SPOILERS for I Kill Giants ahead
Director Anders Walter discusses the process of helming I Kill Giants, based on the Eisner Award-nominated graphic novel created by writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura. Image Comics first published I Kill Giants in 2008 as a limited series, and the issues were then combined into a graphic novel that released in 2009. The story of both the novel and the movie follows a young girl named Barbara Thorsen (Madison Wolfe) who is so focused on her mission of killing giants that she pushes others away.
Barbara's sister Karen (Imogen Poots) and school psychologist Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) try to get through to the young girl. However, it's not until Barbara becomes friends with new girl Sophia (Sydney Wade) that she begins to open up. I Kill Giants was adapted to the big screen by Walters and Kelly, the latter of whom penned the script based on his graphic novel. Mixing a fantastical tale of giants in small towns and the young girl determined to kill them, I Kill Giants also features an exceptionally grounded storyline. Now, the film's director talks about bringing Barbara's world to life.
Related: I Kill Giants Movie Trailer
In an interview with Screen Rant to promote the theatrical and VOD release of I Kill Giants, director Anders Walter discusses working with screenwriter Joe Kelly, his own relationship with the graphic novel, and the challenges of bringing this story in particular to life on the big screen.
Screen Rant: First off, how did you get involved with this project?
Anders Walter: It was sent to me by my U.S. agents after I won an Oscar for a short film, Helium. I think the producers on I Kill Giants got to see Helium and saw some similarities in the tone and themes in Helium that they were hoping to achieve in I Kill Giants. So they got me to read the script and I totally fell in love with the screenplay and then for four or five months I was fighting my ass off to convince Chris Columbus and his producers at 1492 Pictures that I was the guy to trust with the big budget even though I was a first-timer when it came to making a feature film. But they were really sweet and they were very supportive. So over a couple of months I got to talk to them and we met a couple of times. Eventually I did this, like a sizzle reel, a trailer, like a little short film that was to show my intentions for the film that I want to do and that turned out rather successful. And I think from that point on, they decided to go with me as the director.
SR: That’s awesome, are we going to get to see that sizzle reel when I Kill Giants comes out on home release?
AW: I actually don’t know because that sizzle reel basically consists of footage from other films, so I’m not sure. Because of rights, you can’t just put that on a DVD. I can send it to you if you would like.
SR: I would love that! So, were you aware of graphic novel beforehand or did you read it while you were in the process of pitching yourself for the film?
AW: It was really strange because I got the screenplay and I just loved the title so much. I was like, this screenplay better be good. I had been reading a lot of screenplays at the time and I was kind of getting a little bit bored and then this one came around. I just loved the title so much that I was, y’know, fingers crossed that the story was just as good as the title. And it certainly was. Then I looked it up on the internet, and that’s when I realized, this was based on a graphic novel. So I ran down to my local comic book [shop] around the corner, got a copy, went back and read the graphic novel as well. So the whole thing happened within four or five hours - me reading the screenplay, then learning there was a graphic novel, getting a copy of the graphic novel, reading that and then calling my agents and going totally nuts saying, “This is the film I’m going to do.”
SR: Yeah, I read the graphic novel in one sitting as well, so I totally understand.
AW: It’s quite special. Then funny thing is, my background is in illustration. I had a long career doing children’s books and graphic novels here in Denmark. So it was rather bizarre. Of course it made sense that I would then adapt a graphic novel, but it was just really strange because I do follow the comic book scenes but I had never heard about I Kill Giants. So it was a positive surprise to learn that it was based on a graphic novel.
Also I think what really helped in translating the graphic novel into live-action was the fact that the writer of the graphic novel became the screenwriter on the film, which is a very unusual thing in Hollywood. Normally you would just lose anyone who was part of the source material to be totally free to do your own kind of thing with whatever source material you want to adapt. But for Joe Kelly, it was such a precious little thing for him so he insisted - I think that was part of his contract almost that he would write the screenplay and if not, the film wouldn’t happen. And I think it turned out to be a huge advantage for the production that he was so involved and we really got to carry over, I hope and feel, the tone of Barbara and the tone of the graphic novel. Quite an interesting process.
SR: Yeah I wanted to ask about Joe Kelly, what was it like working with him? Was he involved in bringing the giants to life, did he have any input on the visuals that you brought to life?
