"It’s got legs," he says, as relief and elation combine on Vincent
Ward’s face, in his body language and in his voice, as we settle down for a cup of
tea, just hours after the results of the all important second weekend. The second weekend
in the American movie world is a bit like the second coming in Christiandom; it leads to
heaven or hell. Appropriately enough in this case, since we are talking about Ward’s
latest film, What Dream May Come, which has aroused intense interest for its portrayal of
"you can’t help getting caught up in that
On its second weekend, the film stayed the second most popular in the US, and took some
US$11 million, after debuting with US$15.8 million in its first three days.
For Ward, better known for his arthouse features with award winning potential (like
Vigil, The Navigator, Map of the Human Heart) rather than mass audience blockbusters, this
sort of conversation is rare. "Yes, but you can’t help getting caught up in that
business," he explains, referring to Dreams being a high budget (some say US$90
million) film that to the studio represents an investment, not just a film.
Ward was especially relieved since Variety’s review had suggested that Dreams
didn’t have legs: wrote Todd McCarthy: "This attempt to rally a mass audience
around the weighty themes of mortality and eternal love had an outside shot at the
"Ghost" audience, but the reportedly $85 million-$90 million production looks to
fall way short of the commercial mark despite its audience-pleasing aspirations."
"got very close to the film I wanted"
And although the film was up to its neck in producers ("it’s like working
with artillery behind you," he says, "there were never less than six producers
on set…") Ward is pleased that he "got very close to the film I wanted.
Visually they leave me alone, but in editing you have to listen …. they do test
screenings, and you have to work with them."
When Ward first read the script he was moved by it, but didn’t see how it could be
made, with 75% of it set in the afterlife. He was not keen to replicate the clunky view of
the afterlife that had been screened to date.
"There were several keys to it, and one was that if there IS an afterlife,
it’s probably subjective. So if you could visualise it as a 19th century
painting by a visionary arist, you’d find a key to creating a world. So I made Annie
a painter and also a restorer of 19th century paintings. This also served the
narrative, showing how strongly he felt about her – so much so, he woke up in her
painting after he died."
"I didn’t want to show a ‘white bread’
Writer Ron Bass responded "really well to this," says Ward, which gave the
project the impetus it needed.
The film, a metaphoir for the afterlife, poses the questions we all ask: is there one?
Ward himself is equally curious. But he also has an editorial point when he shows people
in the afterlife quite different – even ethically – to how they were alive.
"I didn’t want to show a ‘white bread’ afterlife," he says.
This is one of the provocative ideas in the film, which adds to its psychological
interest. "the other idea I was keen to explore," he says, "is that the
dead grieve for the living – for their absence." Finally, Ward was fascinated by
the psychological and psychoanalytical version of what hell could be.
But while all these elements fuse with the visual poetry of the film, Ward is concerned
that some critics have called the film ‘sentimental’ in a negative way.
"It’s sentimental if you mean very emotional," he says. "But it
doesn’t dwell on that. Ron and I tried to avoid sentimentality, which we define as
overtly dwelling on emotions that are inappropriate for a scene. For example, when Chris
learns his children have been killed, instead of crying he’s in a rage, like he wants
to kill somebody. . ."
"That was another goal; not to allow the visuals to
overwhelm the human drama."
In populist short hand, Ward describes the film as a love story and a quest, but his
primary interest – as always – is "in the business of existing as human
beings….and offering a big visual experience on screen. That was another goal; not to
allow the visuals to overwhelm the human drama."
"I feel I’ll end up being paid to make these big visual pictures – while
always hankering to make intimate dramas…"
WHAT DREAMS MAY COME – THE FX:
The film uses some 260 SFX shots, provided by five different companies; "one of the
challenges was to create moving painting over time, which has never been done before,
combined with live action footage," says Ward.
It took two years of research and development to design the software used in the film,
and for the last eight months, there were 50 people working on that alone. "There
were a number of significant breakthroughs engineered in the making of the film, and the
result is that you can shoot a scene traditionally and then change everything in it, add
objects to it, change backgrounds, skies, the lot."
In short, What Dream May Come marks a watershed in the ongoing technical prowess of