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Night At The Museum - New Movie Has Croatian Roots - Milan Trenc in Action
By Marko Pulji | Published  12/21/2006 | People , Entertainment , Culture And Arts | Unrated
Croatian Artist Inspires New Hollywood Movie
Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke Interview, Night at the Museum

Milan Trenc was born in 1962. in Zagreb, Croatia where he graduated graphic arts and film direction. He has been working both in film and publishing ever since. In 1991. he moved to New York where he published over a thousand illustrations and covers for major American newspapers and magazines including Time, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, Business Week, Fortune, Washington Post, etc.

His comic strips appeared in Heavy Metal Magazine and his children's book, The Night At the Museum (Baron's 1993,) became a Twentieth Century Fox. feature movie directed by Shawn Levy, with an all star cast including Ben Stiller, Robin Villiams and Dick Van Dyke.

His films include "Ghoststory"(1989.), "The Big Time", (animated, 1987.) and "Zen Stories"(2000.)

For his illustration work he received Print Magazine Excellence Award in 1993 and Society of Publication Designers award in 2003.

We had a chance to catchup with the cast of Night at The Museum, namely Ben Stiller, Dick Van Dyke and Shawn Levy. At the heart of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is an imagination-tickling dream that anyone who's wandered through a museum in wide-eyed awe has secretly harbored: that outrageous fantasy in which the stuffed beasts and molded statues of the ancient past suddenly burst their seams and bust out of their exhibits to come fully to life in the here and now.

"I think most of us have had that experience where you walk by a statue in a museum and you could swear that you saw its eyes follow you," says the film's director Shawn Levy. "It's a little spooky and it's also very cool to imagine what would really happen if that came true - and as a filmmaker, it's exactly the kind of wild, incredible "what if" it is completely impossible to resist.

Right from the beginning, the idea behind NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM proved impossible to resist. It was all sparked when Croatian illustrator Milan Trenc first drew a children's storybook in which a brand new night guard at the Natural History Museum in New York dozes off only to discover that one of the towering dinosaur skeletons he's supposed to be protecting has mysteriously wandered away! Suddenly, the guard discovers he is surrounded by talking, growling and prowling statues, which turn the place upside down. With its spirited humor and enchanting tale of an ordinary man faced with wrangling the greatest legends of the past, the story became a family favorite.

It also seemed destined for the movies -- and the book was soon optioned by Fox, with Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan of 1492 Pictures attached to produce, and 1492's Mark Radcliffe attached to executive produce. The trio of filmmakers, who would later merge contemporary humor and cutting-edge effects into modern adventure classics with the Harry Potter series of films, envisioned an expanded story for NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM.

When Fox executives showed the book to screenwriters Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant - who came to the fore as partners with the runaway television hit "Reno 911 - (and the upcoming film version Reno 911!: Miami) -- the duo could barely contain themselves. "We literally leapt from our seats, - Lennon. "I mean, we're both from New York and we basically spent our boyhoods roaming the Natural History Museum. We could draw you a map from memory, that's how much we loved spending time there. It was simply the coolest place on earth."

Adds Garant: "The thing that really grabbed us is that we both had the same dream as kids of hiding out in the museum and getting a chance to see what happens in there after it closes. I think lots of kids, not to mention plenty of adults, have had that same dream. To be there alone in the dark with all those legends of history and all those humongous creatures would be the ultimate adventure."

Inspired by these boyhood memories, the ideas came fast and furious to Lennon & Garant. "The first thing we needed to figure out is where this spell has come from that is bringing all the museum's exbits to life," recalls Lennon. "We were both in complete awe of the Egyptian Hall at the Met in New York and since Egyptians were very into keeping things alive forever, it suddenly made sense that it all began with an ancient Egyptian Shawnate and the age-old wish for eternal youth."

As they wrote, the core of the story became the character of Larry Daley, who developed into an inveterate dreamer and schemer, unable to get even one of his endless Shawnate of overly ambitious projects off the ground. More importantly, Larry is also a wanna-be stellar dad who takes the night guard job in the hopes of never disappointing his son again. "Larry is that guy I think we all know who believes in his dreams but doesn't entirely believe in himself," Garant explains. "He's got these colossal ideas in his head all the time, but he's never had the opportunity to prove to himself or his family that he can actually make something succeed - and he's not sure he can, until now..."

With the characters set into motion, Lennon & Garant really started to have a blast, as they began to figure exactly who and what Larry might encounter as his first night on the job transforms from dull to downright mind-boggling. From the Hall of Civilizations to the American Railroad Dioramas, there were myriad possibilities. "We started off by making a list of all of our very favorite things from all our favorite museums - from the giant Easter Island heads to the dioramas," says Lennon. "We also knew we wanted Teddy Roosevelt to be a major character because the Natural History Museum in New York is lined with quotes from him and you really feel the spirit of the man in there - not to mention that he himself, as a famous naturalist, wrangled some of the exhibits in there!" Roosevelt's famous words of wisdom - such as "it's hard to fail but it's worse never to have tried to succeed" - became further inspiration for the themes underlying the entire story.

The screenwriters also engaged in an ongoing, typically boyish debate over which creatures in the museum would prove most fearsome once awakened - and had fun dashing any pre-conceived notions in that department. Notes Garant: "We decided the biggest things in the museum might turn out to be shockingly fun-loving, while the scariest of all are some of the smallest creatures!"

Along the way, Lennon & Garant refused to limit their writing in any way. "We didn't even think about if we were writing for kids or for adults - all we cared about was writing a fun, action-packed movie that everyone would love," sums up Lennon.

The results especially excited Shawn Levy, the director who has been behind some of the last decade's biggest comedy hits, yet who, ironically, had been looking for a "quieter" film when he was offered the opportunity to take the helm of NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM. The screenplay soon convinced him otherwise. "To me, what was so exciting was the story's blend of heart, humor and spectacle all in one big adventure,"
says. "The film, first and foremost, tells a great story, but with a level of visual spectacle that goes way beyond what you'd expect from a typical comedy and way more than any comedy I've ever done."

Levy found himself not only dazzled by the audacious effects sequences but moved by the plight of Larry Daley - who, at rock bottom, is simply a dad doing his bumbling and blundering best to be a hero to his son. "I think if the story were only wild and funny and filled with bells and whistles and visual effects it would miss part of the point," notes Levy. "What I loved about NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is that it was clearly going to be all those things but it was also very much about the heart of this character: a father who discovers that the one great moment he has been waiting for all his life -- and was always telling his son was coming - has finally arrived."

Levy envisioned the film's style as realistic, within the context of a big film with fantastical elements. "It sounds like a weird thing to say about a movie in which museum exhibits come to life, but because the whole premise is so wildly surreal, I felt that everything around that premise should feel totally real - from the performances to the photography to the digital effects," he explains. "I think the best fantasies have that kind of grounding in reality. Especially in this case, the fun was going to be in allowing the audience to really and truly believe a museum could lead a whole other life by night. So that's what we set out to do."

Complete interview is at:

Formated for CROWN byMarko Pulji
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