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This story first appeared in a special awards season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Producer Ed Guiney’s road to Room started in high school. His friendship with director Lenny Abrahamson was formed when they were teenagers in Dublin and has lasted past their days at the city’s Trinity College, where they set up a filmmaking society. Soon after university, they made their first film, a short called 3 Joes, and since have collaborated on such features as What Richard Did and Frank — which starred Michael Fassbender — before setting out to make Room, adapted for the screen by Emma Donoghue from her own best-selling book about a young woman (Brie Larson) and her son (Jacob Tremblay) who were held captive for more than five years. Guiney, 49, spoke to THR about making the intense drama, how his director friend has changed over the years and adapting to life in the awards bubble.
Was there ever a concern about Donoghue adapting her own book?
We made the film as a joint venture with Emma. She was a partner in the film; we were in business together. Very early on we were wary because it’s true — a lot of times people say authors aren’t the best adapters of their work. But Emma was very matter-of-fact about it. She said: “I’d like a shot. I’d like you guys to take a look at the script I wrote and tell me whether you think there’s something in it.” She is a really good screenwriter, as it turns out. She was very collaborative and was able to make that switch in her mind — she’s the author of the book, and [Lenny] would be the author of the film, if you like. In a weird way, we often found Lenny asking her to put stuff back into the screenplay that was in the book, whereas she’d be throwing stuff out.
How did Abrahamson’s strengths work for this film?
Lenny’s great strength as a filmmaker is that he removes the filter between the audience and the characters onscreen, so you feel that you are having a direct experience with other human beings.
How did the actual Room set help Abrahamson and the actors?
It was very carefully designed so that it was as unintrusive as possible. The walls don’t float; they come out in small segments. The camera lens was always further out than the periphery of the walls of the set. We also built the set about three weeks before we started shooting, and Lenny, Brie and Jake were able to spend time on the set before it was populated by crew and equipment and all that stuff. Brie and Jake made a lot of the hand props that are in the movie, like the egg snake and the little boat that floats on top of the loo and the drawings on the walls. So there was a process of getting comfortable in that environment. There was a kind of a gossamer-thin membrane between you and the actors.
How would you say Abrahamson has changed as a filmmaker in the years you’ve known him?
He’s obviously grown in confidence. After we made 3 Joes and before we made Adam & Paul, there was a period of about 10 years where he was making commercials. That was really good for him because it meant he became used to engaging on a set with all the stuff that goes on with commercials — people from the agencies and the product groups and the kind of diplomacy that’s required for the director working in that environment. Lenny’s very good at including people in his process, while at the same time he is confident about being the rock at the center of the endeavor. I think that means he gets great loyalty and support from the people around him, both cast and crew. Increasingly, he has a sense of what his capabilities are and a growing ambition to do more and more excellent work.
Have you learned anything by going through this awards process?
I found the process to be exhilarating but also quite distracting. What I found stressful over Christmas was reading the blogs — were we going to get this nomination or that nomination? There’s a hell of a lot of it out there. But I suppose if it happened again, I’d try to be much more sanguine about all that stuff.
• Studio A24
• Release date Oct. 16
• Worldwide box office $11.2 million
• Director Lenny Abrahamson
• Cast Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen
• Top awards and noms Globe and SAG wins for Larson; Oscar noms for Abrahamson, Larson and Donoghue
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