'Ender's Game' Director Says Focus On The Message, Not The Author

Nov 1, 2013
Originally published on November 1, 2013 4:55 pm

The sci-fi movie “Ender’s Game” hits the big screen today. The film shows a world preparing for an attack from bug-like aliens, the Formics. The military has decided that children make the best solders, so Ender Wiggin is recruited to battle school a very young age.

The film is based on a book of the same name by Orson Scott Card, who is controversial for his anti-gay marriage stance. In 2008, he wrote an opinion piece for the Deseret News saying that a government that allowed for gay marriage should be overthrown. He recently told the Deseret News that he stands by his remarks.

The LGBT group Geeks Out is calling for a boycott of the movie, though those behind the movie say he won’t profit from the film.

The movie stars Asa Butterfield, only 12 at the time of filming, as Ender. Harrison Ford plays Ender’s stern commanding officer, Colonel Graff.

Gavin Hood, who directed the movie and wrote the screenplay, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the film. Hood says the message of the story and of the film is one of acceptance, tolerance and even love for the enemy, and that those are the messages he’d like the audience to focus on.

“My position on gay marriage and gay rights is fundamentally the opposite to his,” Hood says. “But here’s how I feel: I love Orson Scott Card’s book. So do many gay and straight people. And I imagine lots of people holding that book up and saying, Orson, we love what you said in this book. What you said in this book about compassion and tolerance and empathy for the other is what we love about this book, and I think we should celebrate that.”


  • Gavin Hood, screenwriter and director of the movie “Ender’s Game.”
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The film "Ender's Game" hits theaters today. It's the story of young Ender Wiggin sent to battle school to train for war against invading aliens.


HARRISON FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) If we're going to survive, we need a new kind of soldier - one who doesn't think the way we think, fear the things we fear, one the enemy would never expect. We need minds like yours, Ender. You'll be the finest commander we've ever trained.

ASA BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender Wiggin) So I'm not the first.

BEN KINGSLEY: (as Mazer Rackham) No, but you will be the last.

HOBSON: The author of the book the movie is based on, Orson Scott Card, is controversial for his stance on gay rights, and some have called for a boycott of the film. The movie stars, as you just heard, Harrison Ford playing Ender's stern commanding officer, Colonel Graff, and Asa Butterfield who was only 12 years old at the time of filming. He is Ender Wiggin.

Gavin Hood directed the movie and wrote the screenplay, and he joins us now from the studios of NPR West. Gavin, what is the message about the generational divide here? This movie focuses on a kid who is not only smarter than the adults but seems to have a better moral compass.

GAVIN HOOD: I think what appealed to me as a parent of children is that this is a movie that is about kids and for kids but also for their parents in the sense that it's fun and exciting. But it also has some greater moral questions at its center. And the character in the form of Ender Wiggin, who is morally complex and in search of his own, as you say, moral compass, you know, he has this capacity for real compassion and empathy. But he has an equal but opposite capacity for real violence and aggression. And in that sense, he's very human.

HOBSON: And the adults in the movie are constantly pushing him to do what they want. I want to listen to a scene here. This is Harrison Ford playing Colonel Graff. He's talking with his deputy about whether or not the training that Ender is going through is a bit too tough.


VIOLA DAVIS: (as Major Gwen Anderson) My God. You really don't see them as children, do you? It used to be a war crime to recruit anyone under the age of 15.

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) When the war is over, we can have the luxury of debating the morality of what we do.

DAVIS: (as Major Gwen Anderson) When it's over, what will be left of the boy?

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) What does it matter if there's nothing left at all?

HOBSON: Gavin, are we supposed to be sympathetic to the adult characters in the movie?

HOOD: You know, Jeremy, I think the interesting thing about a film like this is when you're asked about who should you be sympathetic to, I don't think it's for me as the filmmaker to tell people where their sympathy should lie. I think that a character like Graff played by Harrison Ford - and Harrison would say this - is doing what he thinks he needs to do. All of these characters are flung together in order for the audience to reflect, I hope, for themselves on what their position would be in times of crisis, if you like.

HOBSON: Was there ever a moment in the filming of this when you noticed the fact that one of your actors was this very highly regarded actor, Harrison Ford, who's been around forever and the other was a newbie, basically?

HOOD: Yeah. Yeah. It actually worked for us because Harrison and I chatted and he said, look, I'm going to just keep my distance a little. The intimidation factor is good. I don't want to sort of mess around with him between takes, and we'll have a laugh and then try and come back to this more complicated script. So it helped. We shot the story in sequence. Partly it helped us because little Asa Butterfield grew two inches during the course of shooting.


