Bob Shaye directs The Last Mimzy about two young siblings, Noah (Chris O'Neal) and Emmy (Rhiannon Leigh Wryn), who find a mysterious box of toys, develop special powers, and try to find out the real purpose of these magical toys. Joely Richardson and Timothy Hutton play their mother and father.This is Bob Shaye's second feature film after directing Book of Love back in 1990. He is also the Co-chairman and Co-CEO of New Line Cinema along with Michael Lynne. I had the privalege to interview him.
New Line Cinema will release The Last Mimzy on March 23rd, 2007.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What prompted you to direct The Last Mimzy?
BS: I loved the story when I was a kid because I was a real sci-fi geek. I remembered the basic theme of the story which is that kids, below a certain age, aren’t hard-wired and it’s possible that little kids who can’t express themselves can see and do incredible things. If there were teaching machines from another place, whether it’s from the future or another planet, and were exposed to them, they could see or do things that we older people are not capable of appreciating. So, that was an idea that I really liked a lot. When [producer] Michael Phillips came to see me 14 years ago about it, I responded immediately to that story, but when I re-read it, I realized that the story is totally incomplete. It may be fine for a short story, but it was not a so-called three-act screenplay—you need a beginning, middle and an end. As it turns out, in the movie, the first 20 minutes is what the story is all about. So, cracking that was a very complicated thing. When the kids disappear as they did in the short story, what happens after that? Do the parents go after them? Do they call the police? Do the kids come back? Is it chaos? As [Alfred] Hitchcock once said, the best movie, he believes, are made from good short stories or bad novels—like The Birds, for example, was [based on] a short story. Although, it didn’t take [him] 14 years to put it together.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did it take you 14 years to make The Last Mimzy?
BS: First of all, I had a very challenging day job. Second of all, New Line was in an incredible growth mode during these last 14 years. Third of all, I wasn’t concentrating on it every day—I was completely occupied by running the company. If a script came in that was not what I wanted and I didn’t believe it was the script that represented what I think should be made, we just put it down. A couple years later, Michael Phillips called me up again and said, “Listen, I got a new idea. Let’s get a new writer.” We actually ended up having at least 5 writers, 3 of whom got credit on the screenplay—all of this is arbitrated by the WGA. Jim Hart and his wife, [Carol Skiklen], got screen story [credit] and Bruce Joel and Toby Emmerich, who also happens to be our president of production, got actual script-writing credit. They both wrote at least 2 different drafts and sets of revisions for the film. So, I started getting disheartened. There were several years I just put it aside and I decided it was never going to work. Michael Phillips kept at it, [though]. Also, what happened in the last 10 years has made this story more relevant and viable than it had been 14 years ago.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Did directing your second feature film get any easier?
BS: Yes, it did get easier. The first film, Book of Love, was also easy. I was extremely blessed in both cases to have very confident, skillful colleagues—the director of photography, the production designer and the visual effects supervisor were all really great. I really believe in collaboration, so, when we had a technical read-through on the script, which took almost a week, I had 6 or 7 different department heads going through the thing together. It turns out that they were so enthusiastic about the story that they started coming up with great ideas, too. I madeBook of Love for the same reason that I made The Last Mimzy, which is that, “Wow! That was me growing up in the fifties! I can’t let anybody else direct this. This is just too good.” I came to New Line [Cinema] as a “filmmaker”, not as a guy who made a bunch of money in real estate or knew how to do marketing particularly. I came because I really loved film. I’ve had a lot of experience making films, even though it was independent cinema then—it was called underground movies. I wasn’t just a writer who hoped to flex his chops on directing. It was really something that I really knew quite how to do. Of course, it’s challenging directing actors, but, in both movies, I had kids who were the stars, so it was easier for me to think as a kid, rather than directing guys who won’t come out of their trailer because they didn’t like the catering.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What underlying message do you want audiences to take away from The Last Mimzy?
BS: The underlying idea in [The Last Mimzy] is the addictiveness of technology, especially in this day-and-age. 10 years ago, people weren’t answering their cellphones at dinner. People didn’t have their widescreen televisions on day and night with the sound muted—it has only happened in the last few years. So, that became part of the story we wanted to tell. Then, with the idea of genetics, 14 year ago, nobody knew about jump DNA. So the science that’s in the movie is, in large measure, theoretically possible. It has also been vented by scientists like Brian Greene, so much so that he took the role [of an Intel scientist]. He’s a popular scientist, but a brilliant theoretical physicist in String Theory. He subscribed to the science that we metaphorically tried to represent. The idea that innocence might be a set of genes that express themselves with behavior that we cumulatively call “innocence” is quite true, at least in theory. That was the big answer to the [movie’s questions regarding] “what was this all about? Where were they going? Why did they toys come?” We couldn’t figure the damn thing out. We came up with a whole bunch of story ideas, but not of them were satisfactory until Michael Phillips started reading stuff on the internet and said, “You know, it’s possible that they come from the future and that there’s something not working there”. So, that was really exciting—it was a real breakthrough. I also wanted to make a film that appealed to a broad range of audiences. [I wanted it to be] interesting and exciting and stimulating for kids and not pandered to [them], but, at the same token, for the parents to find it interesting for themselves [as well]. If I was able to get it right, to have families come to a movie theater, and to see the joy in parents watching their kids laughing and getting a kick out of the movie, while [provoking] the parents, I’d be very excited.