06 September 2013

SAVING MR. BANKS ADVANCE NOTES & FUN FACTS


“Wind’s in the east, mist comin’ in.
Like something is brewin’ about to begin
Can’t put me finger on what lies in store
But I feel what’s to happen, all happened before.”
Bert in “Mary Poppins”

 
I
n 1961, Walt Disney invited “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers to his studio in Los Angeles to discuss, in person, his continued interest in obtaining the movie rights to her beloved book and character—a pitch he first made to her in the 1940s. Still hesitant and disinterested after all those years, Travers wanted to tell the Hollywood impresario to go fly a kite but with dwindling sales of her books and a bleak economic future looming, P.L. Travers said yes and embarked on a two-week sojourn in Los Angeles that would ultimately set the wheels of the beloved film in motion.
 
Now, Walt Disney Pictures presents “Saving Mr. Banks,” a film inspired by this extraordinary, untold backstory of how Disney’s classic “Mary Poppins” made it to the screen, starring two-time Academy Award®–winner Emma Thompson and fellow double Oscar®-winner Tom Hanks.
 
“Mary Poppins” journey to the screen began the moment Walt Disney’s daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, P.L. Travers’ “Mary Poppins.” Walt made them a promise to do so, but it was a promise that he didn’t realize would take 20 years to keep. In his quest to obtain the rights, Walt comes up against a curmudgeonly, uncompromising writer who has absolutely no intention of letting her beloved magical nanny get mauled by the Hollywood machine. But, as the books stop selling and money grows short, Travers reluctantly agrees to go to Los Angeles to hear Disney’s plans for the adaptation.

For those two short weeks in 1961, Walt Disney pulls out all the stops. Armed with imaginative storyboards and chirpy songs from the talented Sherman brothers, Walt launches an all-out onslaught on P.L. Travers, but the prickly author doesn’t budge. He soon begins to watch helplessly as Travers becomes increasingly immovable and the rights begin to move further away from his grasp.

It is only when he reaches into his own childhood that Walt discovers the truth about the ghosts that haunt her, and together they set Mary Poppins free to ultimately make one of the most endearing films in cinematic history.


Expounding on the premise of the film, director John Lee Hancock says, “It’s really a fantastic story, but it’s not the behind-the-scenes look at the making of ‘Mary Poppins.’ You’re not on a sound stage with a young Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke. Our story takes you back 2-3 years before the actual production of the movie began.
 
“Walt Disney saw the promise of that movie, which made it worth dealing with P.L. Travers to secure the rights. That’s our story, a fantastic story, about a beloved movie, its own story and characters, and the origins of how it became this amazing, groundbreaking film. On a deeper level, it’s also about two storytellers and Disney’s journey trying to discover why P.L. Travers holds on so dearly and protectively to her story and the image of this father she adored,” Hancock concludes.
 
Colin Farrell (“Minority Report,” “Total Recall”) co-stars as Travers’ doting dad, Travers Goff, along with British actress Ruth Wilson (Disney’s “The Lone Ranger,” “Anna Karenina”) as his wife, Margaret; Oscar® and Emmy® nominee Rachel Griffiths (“Six Feet Under,” “Hilary and Jackie,” “The Rookie”) as Margaret’s sister, Aunt Ellie (who inspired the title character of Travers’ novel); and a screen newcomer—11-year-old Aussie native Annie Rose Buckley as the young, blossoming writer, nicknamed Ginty, in the flashback sequences.
 
The cast also includes Oscar® nominee and Emmy® winner Paul Giamatti (“Sideways,” “Cinderella Man,” HBO’s “John Adams”) as Ralph, the kindly limousine driver who escorts Travers during her two-week stay in Hollywood; Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore,” “Moonrise Kingdom”) and B.J. Novak (“NBC’s “The Office,” “Inglourious Basterds”) as the songwriting Sherman Brothers (Richard and Robert, respectively); Emmy winner Bradley Whitford (“The West Wing,” “The Cabin in the Woods”) as screenwriter Don DaGradi; and multi-Emmy winner Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences,” “Edward Scissorhands”) as Tommie, one of Disney’s trusted studio confidantes.
 
“Saving Mr. Banks” is directed by John Lee Hancock (“The Blind Side,” “The Rookie”) from a screenplay written by Kelly Marcel (creator of FOX-TV’s “Terra Nova”) and Sue Smith (“Brides of Christ,” “Bastard Boys”). The film is produced by Alison Owen (the Oscar®-nominated “Elizabeth,” HBO’s Emmy®-winning “Temple Grandin”), Ian Collie (the Aussie TV documentary “The Shadow of Mary Poppins,” DirecTV’s “Rake”) and longtime Hancock collaborator Philip Steuer (“The Rookie,” “The Chronicles of Narnia” trilogy). The film’s executive producers are Paul Trijbits (“Lay the Favorite,” “Jane Eyre”), Christine Langan (Oscar® nominee for “The Queen,” “We Need to Talk About Kevin”), Andrew Mason (“The Matrix” trilogy, “Dark City”) and Troy Lum (“Mao’s Last Dancer,” “I, Frankenstein”).
 