AW: No, not really. We’re both gentlemen, Joe and I, so we would always inform each other and we’re very respectful to each of our positions and I would never just take the screenplay and do my own thing. But I always talked to him and really try to make him understand why I wanted to do certain things. It was just a really, really nice relationship - a creative one. For 90 percent of the time, we were so much on the same page that it was so easy. Not so much when I designed the visuals of the film, but then again when I came into the editing room I would send the first cut and the second cut to Joe and really listen to him and try and understand his notes. So he was a big help throughout the whole process.
SR: Awesome. Going back to your experience reading the graphic novel, was there a particular image in the novel that you were like, “I have to figure out how to put this on screen” or were there any that were a challenge to bring to life?
AW: For me it wasn’t so much about the imagery, because for me it was so much an emotional adventure and it does become - y’know the emotional impact is very different from what I got reading any graphic novel. I can’t remember when I cried from reading a graphic novel. So I was more nervous about translating that, and keeping that in tact in the film. The visual style of the film always felt very natural to me. It didn’t take so much - of course you have many conversations about it with your [director of photography] and producers, but rather fast we decided on shooting this in a very natural style and we shot with a lot of natural light and just went for a very authentic, realistic kind of look.
When you do that, it becomes very easy to concentrate on your actors and concentrate on creating a certain tension, which I found was the most important thing in the story because the art of the screenplay. I mean, Kelly did such a smart job with the screenplay in the fact that people are guessing for such a long time - that’s a difficult exercise and that was something I wanted to protect and maybe even emphasize even more than it is in the graphic novel. For instance, I took out the fairies and other things that were, to me, part of an obviously imaginary world. I took that out on purpose because I didn’t want to have people thinking from the very start of the movie that, “Oh ok, this is a girl who talks to imaginary creatures and therefore everything else around her, including the giants, is going to be imaginary.” So I think by taking those fairies and these creatures out, I hope and do think, you have an audience guessing for a little bit longer about whether she’s sane or just totally nutcase.
AW: Which is difficult for anyone who knows the graphic novel, because then you know the premise of the story so you never - and that’s the difficult thing about making a movie like this because it only happens to you one time that you read this story and you don’t know how it’s going to end. Then you can never ever go back and experience the film with those eyes. You’re never quite sure about when you’re giving too much away or when you’re holding back too much because you don’t know what people are thinking. I’m talking about people who [don’t] have a relationship to the graphic novel. When is it that people realize that this is something totally else than her finding giants? And of course for you it’s a different experience. You’re probably looking for more of how did this movie translate in terms of what I liked about the graphic novel.
SR: Yeah, it’s definitely one I kind of wish I had waited to read the book until after I’d seen the movie, but it was still a fantastic experience, I think. So Chris Columbus is a producer on this film and he of course has worked with a number of big movies in the past, particularly Harry Potter. Did he give you any advice before you tackled I Kill Giants?
AW: Not advice in terms of mentor to student advice, but we would talk about casting. For obvious reasons he has a pretty good track record for finding some kids. And again he would talk to me when we were putting the film together in the editing room. He would speak up and say his opinion. But I think his advice - whenever there was a really difficult decision to be made… I will give you an example. So we had basically decided on three actresses that could potentially play Barbara. So I talked to Chris on the phone and I’m a bit nervous about what he thinks. I know who I want, but I’m a bit anxious about if his opinion is going to be the opinion that everybody’s going to go with because I’m a first-time feature director. But Chris is sweet in that way, so he says to me, “I have my favorite, but I’m not going to say it to anyone and I’m not going to say it to you. I want you to make a decision, and I want you to decide who you want in your film because you’re the one who’s going to do the film.”
So I think because he’s a producer who’s also a director, and I think there’s nothing worse - I know he experienced that in the early stages of his career, that you would have producers running the show and making decisions on your behalf, important creative decisions. So he was really respectful when it came to these big creative decisions about what girl do you want to play the part and how do you want to end the film and yes do you want to have her talk and act like in the graphic novel because I didn’t want to compromise on the tone and the language she’s using. And you could imagine that he would just say [eff] off yourself, obviously in a polite way, because he knows best, but he never did. And that was just one of the best experiences of doing this film. Coming from Denmark and thinking Hollywood is going to eat you up like a little whatever, but it just never happened. People really trusted me on this one, which was a rather bizarre experience. Talking to my other Danish colleagues who have done American productions and who had very different stories to tell.
- I Kill Giants (2018) release date: Mar 23, 2018