the writing studio
art of writing and making films
swordplay and stunts
filmmakers had very definite influences in mind when
they set about establishing the tone of the fighting
in Peter Pan. "Some of my favourite films are
the Errol Flynn movies of the 1930's and '40's and I
thought if I could equal or top those sword fights,
I'd be very pleased," the director said. "They are
marvellous fun and the actors really know what
they're doing. So when Captain Hook and Peter Pan
were duelling, we wanted them to recall the flash
and fire of actors like Basil Rathbone and Errol
To achieve this end, the crew was fortified with a
trio of today's top action experts: second unit
director Conrad Palmisano, fencing master Gary
Worsfield and fight co-ordinator Brad Allan.
The duelists in Peter Pan fenced, using
swords with points. "It's not the type of swordplay
where they slice at each other until somebody gets
it," Palmisano explained. "They tell a story in the
fight choreography with a series of attacks and
parries and retreats, all aimed at getting the
opponent to do something. Gary is a wonderful
swordmaster who gets people to work very fast and
tight. It's very, very fast-handed and close
contact, which is exciting. When Hook has Pan
cornered or in trouble, then Pan does something
special to get out of it, and that's where Brad
comes in. The whole end battle is done in the air,
amidst the sails of the Jolly Roger. Some of this is
like an aerial dog-fight for brief moments. Pan's
advantage has always been his quickness and ability
to fly--but we're taking that away from him at the
end, raising the stakes of the final battle between
him and Hook."
Worsfield savoured the opportunity to bring the
beauty of swordplay to the screen. "We've put in
almost every fencing action there is," he said.
"There's rapport or communication through swords, as
well as insults, humiliation, disgust, anger,
deception - much more than brute strength. There's
been no film that I know of with sword-fighting and
flying together. Fencing is very linear but Pan can
fly so the possibilities are mind-boggling."
Brad Allan, who has worked with the Jackie Chan
stunt team for seven years, maximized the impact of
the flying fights. "The Hong Kong style is not
congruous with the look of Peter Pan, but the
filmmakers wanted to add some airplay to the Errol
Flynn style," he explained.
"I think Jeremy wants to be the next Jackie Chan,"
Allan added. "Sometimes we have to hold him back -
he's really good."
For four months before production began, Sumpter
devoted four hours a day to fencing. "Peter controls
his fights - he's skilful, he's smooth," said the
young actor. "I learned proper fencing with the
mask. Once you do that, you can work on your feet
and knees and how your body position and lunges are
supposed to be."
Jason Isaacs came to the project experienced in
swordplay, but did not have as much advantage as he
expected. "I'd done sword-fighting in a few films. I
was a little bit cocky about it, until it became
clear that I had to sword fight with my left hand -
because Hook has a hook on his right hand."
Ultimately, it only increased his ferocity. "Jason
has a great deal of dexterity with his hook," said
Palmisano. "He's like the Mix Master of cutting
edges coming at you when he makes the moves. Trying
to rehearse him, about three moves into it, you just
want to drop the sword and run outside and wait for
it to be safe again."
Wendy and the Lost Boys were less threatening, but
all received serious training. "We'd bring the Lost
Boys into the rehearsal stage with 10 fully-grown
adult stuntmen," said Palmisano, "and hand them all
metal swords and say, 'Here, attack those guys!' For
months, we'd do practice and play routines and each
boy found something that he really liked to do the
best, and we'd work that into their fight scenes."
Actor Bruce Spence, who plays the pirate Cookson,
dueled with Wendy. "The crew here are great
swordsmen and now when I observe people like Errol
Flynn, I'm thinking, 'Tsk, tsk, is that really all
you can do, Errol?' Of course, fighting Wendy is a
little different than fighting Errol Flynn, but when
Wendy is up against it and has to get her courage,
it's a moment I really enjoy. She has to move from
being the little girl she was to being more grown-up
and take control."
Accidents? A few. "Sometimes you get hit fencing and
it hurts," Sumpter reported matter-of-factly.
