Landing an exclusive interview with one of the most famous authors in modern literature was a matter of right place, right time and good karma. I was invited to the Austenland tea party for the cast and crew after the premiere screening at Sundance. Stephenie Meyer produced Jerusha Hess’s directorial debut, based on the novel by Shannon Hale. Keri Russell plays an obsessed Jane Austen fan who goes to a Jane Austen theme resort complete with actors playing Darcy-esque characters. Hanging out drinking tea with the cast, the film’s representative wanted me to meet Meyer, and she gave me an interview about her burgeoning producing career, The Host and those other books she wrote. Sundance magic, baby!
CraveOnline: I wasn’t familiar with Shannon Hale’s work until this movie. Were her novels as challenging to adapt into a screenplay as maybe the Twilight books were for their screenwriters?
Stephenie Meyer: Oh, I really doubt it. This novel was like a script. It’s not long and it’s full of constant movement. Reading it felt like watching a movie and that’s kind of where the original idea came from because it was just so clearly ready to be a movie. It was a really simple thing I think. Jerusha, the director, did the screenplay with Shannon Hale who wrote the novel, so the children just really seemed like they had a really great time bouncing ideas and coming up with all kinds of crazy things.
Did you always want to be a movie producer?
No, I didn’t even want to be a writer. I was not very ambitious about creative things. I was very practical, but I did always love movie adaptations and I’m one of those armchair people who will sit there and be like, “Oh, they totally should have cast that person. What were they thinking with this? Why would that cut that out?” I’m very judgey about book adaptations so I guess I always kind of wanted to be involved in those decisions.
Does that make it easier or harder when you’re so specific about the book as a fan, that you want everything in the movie?
That can be a challenge. I imagine if we were doing a longer book even that would be challenging. With this one, I thought it was hard that we couldn’t get everything in the script into the movie because the script wasn’t very long, but when we filmed it, if we put in every scene that we filmed, it would’ve been four hours long. We had to cut such funny stuff. I think that was the biggest challenge, surrendering the rehearsal scene with James Callis was I think my biggest problem with the whole movie.
Will that scene be available on the DVD?
I hope so. My dream would be to some day put every scene in and have the four-hour version on a DVD somewhere.
Does the filmmaker, like in this case Jerusha, ever win you over to something she’s changing for the movie?
Oh, all the time. There are actually quite a few departures from the novel and at first I actually as more resistant than the author. I was like, “But I like the way this starts in the book.” And they came up with a version that works really well. They did some tailoring specific to Keri too. I thought it all worked out in a very coherent and simplified version.
As someone who’s created something with such fanfare, how do you relate to Jane’s fandom of Jane Austen?
You know, it’s funny because I hadn’t really considered she is the ultimate fangirl. I’ve seen a lot of that and it’s a very loud thing. She’s kind of a quieter fangirl, not as much screaming. But it is true, that sort of seems to be something I see a lot of in my life, or at least I have. Hopefully in the future it’ll be a little calmer.
Can you imagine one day someone might write about Twilightland?
Well, what would you do in a Twilightland? Someone asked me about an amusement park. I just don’t think there’s a scope there. Now I would pay good money to go to a place where I could dress up like an Austen character and read books from the beautiful library, but I don’t know what you would do in a Twilightland.
You’d have to go to high school. That wouldn’t be fun!
Oh, it’s a horrible idea. Oh, that would be awful.
How much did producing this take you out of writing?
Oh, I’m very much not someone who can do two things at one time so the Twilight movies, I couldn’t write while working on them. With Austenland, when we were doing the scripting phase, I’d have time in between to work, but when you’re actually filming a movie, that’s a 15-16 hour day. You go home and you sleep.
When you come to Sundance too.
Yes, yes, this isn’t a writer-friendly kind of environment.
Was it rewarding to see shows like “The Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood” be successful after “Twilight,” or how did you feel about them?
Well, on one hand, I thought it was really cool. For example, “Vampire Diaries,” that book was written years and years and years ago and I think it’s cool that people are going back and giving it a chance to discover it because they’ve heard of it because of the TV series and I think that that’s really awesome. In my personal life, there’s a lot of vampire and I hear “vampire” all day long and I get inundated with it, so I’m over vampires personally. I know I’m not the only one who feels that way, but I think it’s really cool for these other, particularly book series, have a chance to be rediscovered.
They call me Franchise Fred because I love my franchises. I never want them to end, even when there’s a final chapter. I want them to always go on and I trust the authors to create more good stories. Why wouldn’t you want to continue them?
I mean, obviously there are more stories there. When I first wrote the end of Breaking Dawn, I was planning on going on for quite a while further and so I didn’t wrap it up. I didn’t kill everybody. I could have. [Laughs] Thought about it later. So there are other stories there, but like I said I am vampired out. So maybe in a couple years, spend some time with some aliens, maybe do my mermaid book finally, and then maybe I’ll be able to get back to it but right now I’m just sick of them.
