What does it take to create a movie that is based on a popular book and true to the original story? For starters, it helps if the co-writer/producer is the son of the original author. Next, keep the mindset that if the film isn’t made the way you want, you don’t need to have the film. That’s what transpired in the new Disney/Walden Media film, Bridge to Terabithia, the 1977 children’s fantasy of friendship and faith that opened on February 16. I had a chance to sit down with the cast and crew to talk about this adolescent adventure.
The story revolves around two young schoolmates, Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) and Jesse (Josh Hutcherson), who escape the problems of home and school by creating a magical land all their own. Jesse, the outcast, and Leslie, the new kid, become fast friends and find that faith and friendship are the greatest discoveries of all. In addition to the young actors, director Gabor Csupo and co-writer/producer David Paterson, the son of writer Katherine Paterson, joined our roundtable discussion.
David Paterson: The novel is loosely based on a relationship I had with a girl when I was eight years old. It is a story; it isn’t word for word with everything that happened. When I chose to make it into a film, this was back in 1990, I wanted to protect it, because of the source. What you are seeing is a tribute to my best friend.
Gabor Csupo: I loved the book and the story so much, and I thought that somebody honestly needs to be talking about the [issues the book deals with]. And it’s not easy issues to deal with. And we had to tell children in a very gentle way how to deal with these things when they happen to you.
AnnaSophia Rob: I had heard about the book and read the book and the script and both meshed really well. They were very similar.
Josh Hutcherson: I had not read the book before I found out it was going to be made into a movie. When I heard about the movie, I knew there was a character in there that was roughly my age. So I went out, and I got the book, and I read it. When I got the scrict, it made a really cool transition. It kept all of the heart from the original book, but it added in some action stuff to make it more visually appealing. People worried about it not staying true to the book and changing all this stuff … but no, it stayed really true to the book, and I think once people see it they are really going to like it.
Paterson: A lot of people are coming at me saying it is such a morally good story and so faith based. I wasn’t aiming for any of that. Because I think quite literally, we all have our own feeling of faith. And we all have our own moral compass. It’s a beautiful story. And it’s a story I wanted to tell for a very long time.
To the Cinema
Csupo: All you can do is really try to respect what’s on the pages, and I had the fortune to have David around as much as we wanted him. He and his mother already endorsed the script. So that was a good approval from them. My next job was to really translate the pages to the screen.
Paterson: And why it took so long was I needed to have enough protective measures in place so the film would not get away from me, and I wouldn’t have an end product to be ashamed of. So it was a process, but I was only going to make it once, and I wanted to make it right. I am a stay-at-home dad; I am a fireman on Long Island; so it wasn’t that I needed to get this made. I wanted to get it made, but I didn’t need to get it made. But I can say I am proud of the work and more importantly my mother is proud of it.
Csupo: I wanted to be very realistic and I didn’t want to shoot it in a cheesy, Hollywood way and overact things. With camera moves and everything we wanted to be modest and simply tell the story—the best way to do it with no fancy effects. Though I love that type of stuff it would not fit this picture. I’m sad the trailer only suggests the fantastical elements of the film.
Rob: This movie seems like real life. Apart from all the fantasy stuff when you go into the kid’s imagination, it was very appealing and made me confident that this film was going to be different than any other blockbuster.
Hutcherson: We filmed it in New Zealand. So if you can imagine being there for three and a half months. Hanging out, and we went to the beaches like every single day.
Rob: It was so amazing and beautiful. New Zealand is where Terabithia is in my mind, because of how wonderful it is. It is magical.
Why see it?
Csupo: Because it is a lot more [than fantasy elements]. I would encourage parents to give it a chance because it is amazingly heart moving for anybody, not just to those who have children. But those who know people who have children. They can all relate to this.
Hutcherson: The fact that this movie had the guts to take [the theme of faith] where a lot of children, family movies won’t take it was another reason it was so appealing to me. It’s not a downer, but it teaches you some life lessons that are really good to know.
Rob: It’s definitely about friendship, teaching people to appreciate what they have. To keep their mind open, and my character teaches lessons on how to live life to the fullest, be kind to people and accept people. And it is also about using your imagination.
Paterson: It’s just a good story. It affects a lot of people, because it is a plain story so very beautifully told. Normal people who go through extraordinary events and that’s pretty much how it is in life.