Enormous thanks to The Happy Campers who have started filing their reports so here's the first, and please note all these pictures were taken at the second event at the dovegreyreader tent, not the Bowling Green, as you will be able to tell by the absence of the ... oh you'll figure it...over to The Happy Campers...
The Happy Campers had pitched their tent with expert speed and competence, thrown their motley possessions around inside and put on a brew before the heavens opened. It was exactly the same as last year, apart from the fact that then there was no brew, yours truly having forgotten the pan to boil the water…..No such lapses today - our 2012 Port EliotFest had been organised with lists, more lists, schedules and contingency arrangements. Nothing would be forgotten, lost, missed, regretted or double booked because I had a master plan, designed with military precision to make the most of every minute of this fantastic three day festival.
A glance at the first page of said plan reminded us that our first event was a trot round to the Bowling Green to hear Brian Selznick, author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret, talk about the process of crafting his children’s books. He combines beautifully drawn picture sequences with text, to tell wonderful, imaginative stories. They are hefty tomes too, not ones for reading last thing at night when arm muscles are a bit tired. I was eager to see the man behind such unique creations, and hear him explain how his book inspired Scorsese’s Oscar winning film, Hugo. When asked how he wished to be introduced to the Port Eliot audience, he said ‘Oh, tell them that I wrote a book and it was made into a film.’ Such self - deprecation is disarming.
Wearing intense orange skinny jeans, Brian Selznick is tall and slim, with dark curly hair. He bounces on to the stage and immediately radiates an energy, humour and enthusiasm which are infectious. ‘I am going to stand so you can see my pants’, he quips (nb he is American, so for pants read trousers, not Y fronts). The pants are startling against the bright green of the tent backdrop. In no time at all he is sharing the details of how he came to write children’s books; certain that if he cared about the character and the things the character was interested in, then the reader would care too. Maurice Sendak, who wrote Where the Wild Things Are, advised him to ‘make the book you want to make’, and the word ‘make’ really does capture the essence of Selznick’s books as visual works of art that have been truly crafted. He goes on to talk about the connection between film and book; how he wanted to make the book feel like a movie, to use the ‘page turn’ of a picture book to mimic the things a film can do - those cinematic features. When the page in a picture book is turned, everything changes and transforms, so there must be a way, he thought, of making the experience of reading a novel feel like watching a movie.
One of the things Brian Selznick does is to take out all words which are purely descriptive and replace them with picture sequences, so the reader moves through time as the picture sequence is read. Another device is how the ‘close up’ of a picture mimics the zooming in of the movie camera. When Scorsese filmed the ‘picture sequences’, in the book, he deliberately simulated the ‘page turns’ using cuts. So film technology enhanced the story, and the story helped to shape the film. Apparently Scorsese used every drawing in The Invention of Hugo Cabret in the film storyboards. The film was like a realisation of the book’s images, it gave them scale and showed how things might relate to each other. ‘Everything became real in front of your eyes’ said Selznick. In the end the script and his own story merged so that he couldn’t remember what was script and what was book text, but the illustrations kept their purity.
The author now sees the film Hugo as a vision of his book, the particular vision of the director. We are shown stills from the film Hugo, which help us to understand this vision and Selznick then goes on to explain how he draws… how a drawing starts as a list of words which say how the drawing will look. He then makes thumbnail sketches, which turn into bigger drawings. Information from research and photographs is then used to finalise the image, which is actually about a quarter of the size of the drawing which appears in the book.
It is surprising how thrilled Brian Selznick was for his book to be adapted by Hollywood. He is a scion of a great film director, and you would think he would take the Hollywood thing in his stride, but he was as over awed, he says, as anyone else when Scorsese came calling. We all laugh when he says with pride ‘my baby married royalty!’
I didn’t think beforehand that hearing Brian Selznick talk would be my 2012 Festival highlight. Sometimes you get a real sense of being in the presence of a truly original talent. I couldn’t wait for Saturday morning when he was going to be in the dovegreyreader tent…..I rushed off to buy a copy of his latest book, Wonderstruck, and I recommend that you do, too.
PS from dovegreyreader... Thank you Happy Campers. Post to follow about the knitsuke we presented to Brian before he left...very funny moment.