No, I’m a reasonable guy. I’m not demanding it immediately. But how does it feel when you hear about Franchise Fred, and I know I’m the minority opinion? Most people feel there should be a definite ending, so I’m offering a counterpoint.
There are a lot of people who think that the Twilight books should have never been written. I even saw something with Doctor Who going back in time to stop me, but there are a lot of people who’d love to know what happens. I did promise that if I never get to write it, on my deathbed I would just lay out the plot points so everyone will know what happens to the characters. I won’t take it to the grave.
I mean, if they can live forever, Bella and Edward will have more adventures.
There are a lot of things that could happen, absolutely, and there’s still a lot of bad guys out there. Renesmee’s got a whole life ahead of her. There’s a lot there.
How different was adapting The Host to the Twilight books?
The Host was a huge challenge because Twilight, you can stop and look at the plot and just say A causes B causes C. It’s fairly straightforward. There are some supernatural things you have to figure out how to film but that’s some special effects person’s job. It’s not the screenwriter’s job. With The Host, it’s a 200,000 word novel. To fit it into two hours is a real challenge and there’s so much we had to cut. So we really had to boil it down to the real essence of the story and also we had the issue of one person who was two characters, and that was something that threw a lot of studios when they were trying to figure out how we were going to sell it, how it was going to come across right. But the director and I and the producer, from the very beginning we thought that was really simple. You just have the best actress in the world, and we’d be fine. Just have an actress that can do it, that can just sell the two characters and we don’t have to worry about it. And so we got the best actress in the world and it worked out exactly right.
Saoirse Ronan is amazing.
She’s so good. I can’t wait to see the rest of her life happen because it’s going to be amazing. You just watch what they can do. I’m very jealous of that talent.
Was there one big change that those filmmakers sold you on that would be better for the movie?
You know, there were little visual things. I don’t know that they had to sell me exactly. When I was writing the novel, to me the world looked very much the same as our world looks. Not that much has changed, but Andrew [Niccol] has subtle shifts and he glossed up the human world and made it a little shinier, and the way the people dress and the cars they drive. He just had this vision for the look and particularly for the Seekers. They have a very distinct look that I hadn’t envisioned. It works beautifully. It just makes the world just that much off kilter. We can tell it’s not our world even though it looks like it. He’s a genius. It was fun to have someone like that coming up with ideas. It’s easy to go, “Yes, yes, absolutely.”
When you’re writing, do you have a writing schedule you follow?
I don’t have a schedule like that. I tend to write best at night and so after the phone stops ringing and the kids are in bed, that’s my best concentration time. Lately, I’ve just had to be getting up so early that that’s a challenge. That’s one of my challenges is trying to get back onto a night schedule.
Has any of this, becoming successful and having a sort of empire, surprise you the responsibilities you have now?
All of it’s been surprising. I don’t really feel like there’s a ton of responsibilities with the Twilight side of things. That feels like a big, heavy backpack I’ve just taken off.
But you have other movies in the works and other books you want to write.
Yeah, and I do sometimes feel pressure, this is going to sound crazy, only other authors get this, but from the characters I haven’t written yet that want to have their day in the sun and they’re just getting shuffled to the back of my head, so I do feel that sometimes.
Have you spoken to other authors about this shared feeling?
Mm-hmm. Actually, Shannon [Hale] and I did an interview together once. She interviewed me and we talked about that quite a bit. Other authors totally get that. They know how the voices in your head don’t feel like you’re creating them. They feel like they’re kind of their own entity. Everyone else says that makes you a crazy person but authors are like, “No, yeah, absolutely.”
Have you spoken to other authors of the big franchise books, like J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins?
Actually, Suzanne and I did send a couple e-mails back in the day, then we got a little busy, so I haven’t talked to her. Every now and then I’ll have contact. I haven’t had a long, in depth conversation about characters with many other authors.
Well, it sounds like Austenland could suit my Franchise Fred mentality.
You know, the lovely thing about it is the premise of this lovely resort where women go to live out this fantasy. So Keri Russell’s had her fantasy but the next novel introduces a new set of characters into the framework. Like Shannon was just saying in the Q&A, it’s like “Fantasy Island.” You kind of have your set cast and then you have your principals come in and have their story and you keep going forever.
Have you had any other inspiring dreams lately?
Ummm, none that I would talk about. [Laughs]
Because they might inspire more books?
Are there any movies you love that inspire you?
I don’t get to watch a ton time-wise, but when I do latch onto something, I’ll see it 40 times. The last time a movie did that for me was The Bourne Legacy. I love the other Bourne movies and for some reason that one just really got me. Yeah, I obsessed over that.
That’s a unique reaction to that, a minority opinion.
I know, a lot of people I guess didn’t want to see it without Matt Damon but for me, there’s that little edge of science fiction in it and I’m a science fiction girl and I think that was one of the reasons why I responded so strongly.
Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.
Photo Credit: Ed Miller