Our two-part interview [Click here for Part One] with bestselling author Brian Selznick on his new novel/comic hybrid Wonderstruck concludes today, with Selznick talking about some of his favorite new comics – and what it was like working with director Martin Scorsese on Hugo, the forthcoming adaptation of his novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret.
Newsarama: Brian, I want to talk about comic books and graphic novels for a bit here – I saw you did a blurb for Aaron Renier’s The Unsinkable Walker Bean, and I’m curious what all you’ve read.Brian Selznick: You know, I’ve read and enjoyed all kinds of stuff, from Craig Thompson’s Blankets to Walker Bean and many others. What I really love to do is just go to a bookstore and find things I’ve never seen before or heard of before, and just see how they tell stories, how they use pictures. The thrill is really in seeing the different approach as to how people use the page, how they use the picture to tell the story. That’s what’s really exciting.
Nrama: Any specific works you’ve recently enjoyed?
Selznick: I’m enjoying the reprint of Lynd Ward’s woodcut graphic novels from the Modern American Library, the black-and-white stuff. There’s a graphic novel that was recently reissued by Jon Muth, who illustrates children’s books now but started off in graphic novels, and it’s based on the old Fritz Lang film M, and the way he retells this story, the way he uses pictures to tell this narrative, is really chilling and scary.
Nrama: Would you ever consider doing a full-on sequential graphic novel, as opposed to the hybrid format you’ve used for Hugo and Wonderstruck?
Selznick: It’s funny, because my books are really long and have a lot of pictures, but every time I look at a graphic novel, I go, “I could never do all those drawings!” The number of drawings in a graphic novel is substantially larger than the number of illustrations in my books. And they honestly daunt me. I like this format that I’ve stumbled into, and I like exploring what I can do with it, and for another book or two at least, there’s more that I can discover with it.
There might come a point where I decide I need to move on, and do something closer to comics or traditional graphic novels or something else entirely. What’s most compelling to me is telling a story in a book. But I do always think that I just couldn’t do all those drawings.
I love things like Jeff Smith’s Bone – when you can fall into another world and completely believe in that world and the characters, even when they look like nothing you’ve ever seen before. It’s a compelling place to escape to. But oh my God, all those drawings! Maybe one day, though, I’ll find myself doing something on that scale.Nrama: We’re almost out of time, but I couldn’t let you get away without asking what it was like working with Martin Scorsese…
Selznick: It was pretty incredible. I’ve long been a fan of his films, but I’m actually pretty squeamish, and I’d shied away from a number of his movies because of the violence. And so I had seen Raging Bull, which is one of my favorite movies and one of the best movies ever made, but I’d never seen Taxi Driver, I’d never seen Goodfellas…there were so many movies that I’d never seen.
And so when Scorsese’s people called and said he wanted to direct the movie, I knew immediately – his was a name I would never have imagined would come up because of that reputation for violent movies, but it just made sense, because he’s a film scholar, he knows everything about every movie that was ever made, and he probably got all the little references to French films I put into Hugo. And I went, “Oh my God, he’s the perfect person to make this movie! Nobody else could make this movie! It has to be him!”
My boyfriend and I had a little Scorsese film festival in our house with Netflix. I think we’ve seen just about every one of his movies. And I remember watching Taxi Driver for the first time, and yeah, it’s incredibly violent, but there’s a constant love affair with the cinema, with the act of making a movie, as you’re watching the movie, and that’s so exciting to see.
It’s violent and over-the-top in so many ways, but it’s also about what the camera can do and what the cinema can do. You can tell he’s thinking about where the camera can go, or how he can shoot this scene.
And yeah, there were a few times when I had to cover my eyes, or where I cringed a little bit, and there’s still some scenes in Goodfellas I just can’t watch – that scene in the trunk is just too much for me.
But seeing what he did in the tracking shot of Goodfellas where we follow Ray Liotta down into the Copacabana and all the way to the table and it goes on and on, and what it does is it puts you in the place of that character, this person who receives this special treatment, and it transforms the way you see this character and his story.
Cut to: I’m on the set of this movie based on my book that’s being directed by Martin Scorsese, and I find myself in the middle of a Scorsese tracking shot, and it’s filmed by the same guy, Larry McConkey, who did that tracking shot for Goodfellas! I got to see how it was all put together, and it was beyond anything I could have imagined.
And talking to Scorsese about how he wanted to use 3D, because for him it’s just the next logical step in the evolution of cinema, and he was just so excited and interested in what 3D can do. So many people still think of it as a gimmick, but when sound was introduced they thought of it as a gimmick, and when color was introduced they thought of it as a gimmick.
So here’s Scorsese and all these other very serious directors like Spielberg and Peter Jackson trying to figure out what you can do with 3D as an artist, what it can do that 2D can’t, and what are the possibilities for storytelling. So getting to see Scorsese do that was really incredible.Nrama: Did you help with storyboarding the movie any?
Selznick: No, I didn’t have any connection beyond the creation of the movie – I got to make a few comments on the script, but John Logan did a great job, so mostly what I got to be was a fan.
And they all had copies of my book on the set – technicians would ask me if I could sign their copies. Scorsese had a copy of my book next to him why he was filming, and referenced it constantly. I was told by people on the set that they’d never seen a director be more faithful to the source material, and apparently he often used my drawings as storyboards.
Why I can’t say I had any direct affect on what Scorsese and his crew were doing in making the film, it was clear to me that they were obviously very engaged with the book.
Nrama: Anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t discussed yet?
Selznick: I just want to say I worked hard with the designers and Helen Scorsese, Marty’s wife, on The Hugo Movie Companion. We made this really nice book about the making of the movie – I interviewed about 40 people involved, from Scorsese to the dog trainer, and asked them about what their job was. My favorite part was asking Martin Scorsese what a director does, because I wanted to have everyone describe their job to kids.
It’s a book for kids, but hopefully like Hugo, it’ll have a wider audience for anyone who’s interested in what Scorsese does or in film. It’s a book about collaboration and how everyone works together to make this film.