‘The mouse led us to its author’ | Nicholas Caruana

TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Nicholas Caruana who, along with his brother Mark, has endeavoured to bring Trevor Zahra’s beloved talking mouse – Qrempucu – to life with a 3D animated feature. As a preview of the film runs alongside Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur in our cinemas, he lets us in on the process, and his hopes for the project’s future

Nicholas Caruana
Nicholas Caruana

What led you to choose this particular story to adapt out of Trevor Zahra’s vast repertoire, and why did you think it would make a suitable fit for this genre of animation? 

The way things developed was almost by chance. What started by curiosity and speculation, ended up in a serious commitment. Why this particular story? At one point I was talking to a friend of mine, and he was telling him on the potential that this story had to be made into a film. There wasn’t a moment where we sat down with a list of Trevor Zahra’s works to pick and choose. I think we had our mind set on the character of Qrempucu very quickly. It had the right ingredients for a good movie, with a great plot and intriguing characters. So in a way the mouse led us to its author, rather than the other way round.

Animation, with all its limitations due to budget, can give you a lot of free space for creativity. Maybe after all, for many people the only way to make a mouse look friendly is through animation.

What were the initial stages of adapting the story like? What were some of the most important things you needed to tackle first? 

On one hand we wanted to stay loyal to the original story. At the same time, you know you have to make the necessary changes, some of which are quite significant. So we read the story just enough times that we could make it our own, but not too many times, that we’d let it shackle our own imagination.

So we wrote the first drafts in a way we personally interpreted the story. We’d ask ourselves which are the most important and interesting characters in the story. Which are those characters which are actually contributing to the story? And this left us with giving more attention to certain characters, whilst eliminating others. Even when it came to the story itself, in certain cases complete chapters were taken out. At first this may sound like we’re butchering the story, but all this had to be done in order to capture the true essence of the story and get the best out of Qrempucu. 

Obviously, the script had to have Trevor Zahra’s blessing.

What is the reason behind promoting a preview of the project now, before it’s completed? Do you hope to generate buzz that way?

It’s not easy to gain trust and support for something so big, especially when you’ve got nothing to prove that you can really accomplish this. Sometimes you’re not even taken seriously. 

So part of the reason behind promoting this preview is to have something tangible we actually point to. In a way it was a sort of a pilot project, by which we’ve learned a lot from the whole process. 

Also, it’s really helpful to see the audience’s reaction. Releasing this short film serves as a special trailer to the full-feature, giving exposure to the character, especially with the younger generations who are not that familiar with Qrempucu. 

Given that the project is sponsored by the Malta Film Fund, how would you characterise the level of support the government grants to budding filmmakers? Are there any things you’d like to see changed in the way the indigenous film industry works? 

We’re grateful for the Malta Film Commission for their trust and advice, and for supporting us with this short film. Truth be told, there were instances where we disagreed with the evaluators of the Malta Film Fund, but later we realized we were wrong and they were right. 

That said, there are still things which we would have preferred to see move in a different way. In our particular case, it was difficult for us to gain funding; and once we’ve managed to get some funding, it was like taking a gasp of air. 

Surely something that would help us and other Maltese producers is support for liquidity, to get the wheel spinning.

What is your long-term plan for this project, and any other projects you may have in the pipeline? 

We hope to create the feature film in the best way we can. Concerning the local scene, hopefully we would have created the first full-feature 3D animated film ever in Malta. Eventually we intend to take this Maltese product offshore. 

The reason behind the choice of the English language is in fact to be able to communicate it with as many people as possible. On the possibility of dubbing the film for a Maltese version, we don’t exclude anything. As for other projects in the pipeline, this pipe is so long, we can’t tell for sure what’s on the other end.

Qrempucu is supported by the Malta Film Fund