What started with the famed 1995 A&E mini-series adaption of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” ended with Shannon Hale's spending seven weeks on the English countryside on set of an upcoming film version of her own book, “Austenland.”
In the 1990s, Hale’s friends were among the many women captivated by the film, especially a particular Mr. Darcy played by Colin Firth.
“I could see that they were starting to get a little obsessed with it,” Hale said. “I didn’t want to lower myself to that level.”
However, when her brother was faced with the daunting task of trying to read the book for a school project, Hale thought it would be a good idea to sit down with him and watch the movie.
“It was just the best romance ever,” said Hale, joining the ranks of "Pride and Prejudice" fans, wishing she had watched the movie with a bunch of girlfriends instead of with her brother.
Hale attributes her 2007 novel "Austenland" to her love of Austen and that movie in particular. In fact, one of her thoroughly obsessed friends inspired the main character of the book. But Hale admits there’s a bit of herself in there, too.
“We all have these areas in our lives that we get obsessive about and fantasize about,” said Hale, pointing out how huge of a comic book fan her husband is, for example.
Hale remembers talking with friend and fellow author Stephenie Meyer a few years ago while she was involved with the filming of the first “Twilight” movie.
“I could hear it in her voice that she was really enjoying it (the process),” Hale said. So Hale suggested Meyer look into producing movies. Meyer responded that if she were to go into the business, “Austenland” would be the first movie she’d do.
Hale said they laughed about it, remarking at that time “of course it’ll never happen.”
But Hale just spent much of her summer in England.
“It was a crazy series of events as it always is for anything like this to happen,” Hale said.
Hale just happened to have a copy of her book with her one day, “and I never carry my books around with me,” she interjected, when she met up with Jerusha Hess, who's co-written movies with her husband, Jared Hess of the "Napoleon Dynamite" fame.
Jerusha Hess emailed Hale shortly after reading the book and told her she wanted to make a movie out of it — this being her directorial debut. Meyer called Hale the very next day to tell her she wanted to produce “Austenland.”
With that serendipitous take off, the trio embarked on an adventure Hale lovingly referred to as “three chicks making a movie.”
Hale is grateful to be one of the three.
“This was a unique opportunity for me,” she said. “Most times the book author isn’t anywhere near this involved.”
Hale helped with the screenplay and was invited to be an observer. Most authors don’t even make it onto the set.
“It was amazing to be there as an observer” she said, adding, “It was also hard to be there as an observer.”
Her difficulty on set did not come from disagreements over interpretation. In fact, Hale went to England pretty prepared for the book’s transformation into a movie.
“Of course it’s not exactly like the book because you have to make changes when you adapt something to the screen,” she said. “A movie will never be one person’s interpretation of a book.”
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