Writer/Director Eric Small uses beautiful sets; creative imagery to wrestle with life’s heavy questions.
In MGM’s new life-affirming family fantasy, “The Dust Factory,” a young boy (Ryan Kelley) — mute since witnessing his father’s tragic death — falls from a bridge into a dream realm somewhere between this world and the next. There he must confront his fears, guided by his grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and the friendship of a mercurial girl (Hayden Panettiere).
Recently Paula K. Parker had a chance to talk to Eric Small, a Hollywood veteran and Writer/Director of The Dust Factory, about his use of beautiful sets and creative imagery to wrestle with some of life’s heavy issues.
Paula K. Parker: IS THE DUST FACTORY CREATED ENTIRELY OUT OF YOUR OWN BRAIN OR IS IT AN ADAPTAION?
Eric Small: It is entirely an original work.
PKP: IT IS A RATHER UNIQUE STORY. WHAT INSPIRED IT?
ES: When I was eleven years old, I was like a lot of kids my age. I had a lot of thoughts, I had a lot of fears; fears about a lot of things, one of them being the concept of mortality. That was the genesis. When I grew older, I was dealing with my beliefs and my spirituality and this story grew out of that, to deal with the concept of mortality through the eyes of a young boy. That was the intent of this film– to approach that subject matter in a hopeful way and in a way that would be accessible to kids of all ages, and would be a rewarding and satisfying movie for parents and grandparents as well, if they took their kids.
PKP: MANY WRITERS USE PEOPLE FROM THEIR OWN LIFE AS MODELS FOR CHARACTERS IN THEIR STORIES. ARE THERE ANY CHARACTERS FROM YOUR LIFE IN THE DUST FACTORY?
ES: Character-wise, I would say that the Ryan has some of my own qualities as a young boy. The character of the grandfather, some of his personality traits and his character came from my grandfather; my mother’s father, I called him my “Opa.” He was German and “Opa” is what you call your grandfather in German. He had a lot of personality traits…that daring…that sense of every day of life is a gift. He lived that way… with a “What’s next?” mentality…he was a pretty fearless guy.
PKP: WHAT IS THE WORLD OF THE DUST FACTORY?
ES: The world of The Dust Factory, quite simply, is a place where Ryan went to face his fears. The Ring Master was like a mirror; he mirrored the boy’s fears. His fear of the unknown; his fear of death. By mirroring those things, the Ring Master forced Ryan to deal with the things he needs to face so he can move on in his life and not have road blocks. That’s what The Dust Factory is all about; challenges and facing fears.
PKP: WAS THE DUST FACTORY REAL OR WAS IT A DREAM LIKE OZ WAS FOR DOROTHY?
ES: It’s a dream, like Oz was for Dorothy. I didn’t use the Wizard of Oz convention of double roles for characters, because that would have been stealing. That’s been done, so I didn’t do that. But what I did do was allow there to be a rule – this girl Melanie, she was there as well – and that way they got to have that shared experience. Another convention I used, was to have a place for people who are not conscious in the real world. Where are they? Where is Grandpa? He has Alzheimer’s, but where is he? Is there anything going on in that brain? Of course something is going on… and he is in The Dust Factory…that is where he is.
PKP: WHAT DO YOU HOPE YOUR AUDIENCE WILL TAKE AWAY WITH THEM AFTER SEEING THIS FILM.?
ES: The message of The Dust Factory is to approach life’s challenges in a spirit of hope and desire and an exuberance for ‘what’s next?’ And to maintain that exuberance throughout their lives. My largest hope is that kids will view a subject like mortality in a way that is accessible and not as scary. To take some of the fear away from it and make it a little more palatable for them. Instead of being scared of not being able to move through your life in a productive way, it’ll give them hope and inspire them and encourage them to live their lives fully…that every day is precious.
The Dust Factory is rated PG – for thematic elements and some scary images.
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