The Tiger Who Came to Tea

The Tiger Who Came to Tea: Interview with producer Ruth Fielding

Category: Interview

Why did you chose this book to adapt?

It’s a book that both myself and Camilla Deakin, my fellow producer and joint managing director of Lupus Films, have loved since we were small. It’s a classic that has stood the test of time and is adored by all generations who read it. For that reason we knew we’d have an audience for the film and so we approached the publisher Harper Collins Children’s books, with whom we jointly developed the film.  

What relationship did you have with Judith during production?

Judith was closely consulted at all stages of production, from giving notes on Joanna Harrison’s script, approving the voice talent, commenting on the character design to re-writing some of the song lyrics. We knew if she was happy with what we were doing, it would work for an audience who grew up loving the book.

What was the biggest challenge in bringing this story to the screen?

For me as the producer the biggest challenge is keeping everyone happy without compromising creative ambition and bringing the film in on time and on budget.

Hey Tiger! is  unbelievably catchy. Composer David Arnold has talked about being asked for a jazz score – can you talk about how you decided the direction of the score?

I think we may have said “”jazzy” initially but, by that we meant, upbeat, irreverent and fun. Our editor Richard Overall placed guide tracks into the animatic so that David knew the ‘feel’ of music we wanted. And when he realised it wasn’t strictly “jazz” he was happy to oblige!

What was your side of the relationship with David / Don / Robbie in the creation of Hey Tiger!?

I think recording the song with Robbie, David and Don has to be one of the highlights of my career. I was like a star struck teenager meeting Robbie, pretending to be an experienced producer.

What made you want to put the song in the middle as supposed to over the credits – and what inspired the technically ambitious sequence?

The tiger leaves at the end of the story, so it didn’t make sense to put the song there. We wanted it to be a fantastical centre piece that really showed off the character of the tiger and the fun he was having with Sophie. Robin Shaw, our film’s director, chose to work with Peter Baynton as animation director. Peter’s known for his visually arresting music videos, so together they designed a sequence which illustrated the lyrics of the song in a fun and entertaining way.

 What is technically ambitious about the film, if you can explain in lay person’s terms?

The use of white space is technically ambitious in this film. Trying not to overfill the frame in order to keep the resemblance of the book illustrations but creating a scene which is engaging enough for a young viewer, is quite a feat in itself. Also, what Robin Shaw, our director, is well known for is animating both character and background simultaneously. Normally in 2D animation you have a static background and the characters move in front of that. But when the Tiger is having the tea party with mummy and Sophie, the camera travels around the table and even goes up in the air, in order for us to see the tea scene, which is easily recognisable form the book, from a new dramatic angle. This involves animating the background as well as the characters. Robin used this technique during the flying sequence in The Snowman and the Snowdog and he pushes that technique even further in Tiger.

Your films are known for their distinct hand drawn look that seamlessly brings a picture book to life – how do you remain both so true to a book and breathe new energy into  it? What do you need to consider?

We pride ourselves on our relationships with illustrators and authors. We get to know why and how they created their successful book and try to re-create those techniques and the essence of the book and their story, in the medium of animation. We have to feel passionate about the work that we do and hope that is then borne out on screen.

How do you attract this amazing A-list cast?

I have to say it was fairly easy. Everyone we asked said yes straight away because they were fans of the book and of Judith Kerr.

Your company Lupus Films is totally unique – can you speak to why you wanted to create a hand-drawn animation studio and what the ingredients that go into a new Lupus film are; What are you looking for when you choose books to adapt?  

We feel that 2D hand-drawn animation can have a particular effect on television and cinema audiences if the stories you are telling are emotional. We believe the emotion from the animator drawing a character is translated directly onto screen and into the hearts and minds of the audience. The films we like to make touch and affect our audiences and that way we hope they will stay with people, have a long shelf life and stand repeat viewing. The books we choose to adapt tend to be classics which have achieved book sales in the millions. They tend to be a sensible starting place from which to build a good business model.