The trailer for The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones trailer was unveiled this week, well ahead of its theatrical debut, which isn't until August of next year. On the bright side, fans of Cassandra Clare's young adult fantasy series got to see stars Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower in their roles as Clary and Jace, and we have months to speculate over how the movie will turn out when it arrives next year. The story follows a teenage girl living in Brooklyn who discovers she's the descendent of a line of demon hunters called Shadowhunters.
We spoke with City of Bones director Harald Zwart today on adapting the story for the big screen. He offered some interesting comments on the film, including some changes made to the ending, what we should expect from Lily Collins as lead character Clary, and the different sides of Lena Headey's character Jocelyn. But first, in case you haven't seen it, here's the trailer.
I heard that you wrapped the movie recently?
Zwart: Yeah, we wrapped on Thursday and I'm just in New York doing some helicopter shots and stuff like that.
That seems pretty close for the trailer to come out. Was there anything that you would've like to have seen make it into the trailer that wasn't ready?
Zwart: No, I think it's good to keep some mystery and keep spreading it out a little bit. I think the trailer as it is now is a good representation of a - I think you'd call it a teaser - I feel good about that.
Were there any major challenges with the special effects and stunts?
Zwart: Those things are generally more practical things. You always find a solution one way or another. I think it's always challenging to try to design something that feels fresh and that's something people haven't seen before, but still is not too far off from what the fans are expecting. That's all in the design process. That might be something worth mentioning, but those are only fun challenges, I think.
As far as fan expectations, is there anything that you could talk about as far as the plot of the story goes that maybe you changed? Or did you stick pretty close to the book?
Zwart: We try to stick as close to the book as we can. It's always hard with adaptations, especially with a big book like this one. We've been very fortunate to have Cassandra Clare, who's very cooperative and has been a great collaborator during the whole process to make sure we preserved what she knows and the integrity of the book but still was possible to do in the film, in the span of the film and just practically, how you could execute things.
So you worked a lot with the writer then?
Zwart: Yeah, she was there. She's a busy woman but she came by, but we emailed and we ran things by her. And she said, "Well, this should be maybe this…" and she had suggestions but never, "It has to be this, it has to be that…" She was always open. And when I suggested, "What if we do it like this in the movie, would that feel like it's still the same emotion or tone," and then she said "Yeah, that sound great." It's been just a really - you do it very step by step.
Is there anything in specifics that you could talk about that maybe was changed or had to be changed because you weren't able to adapt it exactly from the book?
Zwart: Well, we preserved the emotional arcs and the character arcs in the movie, so that's all preserved. We had to change some locations around. Simplify a little bit here or there. I think the ending had the ingredients but there are things that we had to adjust a little bit in the ending.
You filmed in Toronto, right?
So you're filming a New York City story in Toronto and there's also that kind of added layer of this hidden world that Clary's being introduced to. Can you talk a little bit about the challenging of having three locations, in a sense, to work with?
Zwart: It's always a patchwork anyway when you do movies and commercials. Its amazing what you can get away with. Toronto has a lot of similarities with New York City. As long as you add certain iconic elements and you make sure you have enough genuine New York footage, which we also have, the audience are generally getting the feeling that they're actually in New York City.
Part of the thing that was fun to do was, in Toronto, there's lots of grand old buildings. So we had the corridors of the institution in one house and the lobby in another. We shot a bit at the University. And then we built a lot of stuff. There are great big sound stages in Toronto and we had huge sets where we built the interior of the library and the City of Bones and those sets that you couldn't find anywhere.
Was there anything that was filmed in New York at all, or was it all Toronto?
Zwart: There are scenes that we shot here in New York too. There are exterior shots and helicopter shots and stuff like that, but mostly it was done in Toronto.
One of the things I know from the book is that Cassandra Clare is very detailed as far as all of the elements of the story. You have this fantastical world of weapons and demons and runes and just the general rules. How was that as far as trying to remain faithful to the book but also having to bring that into a movie?
