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NYFF: Ben Stiller Discusses Going Analog To Digital In ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ Plus Watch Full Press Conference

NYFF: Ben Stiller Discusses Going Analog To Digital In 'The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty' Plus Watch Full Press Conference

“I remember my first conversation [with writer Steve Conrad] where he said, ‘Every American male yearns
to be on the cover of a Wheaties box,’ ” says John Goldwyn, the producer of “The
Secret Life Of Walter Mitty
.” Speaking with the New York Film Festival crowd,
he helped present the film’s world premiere over the weekend (our review), though it was a long time coming.
The fantasy film, based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, runs in the
family: it was Goldwyn’s grandfather Samuel Goldwyn who produced the original 1947 Danny Kaye adaptation, and had worked to bring a newer incarnation to the
big screen.

After a raft of comedians (Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Sacha Baron Cohen, Will Ferrell, Owen Wilson) came and went from the long developing project, Ben
came aboard, not only to star, but to direct the film as well. However,
he had to contend with a wildly different series of approaches abandoned by the
studio over the years. He told the audience that he was no stranger to long
incubation periods, claiming he came up with the idea of “Tropic Thunder” as an
extra on the set of 1987’s “Empire Of The Sun.” Speaking of the new ‘Mitty,’ Stiller says, “I think what happened was that they tried to remake the original
movie in some way, which didn’t really, story-wise, connect to the original
story.” He credits writer Conrad with re-envisioning the narrative, saying, “When
I read that script, it made me want to do it, because it felt so emotionally
connected and relevant. It got into the idea of who this guy was, and why he
was a daydreamer.”

Conrad took a unique perspective with his approach, using the original
two-and-a-half page story as an inspiration, not a blueprint. Of Thurber, he
says, “If he were able to say more, what would he say next? I started to write
with that mind, to continue rather than translate or adapt. Primarily that
meant finding out more about before Walter began daydreaming.”

For Stiller, it wasn’t about the fantasies at all, but about where Mitty is
coming from, and why he feels the need to disappear into another world. “One of
the great things about what Steve did was that he put it in this context of
what’s going on in this world today,” Stiller says, referring to Mitty’s profession as a Life Magazine photo editor who finds himself the victim of a
corporate turnover and an online transition that will render him obsolete. “Generationally,
I think guys our age we’re living in this world in the process of going from
analog and digital…I felt that was a really important part of telling the
story, the permanence of pictures, the actual tactile things, it’s all going

Stiller ran a crash course with his cast on getting not just the mood of the
film across, but also the general themes by watching “The Apartment,” “Being
,” and “Local Hero,” grounding the special effects sequences. Though many
of those sequences were accomplished with actual risks taken by a filmmaker starring
and directing in the film, while completing a number of elaborate stunts. “At
one point I had to do a shot in the water where there’s a POV of the boat
coming at me,” Stiller explains. “So the boat had to go away to shoot the shot.
And the boat went away, and I’m just in the water in the North Sea, with no one
around me and five foot swells. And I had that moment where I thought, this is
a movie, but it’s also real life. There really could be a shark there!”

Like Mitty, Stiller ultimately had to conquer his own fears during a wild
shoot, one that had him planning out shots on all-terrain environments. Sometimes
it involved working conditions that seemed less than ideal, in spite of the
glamour of show business. “That helicopter [production designer] Jeff [Mann]
found was a fifty year old helicopter that’s actually the original ‘Hawaii
’ helicopter that Danno rode,” Stiller beams. “And the helicopter pilot
kept saying, ‘Man, I wish this thing had more power!’ Which is not what you
wanna hear!”

The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” opens on Christmas Day. Watch the full New York Film Festival press conference for the film below.

Browse through all our coverage of the 2013 New York Film Festival by clicking here.

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