How Michael Apted Set Out to Recapture the Magic of 'Narnia'

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The Buckinghamshire-born director created the oh-so-British television documentary series 7 Up, and his many film credits include the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough. But he also served as president of the Directors Guild of America from 2003-2009 and helmed a pair of Married in America docs for U.S. television.

In taking on Fox's The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader-- after Walden Media shifted the 3D threequel to Fox from Disney -- Apted succeeds Andrew Adamson, a onetime visual-effects supervisor and Shrek co-director who directed the first two Narnia films. Opening Friday, Dawn Treader will be closely watched due to the switch in studios and a downtick in box office for the first Narnia sequel.

Franchise-launcher The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe bowed in December 2005 with $65.6 million, part of a $291.7 million domestic run and $745 million global haul. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian unspooled in May 2008 with $55 million, collecting a disappointing $141.6 million domestically and $419.7 million worldwide.

Cost overruns ballooned the negative cost on Caspian to $225 million. Production costs on Dawn Treader totaled $145 million, including Australian tax credits. The Hollywood Reporter's Carl DiOrio talked to Apted about challenges associated with the Narnia threequel.

The Hollywood Reporter: How did it feel to take on such an effects-driven movie?

Michael Apted: To have this sort of new challenge for me at my age, having been so long in the business, that's what attracted me to it. It was something new, something I hadn't done before and something I was going to have to learn about.

THR: Was cost-containment a problem with so much digital production?

Apted: Cost containment is a big issue. You spend an enormous amount of money on that part of the film, and I was on a very tight budget after Prince Caspian didn't perform as well as they wanted it to. So I was aware that everything was being carefully monitored, but we navigated it fine. I had very good people around me, and we got through it. The visual effects are spectacular, and we did it for a good price.

THR: What brought you to the project?

Apted: I was in the right place at the right time. I had just done Amazing Grace for Walden. So I was in good books at Walden and went through the audition process with [Walden owner] Mr. [Phil] Anschutz. But then it was 18 months before we really started going into serious preproduction. I joined in April 2007, and then Disney pulled out in December of '08 before Fox came in January of '09.

THR: Did changing studios up the pressure?

Apted: My assignment was to try to recapture the magic of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. That wasn't easy, but the book was so much lighter and funnier and just quicker than Caspian had been. So to bring some of the magic back was a fairly tall order, but it was embedded in the material. [Also] Caspian and Lion had a lot of location work, and it was decided that we should try to slightly reduce that, doing more in the studio. Looking back, I don't know how I ever thought I could have found locations to do some of the stuff. So we had to make a financial adjustment, but I think it was really was a fortuitous move.

THR: The return to the holiday season is good, right?

Apted: That seems to be one of the poor decisions made with Caspian. This is a family franchise, and Christmas is a great family time. The summer is such a long and ill-defined period. You find yourself chucked in with all the testosterone pictures.

THR: When was the decision made to go out in 3D?

Apted: It was made after we shot the film. Once Avatar came out and was burning up the box office, people took another look at it all. I had already shot the film and made my first cut before it was decided to go 3D. I am excited by the 3D. I think it adds -- no pun intended -- another dimension to the film.

THR: Do you expect Dawn Treader to over-perform internationally?

All of the big films over-perform in the rest of the world, which is a much bigger market than America. But for me, it's a universal subject. It's going to be played in 60-odd languages, and I think it's truly an international story.

THR: What's next for you?

Apted: I have to re-establish myself in Los Angeles, in Hollywood. I was away all of last year, so I don't know. I'm kind of anxious, nervous and curious to see how this film does and whether it has any impact on my future.

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