The ‘Princess Bride Retold’ is a different kind of movie...a story of 'to blave'.
It’s a based on my story of true love, strong friendships, and following the paths of big dreams.
There were a lot of things that I wanted for my 40th birthday. I wanted pay tribute to my wife and ‘true love’, my friends and family with whom I have shared many exciting adventures, and to inspire my two children to dream big and enjoy the journey to making them come true.
As I cast my eyes down my bucket list to do before I was 40, I was pleased to see that I had lived a good life. I had some pretty big dreams on the list and by and large made most of those dreams come true. Where I hadn’t necessarily reached a particular dream, I had in every case dreamed big, given it my all, and enjoyed the journey.
Well, all accept one dream. I had a dream to be in movie. It wasn’t even that big a dream, my goal was to be in the credits of a movie, a gaffer or 1st grip or something. Not to downplay the importance of those roles, but even to this day I don’t know what they do. The point was I didn’t have the desire to be a big part of a movie, I just wanted to experience what it was like to be part of making a movie and see my name in the credits.
So there you have the ingredients to my deliberations of what to do for my 40th birthday. So it should be logical for you to have come to the same conclusion as I did, which was to remake one of the most romantic stories of true love and daring adventures, all in the pursuit of meaningful inspiring dreams. Yes, ‘The Princess Bride’.
As everyone knows, the original “The Princess Bride” was a book then screenplay, written by the talented William Goldman. The movie was produced and directed by the great Rob Reiner, and was brought to life by the famous cast of Cary Elwes, Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Andre the Giant, Wallace Shawn, Chris Sarandon, Christopher Guest, Billy Crystal. Unfortunately, I don’t have the space to mention all the other people that made this classic film to be, but now having made my own full feature film, I have incredible respect for the work you do (and I could have used you…)
So while this remake may have a budget in the hundreds instead of the hundred millions of dollars, and cast and crew of 10 instead a cast and crew of thousands, I humbly thank you for taking the time to watch my film (or now scenes, as I posted the full feature remake on YouTube briefly for the 25th Anniversary of The Princess Bride theatrical debut). And while I could have used a good boom mic, several more takes per scene, a special effects team and another 100 hours of post production, I ask you to use your imagination and see this film (scenes) for what it really is.
Along the way, Virgin Radio in Vancouver came along with a contest for amateur film makers to submit their 1 minute films that tell the entire story of a major motion picture. Well, before I headed down the year long voyage of slowly editing the 2 hour film, I started with the 1 minute film. Thanks to a lot of people, The Princess Bride Retold in 60 seconds, came in 5th out of 197 entries in January 2011.
Whether you watch the 60 second version, the full version, a few of our scenes, our read the story book, this is my tale of love, family, and friendship, and the journey where dreams can take you.
And now I’ll take you on the journey of the Princess Bride Retold. But first, my apologies to William Goldman (and the millions of devoted purist fans). In your book, you spoke of how you couldn’t change the storyline of the Original Princess Bride (brilliant literary approach, it took me a long time to give up searching for Florin). However, the reality of no budget caused me to take some creative liberties off your screenplay somewhat.
The ‘The Princess Bride Retold’ starts flashing between my daughter playing with action figures retelling the story of ‘The Princess Bride’ and scenes of the Gulf Islands between Victoria and Vancouver Canada. Honestly, I could have left the movie solely on the re-enactment by my daughter and her action figures portraying the characters of ‘The Princess Bride’. The action figures you will see again climbing the cliffs of insanity. I trade-off scenes of the Islands, not only to introduce the cast and crew, but also as a symbol of my daughter’s imagination. The flight between Victoria and Vancouver is a common commute for my work, but I never tire if its beauty.
In the original film, the story was narrated by Peter Falk telling the story to his grandson, played by Fred Savage. In our house, one of our favourite pastimes is reading to our children. I learned my first lesson in editing in this scene. How to cut the scene before my son loses it and clocks my daughter in the head with a book.
The farm scene is where Buttercup (my wife) meets Westley (me) and falls in love. We actually filmed the farm scenes at my wife's family farm where her mother and sister still live today and raise standard bred race horses. I had envisioned Buttercup riding her horse in the stable, but a freak thunderstorm spooked these powerful race horses so much, we couldn’t even walk them around by their lead.
In casting myself also as Prince Humperdinck, I needed to make sure people didn’t see that Westley and Humperdinck were the same person. So naturally I thought an outfit of sandals, lederhosen, beard, moustache, colonial wig, and a rough germanic accent would be a sufficient disguise. We filmed the exterior castle scenes at the beautiful Craigdarrach Castle in Victoria. I decided to add to the storyline of the original screenplay, but explaining to the audience how it came to be that Humperdinck chose Buttercup to be his bride. To do so, it only made sense to borrow from the Shakespearen play, “Much ado about nothing”. Again, my apologies to William Goldman for veering off his book's path.
The scene where Humperdinck takes Buttercup to the King and Queen for their blessing was filmed in the gardens of the Government House, home of the Lt Governor of British Columbia. Of course, I cast my actual father and mother to be the King and Queen of Florin.
