Oscar nominee David Magee on adapting ‘unfilmable’ novel ‘Life of Pi’

When it came to adapting Yann Martel’s beloved yet “unfilmable” novel “Life of Pi” for the screen, David Magee admits he sorted through several options. “We were searching for the framing device of the film,” he explained during his video chat below. “We could’ve told it from the point of view of the young boy who had just been rescued by the Japanese investigators, or we could’ve told it in real time, going through until we reached the end.”

For Magee, working with director Ang Lee was, “the most collaborative process I’ve ever been involved in. We had the same feeling about what the essential themes of the novel were and what we wanted to do with it.” The two took great measures to ensure authenticity, taking trips to India to scout locations and meeting with survival expert Steve Callahan, who had been lost at sea for 72 days. “He helped us to map out the journey,” says the writer.

All this effort paid off as he reaped his second Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. He lost his first bid in 2004 for “Finding Neverland” to "Sideways." This year, Magee also contends at the Writers Guild Awards. At both races, he is behind Tony Kushner (“Lincoln”) and Chris Terrio (“Argo”) who are in a tight battle for first as well as David O. Russell (“Silver Linings Playbook”). 

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Says Magee, “Ultimately, this is a film about stories and how they impact peoples lives, and how stories help people get through their lives. You can kind of look at Pi’s journey in any way you choose; you can interpret it kind of the way you’d interpret a fable. We wanted that distance, that time that had passed between the actual event and the telling of the story. So we latched onto something that was in the book already, the idea that the book was being written as though it was something that had actually happened to Yann Martel; that he had met this man who told him about Pi Patel, searched him out, and heard this incredible story.”

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