The Changeover: A Christchurch Bookseller

About 12 months ago, Rachel Eadie was asked for permission to film in the bookshop she manages, Scorpio Books in Christchurch, for a very special film: The Changeover. Margaret Mahy was a Christchurch native, and Kate Chant, the mother of the book’s heroine, Laura, was a bookseller. Rachel tells us more about it.

Laura Chant talks to Kate Chant, in a scene filmed at Scorpio Books. Copyright Firefly Films, used with permission, all rights reserved.

Almost a year after I had been involved in filming, this was my chance to see The Changeover. From the opening scenes, I knew that it was going to be a very special film.

The film is profoundly beautiful, intense and captivating. The movie, while not entirely true to the book’s narrative, is a modern adaptation that holds the essence and feel of the book perfectly. I have heard it said that Christchurch plays a character: I agree. Christchurch is broken, yet so so beautiful. Watching the film gave rise to some unexpected feelings for me, not only from being a Christchurch resident, but also on a personal level.

The film is profoundly beautiful, intense and captivating. 

Books on set

‘That doesn’t sound quite right to me, a bookseller would have a lot more books around the house than that, and the house would be lined with bookshelves and there would be piles of books, everywhere…’

Set decorator Heather Haywood and I had spent quite a period of time together prior to this conversation, enough for me to be comfortable correcting her. Heather had just described the single 1 x 2m book shelf she was planning to put in the house that was to be the Chants’ home.

I was helping Heather choose books for the set of The Changeover. The mother, Kate Chant (played by Melanie Lynskey) worked in a bookshop, so naturally there had to be books in the house.

Months prior, location scouts had asked if they could film the bookshop scenes in Scorpio Books. When the cast and crew finally arrived before the filming began in Christchurch, visits to Scorpio became a regular thing, discussing various sets, requesting posters to liven up the bare walls of their shared accommodation. They bought books, hung out – they felt like part of the Scorpio team after a while.

Heather and I spent a fair amount of time thinking about the books for the set. What books would Laura (played by Erena James) and Kate be reading? After the characters were described to me and I recalled reading them in the novel (which I hadn’t read for years), we set about choosing the books that would live in their house. I remember Kate being a bibliophile and she probably would have enjoyed the classics, however in the film adaptation her reading habits were more contemporary. Margaret Atwood, Lauren Groff, Han Kang, Rebecca Solnit, and Lena Dunham were amongst the carefully curated selection.

After the characters were described to me … we set about choosing the books that would live in their house. 

For Laura’s bedside table: Rachel Craw and Jane Higgins. But she would have grown up reading Margaret Mahy, Roald Dahl and the like, and of course her younger brother Jacko would be enjoying these now. I felt New Zealand titles needed to feature heavily. It was a chance to showcase them to the world, and this was a New Zealand film after all.To explain my comments to Heather about books needing to be spread all over the Chant house, I described my own home, as a bookseller. The hall lined with bookshelves accommodating books stacked three deep. Not to mention the other rooms all with ceiling height shelves. The piles of books – in front of the bookshelves, on the arms of couches, on the desk, the table, the bench. The ‘to be read pile’ beside the bed, which I tried to keep to one but was usually four or five.

Rachel Eadie on set, photo by Heather Haywood, used with permission, all rights reserved.

‘Can I come and see your house?’ Heather asked. The very next morning, she was at my door, camera out ready to find some inspiration. I had already offered to loan her some of my books, as purchasing that many books for the set would certainly be a strain on the budget. We chose a mix of old and new and as a bookseller, we knew there would have been lots of proofs lying around. So, we set about finding books to take to the set. My childhood hardback copies of Margaret Mahy books, Gavin Bishop, Peter Gossage. Elizabeth Knox’s Mortal Fire, stamped ‘reading copy’ in red ink on the edges, was a must for Laura’s bedside table. On my ‘to read’ pile were proofs of books that became bestsellers – Ashleigh Young’s Can You Tolerate This? and Tracey Slaughter’s Deleted Scenes for Lovers. Eleanor Catton and Carl Nixon were also in the mix.

Cast and crew were tempted by these books once they were on set, and a few of them came in to purchase their own copies. After the filming for the bookshop scene finished in the shop, both Miranda Harcourt and Melanie Lynskey had a pile of books to purchase. Melanie already knew that she wanted her own copy of Can You Tolerate This? from looking at it on set and by this stage, it was in print. When Ashleigh visited the store a few weeks later, I completely forgot to tell her that I had sold a copy of her book to Melanie.

Cast and crew were tempted by these books once they were on set, and a few of them came in to purchase their own copies. 

Beyond books

Heather ended up finding inspiration for other things as well. My son’s bedroom is a treasure trove of natural curiosities: shells, rocks, towers of books (the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). She felt this was what Jacko’s room would have been like. Spotting a pile of drawings and paintings the idea struck her to have a wall of Jacko’s paintings in the house – after pulling out my ‘kindy painting box’, we sat on the living room floor and sorted through paintings collected from my three children’s preschool days, selecting paintings that Jacko would have been the right age and stage to have done himself. It was a walk down memory lane for me.

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Rachel’s childrens’ art on the wall in the Chants’ home. Photograph by Heather Haywood, used with permission, all rights reserved.

Watching the world premiere of the film at the Theatre Royal, in Christchurch, I was struck by how surreal it was to see pictures my children had drawn and painted on the big screen. The very real memories embodied in their paintings suddenly had a new home on a fictional family’s walls! For a moment, the line between reality and make-believe blurred – our families’ memories didn’t just belong to us anymore, they were Jacko’s, and belonged to everybody watching the film too.

It was a pleasure, an honour and a hell of a lot of fun to play the smallest of parts in a film that a formidable team has brought to life. And it’s not every day you get to see your name in film credits (well, not for me, anyway). I was impressed that the crew really went out of their way to ensure the sets were authentic. It shows how seriously they take their job of creating a reality within a film, that Heather took the time to describe the characters to a real bookseller, enabling me to recommend titles like I would to a real customer.

I was impressed that the crew really went out of their way to ensure the sets were authentic. 

What brought the whole experience full circle for me was chatting to Elizabeth Knox at the Premier after-function and telling her that I had made sure there was a copy of Mortal Fire in the film. Only for her to tell me that her thinking on Laura’s magical rite of passage in Stuart Mackenzie’s script of The Changeover film, that she had read of many years ago, had helped her write a key chapter in Mortal Fire.

That’s New Zealand though, magic… or perhaps witch craft?!

Go and see the film of The Changeover, on national release from 28 September 2017.

The Changeover

By Margaret Mahy

Published by Hachette Australia

RRP: $19.99

Buy Now at Scorpio Books

Rachel Eadie

Rachel started her career in bookselling 15 years ago at UBS Auckland where she worked as a Key Account Manager for library and institutional sales. She has since worked as a book buyer for UBS Canterbury and Paper Plus Northlands. For the past 7 years she been the Manager and a buyer at Scorpio Books, winning the award for Young Bookseller of the Year in 2016. She is preparing to start a new role working for Penguin Random House NZ in 2019.