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Young Black Stallion Interview: Producer Fred Roos

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© Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

Written by: BMZ Staff
Date: December 2003

Producer Fred Roos chats with BMZ about his involvement with and the filmmaking of Disney's THE YOUNG BLACK STALLION.

  

Category: Interviews

BMZ Staff: You've been involved with filmmaking for over 40 years. Was it a childhood dream of yours, and how did you first get involved?

Fred Roos: Being a filmmaker, particularly a producer, was a dream since my early teens. Once I realized I wasn't going to be a major league baseball player (end of high school) I pursued it strongly. I majored in film at UCLA (4 years), was drafted into the army (2 years) during which time I made documentary films. I worked briefly in an agency (MCA) mail room and then got a job at a company making low budget films. There, I was Assistant Story Editor and Development Guy, Casting Director, and Assistant to everyone. Eventually at that company I produced my first two films, extremely low budget ones starring Jack Nicholson.

BMZ: Why was YOUNG BLACK STALLION created for the big screen? Whose idea was it to go big screen?

FR: I had long wanted to produce a dramatic story film in IMAX. Since I had produced the original "Black Stallion" movie, I felt that one of the Walter Farley Books would be a perfect subject for an IMAX production. My writer, Jeanne Rosenberg, who had co-written the first "Black Stallion" movie, and I chose one of the Walter Farley books and presented it to Disney which had just had a big success with the new "Fantasia" in IMAX: They said yes.

BMZ: How did director Simon Wincer get involved? (He's good with family films, but this was his first LF film, correct?). Was Carroll Ballard considered?

FR: Carroll Ballard was actually attached to direct for a couple of months but then got another offer for another movie and left our project. My producing partner, Frank Marshall suggested Simon Wincer, who had great experience with horses and kids in other movies and he jumped in and kept the project going. Simon has since done another IMAX film, a documentary about NASCAR.

BMZ: What about "The Black Stallion" keeps you (and writer Jeanne Rosenberg) coming back for more? Why did you decide to make a prequel, instead of another sequel (or even a remake)?

FR: I love the "Black Stallion" books and the original "Black Stallion" movie is one of my proudest achievements. There are many Walter Farley books in the "Black Stallion" series and many of them would make good family movies. Jeanne Rosenberg is an avid horsewoman and had read all of the "Black Stallion" books when she was young. As to why a prequel. It seems natural to finally tell the story of where the great Black Arabian horse was born and his young years before he was put on that boat at the beginning of the first "Black Stallion" movie (and book).

BMZ: What was it like filming in Africa (especially Namibia's desert)? Tough? Fun? Was it essential to the story?

FR: The Black was born in "Arabia", Walter Farley's books never said exactly what country but it certainly was somehwere in North Africa or the Middle East. We were going to shoot in Morocco but 9-11 caused us to change those plans. Namibia, which is a small country on the west coast of Africa just north of South Africa was chosen because it can easily pass for "Arabia". It has the largest sand dunes in the world and beautiful but rugged rocky mountains and canyons. Namibia is also a very safe and well-run country. It is adjacent to South Africa from which we got most of our crew and all of our horses.

It was very hot during our shoot and we also got one flash flood, but otherwise it was a normal but difficult shoot.

BMZ: How much more difficult is it to film for the LF? Was there a real concern about doing multiple takes, due to the high cost of LF? How about live dialogue?

FR: Shooting in IMAX was not as difficult as I expected. The camera is big but still handleable. However there are no blimps for camera noise for IMAX cameras so the sound track that you record all has to be replaced in post production. Also, the film loads are only about three and a half minutes so no take could be longer than that. One shoots in a lot of master shots and very few extreme close ups. The film stock, processing and shipping are expensive, but we were never really inhibited by that. We always shot what we needed.

BMZ: I was struck by the young woman who played Neera... she seemed perfectly cast. I know that you've done a lot of casting in your career. How did you find her, and what convinced you she'd fit the role so well?

FR: For "Neera" we wanted a girl of 11 or 12 who was a good and experienced rider, who was pretty enough to be on the big screen and hopefully was Arab or part Arab because, of course, "Neera" is Arab. I mounted a search all over the world so to speak. I had casting people in South Africa, London, New York, and Los Angeles searching and I would get tapes in from all of them. This went on for many weeks and no girl that we saw was right. Finally one day, at a time when we were most desparate, a tape came in from Austin, Texas. On it, there was this beautiful eleven year old girl riding her horse around a show ring. Then she gets off her horse and says my name is Biana Tamimi, I am eleven years old. I am half Palestinian and half Mexican. This is my horse, Buddy, and I would love to be in a Black Stallion movie. At that moment I knew we had our girl though we did put her through more testing, including an audition in LA at Disney for the studio executives. Within two more days, she and her mother were on a plane to Cape Town in Namibia.

How that tape came about is a nice story. A young boy of ten and also in Austin, who is a movie nut and wants to be a filmmaker saw our casting notice posted on a website and felt instantly that the character description fit his friend, Biana, perfectly. With his own digital camera and the help of his father, he went over to Biana's house and taped the test that we saw, directed it himself, including a credits crawl. The Tamimi's were skeptical but went along with their friend's enthusiasm. The rest is history.

BMZ: Did you encounter any trouble with the horses' behavior during the shoot?

FR: We had a very good horse trainer, Heath Harris, and he brought two or three assistants and stuntment with him. They did a great job and Simon Wincer himself is a great horseman. He has a horse ranch in Melbourne and owns many horses. We did not have any accidents or bad behavior from our horses. Biana's great riding ability was a lifesaver because it is very hard to double people on the big IMAX screen.

BMZ: Will kids today be as captivated by the story as they were in 1979? Is LF a way to win them over?

FR: The original "Black Stallion" movie has been a consistent seller and renter in home video all these years and the "Black Stallion" books are never out of print and sell consistently. Kids, particularly young girls, love horses. All of these things lead me to believe the audience for this movie will be the same as for the original...big and long lasting. There have already been a few screenings of "The Young Black Stallion" at which many kids have attended and they totally embraced the movie. I've also gotten the feeling that all the adults really enjoyed it too. Of course large format is a new angle to it as well. What could be better subject-matter for large format than a "Black Stallion" story?

BMZ: This is Disney's first narrative LF film. Do you see YBS as the first of many either from Disney or from other production houses?

FR: I think all of the people and companies who are in the large format business or might want to be are watching "The Young Black Stallion" very carefully to see if dramatic films work on large format both artistically and as a business. So, a lot is riding on "The Young Black Stallion". I personally have other story ideas for large format and hope I get to make them. The obvious ones are family-oriented. But how would you like to see a really scary horror film in IMAX?

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