Catatan Produksi Film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
About the Production
Contagious: Adapting Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
A call from actress Natalie Portman started the ball rolling on bringing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to the big screen. “We’ve known each other for a number of years,” notes producer Allison Shearmur, “and she said, ‘You have to read this book, it’s called Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.'”
Shearmur wasn’t yet aware of the phenomenon Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel was to become. “I thought she was joking,” she laughs.
But the book soon picked up strong reviews and became a publishing sensation, finding a comfortable spot on the New York Times bestseller list where it would remain for several months. Finally, Shearmur picked up a copy. “Natalie was absolutely right about it,” Shearmur now admits. “Seth Grahame-Smith is a very clever man, and he knew the source material back to front. The book resonated with so many people because it doesn’t change Pride and Prejudice and it allows you to love it in a different way. It introduces this story to an entirely new generation.”
Producer Sean McKittrick was already aboard the production when Shearmur circled back around. “The book came to me by email, four or five months before publication,” he recalls. “And I saw the cover and I immediately got it. It’s a perfect extension of the Austen story, and the zombies become a physical element that amplifies the themes of the original text.”
He expands: “The zombies represent the biggest fears we have, and they’re an amplification of the hierarchical themes in Austen’s original story, in terms of the class system in Victorian England and the independent woman that Elizabeth Bennet is. While there is some dark humor to the story, we felt that, as with the book, the tone needed to be very serious and direct and respectful to both the original text and the zombie genre. We definitely did NOT want to make a campy version.”
Or as the author, Seth Grahame-Smith, described to The Daily Beast, “(In Austen’s book) you have this fiercely independent heroine, you have this dashing heroic gentleman, you have a militia camped out for seemingly no reason whatsoever nearby, and people are always walking here and there taking carriage rides here and there. It was just ripe for gore and senseless violence. From my perspective anyway.”
Shearmur ran into Burr Steers in Los Angeles one morning and the director of Igby Goes Down told her that she had a project he was interested in. “I was wracking my brain, knowing the kinds of movies Burr makes, and thinking, ‘Which script is Burr interested in?’ He cut me off and said, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
“He said, ‘I know exactly how to do it,'” Shearmur remembers. “And when a person with that level of talent says to you that they know how to do something that could be quite tonally difficult, I had to listen.”
Producer, Marc Butan took the film out of turnaround from Lions Gate and made the final decision to hire Steers over half a dozen others.
“Every pitch we heard on how to adapt the book into a script focused on horror, special effects and new ways to crate zombie mayhem,” Butan recalls. “Burr was the only person to recognize that the zombies in the period setting made the movie fun, fresh and original, but the film’s greatest strength was with its original source material – ‘Pride &Prejudice’. His faithfulness to Austen’s novel was the key.”
With Shearmur, Butan oversaw the development of the script, packaged it and took it to Cannes to put the movie together. He then sold the US rights to Cross Creek Pictures producer, Brian Oliver, who was previously a producer on the Academy Award nominated Black Swan. Oliver came on board because he was attracted to Steers’ vision of the book, which he had read many years before.
“I felt the book from page one of reading it, and Burr’s take on it had the right combination of action and romance while encompassing the themes of Jane Austen’s novel. He brought his wit and youthfulness to the project. It was his idea to play it straight and laugh with the characters and not at the characters,” Oliver notes.
Steers understands the perception that touching a classic could be considered sacrilege. “But we have all of the Pride and Prejudice beats in this movie,” he insists. “It’s just set in this alternate world where the zombie apocalypse is taking place, as opposed to the Napoleonic Wars.”
“The themes of wealth and marriage translate well and the zombies were a good replacement for the lower class and the war with the Zombies replace the Napoleonic wars well,” adds Oliver.
Independent of this project, Steers had done his own zombie research and coupled with his affection for the Austen source material and Grahame-Smith’s novel, he had a singular and informed vision of how to approach the movie. He had been working on a movie that took place in Haiti and had extensively studied such things as the Tonton Macoutes, a mythical Creole bogeyman who kidnapped children and later corrupt dictator Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier’s fearsome paramilitary force took the same name and some of the same tactics “… to freak out the natives during the Haitian genocide. I also looked at Baron Samedi/Saturday, the relation to European lore. So I was aware there could be a different take on it and as Seth proved, ‘Jane Austen’ was a perfect template.”
Shearmur recalls reading Steers’ first draft of the screenplay. “You could tell a director was writing,” she remembers. “It was very specific in terms of shots, and it’s tonally perfect. It’s scary, it’s romantic, it’s funny and he didn’t leave one of the subplots on the floor. He even managed to have Darcy go and make a proper woman of Lydia. All the while creating some super badass zombie killers while staying true to the original characters.”
Steers’ main instinct was the fundamental truth of cinema that is: Pride and Prejudice always works. “Look at the Bridget Jones franchise,” he says. “As much Pride and Prejudice as you can put into something, that’s always a good bet.”
Adding the zombie element on top was like icing the cake. “The idea is that this pandemic started in the early 1700s,” notes Steers. “I used the Black Plague as a model, and that was also how I thought of everybody moving out of London and getting this distance between themselves and the infected in the capital.”
He continues: “The 1700s also marked the age of industrialisation, and that is happening alongside this pandemic, so you have these giant steam engines created to destroy zombies. I don’t want to say ‘steam punk’, but there is an element of that to this.”
Kitsch was definitely NOT a welcome element. “There’s that horrible phrase, I didn’t want it to be that in any way,” Steers says. “We have all these different genres and we attempted to do all of them justice, as well as we possibly could and blend them together in a coherent world. And, weirdly, it is. It all fits together. You take the Napoleonic Wars out, and put the zombie apocalypse in, and everything else still plays.”