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Producer Juliet Blake on What it is Like to Work with Spielberg, Oprah, and Adapting a Best Seller

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These questions originally appeared on Quora.

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Answers by Juliet Blake, Producer of The Hundred-Foot Journey

What is it like to produce a film involving both Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey?

It was a dream come true, obviously. Steven is perhaps one of my most favorite filmmakers, and I have always said that my life was changed profoundly by Schindler's List. I saw that film and realized, more than at any other time, the power of filmmaking. When I first moved to America over 20 years ago, I had my own production company called The English Channel. It was always a dream of mine to work with Steven so when I was going in for a discussion with him about a movie that I had been nurturing for 3 years on my own - The Hundred-Foot Journey - it was such an amazing experience for me.

Obviously Oprah is such a powerhouse. She did something wonderful and placed the book on her Summer Reading List in 2010, which really helped bring the book sales up. So it was the magic of having those two support the film that really helped make the film happen.

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What is the process like by which a book is optioned and then developed into a film project?

I read The Hundred-Food Journey, loved it, and got on a train to meet the author right away. I told him that every other producer would probably have twenty books that they would be trying to make into movies, and I promised him that I would just have one. I also promised him I would get the movie made. But when I got back onto the train to head back to Washington, DC, I thought, "well how the hell am I going to do that?" It's been a long journey for me, but there hasn't been one minute of it that hasn't been wonderful. I just believed that I was going to do it. I never doubted it. What anybody can learn from this is that, young or old, if you believe in something, go for it. Don't give up. If it doesn't happen, so what? But if you don't really try, how are you ever going to know?

So I optioned the book and then set about putting together a list of companies that I might like to work with. I took it to DreamWorks, who said that I should bring in a different partner, a heavy hitter. So I talked to some other companies, including Harpo Films, Oprah Winfrey's production company. They loved the book, Oprah was very supportive, and she made it a part of her Summer Reading List and that helped the book sales. Then we took it back to DreamWorks, and they said yes. DreamWorks has been great to work with; they're so supportive with a first-time filmmaker.

What was it like to turn The Hundred-Foot Journey from a book into a movie?

I think I always knew that the movie had to be different from the book, and whilst I think the book is beautiful and I have enormous respect for Richard C. Morais, the author of the book, naturally the film is going to be very different. The biggest challenge was really finding the right screenwriter to adapt the book into a movie. We obviously had a list of potential writers and I had always wanted a British writer to write this film. Not because I'm a Brit, but because I felt that anyone who grew up in the UK understands the experience of the Indian community in England where there are so many pockets of Indian communities. Steven Knight grew up in Birmingham, which is in the middle of the country, and also has the second largest Indian population. I thought Steven really understood that community so he was very high on my list. He also writes wonderful characters.

What are the key challenges for a writer or producer who is adapting a best-selling book into a screenplay for the big screen?

I think I always knew that the The Hundred-Food Journey had to be different from the book, and whilst I think the book is beautiful and I have enormous respect for Richard C. Morais, the author of the book, naturally the film is going to be very different. The biggest challenge was really finding the right screenwriter to adapt the book into a movie. We obviously had a list of potential writers and I had always wanted a British writer to write this film. Not because I'm a Brit, but because I felt that anyone who grew up in the UK understands the experience of the Indian community in England where there are so many pockets of Indian communities. Steven Knight grew up in Birmingham, which is in the middle of the country, and also has the second largest Indian population. I thought Steven really understood that community so he was very high on my list. He also writes wonderful characters.

In producing a feature film, how helpful is it to come into the job with prior experience in television production?

I've produced over 200 hours of television - BBC, The National Geographic Channel and Jim Henson Television - and I think that good storytelling is good storytelling, whether it's on the web, television, radio or TV. Understanding story structure and the beats of a good story is what matters. In a way, it's a longer and more collaborative process because you have a bigger team and a bigger budget. But I think as a producer, it's really about allowing the director the space to make the film that he wants to make and to truly support the director is the key.

How did the director of The Hundred-Foot Journey first get involved with the film?

I love Lasse Hallström's films. I've always loved his films. Harpo Films, DreamWorks and myself put together long lists of potential directors, but Lasse was somebody that I always hoped might end up directing this film. I think he works beautifully with young actors. If you think about how well he worked with Leonardo DiCaprio with What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Johnny Depp with Chocolat, he's wonderful with actors. He also has the most incredible attention to detail. He's able to create worlds, and it's the little details in a Lasse Hallström film that make it feel so organic and really come to life.

How did Helen Mirren get involved with The Hundred-Foot Journey?

When I read the book, I had always thought of Helen Mirren in that role. Before I'd even optioned the book, from the very first moment I started reading it until I finished it and put the book down, Helen was my number one choice. What I didn't know at the time was that Helen speaks fluent French. She had a home in France (she just recently sold it) and had always wanted to be French actress. So, the part appealed to her very much.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Juliet Blake's reflections on the upcoming The Hundred-Foot Journey...

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