I first met Therese Anne Fowler at a book festival where we were appearing together--and I immediately loved her. Warm and generous, she's also a terrific writer (and it's not just me saying this--so does the New York Times and the zillions of readers who helped make her a mega-bestseller.) Her work has been translated into more than a dozen foreign languages and is published around the world. Her novel Z is currently in development as an original dramatic series for Amazon Studios with Killer Films and Christina Ricci producing. She's the author of Exposure, Reunion and Souvenir (all incredible novels) and she's working on a new novel about the Vanderbilts.
Her pilot is one of six that Amazon Films is showing and viewers can vote on the one they love the best. (Guess which one I'm rooting for?) I can't tell you how excited I am for her, and how thrilled I am that she's here.
And you can watch the pilot here.
What's the most startling thing about seeing your amazing novel turned into a film?
The visual realization of things that once lived entirely inside my head. Things that were little more than facts or anecdotes or photographs are alive and happening right now before my eyes. Christina Ricci suddenly is Zelda Fitzgerald. It’s uncanny.
This is really what every writer dreams of, and you are having it happen! Has watching the filming changed your writing at all? Has it made you more visual (though you are a visual writer to begin with.)
I am still astonished that this project actually got this far! Seeing the way the writers/showrunners Dawn Prestwich and Nicole Yorkin took parts of the novel and adapted them or recombined them to better fit the format of visual storytelling is more instructive than some people might think.
When I first saw the script early this year, all I could do was admire the efficiency of the scenes—they squeeze characterization, action, and setting into a much smaller space than most of us novelists do. Granted, they have the advantage of having visuals to do a lot of the work that we have to do with words, but even so, it made me aware that I can probably do more with less if I take the time to fully understand what it is I want and need to convey in each scene, and focus my revisions with that principle in mind.
What misconceptions did you have about Hollywood that you don't have anymore?
I thought that the director was always the boss—but in television it’s the showrunner(s) who makes the final call on whether a scene is doing what needs done. That’s not to say that the director’s vision isn’t hugely important; he or she is the person who makes the initial decisions on how to translate each element of the script into a working scene. But ultimately the showrunner says whether or not it’s a wrap and everyone can move on to the next scene on the schedule.
Also, I imagined that every production took months if not years of careful planning and organization. What’s actually true is that the assembly of the team (actors, director, producers) can take months or years, but the production itself—securing the locations, hiring caterers, drivers, crew, extras, acquiring costumes, etc.—can and very often does come together in a matter of weeks, once the team is in place and available to work.
Every actress brings nuances to every role and new interpretations. Ricci, an extraordinary actress, is playing Zelda--how does her interpretation add to yours in the novel?
That this show came to be in the way that it has is because Christina read Z when it was published in 2013 and saw in it an interpretation of Zelda that fit with her own belief about who Zelda was. She asked her manager to look into whether there was a film in the works; she wanted to audition for the lead role. When she learned that the rights were still available, she got in touch with Killer Films and, after about a year of behind-the-scenes effort, came to me with an offer to make the book into an ongoing series.
All of which is to say that from the moment I stood on the set and watched her be Zelda, I knew she was going to be able to demonstrate every nuance of Zelda’s complex, complicated, and fascinating character for film—which is a pretty tall order!
I want to also praise Tim Blake Nelson’s deft direction (along with, of course, the script). He and Christina seemed to have a genuine feel for the material and for each other’s talents, and it’s all beautifully realized in her performance in the pilot.
Do you write scripts? Do you want to, now? And what is it like on the set? Did you cry when you saw your novel come alive?
So far I have only ever dabbled at scriptwriting, but I do intend to do some screenplay work in the future.
The set was expertly organized chaos! So many people and so much equipment—cameras, lighting equipment, cables, sound equipment, monitors, tracks for cameras, strong young people toting things around, people with walkie-talkie radios, the writers, the director, various producers, makeup and hair teams—and yet in the center of it all, these incredibly talented actors behaving as though they were the only ones in the room.
At first I felt almost no sense of ownership or responsibility for any of what was happening. After all, I didn’t invent Zelda and Scott and their story, I just interpreted it for fiction. But when I saw and heard the characters saying lines that had come right out of my novel, it brought the whole thing home to me. The icing on that cake was when the studio executive who was on set got ready to leave one night and said to me, “Thank you for making all of this happen.” I was speechless. But no, I didn’t cry.