HOOD: I mean, he's just shooting up, which was great for the movie because, you know, he begins the movie as someone who's very young and quite intimidated by the character of Colonel Graff. And so fact that he was intimidated by Harrison Ford kind of helped us. And by the end of the movie, Harrison had let him in. And by the time he's ready to really stand up to the character of Colonel Graff, he was ready to stand up to Harrison Ford.

HOBSON: Well, let's listen to a scene of the two of them. This is Harrison Ford as Colonel Graff talking to Ender about Ender's dislike for his captain, Bonzo.


FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) But you have a habit of upsetting your commander.

BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender Wiggin) I find it hard to respect someone just because they outrank me, sir.

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) Puts you in a difficult position, doesn't it?

BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender Wiggin) Yes, sir.

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) You don't like taking orders from Bonzo.

BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender Wiggin) No, sir.

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) Perhaps you'd prefer to give them yourself.

BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender Wiggin) Sir?

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) How would you like to lead your own army, Dragon Army?

BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender Wiggin) Sir, I've never heard of a Dragon Army.

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) We discontinued the name four years ago. No Dragon Army ever won a battle.

BUTTERFIELD: (as Ender Wiggin) Then why not a new name, sir?

FORD: (as Colonel Hyrum Graff) Because we already have the uniforms.


HOBSON: And by the way, that was the line that got probably the biggest laugh of the entire movie in the theater.

HOOD: Yeah. I loved it. Harrison is just so dry, and he's just, because we already have the uniforms. I do love that scene. It sort of epitomizes the theme of leadership, and that's one of the great themes in the movie, I think.

HOBSON: The movie is breathtaking visually. And I want to ask you about one scene in particular where they are floating around. All of these kids are floating around this zero gravity battle room. And it reminds me, having just scene "Gravity" recently, of the difficulty in having actors look like they're floating around in space.

HOOD: Well, yeah. We had a lot of kids to fly in zero gravity. You know, at times there are sort of 12 or 16 kids flying around all together. So there were a couple of ways you do it. First of all, we hired a great stunt coordinator, Garrett Warren, who brought in some great acrobats and ex-Cirque du Soleil performers. And then we also obviously handoff a lot of the shots onto pure visual effects where - that sounds easy, but it's actually very much more complicated than it sounds - so that you can seamlessly blend the live action into the visual effects and create these battles. And, in fact, in some of the battles, I think we got 40 kids flying around. And obviously, they weren't all on wires. You've got close-up work and more immediate work done with real actors, and then you're using CG characters in the background areas too.

HOBSON: Gavin Hood, I have to ask you about the controversy surrounding this because I'm sure you've talked about before. But the idea that Orson Scott Card, by many people - this is the writer of the book - is seen as anti-gay. He has made a lot of comments that are anti-gay. Has that been a problem? What do you make of what he said and do you divorce what you've done from his original work or how does that go in your head?

HOOD: Well, it's an excellent and very important question and raises some, you know, extremely important debate. I mean, from the outset, let me say and it's well known that my position on gay marriage and gay rights is fundamentally the opposite to his. So that raises the question, well, Gavin, why would you make a film based on his book? So here you have a dilemma, and I'm reminded - and this might sound strange - of what happened in my own country in 1995 with the World Cup.

In the Rugby World Cup, rugby in my country was really the sport of white South Africans. And yet the country, one year after its first democratic elections, was going to host the Rugby World Cup. And our team was still pretty much all white, barring one player. And Nelson Mandela faced a huge dilemma. Many people said we can't host this. This can't be done. We're not going to endorse this sport that really is - conservative, white South Africans love this game. And Mandela took the opposite view. He not only supported that Rugby World Cup. He put on the rugby jersey of that team. He walked down onto a field of 64,000 South Africans, probably 1,000 of which might have been black. The rest were 63,000 white South Africans. And they began to chant his name, Nelson, Nelson. It was a huge moment, a huge moment because he appropriated the very thing that was dearest to them and came back with support and said, I am not judging you. I love this game.

Now that might seem like a stretch, so apologies if it does. But here's how I feel. I love Orson Scott Card's book, so do many gay and straight people. And I imagine lots of people holding that book up and saying, Orson, we love what you said in this book. What you said in this book about compassion and tolerance and empathy for the other is what we love about this book. And I think we should celebrate those. And it's better than slugging it out in the street. It's to be honest and say, this work of art, in my view, is something I want to support. But these views that you expressed about gay marriage, I do not support. And the ability to separate those two things, I think, is very important for a calm and sensible discussion about what is a very important topic.

HOBSON: Gavin Hood wrote the screenplay and directed the film "Ender's Game." It opens in theaters today. Gavin Hood, thank you so much for joining us.

HOOD: You're most welcome, and thank you for your questions, Jeremy.

HOBSON: From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Jeremy Hobson.


I'm Robin Young. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.