Dave Eggers Ventures Into The Land Of 'Wild Things' Author Dave Eggers, who co-wrote the screenplay for the new film Where the Wild Things Are, says he was particularly drawn to Maurice Sendak's vision of free-form childhood.
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Dave Eggers Ventures Into The Land Of 'Wild Things'

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Dave Eggers Ventures Into The Land Of 'Wild Things'

Dave Eggers Ventures Into The Land Of 'Wild Things'

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel. And I'm joined in the studio by my co-host, Melissa Block. Hello, Melissa.


Hey, Robert.

SIEGEL: And I see that you have brought with you a fur-covered book.

BLOCK: I have a fur-covered book in my hands, light brown fur with a pair of green eyes peering out of it. It's called "The Wild Things," written by Dave Eggers, a couple hundred pages long, and it is a novelization of the movie coming out this week, "Where the Wild Things Are," which is of course based on the 1963 children's book by Maurice Sendak.

SIEGEL: Which is a classic. I read it to my kids.

BLOCK: Uh-huh.

SIEGEL: And I interviewed Sendak a couple of times. But back in 1995, he told me that the wild things were his relatives in disguise, and he said he was terrified of them as a kid. He said they used to say I'm going to eat you up, and I thought they would if my mother didn't cook fast enough because they ate everything else in sight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: Well, in the movie, they are these gigantic puppets, remarkably true to the book, I think, and I guess in this case, Maurice Sendak's relative in the clip we're about to hear, the leader of the beasts, voiced by James Gandolfini.

(Soundbite of film, "Where the Wild Things Are")

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI (Actor): (As Carol) You are now the king, and you will be the truly great king.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) Hey, King, what's your first order of business?

Mr. MAX RECORDS (Actor): (As Max) Let the wild rumpus start.

BLOCK: That famous line, Robert, let the wild rumpus start.

SIEGEL: Wild rumpus start, yes.

BLOCK: Exactly. So the movie, "Where the Wild Things Are," is directed by Spike Jonze, whose don't movies about other weird worlds that you've probably seen. "Being John Malkovich" is his adaptation. For this one, Spike Jonze brought in the writer Dave Eggers to write the screenplay with him. Dave Eggers wrote the memoir "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius." And I talked to him this week. He told me he had never written a screenplay before this one, and he said that he and Spike Jonze and Maurice Sendak, he thinks, all share similar ideas about how to show the truth in childhood.

Mr. DAVE EGGERS (Screenwriter, "Where the Wild Things Are"): We were all wild boys, to some extent. And I think most kids, but boys especially, need to, you know, sometimes pick up a stick and hit other trees and grass and rocks. And that's where I spent most of my time growing up is in the woods and, you know, making forts and breaking stuff and playing in the mud and all these things. And I think what's weird is that you don't see quite so much of that depicted, especially in film these days. I think you see a much more indoor version of childhood.

BLOCK: Do you remember reading when you were a kid and thinking, that's me, I totally get Max?

Mr. EGGERS: Yeah. I mean, all of Maurice's books had a version of boyhood that I recognized. Some of the times, the kids didn't behave all that well. There was a book, "Pierre," where the kid is like a really…

BLOCK: Uh-huh. He did not care.

Mr. EGGERS: Yeah, he's a bad kid, but everyone has those days or weeks or months or years. And yeah, I remember reading "Where the Wild Things Are," and at least on the first, you know, bunch of readings, it was a little too scary for me, the book, because it wasn't a bunch of sort of lobotomized monsters that fell in line right away when Max was king, but each one of them, even though they were his subjects, seemed to have their own plans and motives and be - it was like a court intrigue going on in his kingdom, and so it was a lot to take. But you know, I think by the time I was five or six, it was my favorite book.

BLOCK: Hmm. You talked a lot, I think, to Maurice Sendak as you were putting this together, right? You got to know him pretty well?

