Directing The Kite Runner


With every movie director Marc Forster makes, he gets that much closer to getting the respect of moviegoers who go to see movies based on the directors, regardless of their genre. Forster wasn’t given nearly enough credit for directing Halle Berry’s performance in 2001’s Monster’s Ball which won her an Oscar or for his next movie Finding Neverland, but it’s harder to ignore the achievement of his latest movie, the adaptation of Khaled Hosseini’s enormous bestseller The Kite Runner. A challenging decades-spanning story that had the globe-trotting filmmaker working in a foreign country and language with mostly unknown and untrained actors, it’s nothing short of amazing that he was able to recreate Hosseini’s emotionally moving novel. If there’s any thing close to justice in Hollywood, Forster will finally get his much-deserved Oscar nomination for this amazing cinematic experience, and if for some reason, this movie doesn’t get Forster the attention he deserves, he also has the heavily anticipated 22nd James Bond movie in the works, which should do the trick.

Last month, Zach Helm, Forster’s collaborator on the Will Ferrell comedy Stranger Than Fiction told us that Forster was very good at keeping things secret, which learned when we changed to the topic to that of Bond in our interview with Forster last month. Was “The Kite Runner” one of the more challenging films you’ve done? It obviously has a lot of challenges in terms of the locations, the kite sequences…
Marc Forster: Oh, it was hands-down the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Yeah, hands down. Nothing came close to it.

CS: When you read the book and were offered the movie, what was the first thing you realized you’d have to figure out how to do?
Forster: You know, the thing about it when I read the story was I said, “Oh, my God, this is such a beautiful book, it’s such an important story” because it’s the first time I’m reading about this part of the world. It really deals with a human story about forgiveness, healing, and atonement, and it doesn’t deal with violence or terrorists. I hadn’t read a story about that part of the world, which deals with a really human story, and every time you think about Afghanistan, you think about Bin Laden and the Taliban, and this story wasn’t dealing with that. I hadn’t really seen anything like that, so I thought it was an important story to tell, and that was why I felt “you have to make this movie” because it humanizes and puts a human face on this part of the world.

CS: What I love about the flashback to the story of the kids is that we see Kabul before the Soviet invasion and it’s really an awe-inspiring and beautiful place. In recreating Afghanistan before and after the invasion, did you have a lot of references or was it all from Khaled’s book?
Forster: We had a lot of super 8 footage, we had a lot of photographs, I had cultural advisors that lived in the ’70s in Afghanistan, so everything was to the detail, pretty much created how it was at the time, and Kashka, where we’re shooting, was architecturally very reminiscent to Kabul in the ’70s. It was the same architecture, and it was literally across the mountains, just on the other side of Afghanistan and Pakistan, all the way on the Western part of China.

CS: Really? So you didn’t even shoot in Afghanistan?
Forster: No, Kashka’s on the Silk Road and it’s literally, where the little bead of Afghanistan hits China and Pakistan. It’s right across the mountains, and it’s like 50 caves and 40 miles from Pakistan.

CS: Where were the later scenes in Afghanistan shot?
Forster: Peshawar? Also in Kashka on a different street. All in the same place.

CS: How did you even find that place? Just had a good location scout?
Forster: We were scouting all over the world and then our line producer had someone he worked with in “Kill Bill” who photographed all of China and said, “You know there’s a place, Kashka, it really looks like it and there are Afghans living there as well and Pakistanis, so you have all the people from that area, they all live there, and the architecture’s the same, and it’s untouched because it hasn’t been rattled or destroyed by war.”

CS: That’s pretty amazing. Was this movie made completely outside the studio system?
Forster: It’s Sidney Kimmel and Participant financed it, but DreamWorks had the rights to the novel, and Vantage, because of Paramount buying DreamWorks, is distributing it.

