Written By February/March 2012 : Page 34
The Inventors From page to script, two writers worked with their hearts to bring Hugo to life. Brian SelznicK on the screenplay Sometimes, from what I hear, authors are unhappy with the film adapta-tions of their books. Sometimes authors feel that the alterations made to their original stories obscure their vision and leave them feeling alienated and unhappy. That’s what I hear anyway. As for me, let’s just say that when John Logan asked me to write the preface to his beautiful screenplay adaptation of my book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I jumped at the chance. My book is about a boy named Hugo who lives secretly in the walls of a train station in Paris in 1931. He meets a bitter old man who turns out to be the legendary filmmaker Georges Méliès. (In real life, Méliès ended up penniless, working in his later years in a toy booth in the Gare Mont-parnasse in Paris). My book is 530 pages long and includes 300 pages of illustrations. The Invention of Hugo Cabret was intended to celebrate the history of cinema and to celebrate Méliès, one of its greatest and most overlooked pioneers. But really, for me, it’s about the importance of books. In fact, the book itself, the object in your hand when you are reading my original story, is actually an important part of the plot. As a result, I thought the book I made was unfilmable. But then Martin Scorsese called! That’s when I first thought to myself, Hmmm, maybe this can work on the screen. I had the great pleasure of reading John Logan’s screenplay from the portraIts By BAFTA/JAy Brooks 34 • WG AW Wri TT en By fe B ru ar y/march 20 12
John Logan & Brian Selznick
Brian SelznicK on the screenplay<br /> <br /> Sometimes, from what I hear, authors are unhappy with the film adaptations of their books. Sometimes authors feel that the alterations made to their original stories obscure their vision and leave them feeling alienated and unhappy. That’s what I hear anyway.<br /> <br /> As for me, let’s just say that when John Logan asked me to write the preface to his beautiful screenplay adaptation of my book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, I jumped at the chance.<br /> <br /> My book is about a boy named Hugo who lives secretly in the walls of a train station in Paris in 1931. He meets a bitter old man who turns out to be the legendary filmmaker Georges Méliès. (In real life, Méliès ended up penniless, working in his later years in a toy booth in the Gare Montparnasse in Paris). My book is 530 pages long and includes 300 pages of illustrations.<br /> <br /> The Invention of Hugo Cabret was intended to celebrate the history of cinema and to celebrate Méliès, one of its greatest and most overlooked pioneers. But really, for me, it’s about the importance of books. In fact, the book itself, the object in your hand when you are reading my original story, is actually an important part of the plot. As a result, I thought the book I made was unfilmable. But then Martin Scorsese called! That’s when I first thought to myself, Hmmm, maybe this can work on the screen.<br /> <br /> I had the great pleasure of reading John Logan’s screenplay from the Very first draft. Right away, he had come up with a new ending that expanded on and completed one of the central scenes in my story, a conversation between the two main characters, Hugo and Isabelle, about what their purpose in life might be.<br /> That’s when I knew the screenplay was going to be brilliant. John kept the dialogue spare. I love the fact that there are no spoken words for the first several minutes of the movie. The world of the Parisian train station, Hugo’s world, unfolds visually, just like it does in my book.<br /> <br /> The picture sequences I drew are almost like black and- white storyboards that move us through space, zoom in on important objects, and cut from moment to moment to move the action forward. This is all accomplished through the one simple yet amazing technology that books offer: the turning of the page.<br /> <br /> Part of John’s challenge was to take my picture sequences and turn them into text, which would then be turned back into visuals by Scorsese using the latest technology the cinema has to offer: 3D. John also had To telescope and change details from my book in order to keep the story moving on screen. Thus some characters had to be cut and others added but always for a reason.<br /> <br /> Sometimes, though, I admit that I just couldn’t understand the changes.For instance, in my original book, Hugo keeps the fact that he lives in the walls of the train station as a closely guarded secret. After he meets Isabelle, who wants to know where he lives, he goes out of his way to hide the answer from her. Isabelle manages to track Hugo down, wrestle him to the floor, and force him to explain what’s going on. It’s a rough, uncomfortable scene, and it unfolds over many pages. In the screenplay, however, Isabelle simply says, “Hugo, where do you live?” while the two characters are standing on a bridge. Hugo points toward the train station and says, “There.” What?? I thought. That’s it??<br /> <br /> I was really disappointed by this scene as written on the page. But I happened to be on the set in London when Scorsese Filmed it with Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz. The kids were standing on a fake bridge in front of a green screen that would eventually become the River Seine. I watched Asa and Chloë perform this moment together. Chloë gently asked the question, “Hugo...where do you live?” and Asa paused. You could see him making a thousand decisions in his mind, deciding whether or not to trust her.