Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Film of the Book - Sally Nicholls

My first book is going to be made into a film.
Actually, that's something of an understatement. 'Ways to Live Forever' is being made into a film right now.
Somewhere up in Newcastle there are about fifty people standing around in the cold holding esoteric job titles like Best Boy and Continuity. There are two women whose job it is to pick clothes for my characters. There are people with clapper boards and three full-time drivers and a catering van and a whole team of producers and even a tutor for the child actors, like something out of Noel Streatfield. And all of this attention is focused on one or two of the actors for something like an hour, in order to produce thirty seconds worth of film.
It's bizarre.
The whole thing is, of course, very, very exciting. Imagine watching a troupe of grown men and women acting out scenes from the back of your imagination - taking silly things you scribbled down on a back of an envelope deeply seriously - playing with lights and colours and camera angles absolutely seriously, to capture something that you only put in to dig yourself out of a plot hole, or to fill in the gap between two important scenes. I've seen some of the early rushes, and the whole thing is going to look gorgeous.
On another level, it is of course not my imagination at all. Nobody looks exactly like I imagined them (although the boy playing Sam comes close) - everyone else looks more like film stars. The house is bigger than I pictured it, and the emphasis has been placed in slightly different places, which makes it very definitely the product of the very talented people making the film, rather than me.
In some ways, this makes it much more interesting to watch. When I was first sent the script, I was too frightened to open the attachment in case the story was very different from my book. When I did read it, the problem was almost the opposite - the film is very faithful, and so much of my dialogue has been used that reading the script was like hearing your own voice played back to you on tape - too raw to enjoy.
The best parts of the script-reading experience were seeing my jokes taken out of context, or visualised, or exaggerated in ways I hadn't expected. I describe one character as looking like a French spy, for example - in the film he's spotlighted, fedora down, in dramatic silhouette.
Another throwaway line nearly made me cry reading the script. A character in the novel remarks that once Sam - my narrator - is dead, he's going to steal all the royalties from his book and go to the Caribbean. It's a funny line in the book, nothing more. In the film, the little scene ends and Felix switches on the film camera and delivers the line face-on. It's unexpectedly poignant, because you know he isn't going to survive the film either.
Seeing someone else make something completely different out of my story is like standing ten paces back from it - almost like approaching it as a disinterested reader. I noticed mistakes in my writing that I never spotted while editing. But the director's characters touched me in a way my own never did.
I can't wait to see the finished thing.

Click here to see the young actors preparing for their roles,

Here to find out more about the film,

And here for my website.


Leslie Wilson said...

I'm envious, Sally, it must be such an exciting experience. I do remember going to hear a short story I'd written recorded on the BBC and seeing how what I'd written was being changed, translated into a different medium just by being read. I'm so glad it seems to be a positive thing for you, and I know some writers haven't enjoyed their books being filmed. You're having to let go of your subject-matter, into the hands of someone else. I'm looking forward to watching the film!!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Sally... this is wonderful news! Congratulations! What an incredible experience to 'see' it all come alive. I'd be hard-pressed to stay away from the set! Look forward to watching it.

Elen Caldecott said...

Oh, this is so exciting! Do let us know (I'm sure you will!) when it's out/on.

Keren David said...

Sally, I am going to have to run out and buy a mountain of hankies for when I go and see the film. I've already sobbed loudly over your book in a crowded cafe. What an amazing experience for you. I hope you'll blog about it some more as the filming proceeds.

Nicky said...

Fantastic! I am looking forward to seing it.

AnneR said...

Sally, that's wonderful! How exciting - I'm so happy for you. Enjoy every minute, and tell us all about it :-)

Yunaleska said...

That's brilliant news! You must be having so much fun at the moment.

Linda said...

Excellent! Enjoy yourself!


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to that. And why shouldn't people be running around trying to make your ideas real? Someone has to tell them what to do.

Sally Nicholls said...

Thank you. It is very, very exciting, if a little surreal.

fionadunbar said...

I'm looking forward to it too! Spooky though it was, I think it must be great to have something made that's faithful to your work – not my experience, as you know! I'll be blogging in the new year on friends' exciting 2010 projects, so can you tell me what month it's out, and what certificate? Thanks. And congrats!

Linda Strachan said...

Congratulations Sally, what an amazing - but understandably strange - experience, seeing your characters 'in the flesh'.