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'The Karate Kid': How I Got The Job

Director Harald Zwart impressed studio executives with a model courtyard, designed with some help from his wife

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Director Harald Zwart (Pink Panther 2) has never been one to walk into a pitch meeting with just a script under his arm and some talking points rattling around his brain. Vying to remake Columbia Pictures’ 1984 hit The Karate Kid against another director, one with a track record in underdog sports films, the Dutch director wanted to wow execs. ”My wife and I were strategizing on how we could knock that guy out of the competition,” says Zwart, 44. (Zwart and Columbia both declined to identify his competitor.)

Zwart’s solution: Build a model of the courtyard where Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) trains Dre Parker (Jaden Smith) in kung fu. Armed with supplies from a model-train shop, Zwart and his wife, Veslemoey, spent three long nights crafting a 3′ × 2′ home. ”We were like an old Russian couple working old-style,” says Zwart. ”It was a lot more ambitious than we thought.” The finished model included a utility pole (which Dre uses to train) and the car Han is restoring in his living room, with blinking headlights that lit up the opposite wall so Zwart could illustrate how he imagined a key scene would play in shadow.

The gambit paid off. ”I turned down the lights, walked in, and it was all lit up,” says Zwart. ”The whole room turned magical.” Adds Columbia Pictures president Doug Belgrad, ”Harald’s vision and enthusiasm made us feel he was just the right guy for the job.”