There are several measures of success that each writer dreams of happening. One, of course, is to complete writing a manuscript. Then there’s getting an agent, publisher and/or self-publishing. Afterwards is having the book become a bestseller. Following that is having the book made into a movie.
While it’s rare that all these steps happen for most writers, I think it’s interesting to take a peek into the process. That’s why the final panel I attended at BookCon was “Transforming a Bestseller onto the Silver Screen: The Book to Film Experience.”
[When I take notes at an event, I write it out longhand in a notebook, and I must say I'm not always the fastest transcriber around. I paraphrased the questions/answers that I didn’t manage to write down verbatim, but I tried to stick as closely as possible to what was asked/answered. All questions were asked by the moderator, MJ Franklin, with the exception of the audience questions at the end.]
MJ Franklin (moderator), Stephen Chbosky, R.J. Palacio, Nicola Yoon, Lauren Oliver.
The moderator started out with a question to break the ice.
Question: What is your guilty pleasure movie?
Stephen - The Room.
R.J. – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Nicola – Harold and Kumar.
Lauren – Dazed and Confused, Love Actually and The Princess Bride.
Question: What was your first thought when you heard the news your book was going to be made into a movie?
Lauren – “Online shopping!”
Nicola – She didn’t believe it at first. “Then I bought a bottle of champagne.”
R.J. – “It was like watching your kid take their first step.” It’s not one step, it’s a lot of little steps, in the process from book to movie.
Question: What happens AFTER you hear your book’s going to be made into a movie?
It takes years – one author said 4 years, one said 7+.
Question: What’s happening in that 7 years?
Lauren – “Well, that’s how long it takes people in Hollywood to read a book.” [Big laugh from audience.]
Lauren – “Once it starts going, it can go really, really fast.”
Stephen – “It really is a small miracle [that films get made]. … There really is no rhyme or reason. … It helps to have a fan base.” More books get made into movies than original screenplays.
Nicola – The head of MGM’s daughter loved her book and wanted it to be a movie, so he said, “Okay.”
Question: Stephen, you’ve been on all sides of the table. Do you sleep? What was it like directing Wonder [R.J. Palacio’s book] and working directly with the author?
Stephen – “No” on the sleep question. He has a 2-year-old and 4-year-old, so he doesn’t sleep at all. [Got a laugh from the audience.] As to directing, he worked very closely with Raquel on Wonder. He asked her help and opinion a lot.
Lauren – “So many writers are shut out [by directors]. … Creative writing is like romance. … You’ve got to pick your partner carefully.”
Stephen – “The really smart directors – the best directors – it’s not true.” They don’t shut out the writers.
Question: When changing mediums from book to movie – what new opportunities do you see in it?
R.J. – “I love the idea of telling a story with as many audial and visual senses as possible.”
Question: Does it make you approach writing your next book differently?
Nicola – “The thing about writing your second book when your first book is doing well is that you hear everything that they [the readers] love about it and also everything they hate about it – because they will tell you.”
Question: What do readers need to know about book/screen differences?
Lauren – Scenes are filmed around location, not as a linear story, so filming jumps around in the story.
Stephen – Quoted, “Art is a great lie that tells the truth.”
Question: What about Easter eggs – what secrets do you put in your movies?
Nicola – She and her family have a cameo in her movie. It’s 3 seconds in the movie, but it took 45 minutes to film. It was filmed with a drone and every time, her daughter would point at the drone. She would tell her daughter, “Honey, don’t point.” And then the next time the drone flew by – out went the hand.
R.J. – Her son is in her movie.
Stephen – Lots. For example, his wife is also a writer, and he had the main character reading her book.
Question: Because your story is a personal thing to you, how do you know screenwriters won’t ruin it?
R.J. – “Blind faith.”
Lauren/Nicola – They need to love it as much as you do.
Question: How long do you revise before it’s ready?
Stephen – “My advice to all young writers … you can recognize great writing before you can do it.” He asked the questioner how old he was – the man answered, “19.” Stephen advised that there are 4 steps to being a writer.
Question: Do you ever have to step back and not have as much control over your work?
Lauren – When you get a letter from your editor, you go through it. “You have to learn as a writer how to listen, but only to the right people.” Every time, she goes through the 5 stages of grief. Rage is a long one for her. [Got a laugh from the audience.] It teaches you how to push yourself as a writer because it’s stuff you don’t know how to do.
Question: Does seeing a movie make you reenvision your original vision of the book?
Nicola – “It’s [a movie is] a new piece of art.”
Question: How do you stay objective and how do you stay organized?
Stephen – “There is no organization. It’s just how you apply time.”
Nicola – “Writing is a muscle.” You have to exercise it.
Lauren – “Anything you want to do is just work, plus time.”
And that was everything I saw at BookCon! I learned a lot and was lucky enough to attend some really great panels. Hopefully, some of what these authors have said will be inspiring to others, too.
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Who the heck is Alison McBain?
I am a freelance writer and poet with over two hundred short pieces published in magazines and anthologies. If the Walking Dead isn't on, I draw pictures and do origami meditation in Alberta, where I live with my family. If the Walking Dead is on... shhhh! The Walking Dead is on! For more info, please check out my "About Me" page.
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