Hancock’s filmmaking team included a trio of artists with whom he worked on his 2009 Best Picture Oscar® nominee, “The Blind Side”—two-time Oscar® nominated production designer Michael Corenblith (“How The Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Apollo 13,” “The Alamo”), Emmy®-winning costume designer Daniel Orlandi (HBO’s “Game Change,” “The Alamo,” “Frost/Nixon”) and film editor Mark Livolsi, A.C.E. (“Wedding Crashers,” “The Devil Wears Prada”). Hancock also reunited with Academy Award®-nominated cinematographer John Schwartzman, A.S.C. (“Seabiscuit,” “Pearl Harbor,” “The Amazing Spider-Man”), with whom he first worked on his inspiring 2002 sports drama, “The Rookie.”
 
AN IDEA TAKES FLIGHT

When Australian filmmaker Ian Collie gave Oscar®-nominated British producer Alison Owen a copy of his documentary plus a feature film script written by Sue Smith about P.L. Travers, the author of “Mary Poppins,” Owen was intrigued…surely Travers was a Brit? After all, Mary Poppins was the quintessential British nanny! And so began the journey of “Saving Mr. Banks.” After bringing on Kelly Marcel to work on the screenplay, with the support of BBC Films, Owen and Collie felt they had cracked the story of the battle between this grande dame and the King of Hollywood, Walt Disney.

The finished script began generating excitement around Hollywood and attracted the attention of director John Lee Hancock. Hancock read the script and met with Owen to discuss the project, telling her what he loved about it—the way Marcel had intertwined the 1961 story with the 1906 story of Travers’ childhood, revealing the origin of Mary Poppins—and the visual possibilities that offered.

But before landing a director, or a cast, Owen knew that she had to get the support of the studio. There was one person she knew she had to enlist to help—songwriter/composer Richard Sherman, who suffered through the burden of dealing with the irrational Travers 50 years previously. With Sherman’s endorsement that they were telling the story with truth and integrity, Owen came to Disney, where the project found its ideal home. 
 
THE CAST & CHARACTERS
 
When the filmmakers sat down to discuss the casting for “Saving Mr. Banks,” they drew up a list of their dream cast. As fate would have it, they were able to sign the talent they wanted, who were all happy to join the production.
           
The first choice to play “Mary Poppins” author P.L. Travers was two-time Oscar® winner Emma Thompson. “When you’ve got somebody like Emma Thompson, she has a very large toolbox,” director Hancock proclaims about his leading lady and her abilities to tackle such a challenging role.  “Anytime you’re taking on a character that is that complicated and that sad, there’s a weight that goes along with it. Emma confided in me that it was tough to wake up and play P.L. Travers every day. And it would be great when we were done so she would have hopefully done P.L. proud. She is so incredibly talented.”
 
Emma Thompson says of the curmudgeonly P.L. Travers,  “She was a wonderful case study, requiring so many different shades. She was just so complex. She’s one of the most complicated people I’ve ever encountered in biography.”

Taking on the role of the iconic Walt Disney was another American icon—Tom Hanks, who seems to inhabit the role and embody Disney. Says director John Lee Hancock, “This film portrays a side of Disney we haven’t seen before,” Hancock reveals.  “It’s not the Walt we know from ‘The Wonderful World of Disney,’ which was fun to explore. But, someone had to play Walt Disney, become Walt Disney.  Who would that be?  There was really only one person that all of us could think of—Tom. I wasn’t trying to put a rubber mask on Tom and make him look exactly like Disney. I wanted Walt Disney to come from inside. Tom is such a fine actor that that’s where he begins his work—from the inside.
 
“Tom grew his own mustache,” Hancock continues in describing Hanks’ physical “transformation” for the role.  “There’s a lot of voice work, the way he walks, the body position, the way he holds his hands, the way he touches his mustache. How he phrases things and lets sentences roll off the end. He simply became Walt Disney to me and I was completely amazed.”
 
“I don’t look or sound anything like Walt Disney,” Hanks affirms in responding to Hancock’s comments. “In addition to growing a mustache and parting my hair, the job at hand was to somehow capture all that whimsy that is in his eyes as well as all of the acumen that goes along with that. You can’t do an imitation of Walt Disney.”
 
