Steven Spielberg on Making THE BFG a Magical Moviegoing Experience

I recently had the opportunity to attend a press event for Steven Spielberg’s upcoming film The BFG, and I got to meet him, which is probably one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. I really enjoyed his new film, especially because it has that charming Spielberg filmmaking Amblin magic that we haven’t seen in awhile from the director. Making The BFG was a passion project for Spielberg, and I think he delivered a film that his fans and audiences will enjoy.

If you’ve ever read Roald Dahl’s The BFG, then you know there are some amusing scenes involving farts. One of the first questions out of the gate during the interview with Spielberg was if this was the first fart joke he’s ever put on film to which he replied:

“Yeah, it took me a long time. It took me a long time. I don’t know, I guess… I guess I’m kind of modest when it comes to flatulence, except when it’s being done by either giants, or Corgis. I’ve gotten over my modesty.”

Spielberg has always been a great storyteller, and with this film, he’s using modern technology to tell his story. What he and Weta have come up with turns out to be quite beautiful. I’ve talked to a few people about the CGI that they’ve seen in the trailers and how they feel it doesn’t look that good. I thought the effects were incredible, especially with The BFG character. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Rylance, who plays the character, got nominated for some best acting awards. When asked about how he finds balance between pushing technology forward and still keeping the humanity and heart of the storytelling, Spielberg said:

“Well, I think that the whole nature of my approach to the BFG was to be able to do both, was to be able to use technology to advance the heart, and create a flawless transposition between the genius of Mark Rylance, to the genius of Weta, as they were able to digitally translate Mark’s soul onto film in the character of the BFG. So all the work we did was to get back to basics, which was, I knew Mark was gonna really knock this out of the ballpark, but I didn’t want the ball to land at the end of a motion capture volume. I wanted the ball to land in the lap of the audience, and I think Weta spent more careful attention, paid more careful attention to how to preserve what Mark had given us on the day. Their artists did an amazing job translating Mark accurately, and there’s about 95% of what Mark gave me, and Ruby, on the screen now, and that’s because technology today allowed us to do it. Five years ago, we could not have made BFG this way, the technology wasn’t there for it.”

We went on to talk about how the story of The BFG is in line with some of his earlier film like E.T. in that it centers on a young child who meets a strange and mysterious creature and forms a bond with it. When asked what made him come back to tell this kind of story again, Spielberg replied:

“What really appealed to me was the fact that the protagonist was a girl, not a boy. And it was a very strong girl, and the protagonist was going to allow us at a certain point, to believe that four feet tall can completely outrank 25 feet of giant. And I got very excited that this was going to be a little girl’s story, and her courage, and her values, was going to, in a way, turn the cowardly lion into the brave hero at the end - which is what she turns BFG into. I saw all kinds of Wizard of Oz comparisons when I was first reading the book, and I said, “Oh, here’s a real chance to do a story about Dorothy and the Cowardly Lion, just the two of them.”

Spielberg has always had a knack for casting incredibly talented kids in his films, but according to the director, casting the role of Sophie was one of the hardest things he’s ever had to do. He found his Sophie in actress Ruby Barnhill:

“Casting Ruby was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do because she’s so impossible as you can see, sitting right here, you know. I love her. Nina Gold looked at three or four hundred girls, in about five English speaking countries.  And I looked at about 150 myself.  And when I saw Ruby’s reading, I went crazy, ‘cause I had been looking for over half a year, actually, longer, eight months, I had been looking, and we’d get the Ireland tapes in; then we’d get the New Zealand tapes in; then we’d get the Australian tapes in; we’d get the Wales tapes; and we’d get the English tapes in; and the American tapes in.  And we’d be looking, and looking, and looking.  And I was shooting Bridge of Spies, and I thought I was never going to find my Sophie - until halfway through the Berlin shoot, which was almost done with the [Bridge of Spies] movie, when I saw Ruby’s reading and I immediately went crazy.”

Ruby was incredibly charming in the role of Sophie and a perfect choice. The relationship between her and Mark Rylance's BFG was beautiful. When talking about his favorite part of the film involving those two characters the filmmaker said:

“I think my favorite part of the filming was when BFG and Sophie were chasing dreams in Dream Country; they were catching dreams and she was just… BFG says to Sophie, “Use your titchy little figglers. Go on,” you know. So she just starts chasing dreams and we had a whole set built. That was a big, big set with these big, a whole root system of big roots deep into the ground, and she gets to run under all the roots, to chase the dreams.  And of course, there were no dreams there; there were just a lot of lights on sticks, that you didn’t get to see. But that was a fun four or five days, that whole sequence, chasing dreams and talking about dreams, that was my favorite part.”

Spielberg went on to say that The BFG is one of the best companies of people that he’s ever worked with in his career. It was such a great experience for him that it's in his top five!

“It was a great company. I mean, I’ve had a lot of companies. I’ve shot… what, this is my 30th movie? 29th or 30th movie, I think, I’m not sure. I’ve had a lot of great companies. This is my in the top five of my favorite companies, ensembles that I’ve ever worked with, this is in my top five.”

You can tell from seeing the film that Spielberg was having a great time working on it. There was just so much heart and soul put into bringing this story to life, and Spielberg managed to bring together an incredibly talented cast and crew to do it. 

My review of the film will go live later this week, so keep an eye out for it. I think it’s one of the best family films to come out so far this year.

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