The following is excerpted from The Shifting Point, Peter Brook’s 1987 autobiography.
All I wanted was a small sum of money, no script; just kids, a camera, and a beach.
A young American, Lewis Allen, felt that private backers could be found who would be interested in each putting up a couple of thousand dollars for a film. With this sum, they would have no excessive anxiety about losing the lot. He and his partner, Dana Hodgdon, had just financed the film of The Connection this way, and they offered to do the same for Lord of the Flies.
We were going into the unknown, and we knew that luck and faith were completion’s only security.
In France, feature films have been made for $150. The $150 gets you through the first day’s shooting. By then, enough wheels are turning to get you through the second day, and soon you have enough to show to justify credit for going on a bit longer. Our only question was how to get to the point of no return.
An assistant I had in New York named Mike Macdonald stood on the docks and accosted likely-looking families as they set foot on American soil. He loitered outside the circus, he wrote to the Embassy families in Washington, he found in the New York telephone directory an Old Etonians Club, an Old Harrovians Club, and even one of the Old Boys of Mill Hill. I suppose we saw about three thousand children, all anxious to be in the film, with parents ardently keen on the novel and glad to have a quiet summer with the children taken off their hands.
Ralph, the leading boy, we found in a swimming pool in an army camp in Jamaica just four days before filming began. And as for Piggy, he arrived by magic through the post—a sticky Just William on lined paper, “Dear Sir, I am fat and wear spectacles,” and a crumpled photograph that made us cry with delight. It was Piggy, come to life in Camberley—the unique boy himself, conceived ten years before, at the very moment that Golding was wrestling with the birth of the novel.
We found an island off the coast of Puerto Rico. A jungle paradise; miles of palm-fringed beaches owned by Woolworth’s. They lent us the island in exchange for a screen credit.
Being for once in a position to decide, I ruled that no one could ever question the use of film. This was our salvation, because despite bad weather, illness, no rushes, no lights, no facilities, we kept on shooting, several cameras turning at once, leaving them to run as we talked to the children, starting again and again.
We ended up with sixty hours of unbroken screening—and a year’s editing. This was not the ideal technique, but it was the only technique open to us, and in a sense it was our completion guarantee.
I believed that the reason for translating Golding’s very complete masterpiece into another form in the first place was that, although the cinema lessens the magic, it introduces evidence.
The book is a beautiful fable—so beautiful that it can be refuted as a trick of compelling poetic style. In the film, no one can attribute the looks and gestures to tricks of direction. The violent gestures, the look of greed, and the faces of experience are all real.
People always ask whether the children understood, and what effect it had on them. Many of their offscreen relationships completely paralleled the story.
Even the wise and calm Piggy came to me one day, close to tears. “They’re going to drop a stone on you,” the other boys had been telling him. “That scene on the schedule, Piggy’s death, it’s for real. They don’t need you anymore.”
My experience showed me that the only falsification in Golding’s fable is the length of time the descent to savagery takes. His action takes about three months. I believe that if the cork of continued adult presence were removed from the bottle, complete catastrophe could occur within one long weekend.