For the part of Travers Goff, P.L. Travers’ troubled father played in flashback, the filmmakers reached out to Colin Farrell. “When we got Colin Farrell to play Travers Goff, you talk about an Irish poet,” Hancock states admiringly.  “He’s such a brilliant actor and so soulful and full that I knew that this aspect of our story would really come to life.  When you’ve got a father like Colin Farrell, the little girl would adore him for all he does and all he is. And forgive him his sins.  Giving us better insight and understanding into this father-daughter story.”
 
“There’s something indescribable, something tragically uncertain, about how he feels in his own life,” Farrell adds.  “There’s a bit of that in Mr. Banks in ‘Mary Poppins’ as well. And, it was a character that I felt was very different from anything I’ve ever approached or been asked to do.  I would have been very upset if this one didn’t work out for me. I really love this film. I love this story; I’m so over the moon to have been a part of it.  I think there’s so much heart in this film.”
 
Versatile actor Paul Giamatti took on the role of P.L. Travers’ friendly limousine driver, Ralph, the only fictional character in the film…and the only American Emma Thompson’s character P.L. Travers liked in the film. “They have a nice relationship,” says Giamatti. “You see another side of her. You see a lot of her difficult side and you see her be less difficult with Ralph. She’s completely blunt with him but he gets right away who she is, and he understands and he’s totally cool with it. It’s easy to like him and I think she can’t resist after a while, so she comes to like him.” 

To play famed “Mary Poppins” composers Richard and Robert Sherman, the filmmakers tapped Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak. Novak notes, “People were excited when I told them that Jason Schwartzman and I play brothers in the film. I think there’s something in temperament and in looks that feels compatible. I will also say that I am by nature a bit of a serious, more introverted guy, like Bob. Much more so than Jason, who is such a pure sunshine individual. I think it’s pretty funny that we played brothers of that exact dynamic.” 
 
“Jason Schwartzman is already a musician; he plays the piano,” comments director Hancock.  “I knew that would be helpful for us because we played a lot of the music in the rehearsal room scenes. And, he learned to play like Dick Sherman by spending hour after hour after hour with Dick, learning to play in that jaunty fashion that Dick does.”
           
 “They were up against a real force of nature in this woman, P.L Travers,” Schwartzman says of the brothers’ relationship with the obstinate author. “Sort of a mysterious woman who had very specific ideas about her work, how it should be handled. She was very protective of it when she came to L.A.  She meets the Sherman Brothers and the first thing she says to them is ‘I don’t think this should be a musical’.”
 
Playing screenwriter Don DaGradi is Bradley Whitford, who gives some insight into the man he plays in the film, who was formerly an animator. “This was a huge shot that Walt gave him, promoting him from simply being an animator to being co-writer of the script,” explains Whitford. “It was a huge break for him, and that’s part of what was so excruciating for Don and the Sherman brothers when they were confronted with this brick wall called P.L. Travers.”
 
Hancock did an extensive search to find the child actress to personify the young Pamela Travers, calling it “a difficult bit of casting. We were looking for the young version of Emma Thompson. You want someone that looks somewhat like her if possible.  More importantly, this little girl is in every flashback scene and has to kind of carry the day.”
 
Finally they settled on 11-year old Australian actress Annie Buckley. “There was something about Annie, so natural and unspoiled, so guileless and innocent, that I felt if we could capture that quality on screen, the audience would forgive the older Pamela Travers everything. To see such openness, trust and hope let down by those she loves, and watch as she puts an iron case around her heart to never get let down again, would make us weep for Pamela instead of judging her.”
 
Ruth Wilson came on board to play Margaret Goff, P.L. Travers’ mother in the flashback story. Explaining her character, Wilson says, Margaret perhaps married below her station. She married this very poetic, charismatic guy who offered her the world and promised every dream. However, reality hit hard and life with Travers turned out harder than she ever imagined.”

Rachel Griffiths, with whom Hancock had worked on “The Rookie,” takes on the role of Aunt Ellie, Margaret Goff’s sister and the model for P.L. Travers famous nanny. Kathy Baker rounds out the cast playing Tommie, an associate and sounding board for Walt Disney at the studio.
 
THE MAKING OF “SAVING MR. BANKS”
 
“Saving Mr. Banks” filmed almost entirely in the Los Angeles area (there was one day of shooting in London), with key locations that included Disneyland in Anaheim (only the third feature film ever to shoot there in the park’s 58-year history), TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s) in Hollywood (where the 1964 premiere of “Mary Poppins” took place), the Disney Studios in Burbank (which opened in 1939 and where the 1964 movie filmed in its entirety) and the 10,000 acre Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, which doubled for the film’s early 20th-century Australian landscape. The nine-week shoot concluded in late November 2012.
 
In the real world, Travers fretted over how credible Disney’s film adaptation of her books would become. In Hancock’s “reel” world, authenticity defined the entire production team’s approach to the project, beginning with visits to the Disney museum in San Francisco’s Presidio. There production designer Michael Corenblith performed research to accurately recreate Walt Disney’s office on the studio lot.
 