CS: I remember us talking before about how some of your other movies being done independently and then picked up by the studio. It’s amazing for a studio to be making a movie with unknown actors mostly not in English. Has it been difficult to make this movie the way you wanted without having to worry about the stuff studios usually worry about?
Forster: I mean, the thing is I basically said to them when I read the book, I said, “Look, I don’t see these two boys flying kites in Afghanistan in the ’70s and speaking English to one another. I just don’t picture that, and I think it will come across very inauthentic and very fake. I just don’t feel it.” And they said, “Okay, let us think about it.” And then a month went by and I thought, “Maybe I’m out of the job” so then they called me back and said, “Look, we think you’re right. Why don’t we make the movie in Dari and support your vision?” That was it, and then obviously, the conversation about any well-known actors never came up at all, because you couldn’t cast anybody who really speaks Dari, and they had to be bilingual, especially the cast that comes to America, that they were able to go back and forth between that and English.

CS: What was involved with finding the two kids? Did you do a worldwide search to find them?
Forster: No, we looked all over the place and then Kate Dowd, my casting director I used on “Finding Neverland,” I thought she did a great job with the kids there. I called her up in London and said, “Look, I really want you to look for these kids.” She looked all over and then she also spent two months in Kabul, and she said that in Kabul, there were so many interesting kids that I should come there, so I went to Kabul and we found them there, and most of the rest of the cast as well.

CS: I’ve read that there were problems with one scene that’s an integral part of the story, but have you had to change the movie because of that?
Forster: Basically, long story short, when I cast the movie a year and a half or two years ago, Afghanistan was a much safer place, and then when we shot the movie there, there wasn’t really an issue about it. People are familiar with the book there and the script, and nobody ever flagged that issue to me. My intent was always to shoot for a PG-13 because I wanted to make it more available to a younger audience, because I think it’s important for them to see a movie about that subject matter in a different light about that part of the world, and then basically, when it came back, the situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated, had become much more dangerous. There had been no threat towards the kids or anything, but the studio and I felt that it’s much safer to get the kids out, so they’re finishing their school year at the end of November. They’re taking them out, and that’s why they pushed the release to December 14, because the release date would have been earlier and a pirated copy would have come back into the country and we wouldn’t know what kind of effect that would have, so we thought it much better to be safe. We all wanted the children to be safe, so we’re taking them out of the country and see whether there would be a backlash of the movie in the country, which we hope not.

CS: Had Khalid, who plays Amir, already done “United 93” when he was cast in the role?
Forster: Yes, I saw him in “United 93” and I just loved his performance, that’s why I wanted to see him.

CS: I also wanted to ask about using Alberto Iglesias, because I thought the score was absolutely gorgeous. He’s not the first person I would think about to score a movie set mainly in Afghanistan, but he was able to combine the local music with some of his Latin influences. How did you find him for this?
Forster: I saw the score in “Constant Gardener” which I just loved. It was such a beautiful score, and then I loved the Almodovar movies, so I contacted him and I said, “I wanted someone who understands heat” and I thought that because he was from Spain and he had that feel of heat and dryness and everything, and I just always was a fan of his scores, so I thought it would be a great match.

CS: Also, the kite battle sequences were just amazing, so besides this being a really moving human story, you have these really impressive sequences. What was involved with creating those? A lot of storyboarding and CGI?
Forster: Yeah, all of it. Basically, I had some kite professionals, and I had one kite supervisor who I choreographed the entire kite fight. He showed me what moves, and how a kite would attack or retreat, so we choreographed the “Kite Runner” and I thought what I liked and didn’t like and then we storyboarded it and pre-vized it, and then we had a little helicam where we shot some of the take-offs and the really high-up shots, and then we shot some kites from below, then we created a lot of the kites in CG and created that world of CG around the kites.

CS: Did you do any sort of performance capture with actual kites?
Forster: Yeah, yeah.

