Veronica Roth, 22, is the author of Divergent, a dystopian YA thriller which is currently a New York Times bestseller.
It’s set in a Chicago of the future where society is divided into five factions: Dauntless (the brave), Abnegation (the selfless), Erudite (the intelligent), Candor (the honest) and Amity (the peaceful). Every citizen is assigned one of these factions when they turn 16, but Beatrice decides to go against the flow…with thrilling and potential life-threatening consequences. You can read more about it on her excellent and constantly updated website. I chatted to Veronica along with authors Ally Carter and Kody Keplinger about YA books (and specifically theirs) being adapted for the screen. Divergent has been picked up by Summit, the company behind the Twilight movies. You can read that below, or on The Huffington Post U.K. However, inevitably lack of space meant I wasn’t able to use all of their answers, so I thought I’d publish them in full here. The interviews with Kody and Ally can also be found on this page. Enjoy!
Did you have a movie of your book in mind when you were writing it?
Not really! I barely had a book in mind when I was writing it—by which I mean, I was just focused on what was right in front of me, not what it would ultimately become. I do sort of think in “movie,” if that makes sense—I let the scene play out in visual form in my head before I write it, usually. But I never thought that my mental-movie-translated-to-words might be again translated into movie.
Do you think “teen” films, which by their nature are generally PG and appealing to the widest possible audience, can adequately deal with the complexities of a YA novel?
I try to think of movies that are based on books as supplements to those books, not replacements. We get into trouble when we expect something in one format to match the other format perfectly—it’s a new work, and it’s allowed to be different. Some things that work on the page just don’t work on screen, and for that reason I try to be forgiving when moviemakers alter things for the sake of the new medium. I have also found that, with some movies based on YA books, if most people involved in the process (from screenwriter to actor) are familiar with the book, they can capture a lot of subtleties in their work. So basically, I try to keep my expectations realistic, and I enjoy movies-from-books a lot more that way.
How are you finding the process of book to film?
It’s been great! I am by nature a defensive pessimist, which means I always assume the worst for the sake of my own sanity, so everything encouraging that happens with the film is a pleasant surprise to me. We are still early in the process, though, so I don’t know much about it yet.
I am fortunate enough to have my “film rep guy” (as I call him) Pouya Shahbazian, working with the production company, so he keeps me aware of how things are going as best he can. Summit and Red Wagon have also been great. Again, it’s early. To be honest, I don’t want to be too involved—I don’t make movies, I write books, and I want to focus my time and energy on that.
Do you have actors you think would be good for the movie in your head? If so, who?
I hadn’t thought about it until recently, when readers started asking me! Practically speaking, I would prefer little-known actors to big names. I love to see movies with faces I’ve never seen before. Plus, it’s hard to cast Tris—she’s not supposed to be pretty, and most actresses are!
Is it potentially damaging that YA books are so popular for the movies right now that people might be writing them specifically because they think they’d be good films, rather than as a novel in their own right?
Honestly, I don’t think this is a huge danger. First of all, making a movie is such a difficult process—there are no guarantees, especially if a book doesn’t sell well enough as a book, which should come first! Second of all, writing a book is such an involved process that it’s hard to get through one even if you love it for what it is, let alone if you’re just writing one so it can become something else. Basically, this would be like becoming a supermodel just so that you can become a fashion designer—becoming one is hard enough, let alone both, and they require a completely different set of skills. So I think that damaging scenario is possible, surely, but it would be rare and might not work out so well.
Why do you think that YA books are so popular in Hollywood right now, when previously teen flicks have tended to be original stories (John Hughes etc.)?
Making movies is like making a huge bet. You can have a pretty good idea of what will do well, but you can never be sure. So the appeal of turning a book into a movie is that you have a guaranteed fanbase already—it feels like less of a gamble (even if its just a fraction less)! That, combined with the fact that the growing YA genre has fascinating and wonderful stories and characters, makes it pretty appealing, I think. That said, I’m not sure why now. Maybe it’s just that a few were successful and now everyone sees that it can work.