1964 marked the first appearance of The Three Investigators. There are now over 125 books relating the adventures of Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews. The appearance of film legend Alfred Hitchcock within the books was the idea of the series creator, Robert Arthur. Hitchcock was well-known and the use of his name would fuel sales. The books were published in more than 30 countries but, in Germany alone, over three million books and audio cassettes are sold each year. Adults and children love the stories equally. Between February and May 2006, Studio Hamburg International Productions (SHIP) will film "The Secret of Skeleton Island" as the first of three motion picture films in the series in South Africa. Florian Baxmeyer will direct. A TV series is planned as well.
News of this movie has been around since 2003, why has it taken so long for filming to finally begin in February 2006?
Ronald Kruschak: It took over one year to secure the rights. We had to convince the Arthur heirs to sell the rights to a German company. We planned from the beginning to make an English-language film for the world market. We had to first contact lenders and TVSendern in order to get a "Letters of Intent". Subsequently, we had to develop the script and secure financing. That took more than two years - which is normal for a project of this magnitude. With a budget of roughly 11 million Euros, "The Three Investigators in The Secret of Skeleton Island" is a very expensive project - for Studio Hamburg it is the most expensive ever made.
What is your personal relationship with The Three Investigators?
Florian Baxmeyer: As a child and huge fan I possessed all of the audio cassettes. On long drives my brother and I tormented our parents listening to them. We would play the parts and even created our own detective agency. I loved it! The fact that I now have the opportunity to make a large motion picture film of something so dear to my childhood is, for me, an ideal start. I was still in film school when Ronald told me of the project...
R.K.: ... I could, more or less, say the same things!
How many Three Investigators movies can fans look forward to seeing?
R.K.: We acquired the rights to the first ten novels which were written by Robert Arthur. After the use of these ten novels for cinema or television we can develop and film further stories freely. We plan to make three motion picture films and to make the remaining seven stories as a TV series. We have just begun the negotiations of the TV serial. If everything runs well, we will start after beginning the second motion picture film "The Secret of Terror Castle". The first motion picture film, "The Three Investigators in the Secret of Skeleton Island", will be released to theaters around Easter 2007. We hope that we can begin, before this release, to produce the second film which is already in development. The third film will probably be "The Mystery of the Silver Spider".
Why was the decision made to make "The Secret of Skeleton Island" the first film?
R.K.: There are only a few books of the first ten for which large cinema is suitable. Most stories are on a small scale, taking place around Rocky Beach. "Skeleton Island" offers history and exotic locations as well as action, adventure, horror, drama and a good mystery.
Which target group(s) do you have in mind?
R.K.: In Germany The Three Investigators are incredibly well-known. The target group is very large. It begins with the six-year olds who are listening to the radio plays, "??? Kids", and goes up to the 50-year olds. We are even making the film for those spectators who are not familiar with The Three Investigators, in Germany and abroad. It will be a family film and an up-to-date, entertaining detective film.
How closely will the film resemble the novels of Robert Arthur?
R.K.: The philosophy of the story and the basic themes remained, the main characters also. We departed from the plot. The novels are set in the 60's, which are not so competitive in today's film market.
F.B.: There is a typical "Three Investigators" feeling. A mixture of tension, humor and horror. I believe that it would not work if one were to turn the boys into hyper-modern Hip Hop Kids with i-Pods and baggy jeans.
Is there co-operation with the heirs of Robert Arthur?
R.K.: I recently sent the film scripts to both Elizabeth and Andrew Arthur. Both wrote us separately to congratulate us. Both meant that we had done well, bringing The Three Investigators into the 21st century, because we remained very faithful to the original spirit in which they were created - despite the liberties which we took ourselves with the plot. Our goal was to modernize The Three Investigators gently so that they become interesting as family entertainment and are also attractive to new target groups.
The original location of the books is in Rocky Beach on the North American Pacific coast. Why did you shift the location for the first motion picture film to South Africa?
F.B.: In the original story The Three Investigators fly from the west coast to an island on the east coast. We have, for a long time, discussed whether we can shift the scene to South Africa. We decided we could because it is a story involving travel anyway. We couldn't have filmed it on the east coast because there is no island with an entertainment park. Our real quest was for the human interest story: the racusn against the immigrants, the prejudice toward strangers - where can one see that better than in Cape Town with its social contrasts? Robert Arthur's son agreed absolutely. Robert Arthur had a Socialist bent which was not welcome during the McCarthy era. In each of his stories The Three Investigators help a disadvantaged child, usually an immigrant child. In our story they help a girl from a Township.
How did the film script develop?
R.K.: Our main question always was: How can we establish and make The Three Investigators relevant on the international market? It should not become an Indiana Jones story or a dusty 60's story. The development process finally required the work with several authors: David Howard, Thomas Walendy and Philip LaZebnik. With them we developed the new concept to let conditions in South Africa come into play. LaZebnik is a very experienced Disney author who wrote, among other things, "Mulan" and "Pocahontas". It opened the way to the American market for us.
F.B.: Co-operation with Philip LaZebnik is really great. There is an unbelievable ease in the writing. It brings things very clearly to the point with good humor. The most important thing is that the writing is in character with the boys. In that respect, we hit the lottery with this script.
Will you co-operate with LaZebnik on the second motion picture film?
R.K.: We have already developed a script for our second film "The Secret of Terror Castle". The author is Aaron Mendelsohn who also wrote things for Disney. But we would be very happy to work with LaZebnik again.
Who will play the roles of Jupiter Jones, Bob and Pete?
F.B.: Our casting in L.A. was very detailed. I was absolutely inspired by the quality of the young actors in Los Angeles. If everything works out in our favor we will have three boys who are first class.
How old are the boys?
F.B.: Between 12 and 13 years old.
How closely do the characters in the script resemble the original characters?
R.K.: The Three Investigators are only roughly characterized in the books, exact details are not described. Bob is the smart book worm, Jupiter Jones is known as the over-weight Sherlock type who likes to use long words and Pete is the sporty, humorous one.
F.B.: It is probably always a bitter pill for someone who has read the books or listened to the audio tapes for years and who really knows the characters to go to the theater and see something entirely wrong.
R.K. We tried to define the characters beyond what is found in the stories. Where does the family come from? etc. This is always in arrangement with Elizabeth Arthur. The parents are only sketchily defined in the books. We developed the story of Jupiter Jones' parents, who died in an airplane misfortune, to a large dramatic story which takes place over the course of the first three movies.
Who will your film crew be in Africa?
F.B.: We have an internationally experienced team of top people of whom we are very proud. Our cameraman is Peter Joachim who worked on "Independance Day", "Godzilla", "From Next Proximity" and "Sun Avenue". Our cutter is Ueli Christian, who cut large German cinema hits like "The Miracle of Berne", "Anatomy" and "The Moved Man". Also working the equipment is the experienced Emmy winner Albrecht Konrad (for "Hitler: Ascent of the Bad One"), whose current project is "The Citizens of Berlin Air Lift".
How will you keep fans informed about the movie?
F.B.: We will build a fan website with regular information, profit plays, a club, etc. It is worthwhile for us to remain in touch with the fans.
Will there be Three Investigators mechandise available?
R.K.: Yes, toys, computer games, clothes, etc. We plan to make these products available to the German market first and then later there will be the possibility of international licensing.