<br /> <br /> John had actually provided these directions in the script, which at first I’d overlooked: “He stops. Looks at her. Should he tell her? Should he trust her? Yes.” Slowly Asa lifted his arm and pointed behind him.“There,” he said very quietly. Tears came to my eyes as he pointed toward the train station. It was so simple and yet so moving. And it was perfect for the screen, just as John knew it would be.<br /> <br /> As I’ve said, my book celebrates the movies, but it’s really about the importance of books. John Logan, in adapting my book for the screen, performed a kind of magic trick.He took my story and turned it inside out.He turned it into a story that feels like it was always meant to be a movie, and yet he also took the time to celebrate books. Hugo and Isabelle are constantly talking about reading and writing; they visit bookstores and libraries; they name-drop authors like Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson and characters from literature like Jean Valjean and Robin Hood. The fact that this all happens in the context of a gigantic, glorious, heartfelt, cinematic masterpiece just makes it all the more meaningful.<br /> <br /> Hugo was a gift to me.<br /> <br /> From first to last, I felt I had been given something precious: adapting a book I love; working with inspiring colleagues I admire; getting to tell this wise and benevolent story; just living in this world for a few years.<br /> <br /> John Logan on the book<br /> <br /> In The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick made a beautiful book. His austere and haunting illustrations work in concert with his deceptively simple story of a young French orphan making a home for himself. It’s an ingenious work that thrills on many levels: dazzling adventure story; fiendishly-clever mystery; sweeping historical pageant; evocation of a bygone era of moviemaking. But at every turn the face of that lost, sad boy, Hugo Cabret, gazes out at you, imploring, seeking, challenging.It will touch you, this book. I am grateful for its part in my life and for Brian Selznick’s constant support and friendship.<br /> <br /> When Martin Scorsese and Graham King asked me to adapt Brian’s book, I said yes instantly. The chance to work with my Aviator comrades again, and on this movie, was irresistible. I thank them for bringing me this five-year challenge. As always with an adaptation, the first job was finding an organizing principle around which to fashion the screenplay. Give the book to five different screenwriters, and you will get five different versions of the story, five different movies.So what was it about the book that touched me? What amused and excited me? What makes it a work of cinema and not a work of literature? In discussing the book with Marty, we kept returning to the face of Hugo, to the story of that damaged boy. We began to circle an idea: a film of damaged characters that are finally healed by their courage, their imagination, and their compassion. At heart Hugo is a boy who fixes things: clocks, machines, and people. And at the conclusion of the story, he earns his happy ending because of all the good he has done for the other characters. He is selfless and kind and inspires kindness in others.<br /> <br /> Throughout the process, Marty and I spoke about Truffaut’s The 400 Blows and the films of René Clair. I began to draw parallels from Hugo’s story to those of the great Dickensian orphans: Pip, Little Nell, Oliver Twist, Little Dorrit, David Copperfield. Those books became additional touchstones for me: mostly for their unapologetic toughness and their unwillingness to condescend to the young characters.Dickens was never afraid to make the pain real for his literary children. He didn’t wink and tell His readers it was all going to be fine in the end; frequently it wasn’t. I watched the two great David Lean Dickens film adaptations and a fair amount of Carol Reed as well; getting a sense for the unsentimental sentiment they were able to create on screen. There’s nothing weepy about their work, but it makes you weep.That seemed right for Hugo.<br /> <br /> All through this gradual excavation of the screenplay, Marty was generously introducing me to the world of Georges Méliès and silent film. My synapses jumped to keep up with his, and—as always with Marty—his dizzying joy for cinema and storytelling was infectious and inspiring.<br /> <br /> I am inordinately proud of this film.And while I’m hardly impartial, I feel there’s something genuinely enchanted about Hugo; something unique about why we make movies in the first place; about our need for magic. There’s nothing particularly ironic or postmodern about the script. It’s meant to be earnest storytelling.This is a script that leads with the heart; there was no other way to do it.<br /> <br /> Excerpted from Hugo: The Shooting Script, Screenplay by John Logan, based on the book ‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’ by Brian Selznick | Foreword by Brian Selznick © 2011 by Brian Selznick | Introduction by John Logan © 2011 by John Logan | Reprinted by permission of Newmarket Press for It Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.