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Gayle Forman on the Movie Adaptation of If I Stay

I posted the prologue trailer for If I Stay, the movie based on Gayle Forman's tearjerker back in June, and that's been about it for me on the subject.

I know this is awful of me but I've been seeing tweets from the movie's female lead, Chloe Grace Moretz, commanding her followers to 'Go see @IfIStay in theaters now and tweet me your reactions!!!" No 'please' involved. I guess I am an old-fashioned grinch and that self-promoting stuff just ticks me off. 

But who am I kidding, I wasn't going to see it anyway. It's not about whether it's a bad or good movie although I did see a comparison to The Fault in Our Stars with the reviewer saying stars Chloe Grace Moretz and Jamie Blackley are no Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort. And frankly I'm thrilled that Hollywood is finally realizing that females can be a driving force at the box office but at my age it starts to feel creepy going to the movies and seeing teenage love stories. What can I tell you? I'm old and I prefer material geared to slightly older concerns. The love story element in The Hundred Foot Journey for example; the couple was younger - granted they weren't teenagers - but there was more going on than just their love story. There was an entire world going on in that film. I know, I know. Her whole family dies in If I Stay and then there's the whole aspirational aspect of the film about the cellist striving to get into Juilliard. I know. Not having read the book, or planning on seeing the movie, If I Stay seems just a bit too young for me, and too schmaltzy even for me, lover of a good cry that I am. Anyway, I'm not going to belabor the point but I'm just not that interested. 

Instead I offer you this interview with Forman and Sona Charaipotra at Parade. Best I can do. The trailer is at the bottom of the page. 

If you need a good cry this weekend, you’re in luck. Today marks the opening of the big screen adaptation of Gayle Forman’s cathartic tearjerker of a YA novel, If I Stay. And definitely bring the tissues: The film—which stars Chloe Grace Moretz and heartthrob-in-training Jamie Blackley—is a two-box affair.

We caught up with Forman to talk about the adaptation, playing producer, parents in YA, and, of course, what she’ll be working on next.

I read on your Twitter feed that your daughter is reading the book now. How weird is that?
I mean, she knows the story so well and she’s seen the movie preview so many times that she actually had it memorized—like down to the music. She’ll hum the cello bits and then start singing. So I’m not concerned really, not even about the sexy bits. But the family stuff worries me a bit. It’s going to be sad. It’s going to be hard. We’re all going to go see it together—we’re going out to California to visit grandparents, and on that last Sunday, we’ll all go see it together. And there will be crying.

Well, I have to tell you I sobbed during the movie.
You are not alone. There’s all these forty-something men who are like, “You know this movie’s not for me.” And then they come out and they’re like, “Okay, I cried.” Thank you for that admission, and you’re not the only one. Don’t worry about it.

Is it the same kind of visceral experience for you, seeing it come to life like that? Are you crying at the same moments everyone else is crying at?
I cry at all kinds of different moments. I can hear the sniffles, and I think I cry at those points. But I have a personal connection to the story, so I cry at little things that hit me. The leather jacket that Joshua Leonard wears in parts of the film—it actually belongs to the person on whom his character is based. So I see that and I cry. I cried during that scene every time early on when his character, the dad, is watching a young Mia play cello and she’s really horrible in the beginning. Just that little moment where he’s transforming his life for his child. It’s so quiet and beautiful.

The book is based on a remembrance of people you know. How did it come about?
Their accident had happened many years before—and I had no intention of writing about it. There were these friends of ours, a family, in a car accident a lot like the one in the book. And one of the children lived longer than the rest of his family. He was medevaced, and he lived for a bit. I loved this little boy, and I just always wondered. The thought of him alone, in that medical chopper, played over and over in my head. I kept thinking: did he know that the rest of his family was gone? And did he choose to go with them? That was part of my grieving process. But it’s not a question I could ever really answer. And seven years later, I woke up one morning—and at this point I’m not thinking about them every day, the hurt kind of softened as the loss became integrated into my life. But I woke up one morning, and there was this character in my head, and she was 17, this old soul, she played cello and had this worldly wisdom about her. And I knew she was going to answer that question, but in a way that it pertained to her. So some of the characters are based on bits and pieces of my friends—the family dynamic, the setup of the accident.