Zwart: Well, as I said, it was important to me to ground everything and try to find physical reasons and sort of - as much as you can - explain why and how things happen. Because I think one of the things that is fascinating about this story is that you could walk around New York City and you are surrounded by demons and vampires, it's just that we don't necessarily see them. You could see them, if you look twice maybe. Or you just don't have the ability to. It's this idea of a world within a world, but still, it's all reality around you. So I tried to make everything make sense, except for the portions that you want to be magical, of course. But we've tried to explain things with physicality and frequency and that's been a lot of fun, to take all of the juicy stuff from Cassandra Clare and put it into a visual interpretation of what she wrote. Because at one point, you just have to have physical things in the actors' hands. What do they look like and how do they work? That's been a lot of fun to do.
Can you talk a little bit about how Lily Collins handled the role and maybe working on a film that has this kind of female lead that's just discovering her strength?
Zwart: She's a great actress. We met early in the process and agreed what kind of character she was. You know, she's like you said, very well described in the book. It was important for me to also show that she was her own boss. That she was the initiator of the actions she takes. She's a very strong girl and I think Lily's a fantastic actress who has a radiant smile and great energy. This isn't one of those movies where the lead just goes around and has the same expression all the way through. Lily is such a vivid and lively person herself. So I believe we captured most of that spectrum of her, so I think people will be very entertained by that.
Were there any other influences when you were adapting the character or did you just stick to how she's portrayed in the book as far as female leads go?
Zwart: Well, you always look to other great strong female leads in movie history. Anything from The Terminator to Aliens, there are always great female leads in movies. What's fun about this one is that Clary Fray, as she's portrayed in the movie, she thinks she's a completely normal girl until she just discovers these powers and this vision she has. Of course you go through the days of thinking, "Am I going mad? What is all of this?" and then you discover everybody around you has been hiding stuff from you. So it's almost an investigation story where she just starts investigating her own past and her own memory. And that psychological drama, I think, is very intense and well done.
It's interesting, you bring up Terminator and strong female leads. You have Lena Headey in the cast and she played Sarah Connor in the Terminator TV show. How much of Lena are we going to see in the movie?
Zwart: Lena was there - she's as much in the movie as she is in the book. She shows that she's very capable of defending herself. It's always fun when you have a character that, on the surface, is very - you twist her a little bit more the other way, a little clumsy and very innocent and suddenly she goes dark and you see that she has abilities that you never knew existed. That kind of twist we have in the movie also with Lena. She was great with all the fighting and all of that.
(book spoiler alert in the next answer!)
So, we get to see different sides of her character Jocelyn?
Zwart: Yeah, absolutely. Of course, I'm sure you know the story, but she drinks from the vial pretty early but before she goes into coma we have both sides of her in the movie. Yes, the before and the after.
Can you talk a little bit about what's planned for the soundtrack and the score. What kind of music are you going for with the movie?
Zwart: It's a little early for that right now. We're still observing what the tone of the movie is. Because it's an evolving process and once you start shooting and all the actors do what they're doing. And then finally you end up feeling it more and more as you progress. So, it's a little early for us to say anything about that. I've hired Gabriel Yared to be the composer and I'm very, very happy with that because he's great at doing emotional and romantic scores. I think it's very important to preserve that. Other than that, it's a little early to say.
This is the first book of a series. Is the film set up for a sequel? Is there anything you can talk about as far as what might follow up after this one?
Zwart: As with anything, we focus on one movie at a time, always respecting the story of the future books. Just so, at least we preserve the possibility for that. I feel the movie has an emotionally satisfactory ending as it is. So, if you choose just to see this one, you'll still be happy with it. But obviously we had to be very careful to make sure that we preserved the story line for anything that had to be continued in the following books. So, we'll see. We'll concentrate on this one. It's very exciting though, to know that she has so much more material.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones arrives in theaters August 23, 2013. More information can be found in our Blend Film Database.