‘We Bought a Zoo’ screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna sat down and shared what it was like to work on this incredible movie.
While Aline’s name may not ring a bell to many of you, the movies she has written certainly are familiar to most of us: The Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, Morning Glory, and I Don’t Know How She Does It. The talented writer sat down with us to talk about her latest project ‘We Bought a Zoo‘, based on the best-selling memoir by Benjamin Mee.
“I read the book and there is a page where Ben, who wrote the book, actually describes all of the things that he misses about his wife and all of the things that remind him of her. And it’s so specific and it’s so detailed.
A couple of them are in the movie, but they’re long. And it’s just a man who would have noticed and remembered all these tiny things, what shoes she wore, what bag she carried, what tea she liked. It really was him talking about the aisles in the grocery store that he couldn’t go down and all the things that reminded him of her. And so, I was very taken with that and the idea of a family really starting over, completely starting over after having survived this. And the thing that comes across so strongly in the book and thankfully in the movie is how much he loved her and how meaningful she was to the family. And, the story really is in some ways about him discovering and falling in love with her again, sort of coming to understand what she had done as a mom and what she’d meant by sort of being a mom himself, in an interesting way, because he has to parent the kids on his own for the first time and take care of the zoo.”
As Aline was creating the screenplay, she started envisioning Ben as being played by Matt Damon and says it was miraculous that it was Matt who wound up in the role: “I was writing it and there was just this moment or two of the early drafts where I just thought, “That’s who I have in my mind,” because he’s very funny. He has a twinkle in his eye. And the material is already very dramatic and I thought. That sense that he has a lot of dignity and intelligence and warmth and all these things that I felt like were really important to the character.
It wasn’t really a conscious thing. It sort of flowed into my brain and then it became as I was writing, it became Matt Damon. And it never happens, ever happens that anyone that would drift into your brain would be in the movie.”
Aline explains the task of whittling down the book to create the screenplay: “It’s usually about taking out subplots. You just don’t have a lot of room for stuff. It’s like taking a bone out of a fish. You have to sort of take the most important things. There’s always little details and moments that don’t end up in there. But, that happens in every movie. The transition between when you make the movie and the finished product, there’s always things that you kind of miss. There are so many things with the different animals. There are so many adventures that Ben has with the different animals, and a lot of them are in the documentary. They just don’t all fit in the movie, so just the spirit of it.
Aline shared how she manages to be productive in her writing while taking care of her children: “When my kids were really tiny, when my first son was born, I worked at home for the first 18 months of his life. It got to be awful because it was so confusing for him and I didn’t have an away space at the time. And then, it was also hard for me. Some people are very good at focusing and also some people like to be in their pajamas around the house, like they’re excited to find a job. And I would say one of the great regrets of my life is I don’t have a job where I have to put pants on and go anywhere, because I like that and I don’t have that. So, I created that artificially by renting an office. It’s a half mile from their school and they will come by after school and stop by and raid whatever candy, soda, whatever I have in there. So, that’s what worked for me. “
She also shared a preview of what she’s working on now: “I’m working on a couple things. I’m writing a new version of Cinderella for Disney, which is exciting. And I’m doing another movie for Fox, which is an adaptation of a graphic novel, which I love. It’s called Rust. It just came out, actually, and it’s beautiful.
And I’ve got a couple other things that I’m working on. “
‘We Bought a Zoo’ opens on Friday, December 23rd!