Scott Hicks – The Lucky One

May 10, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

It had already been done six times before over the last 13 years, but two-time Academy Award-nominated director/writer Scott Hicks (“Shine”) wanted to do something different with a film adapted from a novel written by Nicholas Sparks (“The Notebook,” “Dear John”). He wanted to create a new experience for moviegoers.

“Part of my job as director is to stay a step ahead of the audience and to keep them intrigued,” Hicks, 59, told me during a phone interview last month. “I think there are a lot of elements that will really distinguish ‘The Lucky One’ from the other Nicholas Sparks-based films.”

In “The Lucky One,” U.S. Marine Sergeant Logan Thibault (Zac Efron) searches for a woman he credits for keeping him alive during his tours in Iraq.

During our interview, Hicks, who also directed “The Boys are Back” starring Clive Owen and “Hearts in Atlantis” starring Sir Anthony Hopkins, talked more about his role as a director in adapting a novel written by someone as popular as Sparks, and what he thinks about The Lucky One being considered a “date movie.”

Was it a goal of yours to try and make this film different from other Nicholas Sparks adaptations? There have, of course, been a number of them over the last few years.

Well, yes, because you don’t want the audience to feel like they’re going down the same road they have before. At the same time, the film does fall under the genre of a Nicholas Sparks romance. As a filmmaker, you want to tell the story in a different fashion. Among those [different] elements in [‘The Lucky One’] is the war setting, which is quite hard hitting at the beginning of the movie. Then there are the love scenes, which I really wanted to do in a way that was fresh.

How did you confront a film adapted from someone with such a huge fanbase as Nicholas Sparks?

Well, there was already a very receptive audience that came along with the film. Nicholas Sparks has a huge following as a writer. The movies that have been made from his books have also been very successful. As a director, I’m making something for a very eager audience. My task was to make sure I got the feel and the emotion and the core of the novel onto the screen.

In past interviews, Sparks has said he sometimes likes being on the set of movies that are being adapted from his work. Was he on the set for “The Lucky One?” How receptive are you to writers who want to be close to the action?

In this instance he wasn’t a presence. He certainly did come and visit us, which was fun. He keeps in close contact with one of the producers. He has a great relationship there that goes back a number years. I think he felt like his book was in good hands. As a director, you’re making a different creation. You’re using the words, obviously, but it’s its own animal.

Over the past few years, it seems like actor Zac Efron has been trying to distance himself from his days as a tween heartthrob in the “High School Musical” series by taking on more serious roles like in “Me and Orsen Wells” and “Charlie St. Cloud.” What did you see in him that led you to believe he could accomplish that here?

When I met with Zac I was really impressed with his energy and enthusiasm. I think that eagerness is really something you look for as a director. We talked a lot about how this was going to involve a lot of work for him. Zac is not a Marine, so I needed him to give the effort to gain that physique, which he was totally prepared to do. He turned out to be a very hardworking actor who was focused on his craft.

Was it important to you as a director to make the details of war and combat as authentic as possible?

Very much so. Regardless what one’s attitude is to the war from a political aspect, you’re making a film and it has to look and feel believable. I think you have to do this to respect the sacrifice of all those involved. I’ve been very appreciative of the comments I’ve received from Marines who have seen the film. They’ve felt the characters and experiences have been portrayed authentically. I tried to do that by taking Zac down to Camp Pendleton to hang out with Marines so he could get a sense of their lives. In addition to the physical work he was doing, I wanted him to get a sense of the mindset of people involved in that world.

As a director who has made a number of different films in different genres, are you comfortable with the term “date movie,” which might be the way this film is categorized by some people?

I’m quite comfortable with that. This is a movie where the most appreciative audiences are likely to be women. But at the same time, women take their men to the cinema with them. The response that I’ve gotten from guys is, “Wow, this wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.” (Laughs) Yes, it’s a chick flick, but it’s also a chick flick for guys. The success of a film like “The Notebook,” for example, was in part because guys surprised themselves in finding they really enjoyed the movie. Hopefully, “The Lucky One” will strike that same chord.

