‘Golden Compass’ Director Chris Weitz Answers Your Questions: Part IV

Today is the day. At long last “The Golden Compass” has arrived. Certainly one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year, director Chris Weitz has kindly answered your questions the last three weeks (be sure to check out Parts I, II, and III if you missed them). Now, in this final series of questions and answers, Weitz talks about living up to “Lord of the Rings” and his plans for the potential sequels.

QUESTION #1 (from Brian):
How much of a help was it that New Line had done “Lord of the Rings”? Was that a factor in getting you on set with Peter Jackson to observe how a big fantasy franchise would work, or securing Christopher Lee for a cameo, or getting Ian McKellan to do the voice of Iorek? Or was that all independent of the studio, just a happy coincidence?

I think the fact that New Line had gambled and won on a massive fantasy franchise helped them contemplate the sort of risk that “The Golden Compass” entailed. There was also the fact that Lauren Richie, New Line’s in-house head of visual effects, had been through that arduous process and was able to negotiate with the effects houses and smooth things with the studio when the going was difficult in the post process. In the case of Peter Jackson, it was more an act of kindness on Peter’s part rather than anything arranged by the studio; he and his wife Fran Walsh and his writing partner Philippa Boyens were familiar with the books and liked them and probably had a sense that I had no idea what I was in for. I think they probably took pity on me. In the case of Christopher Lee and Ian McKellan, the studio’s relationships with those actors was definitely instrumental in our getting them to appear in the film.

QUESTION #2 (from Rachel):
Is it a relief that in the next installment, Lyra comes to our world? Will it be easier to realize our world than it is to create a new world, or does that present new challenges in its own right?

Well, on the one hand there is the simple fact if our world that makes certain things easier from a post-production point of view (although the actual shooting days, because they will be outside of soundstages and thus less easy to control and harder to manage in terms of weather and crowds, will be more difficult). Still, there are some real challenges in terms of production design and vfx that the second book throws up — the Knife and what the effect of cutting through the worlds looks like, for instance, or the spectres. These sorts of effects have been done before, but tyou never want to do things the way they have been done before, and the audience deserves an entirely original view. And, of course, there is CittaGazze. Short of taking over and remodeling an entire Medeiterranean seaside town, I think we would face the same sort of issues of hybridization that we entertained in depicting London in Lyra’s wold.

QUESTION #3 (from Carl):
If the series is a raging success, would you want to see it all the way through to “The Amber Spyglass,” perhaps even make versions of “Lyra’s Oxford” and “The Book of Dust” and (once it’s finished) “Once Upon a Time in the North”? Or would you want to be like Chris Columbus for “Harry Potter,” and hand it off to other directors after you got the ball rolling?

Well, it could go either way. I’m keen to see “His Dark Materials” through, in a manner that’s faithful to the books, in one role or another. Frankly it doesn’t matter if it’s me so long as it is executed by someone who cares about the material first and foremost. I think the key thing is to deliver the whole of the trilogy; whether the other stories have the heft of individual movies or not is another question.

QUESTION #4 (from Vanessa):
Freddie Highmore does the voice of Pan, Lyra’s daemon… But he’s a little older than Dakota Blue Richards. So what happens when his voice starts changing? Are Pan and Lyra supposed to age at the same rate?

Frankly, I don’t have the answer to that one. Obviously we don’t want it to sound as though Pan’s voice is “breaking”; there’s something a bit awkward about that. There’s all sorts of audio manipulation we can do to mold the sound of Freddie’s voice, and there would be some experimenting tio do. I’m not sure whether it would be a very clever idea to have Pan’s voice get deeper towards the end of “The Amber Spyglass,” or an absolutely terrible one.

QUESTION #5 (from Jennifer):
There are rumors that there was a curse jar on set, that if someone swore, they had to put a pound (two dollars) in it. True? Who was the worst offender, and why?

The curse rule was instituted by Dakota in aid of Oxfam (a British charity); one pound per swear. As the average set is a fairly bumptious place, there was some good money to be made, although people did try to rein it in a bit because of Dakota’s age. Some, like myself, made flat fee deals so as to keeo from having to search for pound coins every day. I think the greatest offender may have been Terry Needham, our First Assistant Director, who may in fact have lost money on the film as a whole.

QUESTION #6 (from Jack):
If you had an alethiometer, what would you ask it?

Will people go to see the film on December 7th so I can get some sleep that night?