Archive for July, 2014
Tom Perrotta has written about school elections, suburban life, sex education and the rapture. His bestselling novels are unpredictable page-turners that will make you laugh, squirm and gasp, sometimes all at once. The New Jersey-native’s second novel, ELECTION, was adapted by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor into a classic film starring Matthew Broderick and Reese Witherspoon.
In 2006, Tom, along with writer-director Todd Fields, wrote the screenplay adaptation of his own breakout novel LITTLE CHILDREN. The movie would go on to be one the year’s most acclaimed films, earning Writers Guild Award and Academy Award nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The WGAE Write On Blog spoke with Tom about THE LEFTOVERS, which is his first foray into television. The series, which is based on his post-rapture novel, was brought to HBO with LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof,
When you finished writing the book THE LEFTOVERS, was your original intention to turn it into a television series as opposed to a film like you’ve previously done with LITTLE CHILDREN.
I never considered adapting THE LEFTOVERS for film. The story seemed too complex and sprawling for a two-hour movie. What’s been great about doing it as a series is that we’ve been able to able to build on the book, rather than pare it down. A character like Rev. Matt Jamison (played by Christopher Eccleston) has a much bigger role in the show than he had in the novel, for example. We’re using the novel as a springboard for new stories, rather than simply translating the book into a different medium.
THE LEFTOVERS sees you writing with LOST co-creator Damon Lindelof, Kath Lingenfelter, Jacqueline Hoyt and Elizabeth Peterson, among others. Can you tell me a bit about your experience working in a writing room? What is the writing process for the show like? How do you feel when writers take the characters you created in places you may not have expected? Do you feel the show is darker and more disturbing than the book? Personally, I do and I think that’s a good thing.
In general, I had a great time in the writers’ room. There were days when I had to bite my tongue, or work to wrap my mind around someone else’s idea, but mostly I loved the give and take of collaboration, that feeling that we were all working together to create the most exciting and thought-provoking stories we could come up with. I went in with the attitude that I was not going to play the role of the over-protective author—that wouldn’t have helped anyone. I found it thrilling when people were inspired by the book to come up with exciting original ideas that I could never have come up with on my own. It’s a dark show, as many people have pointed out, but we laughed a lot while generating all those bleak narratives. It was the only way to get through the days.
What advice would you have for screenwriters adapting a book?
Treat the book with respect, but not with reverence.
Do you have any particular scenes from THE LEFTOVERS that you felt translated from the script to the screen in a surprising or different way than you could have anticipated? What was it about those scenes that moved you?
I love what happened with the Heroes Day celebration in the pilot. In some respects, it’s a very faithful rendering of the scene in the novel. Nora Durst’s speech, for example, is taken directly from the book. But once the Guilty Remnant arrives to disrupt the ceremony, what was a relatively low-key scene in the book turns into this operatic riot sequence, so beautifully directed by Pete Berg. It becomes cinematic, in the best scnse.
You co-wrote an original screenplay with FRASIER producer Rob Greenberg. Did you enjoy working on an original screenplay? Is writing original screenplays something you’d like to do again or do you prefer to first write novels?
Rob and I wrote a broad, mainstream comedy, the only time I’ve done that. It was a blast, and I could imagine trying again at some point. But I definitely had the feeling of working outside my comfort zone.
What movies, television shows, or books are high on your radar right now?
I’ve been loving MAD MEN for years, and am sad to see it coming to an end. I’m also a big fan of THE AMERICANS, and am as excited as everyone else for the second season of TRUE DETECTIVE. BROAD CITY was amazing in its first season—I can’t wait for more. My movie of the moment is Richard Linklater’s BOYHOOD. My summer reading is a re-reading project—I’m going back to some of my favorite Graham Greene novels, and finding them incredibly rich the second time around. Right now, I’m halfway through THE END OF THE AFFAIR, one of my all-time favorites, and it’s even better than I remembered.