8 Things You Should Know Before You See Steven Spielberg's 'The BFG'
In "The BFG," a young orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) spends a sleepless night wandering (as she does quite a bit) and catches a glimpse of a big friendly giant (Mark Rylance) roaming the town. Terrified, Ruby runs to her bed and pretends to go back to sleep, but the giant -- knowing that she's seen him -- takes her away to giant country for fear that his kind would be discovered by humans. Together, the pair form an unlikely friendship and a giant adventure ensues.
1. 'The BFG' Is Steven Spielberg's First Disney Film
This is the first time audiences will be seeing the Disney Castle logo alongside another iconic production house, Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The director has always been drawn to working with Disney as a fan of Walt himself. "It was very brave of him to introduce that combination of darkness and light, which was so much Walt Disney's original signature in a lot of his earlier works like "Dumbo,' "Fantasia," "Snow White," and "Cinderella." Being able to be scary and redemptive at the same time, and teach a lesson, an enduring lesson, to everyone," Spielberg said of his inspiration, which stemmed from the first time he saw "Snow White."
2. There's a Magical 1982 Connection
While "The BFG" is released alongside the celebration of Roald Dahl's 100th birthday, the author shares another very important year with director Steven Spielberg. The same year "The BFG" was published, Spielberg released his own tale of transformative friendship, "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial." Melissa Mathison, who passed away during production, penned the scripts for both "E.T." and "The BFG." "Melissa was the first and only writer we thought of," said "BFG" producer Kathleen Kennedy. "Her gifts as a writer and her particular sensibility were essential to bringing Dahl's visionary tale to life."
3. It's All About Family
As Kennedy put it: "Steven has always gravitated towards stories about families, which is one of the reasons his films have resonated with so many people." This is key to how writer Mathison and Spielberg connected on their work. "Melissa took Dahl's book and did the most extraordinary but faithful translation, with a magic only Melissa possesses," Spielberg asserted, on reuniting with his friend. Before her death, Mathison shared her inspiration behind the heart of the film: "It is a very sweet relationship," she said of the BFG and the little girl, "but they actually start off a little combative and are suspicious of one another and even have their own little power struggles. But from the moment they have a plan and move forward as partners, there's just so much love between them. It's a wonderful little love story."
4. The BFG Was Meant to Be
Playing the Big Friendly Giant is Spielberg's recent collaborator Mark Rylance ("Bridge of Spies," "Ready Player One"). Spielberg was confident in his choice, "Mark would go into complete character transformation when the camera was rolling," he said, "and while he is one of the greatest stage actors ever, it was the Mark in-between takes that really touched my heart. It was then that I knew he could do anything." This includes bringing the warmth and heart of the kindest giant. Not to mention the smallest. His brothers and the film's antagonists range in size from 39 to 52 feet tall. "The BFG is a vegetable-eating, peaceful giant," said Mathison. "Even though he detests Snozzcumber (Veggies, ew!), he eats it, almost as if contrition for the fact that his fellow giants eat children."
5. The Search for Sophie Was Intense
The search for the film's lead took six months. The production team looked at thousands of girls, but it was Ruby Barnhill, a school girl from Knutsford in Cheshire, England, who captured Spielberg's attention. "She is one of the strongest female characters I think I have ever had in one of my films," Spielberg said about working with Barnhill to bring Sophie to life.
The young actress also formed a deep bond with Rylance. "Ruby is a very imaginative young woman and just a complete natural actress," the actor said. "I learned from her really, as you do from all the young people. Her ability to take very complicated technical notes from Steven and make them natural is just miraculous, just remarkable."
6. Combining Fantastical Worlds With the Real One Was the Real Magic
"I could have made 'The BFG' with actors on oversized sets using a digital blend, but I wanted the giants to look beyond human," Spielberg revealed while talking about using the Simulcam. "The only way I could capture magic with the giants was to animate them based on the performances of the actors I was casting and have the animation be super-photorealistic." To do this, he enlisted the help of Weta Digital's Joe Letteri to create a new process that could bring them as close to live-action shooting as possible. Combining live-action, performance capture, and real-life sets with Simulcam allowed them to use real actors working alongside each other in both a natural and digital landscape.
7. It's All About Eye Contact
To root the relationships in truth, Spielberg took painstaking lengths to ensure his performers could maintain eye contact during each performance. While working with Barnhill on a two-story scaffold, Rylance would stand with a performance capture camera in front of his face so that he was actually in the moment with his young costar. The same was true of the performance capture work with the BFG and his bullying brothers, played by Jemaine Clement ("What We Do In the Shadows") and Bill Hader ("Inside Out").
8. Dahl's Language Was Very Important
In order to keep the whimsy of Dahl's work intact, writer Melissa Mathison researched the author to get his voice right in the film's narrative, including his language of the giants: Gobblefunk. Created to give the BFG a unique voice, Dahl mashed the ordinary with the silly. After hearing Rylance take to the language quickly, the production realized how essential to the BFG the language truly was. "He wasn't just pulling things out of his hat," said Rylance. "The BFG has words that he uses for certain things and he repeats them in his life." Listen for gems like chidlers (children), frobscottle (carbonated soft drink where bubbles float downwards rather than upwards) and phizzwizards (happy dreams that are the BFG's favorite to collect and share with children). Aw.
Disney's "The BFG" opens July 1st.
anner Photo Credit: Disney