The capture of Buttercup by Vezzini, Inigo, and Fezzik (each lifelong friends of mine), also took place at Beaver Lake park even though the shots of the conversation between Buttercup and the three lost circus performers actually took place a month from each other.
Rowing to the cliffs of insanity was made possible by our family friends. It took a long time to source a vintage looking rowboat. Like most scenes we only had budgeted to shoot one, two, but no more than three takes. We had a complex shooting schedule that largely took place over two weekends, allowing us to shoot at a location only once. There were a few exceptions, and this was one of them. You see, when we shot the rowing scenes the first time, we realized that when we put the boat in the water, it had a hole in the bottom and it sunk. We shot the entire rowing scene with the boat on the beach half submerged. We ended having made up some time the next night so we decided to come back to the lake this time with duct tape plugging the leak. I ended up using shots from both days.
We shot the Cliffs of Insanity, the Chatty Duel, and hand fighting match with Fezzik at Moss Rock. The view from our kitchen window is of the top of Moss Rock bringing back fond memories.
To climb the Cliffs, we used some vintage 1960’s Batman episode special effects, not before we tried many other unsuccessful techniques including dog-piling on Vezzini. I also experimented some green screen technology using the action figures my daughter was playing with in the beginning of the movie.
The ‘Chatty Duel’ was the longest scene to film and choreograph with over 120 individual scenes. We went through 4 'Chronicles of Narnia' swords and about ten tubes of epoxy to keep gluing the swords back together (I guess they were not intended for real sword play). The sound of the swords was brought to you buy our kitchen ‘Henkel’ knife set. While we tried to stay true to some of the original sword fighting moves in the original, we threw in a lot of humour knowing that we did not have a ‘trained master’ on staff. It took me a full year to edit the movie, but it was more fun than work, as I had chance to relive and laugh over the great time we had making this film.
For the ‘Hand Fighting’ match, I inserted a narrative to educate our audience on Fezzik’s background. First, I had to explain why Fezzik was not the size of Andre the Giant. In fact, Fezzik was the shortest guy in the movie. He has always been fit and muscular and in fact was a model at one point. While we couldn’t augment his height, we added to his girth with a muscle costume augmented with ziploc bags filled with cotton balls (we had used just air, but they deflated upon the Man in Black’s impact.). Given we couldn’t even begin to replicate Fezzik, we ended up going with a voice inspired by Rocky Balboa, which again led ultimate laughter throughout the making of the movie.
Not only does the Princess Bride Retold play tribute to the original movie, it celebrates our modern composers Mark Knopfen, Alen Menken, James Horner, Michael Kamen, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Henry Mancini, Johann Strauss, Bryan Adams, Billy Idol, Carl Douglas, as well as up and coming musical genius Sunday Buckets, and Mark Cameron. A musical arrangement does so much to make a movie the experience it is. I encourage everyone to check out their music on iTunes.
Vezzini's performance at The Battle of Wits, which took place in Uplands Park, inspired us all to try to do our roles better. He could rattle off his lengthy lines without error. Unfortunately, we still had to do several takes of his final scene, because Buttercup couldn't stop laughing at Vezzini’s demise. The blue bottle that shows up in this scene and again twice more in the film, was a bottle that was on our dinner table in Australia the night I proposed to my wife (Buttercup).
The guards that follow around Humperdinck and Rugen were played by everyone at some point. The slapstick humor that occured off camera and every out-take is evident here.
The falling down the steep hill and Enchanted Forest took place at Beacon Hill Park. Fezzik was our stunt double for Buttercup to slide down the hill on a block of ice. This was a favourite past time we used to do every year at the Calgary Stampede. Unfortunately, for our stunt double, he contracted an allergy with the grass, which actually helped his look for the very next scene we shot as Fezzik also played the ‘Impressive Clergyman’. I ended up not including the slide in the film, but given his sacrifice I kept in the out-takes.
The Fire swamp became the Enchanted Forest. Again, due to budgetary constraints, fire swamps, quicksand, and Rodents of Unusual Size were hard to come bye in Victoria. As a result, I played on the original movie’s comment about the fireswamp being ‘really quite beautiful’ and turned it into a beautiful Enchanted Forest shot in Beacon Hill Park. My daughter played the monster of the Enchanted Forest, her recorder became the eerie sound of the forest, and a birthday sparkler with some basic green screen technology became the fire spurts.
I wanted to strengthen Buttercup’s character to be one that my daughter would be inspired to follow. A girl that wasn’t just beautiful, but one that was clever, travelled and experienced many things, learned many skills, could play music, and that could take care of herself, much like her mother. I introduced the dread pirate roberts, played first by 10 year old Nephew, surrounded by his servants (my sister and her daughter). Later the Dread Pirate Roberts was played by me because later scenes of my nephew incurred a wardrobe malfunction.
