Wednesday, October 2, 2013
John Green Talks with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from the TFiOS Set
From Barbara Vancheri at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
"They came carrying hardcover books, freshly ripped pieces of notebook paper and the occasional pocket-size U.S. Constitution.
If a student has the copy of the historical document signed by someone famous, she or he gets bonus points. And, as confirmed by the knot of Mt. Lebanon teens outside St. Paul's Episcopal Church, writer John Green more than qualifies, as do actors Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort and Nat Wolff
Word that "The Fault in Our Stars" had landed at the church spread through Instagram, Twitter, texts and talk among middle and high schoolers walking along Washington Road and Mayfair Drive.
Students who skipped or postponed dinner and homework and waited into the darkness met the author, a publishing and vlogging rock star. One declared, "This is, like, the best day of my life."
Mr. Green, 36, signed everything politely pressed into his hands, begged off photos due to a quickie lunch break around 8 p.m. but later returned for selfies with his fans.
Clad in jeans and Harry Potter Alliance T-shirt, he efficiently volunteered to hold each phone at arm's length, smiled for every picture and thanked everyone for their support before turning back into the church.
Yes, he has clearly done this before (earlier that afternoon, in fact) and will be doing it for a long time to come, based on the popularity of the novel and, now, anticipation for the 2014 movie.
"This is totally consuming and has been since it came out, which is the best problem I've ever had in my life," he told the Post-Gazette.
Sitting on a padded wooden pew near a side entrance to the church, under the green felt bulletin board announcing "Parish News," Mr. Green fielded questions in hushed tones as filming continued elsewhere in the building where the characters of Hazel and Gus meet at a support group.
In a (mild spoiler alert) tweak to the novel, they run into each other on the elevator, and she then goes into the restroom to compose herself. But readers need not fear that the book, about whip-smart lovestruck teens who happen to have cancer, is being mangled.
"When people really love a book, what they want to see is the book come to life. They want to see the book visually, and I'm sympathetic to that desire. I felt that desire about books that I loved, I felt that about 'Harry Potter,' I felt that about 'Revolutionary Road,' I felt that about a huge variety of books.
"But, you know, my hope is that it can be a good movie, not that it can be a good visualization of a book," he said, adding that some details on the page can seem hokey or ridiculous on screen.
"That said, the screenplay -- in my opinion at least -- is just phenomenally faithful to the book. Almost every line of dialogue in the movie is from the book. It's very, very faithful."
Josh Boone is directing the screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, who adapted or wrote "The Spectacular Now" starring Ms. Woodley and "(500) Days of Summer."
With weekend breaks to return to Indianapolis, his wife, their 3-year-old son and 3-month-old daughter, Mr. Green has been in Pittsburgh for almost the entire shoot and will join the production when it heads to Amsterdam for a few days later this month.
"Usually book writers are on the set for one or two days. I'm lucky to have a really great relationship with Josh the director, and he's the kind of relaxed, laid-back, confident guy who doesn't need to worry about that stuff," he said.
"And hopefully I'm the kind of writer who doesn't butt in. I don't want it to be my movie. I don't know how to direct a movie."
After all, he didn't immediately appreciate the brilliance of Ms. Woodley when she sent him "a very, very long email, 30 pages long or something" about the book, her passion for it, how important it was to find a way to get the movie made and how much she longed to play Hazel.
His response? " 'That's very sweet, but I'm not a casting director.' I probably would have been a little bit nicer to her if I'd understood what an incredible genius she is," he said, then backtracked that maybe he was a little more polite.
After watching her audition tape for Hazel, a 16-year-old whose thyroid cancer damaged her lungs, he immediately contacted Mr. Boone and producer Wyck Godfrey.
"Is it going to be helpful if I get on the phone? Should I email her, can I text her, do you have her phone number? Can I fly out to L.A. and hang out with her? What do I need to do to make it happen? She was just amazing; she's so talented."
When he later saw Ms. Woodley paired with Mr. Elgort, he picked up the phone and again asked, "How can I help?"
Just as many readers now think of Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter or Kristen Stewart as Bella Swan, they will picture the youthful stars as Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, a handsome charmer who downplays his "little touch of osteosarcoma."
"The good thing from my perspective is they both take that responsibility very seriously. ... They both love the book and they want to honor it and honor the story," said Mr. Green, who shot a cameo for the movie.
The story is set in Indianapolis and will stay that way, with locations such as Mt. Lebanon, Oakmont, Wilkins, Lawrenceville, Shadyside, Bellevue and Hartwood Acres doubling for the city 300-plus miles away and even for a bit of Amsterdam.
The challenge, however, was finding flat terrain in hilly Western Pennsylvania, but Mr. Green bought the illusion.
"When I saw both Hazel and Gus' houses, I just felt like, wow, this is the house I imagined. It was surreal. Hazel's house looked like it could have been next door to my house, which is where I set Hazel's house in my book. That was really cool."
He had been familiar with Pittsburgh thanks to his wife, Sarah Urist Green, a contemporary art curator. She curated the show "Andy Warhol Enterprises" for the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 2010, and that meant trips here to The Warhol Museum.
But it was the reputation, experience, professionalism and size of the crew in Pittsburgh, along with the tax incentive, that landed the project here.
Mr. Green sees the relationship between writer and reader as two halves of a whole.
"It takes two to make it work. It takes the writer putting the right words on the page, but it also takes a reader who's reading generously, reading thoughtfully, paying attention. We all know that there's different ways to read newspaper stories, there's different ways to read novels.
"They read them distractedly, they read them with a chip on their shoulder, they read them with a bias, they go into them angry. For whatever reason, my readers have been so generous to this book and have read it with such kindness, and that's made all the difference."
Ask the teens on the sidewalk what they love about the novel, and heartfelt sentiments tumble out like emotional endorsements for a book jacket: "So moving ... inspirational and written so well ... feel very connected with the book ... very relatable for teens ... a universal love story." A few confessed to sobbing in Spanish or literature class when they came to the end.
David Happe, 14, lives "a five-minute run from here," he said, late Thursday in explaining how he had managed to score all the key autographs -- even when his dad appeared inquiring about homework and insisting he stop home for a bit. David had arrived by 4:30 p.m., when Ms. Woodley greeted a small band of early birds, and later got the writer plus Mr. Wolff and Mr. Elgort to sign their names.
For girls, the actor who plays Gus inscribed their books with "To Rachel [or Alyssa or Grace]" with a heart and then Ansel E., while Mr. Wolff, whose Isaac is losing his sight and fickle girlfriend, also sprinted over when summoned by the teens.
Some current or former cancer patients will turn up as fellow support group members, and fears that Mr. Green was co-opting their story proved unfounded. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive, and I'm so grateful for that."
In a world of teen superheroes and vampires who are invincible or immortal, "TFIOS" is remarkable. "I can't remember the last time we had a movie where pretty much all the central characters are living with serious disabilities," Mr. Green said.
But readers appreciate that the story allows sick people to have full, rich lives. "You are still a complicated person, you're still capable of the same love and joy and grief that anyone is.""