Mark Lamprell on writing 1998’s Babe: Pig in the City and his latest novel
Australian filmmaker Mark Lamprell (My Mother Frank) is gearing up for a busy year.
He's currently releasing his second novel, A Lovers' Guide to Rome, and is putting the finishing touches on his latest film, A Few Less Men, the sequel to Stephan Elliott's 2011 comedy A Few Best Men.
Lamprell sat down to write A Lovers' Guide to Rome while waiting for his last feature, 2013's movie-musical Goddess, to be released.
"I was in Bristol visiting my son", Lamprell said, "and I had time on my hands and I thought I should write another screenplay".
Instead, Lamprell sat down and wrote a novel, weaving together three stories of lovers young and old holidaying in Rome.
"Because I'd decided to write something based on my own personal experience, it was a little bit like a door in the top of my head opened, and something just poured in from the universe and poured out onto the page. It's the closest experience I've ever had to channeling anything."
According to Lamprell, the experience was very different to screenplay-writing, during which he "usually bleeds from the forehead to get something on the page".
The sense of independence was different, too.
"There's much more respect for the originator of the idea in novels than there is in movies. By necessity really. Producers can't afford to hover round a writer, saying: how are you feeling about this? Are these notes okay?"
"Because you are spending millions of dollars on a venture, they have to protect that overall vision, and at times they will just steamroll right over the top of you to get it done."
Unless, of course, you're protected by a filmmaker with clout and making a sequel to a gigantic hit, as was the case when Lamprell wrote 1998's Babe: Pig in the City with Judy Morris and George Miller.
"It was me and Judy Morris and George, sitting at a desk every day, and we'd take turns to type. We'd sit there going, 'hmm, maybe's it's not a gorilla, maybe it should be a chimpanzee – you know, that kind of stuff."
"Sometimes we would pause for a morning to argue over a full stop or a colon. George and I are perfectly capable of batting that sort of issue back and forth for hours. It was the three of us bashing the thing out together over quite a long period of time, and very very slowly."
"George's process is always to begin at the beginning. So every day we'd start at page one. We may have written up to page 42, but we'd read through and George wouldn't hesitate to stop on page three if he felt that there was something in the rhythm of the storytelling that didn't work."
Though Lamprell recalls that "the three of us had a lot of fun doing it", his door was not exactly being beaten down after the film proved a critical and commercial dissapointment.
"My phone just went dead afterwards (laughs). But since then, there's a whole generation, particularly in the States when I'm dealing with studio executives, who have gone to film school at Harvard or Yale where clearly Babe 2 has been on the syllabus, and they almost treat me reverentially (laughs).
The critical re-evaluation of the film was particularly evident last year, with several thinkpieces published in the wake of Fury Road singling out Babe: Pig in the City for its idiosyncratic vision.
Laughs Lamprell: "Like a phoenix, it's risen from the ashes".