Mr. EGGERS: Yeah, Maurice asked Spike to do it. And they had known each other for some time, and Maurice had rejected hundreds, probably, of inquiries or requests to adapt the book into a movie. And after working with Spike maybe a month or so on a basic outline or, you know, the basic feel of the movie, that's when we went up to Connecticut to visit Maurice and tell him our plans. And so it was, you know, an incredible thrill to meet him because I've been, you know, he was the first author whose name I ever knew. And, you know, he was involved all the way through. He's the first guy we sent the finished script to and every - everything along the way. He was intimately involved, and we sought his approval sort of doggedly.

BLOCK: Well, what did Maurice Sendak tell you about how he envisioned sort of the dangerous side that you're talking about, the part that scared you as a really young kid?

Mr. EGGERS: Well, he loves that. He loves that it's scary, that there's a natural child's fascination with morbidity and danger and darkness, and it's true. And every little kid I have ever know, they want to talk about the dead bird that they found or, you know, the road kill or whatever they see on a daily basis. Like, it's not something that they're afraid to talk about.

And so, he - really, all of his books, you know, he writes books about childhood but not necessarily for children. Like, I don't think that he thinks, well, okay what would a child like, or what does a child psychologist say I should write in this book, or what will teach a valuable, you know, lesson? I think it comes from somewhere much deeper and from the subconscious or something even primal or dream-like in his work. And he really wanted something that, I say, re-fanged the book and made it kind of strange and dangerous again, and that's what he held us to continuously. He's like, keep it weird and maybe a little scary here and there.

BLOCK: I want to talk to you about the process of writing with Spike Jonze. He moved, I think, up to San Francisco, where you live, to work on this, right?

Mr. EGGERS: Yeah, he rented a place in The Castro. And we would sit every day, you know, and talk. I mean, for every eight hours that we would be there, we would get at least 10 or 15 minutes of work done. So it was really super efficient.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BLOCK: That's a pretty good ratio.

Mr. EGGERS: No, it wasn't at all. But we had a lot of sort of figuring things out to do and talking it through and, you know, spending a lot of time talking. So those first four months, I think, that Spike was living in San Francisco, we ended up with a draft, but it wasn't a straight route. It was very meandering and circuitous and sort of getting at the heart of our respective childhoods and what a movie like this should be.

BLOCK: Would there be props to sort of transport you back to being a nine-year-old kid?

Mr. EGGERS: Yeah. Well, we, you know, we plastered pages from the book all over the room. So we always knew who were talking about. And then as we came up with characters, we would, you know, put that wild thing's name on a Post-It and fleshed out their personalities. But in terms of other props, maybe - there was always a skateboard on hand that would - whoever wasn't typing would be skateboarding around the house in a circle. I don't know. Maybe it got our brains working, or maybe it was just another distraction.

BLOCK: So a skateboard.

Mr. EGGERS: Yeah, that's the only prop I can think of. I mean, Spike has a BB gun in his house that he periodically would shoot me with.

BLOCK: Come on.

Mr. EGGERS: No, that's true. Yeah - no, he's a very juvenile guy and really annoying in that way, if you have a friend that ever shoots you, yeah.

BLOCK: Do you think he was trying to get you into the spirit of, you know, of Max, of sort of the wild thing, and what better way to do it than with a BB gun, or do you think he was having (unintelligible)?

Mr. EGGERS: No, I think he shoots most of his guests. I think he does. I don't think it was thought through to that extent. I think that most people that spend some time at his house get shot at some point. So all of your listeners will also know to be prepared to be shot.

BLOCK: Yeah, this is a public service we're doing right now.

Mr. EGGERS: Exactly, National Public Service Radio. BB gun warnings, yes.

BLOCK: Well, Dave Eggers, thanks very much.

Mr. EGGERS: Thank you. Good to talk to you.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Dave Eggers wrote the screenplay with Spike Jonze for the movie "Where the Wild Things Are."

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Children: (Singing) (Unintelligible).


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