Director Mark Herman Looks at the Holocaust with New Eyes
- Wednesday, November 19, 2008
After writing the screenplay for a British romantic comedy starring Colin Firth, Minnie Driver and Heather Graham back in 2003, writer/director Mark Herman was in pursuit of a project that was a little more “weighty” the next time around.
After all, when someone devotes so much time to each effort, Herman says, “you really want to do something meaningful” after investing in something more lightweight.
But even Herman couldn’t anticipate “the dark places” his next film, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas would take him—and everyone else involved in the production.
Inspired by the “unique perspective” in John Boyne’s novel about the childhood friendship between a Jewish boy in a work camp and the son of a Nazi official, Herman started crafting the screenplay in the summer of 2005 and whipped it into shape in the span of six months.
“It was actually quite quick, but it still seemed like a long time to me,” Herman says in a recent phone interview from the Miramax offices in New York City. “And a story like this can’t help but affect you all the time. You’d think at my age, I’d know everything about the Holocaust, but I really learned so much in the process.”
Now after three-and-a-half years of hard work, Herman can’t help but feel “pretty happy” that his work has been warmly received not only in his native United Kingdom, but in America as well.
“I was there every day in the cutting room, and we spent longer editing this particular film than I ever had before, so I’m definitely happy with the outcome,” Herman relates.
Something to Talk About
More than simply serving up a quality entertainment experience or “yet another Holocaust movie,” Herman ultimately wanted The Boy in the Striped Pajamas to provide viewers with food for thought.
“A lot of people say there are so many Holocaust movies, but really, I don’t think there’s been more than five. I mean no one complains there are too many James Bond spy films!” Herman says with a laugh. “But what drew me to this particular story is that it was from the perspective on a German child. I also wanted to tell the story about the wars within one house. Now that was a challenge! People call it a Holocaust movie, yet you’re rarely outside that one household. I think it’s more chilling that way.”
Despite having to market a gloomy film right before the cheerier holiday season, something Herman says he definitely knew “wouldn’t be easy,” he’s been pleased that The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has provided provocative conversation fodder for families long after the credits have rolled.
“So far the most rewarding aspect has been hearing about people coming out of the movie and discussing the relevance of the Holocaust today. Those are really good things,” Herman says. “There are people who visit Auschwitz today that don’t view it as a museum per say, but they’re not as emotionally engaged. So a movie is just the sort of thing that draws kids and adults in so they want to become emotionally involved and learn more about it. When we’ve seen and heard it all in the new, it’s easy to become desensitized.”
A New Kind of Family Film
Describing The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as “a family film in the truest sense” with no onscreen violence or bloodshed, Herman admits the troubling subject matter, especially the jarringly sad conclusion certainly warrants further discussion.
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