News Column

'Shrek' director takes gritty direction

October 16, 2013


Oct. 16--New Zealand producer and director Andrew Adamson is best known for the fantasy worlds he brought to the screen in "Shrek" and "Shrek 2," two films based on "The Chronicles of Narnia," and "Puss In Boots."

But his live-action feature film "Mr. Pip," which had its U.S. premiere Saturday at the Hawaii International Film Festival, with a repeat screening today, is a gritty departure. Adamson adapted it from the best-selling novel by Lloyd Jones, who helped write the screenplay.

"Mr. Pip" is set on Bougainville island in Papua New Guinea during a largely unnoticed civil war in the 1990s.

The lead character, a teacher named Mr. Watts (Hugh Laurie), helps a young girl use her imagination to survive the violence. When Watts reads from his favorite book, the Charles Dickens novel "Great Expectations," the young girl is transported to a Victorian world filled with friendship and hope.

The 46-year-old Adamson, who was in Honolulu for the festival, said "Mr. Pip" drew a lot of its power from the location.

"A lot of times we are re-enacting some significant trauma that they lived through, which also made for that documentary-like authenticity. ... We set a church on fire -- which we built -- and then filmed it effectively like a documentary," he said. "I would run up to people and say, 'Say this line and inject drama into it.' And because of that we created a very lifelike situation."

He said the islanders got quite caught up in the filming, resulting in emotional performances that were "almost like trauma therapy. It was people re-enacting these very traumatic events, but re-enacting them in a very safe environment. It was very, very cathartic."

Comparing a live-action movie to the animated films he's worked on, Adamson said the process of animation involves an intricate process that allows the filmmaker to "keep working on it and refining it. You keep retelling the story and perfecting it, where in live action you have a script, you get the actors together and there is a lot more spontaneity and you structure the film a lot more in editorial after you shoot it. In animation a lot of the editorial process happens before you shoot it."

But for the director, the experience isn't all that different, he said.

"Emotionally as a director you go through the same arc. You face the same challenges of telling a story. It's just the process and the order of things is a bit different."

"Mr. Pip" screens at 3:30 p.m. today at Dole Cannery Stadium 18. For ticket information, visit


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