Corenblith, working with Hancock for the third time, also had to create an environment for the flashback story that depicts P.L. Travers’ early life in Australia. “The ability to tell an Australia, 1906 story that was so integral and is integrated into the Los Angeles, 1961 story, was one of the big pleasures, and one of the big design challenges as well,” states the production designer.  “But also, one of the tastiest things in this box of chocolates that we cooked up on this film.”
 
Hancock needed a vast landscape of rolling hills and shrubbery to duplicate the remote Australian outback a century ago (the site veteran location manager Andrew Ullman found was so impressive that Australian actress Annie Buckley’s dad, Dean, thought he was actually back in his homeland.) During his casting trips to Australia, Hancock and Owen “went to Maryborough and Allora in Australia to get a firsthand look at the locations,” per Corenblith. “They actually stood on the streets where the Goffs lived.” 
           
Before settling into the Santa Clarita Studios facility northwest of Los Angeles, where Corenblith erected the studio wing that housed Disney’s office, trophy case (complete with two dozen actual Oscar® trophies brought up from Orlando) and the music rehearsal room, the company filmed exteriors on the actual Disney Burbank studio lot for three days in early November. One can imagine what Hanks thought, in the guise of Disney, as he walked the sacred grounds of a place the man brought to life over 70 years before. Similar emotions he might have experienced on the company’s next location—Disneyland in Anaheim, another of the entrepreneur’s great achievements.
                       
Director of Photography John Schwartzman, who reunites with director Hancock for the first time in over a dozen years (he guided the camerawork and lighting on his 2002 directorial debut, “The Rookie”) chose to shoot “Saving Mr. Banks,” in this digitally-saturated age, on film, just like “Mary Poppins” was done 50 years ago.
           
“There’s an elegance to film that certainly digital will achieve, but hasn’t quite gotten yet,” the veteran cinematographer says.  “We had to work very quickly early on in our schedule because we had our young girl, Annie, who could only work six hours a day because she was a minor. I needed to be able to trust my instincts, which were honed in the world of shooting film as opposed to digital. I’m so happy we shot on film. It just felt right.”
           
Recognizing the distinction between the film’s two eras (1906 Australia, 1961 Hollywood), Schwartzman brought a unique identity to each period through his camera work and lighting, saying, “There’s not a lot of color in the 1906 Australia scenes.  And that was because of where they lived.  It was kind of a dust bowl part of Australia, very rural.  So all the color was bleached out of the movie.”
           
“Then, there’s Hollywood, which Kelly [Marcel] wrote as smelling of sweat and chlorine and sunshine everywhere,” he explains further. “So, one of the things that we’ve done with all the sets is to drive a strong sense of sunlight through the windows. Ms. Travers, who’s from London, would be used to a gray and overcast environment. When we shot her Shawfield Street flat, we made sure not to have any hard light, which is what one would think of if they’ve been to Great Britain.”
           
Veteran costume designer Daniel Orlandi had the challenge of dressing actor Tom Hanks in clothes that would emulate what Walt Disney actually wore during the era. For the legendary Walt Disney, Orlandi says, “For his public persona, he almost always was in a gray suit—a gray sharkskin suit in the ’60s. It was a tweedier suit in the ’50s. He very rarely deviated from that.  All of the historians said that Disney wore a suit every day to work. And, that’s what we gave Tom.”
           
In dressing Disney’s creative team, Orlandi was offered great insights from Richard Sherman, the surviving brother of the composing team for the “Mary Poppins” film. “Richard Sherman was a great help,” affirms Orlandi. “He had a lot of insight into Walt and what the Sherman brothers and Don DaGradi wore to work every day. In the film, we have Jason Schwartzman as Richard Sherman wearing a bright red vest that Pamela points out specifically because the legend is that she did not want the color red in the movie ‘Mary Poppins’.”
 
The sequence portraying Travers’ demand to eliminate the color red took place in the last stage set in which Hancock filmed—the rehearsal studio where the Shermans and DaGradi staged their storyboard displays and musical numbers to win the author over and get her to sign a contract with their boss.
 
As the 150 or so cast-and-crew members gathered around as production wound down in the rehearsal studio set, all still infected from the joyous days of playback of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” Richard Sherman, unbeknownst to most everyone gathered, took a seat on the piano bench, and began playing the song, asking everyone there to join in a sing-a-long. Instantaneously, dozens grabbed their cell phones and began recording the spontaneous music video to hold on to their own unique connection to “Mary Poppins.”
 
Disney’s “Saving Mr. Banks” releases on December 13, 2013, limited, December 20, 2013, wide.


I cannot wait to see this movie, just reading this content I'm really looking forward to it. A big thanks to Walt Disney Pictures for this insight into the how and why is came about. Have a Magical Weekend. 


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