"Yes, we've gone wrong a few times sword-fighting,
Jeremy and I," Isaacs concurred.
But both actors were always ready for more. "Jason
and Jeremy trained very hard to be the guys actually
performing the stunts and we're very proud of them
for that," said Palmisano.
"As a 30-year veteran of the stunt field," he
reflected, "I think there's a little Peter Pan in
all stuntmen. We don't live in Neverland, but we
really don't have to grow up. We still get to play
with boys' toys, they're just bigger than usual."\
Still, Sumpter's fearlessness surprised even this
seasoned risk-taker. "I was always the first kid in
the neighbourhood to jump off the bridge into the
water, but I always went down and looked in the
water first. Jeremy might just jump.
who was j.m.barrie? - the history of peter pan
Barrie was born in the tiny Scottish town of
Kirriemuir in 1860 and moved to London as a young
man to make his mark as a writer. His earliest
stories were colorful newspaper pieces about a
fictional version of Kirriemuir. He also contributed
to the National Observer, along with such
contemporaries as Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, H.
G. Wells and W. B. Yeats. Later, with several
successful plays and novels to his credit, he lived
across the road from the Kensington Gardens, where
he took daily walks with his St. Bernard. It was
during these rambles that he met the Llewelyn Davies
children, the five brothers who inspired him to
create Peter Pan. When the children's parents
died, Barrie adopted all five boys.
Peter Pan first appeared in J. M. Barrie's
1902 novel, The Little White Bird, as the
hero of a story the book's narrator tells a child.
Barrie was already a popular novelist and playwright
in London when his Peter Pan play debuted on
December 27, 1904 at the Duke of York's Theatre. The
premiere was not a children's matinee, but a
glittering West End opening night for an audience of
sophisticated Londoners who had come to see the
latest work by one of the top writers of the day.
The patrons had no idea of what to expect from
Peter Pan, nor did anyone feel prescient enough
to predict the fate of the thematically daring and
technically demanding production. But the producer's
faith in Barrie, and Barrie's faithfulness to his
own unique vision, made Peter Pan an
Barrie refined the play's text for many years after
it debuted and expanded the story for his Peter
Pan novel, which was published as Peter and
Wendy in 1911. The play was not published until
1928, after a full 24 years of stage productions -
and revisions. Thanks to writer Andrew Birkin, a
comprehensive volume of Barrie's notes and drafts as
he conceptualized, wrote and revised Peter Pan
over this long period was collected in one
massive document, affectionately known among the
Peter Pan filmmakers as 'the tome.' 'The tome'
was an invaluable aid in making this film.
Pan is cherished around the world for its
promise of an awfully big adventure, but in Britain
there is something more. Several years before his
death in 1937, Sir James Barrie donated all rights
from Peter Pan to London's Great Ormond
Street Hospital (GOSH). The charismatic boy who
would not grow up has been helping to save the lives
of very sick children through this bequest ever
Built by Dr. Charles West in 1852 with just 10 beds,
Great Ormond Street Hospital was London's first
hospital specifically designated for children.
Charles Dickens lived nearby and read a chapter from
A Christmas Carol on the front steps to help
raise funds for expansion. The hospital was able to
buy the house next door, doubling its size to 20
beds, and it has grown from there to 350 beds.
National Health Service hospital, GOSH is funded by
the government for day-to-day operations, but not
for its many critical care speciality areas. "We get
the sickest children, if their own doctor and
district hospital can't help them; it's a place of
last resort," explained Kit Palmer, who looks after
Peter Pan rights issues for GOSH. "We have 22
different specialities and offer the widest range of
paediatric specialities under one roof in the U. K.
Most patients see at least two specialists, some as
many as five.
"The message of the play is eternal," Palmer
continued. "Who hasn't worried about growing up and
what the world has in store for us? This play has
something to say to any nation, any individual.
"We at the hospital had always hoped to have the
classic Peter Pan on film, based on Barrie's
original work. The timing is so wonderful, so now I
hope we'll have another hundred years of sharing