The first thing you notice about Director Andrew Davis and writer Louis Sachar – as they sit contentedly in a suite at one of Melbourne’s ritziest Hotels – is their smiles. They’re smiling from ear to ear. And what’s more, it seems to a genuine flush. But then again, why wouldn’t they be in high spirits. They’ve done the atypical task of teaming to successfully take Sachar’s book, turn it into a film, and leave everyone – counting the author – happy.
As the writer of enchanting children’s book, “Holes” – the story of a youth sent to a uninhabited camp for juveniles where he’s put to work digging holes in search of concealed treasure – Sachar trusted unequivocally that Davis, director of such films as “the Fugitive” and “Collateral Damage”, would do his jovial tale justice. And judging by the box office take on the film, as well as the palpable mateship between the two men – Davis most unquestionably has. Even though it seems like a major left turn from the filmmaker.
So how does someone who was last seen directing the troubled Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle “Collateral Damage”, get hired by Disney?
Davis laughs. “We’ll I was wounded”. Then answers “One of the producers, Teresa Tucker-Davies and I were looking for something different, a family oriented movie. And she found this wonderful little film and I read it, and fell in love with it and shared it with my family and we called up Louis and said we’d like to try and make a movie out of this. We met each other, had some dialogue, negotiated, gained some partners along the way…it just evolved.
“We wanted to do a good job of this film. We didn’t want to take away his childhood”, says Davis. “It was a beloved book. We just needed to know how to take this magic, complicated story and make it work and so we spent a little bit of time talking to writers and ultimately, I said why can’t Louis write the movie? So we spent a little bit of time teaching him how to do that. Initially, he said he didn’t like it…he didn’t want to do it anymore. But came around”.
Adds Sachar, “We saw eye to eye, it’s just that this was all new to me. I don’t know what works and what doesn’t work. I have no idea what it’ll look like on screen or what it costs to make. I mean, sometimes we would argue about something – something I felt strongly about or someone Andrew felt strongly about – and we would ultimately work it out. We have a mutual respect”.
“The wonderful thing was we could refer to Louis constantly”, says Davis. “We wanted him on the set. I felt I had to show to him that we’re going to keep it on a course. I enjoyed the fact that he was smiling a lot. You’d show him a prop, or a lizard or a cast member and he’d say ‘that’s cool! Yeah!’”.
But Davis isn’t the only one trying something new here, much of the cast is too, including veteran actress Sigourney Weaver, who plays the film’s noxious juvenile camp manager, known only as ‘The Warden’. “I just loved the Aliens movies”, admits Davis. “And she was Theresa’s first choice. I mean we talked to a lot of other people, but she just seemed you like the person in the book. And Jon Voight’s someone I wanted to work with for a long time….it was a dream cast. Thing is, though we didn’t always get who we were after initially, things just worked out”.
Davis’s career has largely consisted of action movies, but furthermore the Oscar nominated film adaptation of “The Fugitive”. “Financially, that’s my great accomplishment. It was nominated for best picture. But I think “Holes” is an equally good accomplishment. I think because we’ve satisfied so many people with it. It was a harder movie to make. It’s got big heart. Films are kind of like children. Some of them get better grades than others but you still love them all”.
Davis and Sachar recently reunited to work on the “Holes” DVD together. “Yeah we did a commentary. Both of us. We’re just too scared to listen to it. It’s doing very well, about no.2 in America – just behind Daddy Day Care”.
So what’s next for Davis, after “Holes”? Back to explosive action movies? “I’m trying to decide what to do next. They’re not big action movies”, smiles Davis, quick to slam rumours of an “Under Siege 3” which he’ll direct. “So nothing’s a sequel. Unless you call remaking a classic a sequel.”
“I’m thinking of doing Don Quixote. Not the Terry Gilliam one. This would be based on an old Waldo Salt script. I think Gilliam’s one has something to do with an advertising executive or something. Apparently Gilliam still wants to do his…its very complicated.I wouldn’t be surprised if Johnny Depp, with his success of late, if he says he wants to do it, they’d do it”, says Davis. “Mine’s a separate project. It’s hard to think how I can make a movie that’s going to be so all of the world, that’s going to have somebody in it that people are going to want to come and see, because every three years someone else is ‘hot’ and it’s such a classic story – not unlike “Holes” – that has such a following, I’ve got to do it right. If I got to make it, I’d like to make it with someone like Jon Voight you know, or someone like John Leguizamo – who probably aren’t big enough stars to get it greenlit."
“That’s the easy thing about being a writer”, adds Sachar, who himself is currently penning a new hush-hush book. “I don’t have to please anyone. I just write what I like”.
Davis says that making Sachar’s family film into a novel has got him more interested in making different types of movies. “I like black comedies, irreverent movies and I like Strangelove a lot. I like to have some sort of social comment. I just think that movies can take you somewhere where you normally don’t go and give you a sense of a world that’s different”.
“I’d like to work with Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks, Robin Williams…I’d like to work with him. Some of the younger actors, I like Matt Damon. Frances McDormand I like to work with”.
The days of working with Steven Seagal are visibly behind the reformed filmmaker then. But is that because actors like Seagal are doing direct to video flicks these days and just aren’t bankable?
“I worked with him twice. The first time he was a puppy dog. We had worked on the story together and he was very open to trying things. And then by the time Under Siege came along he’d done three or four movies and he was a bit of a star. Bear in mind, he was really only in Under Siege for 41 minutes. It was Tommy Lee Jones most of the time. But yeah, he’s good.
“It’s not just action stars; it’s a lot of the big stars. It’s either the wrong material or the audiences just don’t go to movies – they’ll see their release on television. So it’s hard. I mean “Holes” did better than a lot of the movies this year that had big stars in them, so that’s telling us something about family audiences”.
– CLINT MORRIS
HOLES opens in Australia October 30
Read Clint’s review of "Holes" here