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ZATHURA

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Prolific children's book writer, Chris Van Allsburg (Jumanji, The Polar Express), and his partner, producer William Teitler, initially showed the general idea for Zathura: A Space Adventureto Columbia Pictures just after he conceived the book.

"We brought it to Amy Pascal, Matt Tolmach and Amy Baer and they flipped. They absolutely loved it,” recalls Teitler. "Once Chris finished writing the book, the screenwriters David Koepp & John Kamps read it and felt they had a very clear vision of how it should be adapted it to the screen.”

"Jumanji took seven years from the first time we optioned it to the time it actually got released,” Teitler continues. "Zathura went so much faster because everyone immediately recognized what a great concept it was for a movie.”

The challenge of adapting Zathura to the screen was the exact opposite of most literary works, which have to be compressed to accommodate a running time of about two hours. Van Allsburg's books follow a time-honored format for children's literature: Each book is extremely concise, 32 pages long with 14 illustrations. It makes an excellent blueprint for expansion into a full-length motion picture, giving the screenwriters a clear outline, while also allowing them a great deal of creative latitude in expanding on the source material.

"When I first read the script, I was immediately taken by how sincere the depiction of the characters was,” comments Favreau. "David (Koepp) and John (Kamps) preserved a great deal of the emotion and imagery of Chris's book.” Producer Mike De Luca agrees, adding, "It's a wonderful screenplay. It expands on the book's themes and turns it into an exciting, breathless adventure built around the story of these two bickering brothers.”

There were several reasons Favreau chose Zathura: A Space Adventure as the follow-up project to his recent holiday hit, Elf. He was he looking for a film that would be a technical challenge, but one that still enabled him to tell a rousing, spirited story with a meaningful message at its core. "I wanted Zathura to work first and foremost on a visceral level,” says Favreau, "very much in the way Steven Spielberg's early Amblin movies did. Films like E.T. and Close Encounters and George Lucas' Star Wars movies are the kind of sci-fi stories I grew up loving and that's something I was eager to explore with this film. I also thought it would be fun to work with special effects, miniatures, robots, computer graphics — areas I haven't had a chance to play with in the past. After working on Elf and having a small taste of that kind of filmmaking, Zathura seemed to be the next logical step for me to challenge myself and grow as a filmmaker.”

Another reason for taking on Zathura: A Space Adventure was more personal, Favreau continues. "I have two children now, I watch a lot of movies that are geared towards kids and this one really appealed to my sensibility. As a filmmaker, a big part of your job is to put energy into getting a message out into the world that you believe in. I like stories that offer hope and films that have responsible themes. When you're making a movie for young people, there should be a little aspirin in the applesauce. There should be a nice message at the core.”

For Teitler, one of the rewards of being a producer, he says, is hearing that a director like Favreau, who was coming off a huge hit like Elf, was interested in taking on his project as his next directorial assignment. "As a producer, you work really hard on a project, because you love it,” says Teitler. "Part of the process is getting a strong director attached who feels as passionately about it as you do.

When we heard that Jon really wanted to do the movie, it was like ‘Yes!'” Since Favreau had worked as an independent filmmaker for years, Teitler and his fellow producer De Luca

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