a huge panoramic landscape with a myriad of characters covering 50 years. Taking a typical screenplay of 100 to 125 pages, you've got two hours to tell the story so that was the challenge - to condense and focus. The job of the screenwriter when given a novel of that length is not to adapt it for the screen but to find the heart of the story and to turn it into something else. It was an enormous challenge that took the best part of five years but not full time because we all kept going off to deal with other projects. It was trial and error for much of the time.

John (left, bottom), as you had taken over from Roger Michel six months prior to shooting, how much of your influence do you feel you brought to the film?
John Madden - It was a very unusual circumstance and a desperately unfortunate one for Roger, who is a friend of mine. When I was first approached to take the project on he hadn't actually withdrawn, it just looked as though he might have to but I was one of the few people around who hadn't read the book; it was quite useful because I had read a script. That was quite obviously a distillation, decisions had been made about what to leave out but it was by no means a completed script; it was several drafts away from the shooting script - at the very minimum. I thought the material was incredibly exciting and kind of intoxicating but it contained a number of elements that were very difficult, notably the overall chronology of the piece. That was one issue but the other curiosity is that the hero of the story leaves at a certain point, only to come back a changed man. I didn't want to change the film for the sake of changing, but a book of that size and complexity means that you have to be able to fight your own way through the jungle. It's impossible to step into somebody else's shoes, you have to feel passionately that it is the right thing to do at every stage.

Shawn and I just set about building the script again from scratch, that is not to say that there aren't an enormous amount of elements from the original but there are some big changes as well.

Why did you decide to film it on location in Cephallonia?
JM - Well that was the most perverse decision in a way because there is no substitute for shooting in the real place but, although it is a work of fiction in this case, the whole island is alive with the atmosphere of the book. Louis has done the most extraordinary job of ventriloquism really in imagining himself into that place. The problem was that everything was flattened in the earthquake so it was the choice of a lunatic to shoot there! We had to build everything but from a filmmaker's stand point that is fantastic because you approach it as you would when building something in a studio.

I understand you had to ship absolutely all the equipment over to the island yourselves.
JM - Everything. Everything had to come in and go by sea, except for the majority of the people who built it who were the Cephallonians. That was the other massive advantage of filming it there; they became a part of the identity of the film, not just behind the scenes but a vast number of them are in the film. They were there the kind of guardians of the experience because many of them had lived through it and if I got anything wrong I got a rap on the knuckles.

How many crew members were on the island at any one time?
KL - There was a core of about 200 but there were points when we had the Greek army, navy and airforce in where we were running with about 700, the most were during the battle scenes.

How did you set about casting the Italians in the film?
KL - Mary Selway and I had done some early trips to Rome, just to see who was out there for the Italian parts I suppose and we had met a lot of Italian actors by the time John came on board so time was pretty short. We basically all came to went to Rome for a couple of days.

JM - We set up certain parameters of which singing was not a part. We needed some interesting young actors who the casting director had pre-selected for us but there was a tremendous number of them. I think they imagined that they would be standing on a parade ground because none of them knew the book, of course we then asked them to sing the moment they arrived which was a good test of their presence! They soon discovered that they had to sing and dance and swim and march and fight and die, we had them for a great couple of months.

KL - I think the experience was like joining the army for them because they didn't really know one another when they came together. After living in the same hotel for a while they became this extraordinary mass of Italy that flowed around the film, that was great for Nick Cage as well because he was constantly surrounded by Italians. It enabled him to really get into the spirit of what it is to be an Italian.

How did the workings of the production work with finance coming from three different companies?
KL - Well there was only one production company in Working Title Films and there was tri-partheid finance that came from Miramax, Universal and Studio-Canal. We got enormous logistical and editorial support from both Miramax and Universal but the whole thing worked surprisingly easily. What's interesting about going to these islands is that all principle nationalities from the conflict are now on holiday together. We are used to this now but the Greeks and Cephallonians that had never worked on a film before couldn't have been quicker to learn or more committed to the enterprise. There is also something about working on an island that keeps it together.

JM - The production was primarily Greek and British, although we had an American cinematographer and an Australian sparks team. What was incredible was the sense of this enormous body of people, the locals that are so central to the story had no experience of working on a shoot. That was a very unusual circumstance because people without experience were so central to it. It was just unbelievable how quickly it all happened, they were into it almost immediately.

How did you tackle the inclusion of Mandras in the film's narrative compared to his journey in the book?
JM - One of the particular challenges that the original material presented was that there were a number of character strands and character narratives that move through the book in parallel. Obviously the Carlo strand is one, he has his own chapter in fact and that was one of the most wonderful passages in the book. Mandras also has his own, he obviously relates to Iannis and Pelagia in the first part but he essentially has his own journey through the material. One of the things that I felt was essential was to bring all of those people into a nexus. What stood out most from the book was that Mandras and Corelli never actually meet, nor does Mandras' relationship with Pelagia inform Corelli's and I felt that when organising the material that it was essential. Tantalisingly, historically when the Germans invade the Italians fought alongside the partisans which is something that doesn't happen in the book. It seemed that these two men who were meant to be rivals for the hand of the same woman, to find them fighting side by side was a tremendously interesting circumstance.

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