This is one of the few YA books recently where the parents are very present. A lot of the time parents are just MIA.
Maybe it’s because I’m a parent and I started writing YA after becoming a parent. But I also identify as a teenager. So I live in that dual Gemini role. Maybe that’s why I refuse to shove the parents off the page. But also, when you’re a teenager, who’s a bigger part of your life than your parents? They’re a huge part of your life, even if you can’t stand them. It’s like, “I hate you, go away. But first can you drive me to the mall?” That’s not Mia’s relationship with her parents, but as a teenager, you so define yourself against your parents. And I like having the parents in the story.

On this adaptation, you were an executive producer. How would you define that role? It seems to be shifting these days—with the writer getting more respect and input.
John Green was on the set of The Fault In Our Stars the entire time, which is amazing! Wouldn’t you want John Green on set the entire time? John Green can come hang on the set of my movie the entire time! It was so beyond my expectations. I thought I’d be lucky to get to go to the premiere. But I couldn’t believe it was actually happening, for the longest time. It took so long to get off the ground. But then the screenwriter got in touch, and the producer reached out. And when it landed in RJ Cutler, the director’s lap, that was the critical moment. I kind of knew immediately that he was the one. Not to make it sound too grandiose, but he was the right person to make the film. And at that point, it felt real, like it was actually going to get made. And it turned out to be true. I had such immediate trust in him, and I was kind of able to let go. But then he was interested in being collaborative—so that’s when I came on as an executive producer. It’s just the nature of how RJ and the producer, Alison, worked. They were collaborative.

With E. Lockhart and Rainbow Rowell penning scripts for their adaptations, do you think there’s a shift in the way people view the writer?
I do think there is a shift. You see it with books that really have a passionate following. It’s not like they want the writer to come in and tell them how to make the film. Most writers have no idea how to make a film. It’s a totally different skill set. Nor is it just to translate exactly what’s on the page directly on to the screen—because that would be terrible. It would be five hours long and the structure would be a mess. But the writers know the characters and the story. With film, you’re making a different thing, and telling its own emotional truth. But the great thing about having the book is, it’s like a focus group: we know what people really love, the characters or lines that the fans really feel strongly about. But the book and the film are two different animals. The readership is so passionate and so invested, it’s important to make sure the spirit remains intact—and that’s where the writer comes in. Filmmakers are definitely thinking about the readers—but they’re also thinking about the piece of work that they’re making, and the emotional truths. That’s what we hope will translate, the spirit of it.

So what’s next for you?
I’m in crazytown in my life right now. I have a new book coming out in January called I Was Here. I’m bringing the page proofs with me on the plane. And in the fall, whatever’s next will start to percolate.

A lot of times when a book is so successful, people chime in with the words “overnight success.” But that’s not you. Can you talk about that a bit?
People often call If I Stay my baby novel, and I have to correct them. It’s not my first book. It’s just the first one anybody paid attention to. My first YA novel, not many people have read. It’s a fickle business. There’s a degree of timing and luck involved. This book has been out since 2009, and now it’s reaching this huge audience. I’m glad it has really connected with people.

Does that level of success change the level of pressure you feel with each new book?
I did feel a lot of pressure right after If I Stay, and I wasn’t even planning to write Where She Went. I was planning to write this whole other book. But Adam and Mia kept waking me up in the middle of the night and saying, “Where have you left us?” And I kept thinking about where I had abandoned them. They had a sad couple of years ahead of them, which is why I skipped ahead three years. Writing Where She Went, I felt a lot of pressure. People wanted to know what happened. And they had their own ideas, too. So I felt a big responsibility. I get all these emails asking if I’m going to write a third one. I’m not. I’m happy with where it ended. I’m happy where they are. They’re happy where they are. We’re done.

Will we see a movie version of Where She Went?
Nothing at the moment. Ask me again next week! I might have a different answer!