In cinemas this week is a film that some may not find approachable due to its serious storyline, period setting and obvious Oscar bait style. But just because there are still a couple of blockbusting explosion movies still being released here and there doesn’t mean you can’t settle down with a fleshed out drama too. After a screening of the The Help we attended, the director Tate Taylor spoke about his film and experiences with the story, so now we’re here to give you a little nudge and a little help in understanding why you should go and catch his marvelous film at the cinema.
The film’s premise is set around 1960’s suburban life in Jackson, Mississippi where it is common for almost every household to employ the services of an African American nanny – or help. Eugenia Phelan (Emma Stone), an aspiring journalist has never accepted the third class treatment of the nannies and begins to write a book detailing their horrific and harsh mishandlings in the workplace.
Based on the book of the same name by Kathryn Stockett, the film rights were sold to first-time director Tate Taylor before the book was even published. Good friends, Stockett and Taylor were amused by their thoughts that her book would not be successful due to its manuscript being rejected by sixty literature agents. Taylor, attempting to break into feature film directing bargained with Stockett to sell him the film rights for pennies – which, the in-joke being that the book would never sell, she was happy to oblige. Of course, three months later the book was released and became an adored hit, being released in 35 countries and selling five million copies.
To Stockett’s disappointment, she had already sold the rights to Taylor when studios approached her for adapting the novel. With Taylor being one of her close friends, she never crossed her word and remained pleased that someone who was so obviously familiar with her text and the origins of the content would be more perfect to adapt and direct her book than some Hollywood lackey who she had never met.
As mentioned, Tate Taylor was not only well versed Stockett’s book, but he had had the experiences to understand the point of view of the film. Taylor recalled as a child the Help that was in his own home, and reflected on how similar his mother was to the titular outcast character of Celia Foote, as well as how he knew of Help not always being treated similarly in other homes as they were in his own. Coming from a background where he was helped raised by these nannies, Taylor had lived experiences in the novel to the point that he knew he could direct a film that could portray and contest the treatment in a non-exploitative way.
Before the book was published and became an insane hit, Taylor was already rounding up the production for the film to produce it independently. After he had already acquired $2 million from various sources and enlisted the help of some of his actress friends to star in the movie (Octavia Jackson and Allison Janney, who remained attached and star in the film), the book was released and then suddenly the studios that were attempting to gain the rights to the film were now at Taylor’s own door. The budget for the film began creeping up all the way to $25m and Taylor then had access and free reign to casting huge names such as Emma Stone, Viola Davis and Bryce Dallas Howard.
In the space of a few short months, The Help went from an unsuccessful, unsellable manuscript to a no-strings-attached Hollywood film, helmed by someone who truly understood the source material and had a passion for bringing the story to life in a tough and real way. A true underdog tale in more ways than one, The Help is certainly Oscar material and certainly a great watch.
You can read our review of The Help here. The film is released in the UK on October 26th 2011.