Insights Into the Making of We Bought A Zoo

In Los Angeles for a press junket last month, I was able to visit the Fox Studios lot and screen the new film We Bought A Zoo (here’s my review). Afterward, our group met with the movie’s screenwriter, Aline Brosh McKenna.

A quick synopsis of We Bought A Zoo:

We Bought A Zoo movie posterWE BOUGHT A ZOO is a funny, inspiring and true story about the magical power of family to persevere in the face of extraordinary challenges.  This is acclaimed filmmaker Cameron Crowe’s first motion picture for all audiences, and stars Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Thomas Haden Church.  Damon portrays a single dad who, looking to give his family a much-needed fresh start, moves to a home situated in the middle of a zoo, which he and his two children will attempt to bring back to its once glorious state.  The film weaves together warmth, laughter and a spirit of optimism perfect for the holiday season.

I was grateful that after the screening we were given a few minutes to freshen up before meeting Aline Brosh McKenna. I, for one, cried A LOT during the film and needed some time to compose myself!

Brosh McKenna’s movie credits include writing the original screenplays for 27 Dresses and Morning Glory, adapting The Devil Wears Prada and I Don’t Know How She Does It, and more. I confess I was nervous to chat with her, but she was incredibly relaxed, and immediately put us all at ease.

Group Photo with Aline Brosh McKenna of We Bought a Zoo

{Aline Brosh McKenna is the lovely woman in black sweater and tall black boots. I'm the 3rd from the left.}

I was struck mostly by the “normal-ness” of her life and what she just happens to do for a living. I was also incredibly impressed with her love for the story of We Bought A Zoo, and her dedication to this film.

Here are some excerpts from our conversation with her, which was actually quite long (she was very generous with her time!).

What drew you to this project?

Ms. Aline Brosh McKenna:

… I was very taken with…the idea of a family really starting over, completely starting over after having survived this [tragedy]. And the thing that comes across so strongly in the book and thankfully in the movie is how much he loved [his wife] and how meaningful she was to the family.

We Bought A Zoo movie still 1

Photo Credit: Neal Preston - TM and © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

What are the benefits and difficulties of adapting a book versus writing an original screenplay?

Ms. Aline Brosh McKenna:

[Screenwriting] is a very solitary job. And when you’re starting with a book, whether you know the person or not or whether you are actually in contact with them or not, there is someone there with you already that you’re in conversation with, and it mitigates the loneliness.

… So, I always felt like I had some company. On all the books that I’ve adapted, I feel like I have a sense of having someone around. So, that’s very helpful.

I read that you had Matt Damon in mind when writing this screenplay.

Ms. Aline Brosh McKenna:

I almost never do that. I can’t think of another time when I’ve done that.

But, 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.

We Bought A Zoo movie still 2

Photo Credit: Neal Preston - TM and © 2011 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation.

(on meeting/knowing/working with author Benjamin Mee, and about her first screening of the movie)

Ms. Aline Brosh McKenna:

The first time I saw it was right back there and I was beside myself. The main thing I was thinking was Ben’s [Author Benjamin Mee] going to be so happy. I really hope that Ben is happy.

I used to call the producer and the people that I was working with at the studio all the time and say, “I just feel so honored. I just feel so privileged to be writing about Katherine [his wife] in any way.” I just feel like it was such a precious thing that had been entrusted to me.

[Blogger asks: So, you cried as much as we did?]

Ms. Aline Brosh McKenna:Oh, my Gosh. The first time, yes, I knew what was coming. And yes, I cried, because bringing her to life the way [director Cameron Crowe] did at the very, very end … it’s not a thing I would have thought of in the way he brought her to life. There’s so much love in there and so specific.

My dad has always said, talking about people is how you bring them alive. He would talk about his father so that we would know his father. And a lot of this movie is just about Ben being able to talk about her again and tell stories about her again.

I was so grateful for the opportunity to meet with Aline Brosh McKenna, and for the depth it gave to my experience in watching We Bought A Zoo.

Helpful information:

  • We Bought A Zoo opens nationwide Friday, December 23.
  • It’s rated PG for language and thematic elements.
  • I would personally recommend this for ages 10+ (or 8+ if you would classify your child as mature).
  • Note: We Bought A Zoo is a powerful film appropriate for most members of your family, HOWEVER, it is not necessarily a “kid’s movie.” The zoo & its animals are not the center of the film. Young children may not engage with the dramatic story line and parents may be put off by the language. For a full review, read here or here.

Official Movie Trailer:

Disclosure: I was flown to Los Angeles and accommodated as a guest of 20th Century Fox. In addition to other activities related to a press junket, I was invited to a pre-screening of We Bought A Zoo, and a conversation with screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna. No other compensation was received. All opinions expressed are honest and my own.

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