Interview: Gabor Csupo and Katherine Paterson from “Bridge to Terabithia”
Interview: Gabor Csupo and Katherine Paterson from “Bridge to Terabithia”

Film Critic Joel Massie had the rare opportunity to participate in a round table discussion with the director, author, and stars of the upcoming children’s fantasy film “Bridge to Terabithia,” based on the Newberry Medal Award winning novel. The first pairing was director Gabor Csupo and author Katherine Paterson.

Joel Massie: What was the biggest challenge you faced in making the transition from animation to live action?

Gabor Csupo: There are definite advantages and disadvantages in both art forms, but I liked live action because it is immediate result oriented and you can see what you’re going to get right there, whereas in animation you have to design and draw the characters and then act it out, and you might not see the final product for months. With live action you just set it up and shoot it and see the dailies the next day, so it is a lot more satisfactory to a creative mind in that respect. But I’m not saying that I’m not going to do any more animation, I love animation – this was just a different way of doing things and there’s a lot more preproduction to it, but the actual shooting was a lot faster.

JM: What drew you to this project?

GC: I was looking for a film to do in the last couple of years and my agents told the studio that I wanted to do a live action film, so I was reading a lot of scripts, went through about 20 of them, and didn’t really respond to any of them, didn’t feel they were great, until Cary Granat sent me this book from Walden Media called Bridge To Terabithia and said to read it and tell me what you think. I read the book and it moved me so much that I called him back the next morning and when I said how great it was he didn’t believe me – he thought I was going to turn it down. He almost dropped the phone he was so excited that he had found something for me.

JM: There were a lot of bullies throughout the film. Are bullies that predominant in children’s lives?

Katherine Paterson: They were very predominant in my life as a child. I think schools these days are much…well I live in Vermont, and we just had a little boy commit suicide last year because he’d been bullied in school, so apparently even though the schools think they’re on top of it kids can still be very cruel.

JM: Another thing that surprised me is when the teacher called the young man without speaking to his parents and took him to that museum.

KP: It would never happen now. That teacher would be hauled off to jail nowadays.

JM: I do think there’s some social responsibility in a film and kids are so impressionable, and I think that one thing the film did was to remind kids that you can have fun with your imagination.

KP: One thing that I was worried about, because I knew there would be special effects, is that in the book she hands him a stick and they have it out with imaginary creatures – and you can’t do that on screen. I was worried that the special effects would take over, but I think Gabor and everybody responsible was very aware that, unlike Narnia, in which they walk through a wardrobe and they come into another land, this is a land that is created out of the children’s imagination. I think that is clearly portrayed in the film.

GC: I told Cary in the very beginning, that if you want this to be a Harry Potter film, then you are talking to the wrong guy. Although I have an animation background and I’m sure instinctively he called me up because he thought I’m going to be able to really create a magical, crazy world and fantasy land in Terabithia, what he didn’t know is that where I really responded was to the story itself. Going back to your concern, what actually happened in the making of the movie is that the scene was a lot longer, she was on a phone in a car asking specifically to go ask your parents and she trusted him to get permission, but it went on a little too long and unfortunately it wound up on the cutting floor because it was a longer scene exactly addressing your concern. But when we had the test screenings the audiences wanted it to move just a little faster and we had to sacrifice it.

KP: Going back to the question of bullying, very often when talking to the school children, I’d relate that the character of Janice Avery really grew out of a female bully from my childhood and when I decided to put her in the book, I said I’m going to get my revenge, so I create this character. But I’m grown up now and I know that bullies aren’t born, so I had to understand why Janice Avery was a bully, and once I understood that, at first I kind of felt sorry for her and then I began to sort of like her, so it ruined a perfectly good revenge.

JM: I feel that death in this age and time is surreal to people, because that’s what we use for our entertainment, especially in this industry, so I’m wondering how children are responding to the death of this main character?

KP: Bridge To Terabithia was taught at the fourth grade level, at the sixth grade level, and then at the eighth grade level to see how different the responses would be. At the fourth grade level, the death was hardly ever mentioned and they talked about the funny things that happened in the book. At the sixth grade level they mentioned the death, but they were more fixated on the friendship between the boy and girl, and at the eighth grade level, all they wanted to do was talk about the death. So I think that it shows that at different ages and at different times in your life, you come at the story differently.

GC: I think that’s the beautiful timing of this character’s life, that at that age of ten, eleven, or twelve is when you really start to understand that we don’t live forever. Little kids think that that happened to someone else and it will never happen to me, but the older you get the more you get an understanding of death, and I think that is one of the beautiful messages of the book and the movie – to appreciate life and everything that you have around you.