|Author shares story behind the film ‘We Bought a Zoo’|
|Written by Kasha Henricks, Daily Vidette Senior Staff|
|Monday, 23 April 2012 21:55|
Benjamin Mee, author of “We Bought a Zoo” and the inspiration behind the film, spoke of the trials, troubles, and joys the Dartmoor Zoological Park has encountered since opening in 2007.
On Monday, April 23, Mee spoke to a room full of people at the Brown Ballroom in the Bone Student Center.
Toni Tucker, assistant dean at Milner Library, orchestrated the event that brought Benjamin Mee to ISU.
“With everything [Mee] has gone through with his life, it is a way to show the different ways for people to heal and his family’s way of healing was through animals,” Tucker said.
Mee went from being an avid journalist to a zoo owner after a tragic loss in his family.
“I thought nothing was going to disturb this ideal life until my father died — we decided to buy a house with the family so that my mother would have family with her,” Mee said.
The families then decided to look for houses where the entire Mee family could move to and raise their children.
While looking for a place large enough to accommodate the joint families, the Mee family encountered the Dartmoor Zoological Park.
“We fell in love with [the zoo] immediately,” Mee said.
Mee continued to explain that the process of buying a zoo was not as simple as signing on the dotted line. The family went through six months of negotiations.
Although the process of buying the zoo was not simple, it was worth it. According to Mee, there was support that was already in place for the zoo and how he knew it would ultimately be a success.
“There was a lot of good will already there, so if we decided to take a leap of faith and buy the zoo, then good things were sure to follow,” Mee said.
Although the zoo went through many ups and downs, the family also endured their own personal challenges. In the late months of 2006, Mee’s wife’s brain tumor returned. She became paralyzed and passed away in March of 2007.
Mee explained how the family pulled together through this tragedy and used the zoo for comfort and closure.
“Something about having a zoo was an objective that was bigger than one thing or one family — the circle of life is so real here and there really is a bigger picture,” Mee said.
When Mee first opened the zoo, he was still writing for a newspaper. Once, when an article was late, he explained to his editor that he had just opened a zoo. She immediately pioneered a five-page feature section on the idea of randomly buying a zoo.
From that, the idea of turning his life story into a book was suggested. Following this suggestion, he then wrote “We Bought a Zoo.”
According to Mee, 20th Century Fox then requested production rights to his book.
Mee and Fox went into negotiations and Fox asked him what A-list actors he would like to see playing him in the film. One of his suggestions was Matt Damon and he agreed to do it.
“I tried to get them to film at the zoo because it has the character. They responded that it was cheaper to build an entirely new set in Hollywood and use trained animals,” Mee explained of one negotiation with Fox.
As filming was taking place, Mee and his children traveled to the set in Hollywood. According to Mee, he felt that in addition to being invested in the film, Matt Damon was a great guy.
As a promotional opportunity for the Dartmoor Zoological Park, Mee asked Damon if he would take pictures in a logo T-shirt for the real zoo.
“Matt Damon came off the set to take pictures in Dartmoor Zoological Park gear and that got people reinvested in the zoo,” Mee explained of the continued support the community shows the zoo.
When Mee looked back at his experience with the film, he said he appreciated the publicity and support it has brought to the Dartmoor Zoological Park.
“I just couldn’t figure out why they would want to make a film out of this — but it is saving the zoo,” Mee said.