After your success in 1996 with the film “Shine,” have you ever felt any pressure to get back to that level of filmmaking again in the last 16 years?

Not really. To me, it was such an extraordinary journey with “Shine.” It was a little film made for very little, but went as far as films can go in this business. It changed my life. Far from any pressure, it put me into a whole new landscape. It gave me new access to material and talent and resources in a way I didn’t have before. Of course, one is always looking for ideas and hoping things can really connect with audiences, but I’ve never really looked at it as a pressure – more of a privilege.

Nicholas Sparks – The Lucky One

April 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Interviews

Of the 16 novels author Nicholas Sparks has written, seven of them have been adapted into films, including “A Walk to Remember,” “Message in a Bottle,” and “The Notebook.” The latest film based on one of Sparks’ best-sellers, “The Lucky One,” stars Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, and Blythe Danner, and tells the story of a U.S. Marine whose luck changes for the better after a picture of a beautiful woman he finds during combat saves his life.

I had a chance to sit down with Sparks in Dallas after a screening of the film, where he talked about the difficulty success brings to writing, the pull he has with filmmakers, and the ubiquity of “The Notebook.”

How is life as king of the romantic drama?

It’s pretty good, right? It’s been a lot of fun over the past few years. I think this is film number seven, and of course I’ve written a lot of novels in this genre. It’s been good, and part of that is that I think they’ve done really well with the films and that they’ve been successful and people have really liked them. But more than that, they have legs. They’re the kind of films that people like to see again and again. I think “The Notebook” is on, what, 40 times a year on cable? And “A Walk to Remember?”

Yeah, I know I’ve seen them quite a bit on cable and DVD. So has the success of the films changed the way you write your novels?

If anything it’s made them harder [to write], to be quite frank, because it’s a little bit harder to be original. If you’re just trying to be original for a novel, that’s one hurdle. But then you say, “Oh, but I also can’t do things that are also done in film.” It makes it a little bit harder, so it takes longer to conceive of a story. And certainly I’m aware all along that it might be made into a film.

Do you play it out in your head how it works cinematically? Do you think about it like that at all?

No, no. Just in the conception of the story. But once I start writing, it’s all novel, all the time, until it’s completed. Because, you know, I have had some that didn’t sell, for instance, or some that I held back. So I’m not always sure whether it’s going to be made into a film right away. You just don’t know. So in the end, you write the best novel that you can and keep your fingers crossed.

How closely do you end up working with the filmmakers on the adaptations?

Pretty close. Pretty close. I’m involved in everything from the selection of the screenwriter, to talking to the screenwriter, working with the screenwriter. If that screenwriter so desires, while in the process, certainly notes. Director. Same thing with casting. I knew Zac [Efron] would be in this probably before Zac did, to be quite frank.

Really?

Well, we hoped he would, yes.

Would you have a Zac Efron-type in mind when writing?

Not when I’m writing because when you’re writing you first start with an idea. You don’t have much. You have a germ of an idea. You’ve been inspired. You say, “Okay, this is generally the kind of character I want to create.” So you don’t really know this character until, literally, close to the end of the book. I mean, you don’t know his specifics. How does he phrase things? When does his humor creep in? How does he react when he’s angry? ‘Cause at that point you’re just trying to make the best novel that you can. So I don’t know until the end. And then, when it’s over, yes, you know?

Have you ever had any battles with the filmmakers in the process?

Oh yeah. Oh yeah. All the time. Making a film is a much more collaborative process than writing a novel. In the novel, you know, you’re the king, right? You get final say on everything. But in a film you’ve got a studio involved, producer, director, certainly the cast. And a lot of these are certainly very bright, creative people and they want to give the project their all. To do that you have to give them certain freedom. Otherwise, if it were just me, the films would be much more similar than they are. But because we gave [director] Scott Hicks freedom in “The Lucky One,” you can watch “The Lucky One” and then watch “A Walk to Remember” and not feel they’re similar at all.