CS: Those scenes are barely described in the book and not nearly as in-depth, but when you read the book, did you see the kite sequences like that and know you could do something amazing visually with it?
Forster: It’s basically, I sort of just start from scratch, just trying to visualize the whole thing and trying to figure out how we’re really going to do the kite fight, that it works.

CS: Last time I talked to you about the commercial success of movies–unfortunately that was probably before “Stay” came out–but this is a tough movie, because it’s not a movie about the war or terrorism or politics, but a lot of people are going to lump it in with other movies like “Rendition,” only because it’s set in the Middle East. How do you feel about that?
Forster: You know, I haven’t seen “Rendition” or anything like that, but I feel ultimately that the book is the star of the movie. The book sold 8 million copies worldwide. It’s been loved and worshipped everywhere, so I think the opinion of people at screenings have been that people who love the book seem to love the movie, and those who haven’t read the book seem to respond to the movie. I feel like it’s a beautiful companion piece to the book and I hope that the film is seen by as many people as possible, because I think it just shows the Afghanistan and that part of the world in a completely different light than these other movies. If you watch CNN and you see someone interviewing a Taliban in the foreground, and then you see these little people in the background in little houses, that’s what the movie is about. It’s not about those people in the foreground. It’s about those people in the background that live their lives. I think it’s important to humanize those people and that part of the world because you can’t generalize over a billion Muslims and villainize all of them, you can’t do that. I think that’s what has been done, so it’s a really important thing.

CS: Your passport must already be getting pretty full, but you decided to do a Bond movie next, so a lot of people are interested in what you’ll do there and what the appeal was to you? Just finding new challenges?
Forster: Yeah, new challenges and also, after doing “Kite Runner” and being in this world and being in tents in Western China with the hardest conditions. You obviously don’t have any stars, so you’re limited with your budget and what you can do, and ultimately, the studio has to watch out for the commercial possibilities of the film. Doing a Bond film next is just a new challenge, something different. And if you look at my films, I always try to do something opposite what I just did, so after “Monster’s Ball,” “Neverland” was very different, after “Neverland” (I did ) “Stay,” after “Stay,” going to “Stranger Than Fiction”…

CS: I loved that movie by the way, and it was in my Top 10 last year.
Forster: Oh, really? Oh, thank you! I’m still curious, because I think I couldn’t have done “Stranger Than Fiction” without doing “Stay” because I learned everything that didn’t work on “Stay,” I sort of figure out what to change on “Stranger Than Fiction” to make it work, but it made me very curious… I mean, it didn’t do bad, but I thought it would do better.

CS: I know you’re supposed to start shooting the Bond movie in December. We haven’t really heard much in terms of casting, so is it all cast and ready to go?
Forster: No, I still have to do it all (laughs) because I’ve been really focusing on “Kite Runner” as well. There has been no casting news, nothing.

CS: Well, at least that’s one movie where you won’t have to worry about the budget, as that shouldn’t be a problem.
Forster: I assume probably with every movie, like movies in general, you always have to deal with budgetary concerns, but we will see.

CS: But it will probably be at least two or three times the budget of your biggest movie.
Forster: Yeah, I mean, funnily enough, “Stay” was my biggest movie budget-wise.

CS: Are you going to approach Bond like you would any other movie you’ve directed in terms of breaking it down and figuring out how to do stuff?
Forster: Yeah.

CS: Do you think the strike might affect that at all? At one point, they had a release date of it for sometime next November.
Forster: I don’t know. It’s hard to judge. It’s also hard to judge. I hope that if it’s a strike, it’s going to be short, you know? It’s hard to judge if it’s a long strike. Who knows? It’s all up in the air.

CS: Where are you going to shoot first? In Panama?
Forster: We don’t know yet. It’s all in development.

Who knows if Forster was just keeping quiet because he’s supposed to, but you can see his latest masterpiece, The Kite Runner, when it opens in select cities on Friday, December 14, and then expands nationwide on December 21. Also look for interviews with screenwriter David Benioff and author Khaled Kosseini in the next couple weeks.