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Philippa Boyens Interview: Mortal Engines

Philippa Boyens is an Academy Award winning screenplay writer and producer.  She co-wrote the scripts for The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong, The Lovely Bones, and The Hobbit. Her latest project is the film adaptation of Mortal Engines. In the story, humanity survives on mobile cities after a cataclysmic event and fight for the world’s remaining resources. Mortal Engines is based on the book series of the same name and stars Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, and Hugo Weaving.

Screen Rant: How you doing?

Philippa Boyens: Good.

Screen Rant: So, I want to ask you about a film like this. When you take on and produce a film like Mortal Engines from books series, knowing that there's four, are you committed for the long term? Or are you just checking it out?

Philippa Boyens: You know what? This film had to work standalone. Like we knew that from the beginning. Because it's completely different. It's unproven. It's going to have to find its audience. If it does find its audience, and I think it will, and people fall into the world, and fall in love with those characters, well then the good news is there's another three books in the series and they just keep getting better.

Screen Rant: Now, your production team brought Christian [Rivers] up the ranks, moved them into and he kind of gets overshadowed by Peter Jackson's name. Everyone says this is the Peter Jackson film. But how was it working with him? He's had some experience with film, but this is a big project for him. What puts your faith in him?

Philippa Boyens: The thing with Christian is that he has, we've worked with him for 25 years. I've known him and admired-- especially as a visual storyteller. He did a masterful job of bringing King Kong to life. He won an Oscar for it along with, of course, played by Andy Circus. But what was really important was that you could get a director who wasn't going to be daunted or feel threatened or overshadowed by Peter Jackson. And that's why Christian was perfect for this. Because he's his own person. He has a different style. He shoots in a different way.  But he's very similar to Pete in that it's all about the work.

Screen Rant: Is there ever any apprehension though? Putting this big of a budget film in someone new like that?

Philippa Boyens: I wasn't worried about it personally, because we were going to be there. There was a commitment we made to the studio that we were going to be there. But I also had seen a short film that Christian had directed. It's a really cool little one called Feeder. It's weird. It's brilliant. What it told me is that he can tell a very complicated piece of storytelling incredibly visually.  And I got excited, because it felt original. And I knew that this was an original. And I also, what I like about him as any great artist or anybody who steps up and takes on the mantle, certainly being a film director, you've got to have passion for what you're doing. You really do. Or you can't be doing it for a paycheck or anything else.

Screen Rant: Speaking of passion, the original author of the series has to be pretty passionate about his work. And you worked on the screenplay as well, correct?

Philippa Boyens: Yes, yes.

Screen Rant: Was there any relationship or tension between what you did with the screenplay and where he was with the book?

Philippa Boyens: Philip Reeve, who's the author of these books, he could not have been more collaborative. A nicer guy to work with. He came from illustration, so he's incredibly visual. He cared a lot about how the world was going to look. But he knew that we were going to have to change things in order to make it into a movie. So, he knew that, and he trusted us, which was great.

Screen Rant: Your team sticks together. You guys have worked together for quite some time now. Is there any truth to the rumor that you might be helping Amazon out with The Lord of the Rings that they're doing over there?

Philippa Boyens: You know what, it's interesting. I'm kind of leaving that to Pete. I know that they're-- that they have been talking with him. But for myself as a writer, I was really thrilled when I saw who they brought on to do the adaptation. I think it needs a fresh take. It needs that reinvigorating. That the energy of these young guys that's going to bring to it. And I certainly, with the best will in the world, couldn't have done it.

More: Christian Rivers Interview for Mortal Engines

Key Release Dates
  • Mortal Engines (2018) release date: Dec 14, 2018
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