The Pit of Despair became the Chamber of Horrors. The Chamber of Horrors was a scene at the Royal London Wax Museum which closed a month after filming after 30 years in Victoria. I used to work there, so the owner and staff let me take the gang in there one morning to shoot our torture scenes. Later in a scene when Rugen was walking from the Castle to the chamber you can hear him whistling “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work I go.” This is the music that had played going down the stairs to the Chamber of Horrors at the Wax Museum, the scene of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The shots of Westley lying in the Chamber were actually shot in our garage at a later date. The sound of ultimate suffering was actually my son’s voice when he wasn’t getting his way that I adjusted the pitch to sound less painful.
We didn’t have a crowded scene and a disturbed looking lady yelling ‘boo’ so we went with the scene of maidservants gossiping over what Buttercup should do. Again, the ladies were shot at different times depending on when they were in town. Unlike the old lady yelling boo that changes Buttercup’s mind to marry Humperdinck, it was the maidservant's favourite quote from ‘Pretty Woman’ that sends Buttercup down the stairs to call the wedding off.
All the scenes inside the castle were actually filmed in our 1913 character home 'The Princess Bride House'. While there were a few modern inventions that couldn’t be avoided in the filming, the house still carries with it the character of it’s 1913 origin including its stain glass windows. I played on Westley’s words ‘to rather break a stain glass window’ and featured a theme of stain glass windows throughout the movie.
The scene of Miracle Max was also shot inside our house, but the exterior belonged to another famous Victoria landmark, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. The only thatched roof home in Victoria to my knowledge. As the out-takes would suggest, there was 90% laughter, 10% action. Westley was brought back to life by Miracle Max with a Ferrero Rocher, chocolate. Westley had to do that take several times...
Storming of the Castle took place outside Craigdarrach Castle and inside the Victoria Conservatory of Music. Once again the sword fight scene with the guards was choregraphed to the original movie of the same scene. We only had an hour in the Conservatory, so we filmed at a breakneck pace.
Once again at the end of the movie, I ventured off “The Princess Bride” path…in multiple directions. First, I had Buttercup take care of business with Humperdinck, naturally going where Buttercup’s strong character would take her. Second, I wanted Inigo to spare Rugen’s life to teach my kids that violence shouldn’t begat violence. If we did a better job teaching our kids this maybe there would be less violence in the world. I hope. Third, I had Buttercup and Westley follow our story and get married. I scheduled the Buttercup and Westley marriage scene on our 9 year anniversary, and the poem I read was a surprise and true poem to my wife. Her tears were real, too. Finally, I go on to explain what everyone’s dream was, and how they went on to achieve them.
After the last scene was shot, then came the editing. It took about 9 months. I made a commitment to get up at 5am every morning before everyone got up, so that I wouldn't consume my family life (kinda defeats the purpose of making a tribute movie to them if you ignore them for a year editing). Even so, it was a commitment of family time. I managed to have the first release ready for our 10 year anniversary, as an elaborate anniversary card. Joanne returned the gift by renting out a theatre which we filled with friends and family for a red carpet premiere. It was very special. I sent copies of the film to the original cast, William Goldman, Rob Reiner, Norman Lear, MGM, and all the musical artists I used to make the film.
I’m not going to lie to you, the making of this movie was a lot of work, but an incredible amount of fun with the people I most care about. Now that you know a little bit more about the story behind and the making of the Princess Bride Retold, maybe you too can use your imagination if you get a chance to watch it, and have fun storming the castle!
Westley (aka Humperdinck, Shrieking Eel, Guard #3, Father/Narrator)
P.S. 5 years later
The last 5 years have been great. My kids still love watching the movie as do their friends. They often ask to go to the Cliffs of Insanity, Enchanted Forest, and are excited when my friends Fezzik, Inigo Montoya, Vezzini, and Rugen come over. Over the last years, I still spend lots of time storytelling to them. And after repeated evenings of them asking me (and me telling) what happens next, I've collected my stories into a storybook detailing the sequel of The Princess Bride Retold, The Princess Bride Revenge.
It's a continuation of the Princess Bride Retold. Buttercup and Westley are now King and Queen of Florin with two lovely, but slightly rebellious children. Humperdinck who had escaped the Chamber of Horrors, stole the pirate ship Revenge, amassed territories and fortunes across the sea, has planned his revenge and is now returning to Florin. He is successful in capturing Westley and Buttercup with the help of his loyal guards, Vezini's twin evil brother 'Tetrazini', and a misguided young orphan named 'Peter'. It's up to the young Princess Zoe, and Prince Jack to save their parents and the Kingdom of Florin. They enlist the help of their school teacher, Fezzik, freedom fighter Zorro (aka Inigo Montoya), local pharmacist owners (Max and Rugen), and their schoolmates. Can the young princess and prince outwit the evil Pirate Humperdinck and save their parents from his horrible plans of revenge?
Find out soon, as for my children's upcoming birthday, I will be creating this exciting sequel movie (albeit less ambitions than the last one). If anyone wants to help make this special for my kids with any resources I'd appreciate it. Particulary, if anyone can reach William Goldman, Rob Reiner, Norman Lear, or any of the original cast who would like to give me a hand. If not, it's still going to be a special experience...