We thought it would be fun to look back on We Bought A Zoo through the eyes of Benjamin Mee. Ben took the time to provide some detailed and thoughtful answers on how the film came together from his perspective. Here’s the last part, enjoy!
What did you think about the film? Despite it being a fictional account, did it still hit home in a variety of ways?
I think I’ve seen the film six times, at various premieres, and once quite recently, frame by frame, to prepare for a talk. It really is an extraordinarily resonant film, which doesn’t shy away from the difficult issues around bereavement, and being a single parent.
It’s fascinating to see the process by which reality is transferred to the screen, edited and reshaped, but with the essence intact.
I came up with the analogy that it’s as though I had made a detailed wax sculpture of something like the French village I used to live in, and Cameron had melted it slightly to smooth off the edges, then moved the shapes around a bit, to create something made from the same parts, but beautiful in its own right.
Details appeared plucked, magpie-like, from other places, like the brand new boots on Duncan’s feet, which were actually from a photographer in the book. And the bottle of Stella Artois offered to Matt Damon in the bar by Scarlett (Duncan and I and a cameraman drank our bar dry of Stella before we opened).
The scene in the porcupine enclosure was very odd to watch. Six years ago, all alone in a field at night, I was evicted from the porcupine enclosure very abruptly by a stubborn rodent asserting himself. I landed heavily on my back in some nettles, and I thought this was funny, so I wrote it down, and it made its way into my book. Years later, there is Matt Damon, on the silver screen, dressed as me with the beanie hat, chased out by a porcupine, taking the same heavy fall. And it looked like he did his own stunt there (Sorry about that, Matt).
Obviously the scenes about my wife were the most poignant, for me and the children. Not being able to open the pictures on the laptop, then gradually looking at a few, and then the pictures coming to life. It was so powerful. Breathtakingly powerful, in fact. And these were images which seemed to be based on actual family snaps, taken in France as we played around in our garden. It was almost too much. In fact it was too much. Those unflinching excruciating emotions again. But that’s what everyone loves about the film. It doesn’t shy away.
On the zoo side, it was pretty funny. If you went into Solomon’s enclosure, even if Scarlett Johansson was distracting him from the other side of the fence, he would so eat you. Even if you made a passionate speech about being full of whiskey.
But we loved it, and it has done wonders for the zoo, saving us once again from the converging catastrophies of recession, rotten infrastructure, and rain.
Thanks, Cameron, and Mr. Damon, and Scarlett, and the laid back Patrick Fugit, and the so sweet Elle Fanning, and everyone who put so much into the film. It has really made a difference in the outside world, to the lives of the animals and the people here at Dartmoor Zoo.
Despite stories to the contrary, the Dartmoor Zoo’s financial troubles remain. How can people help support the Zoo even if they can’t come to England in person?
The zoo has always struggled. It’s like running a free health service, with open ended expenses, financed by an open air theatre. You hope it doesn’t rain, and that people will come and like the show, but it is just not a reliable source of income. This year the UK has been even wetter than our opening July, the wettest in 100 years, mentioned in the film. We’ve now had the wettest three consecutive summer months ever recorded, and even now, at Christmas, it’s still raining. People just don’t come to the zoo in the rain, no matter how famous it is.
If people want to help, the best thing they can do is make a donation to the Friends of DZP. Send a cheque, however small, tax deductible.
You can also adopt an animal via our website, for which you get a newsletter and updates on the animal’s progress.
In 2013 I’m trying to turn the whole zoo into a charity, and go on some fundraising tours. I’m already a role model for Positive Risk Taking in industry, and earn extra cash for the zoo on speaking about this. So if anyone needs an enthusiastic motivational or After Dinner speaker, drop me a line…