Your work, perhaps unfairly, is primarily categorized as being more for women–

Yeah. It is. I know that. It is.

But there are elements that men can enjoy. What would you say to a man that isn’t convinced?

It is what it is, you know? This is a genre that men and women have enjoyed. In film they’re all just modern takes on “Casablanca” or “From Here to Eternity.” This is an old genre in film, and it’s something that has worked over and over and over again. “An Affair to Remember.” It’s the same thing, and you just have to find ways to make it very new and fresh, and appeal to modern audiences and tell it in a new way. It is what it is, you know? I think more women than men enjoy “Casablanca.” Does that make it a bad film? No. It’s still one of the greatest of all time.

You’re movies tend to become date movies, for better or worse–

Yeah, yeah.

Do they become date movies in your household? Do you go see your movies on a date?

(Laughs) Oh, you know, we see it at the premiere. So it’s kind of a big date. You’ve got to fly across the country and do the whole red carpet thing. So it is a big deal. For this one I’m bringing my wife and the kids out. It’ll be the first premiere for the kids. It is kind of exciting.

Do you have any good luck charms?

The wife. The wife and kids. I don’t know where I’d be in my life if I hadn’t married the woman I did. And literally, we had a five second meeting, our first meeting. Without that first meeting we never would have gotten to any of the other meetings. So you get stopped at a stop light, or you drive too fast, you miss each other. Who knows where I’d be? I say that because she’s pretty much all the female characters I create. You know, their strength of character and their intelligence and passion. That really comes from her.

The Lucky One

April 19, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Bylthe Danner
Directed by: Scott Hicks (“Shine,” “No Reservations”)
Written by: Will Fetters (“Remember Me”)

This movie is not for me. I’m a man in my early 30s and, as such, the entire summer movie season is targeted toward me. But this movie, “The Lucky One,” is one of those movies I’m only supposed to see on a date, one that I’m supposed to suffer through for the sake of my girlfriend* having a good cry while basking in the syrupy romance oozing from the screen. And that’s okay. In theaters over the next couple of months, I’ll be able to watch Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Batman, and the entirety of G.I. Joe kick all sorts of super-powered ass. I can take one for the team, you know?

“The Lucky One” is based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks, the author responsible for “The Notebook” and “A Walk to Remember.” Zac Efron (“17 Again”) stars as Logan Thibault, a U.S. Marine stationed in Iraq. In the aftermath of an attack, Logan finds a picture of a smiling woman (Taylor Schilling) half-buried in the rubble. After picking up the picture to examine it, a rocket screams from the sky and explodes in the exact spot he was standing moments before. Convinced the picture saved his life, it becomes his new good luck charm. Months later, after his tour ends, Logan learns the woman’s name is Beth and shows up at her door. However, instead of revealing his true intentions, Logan decides to keep secret his discovery of the photograph that kept him safe.

Directed by Academy Award-nominee Scott Hicks (“Shine”), “The Lucky One” is more of the same from the Nicholas Sparks romantic drama factory. The star-crossed couple, the tow-headed youngster, and the hot-headed ex-husband are all as familiar as a well-worn shoe, as is the chunk of Louisiana they inhabit, where it’s always nearly dusk and there are an awful lot of quaint old bridges. Efron, best known for his singing and dancing in Disney’s “High School Musical” series, never deviates from a stilted, wooden stoicism, while relative unknown Schilling (“Atlas Shrugged – Part 1”) does fine as a single mother reluctantly falling for a mysterious stranger who somehow managed to walk from Colorado to Louisiana and still end up looking like Zac Efron instead of a filthy lunatic. And despite actually being 69 years old, Blythe Danner oddly feels too young to be playing the grandmother of a woman in her 20s.

Some poor editing proves to be a distraction from time to time, and the beginning of the film feels too rushed, leaving the title rather puzzling as a result. But I suspect these concerns will only be expressed by the men in the audience, and will likely be quickly shushed away by smitten wives and girlfriends.

*My girlfriend doesn’t actually like movies like this.