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.”
Hale discussed that since movies are collaborative in nature, the interpretation of the book will be different for the entire crew, from set designer to make up artist to actor. The film stars Keri Russell as Jane Hayes and J.J. Field as Mr. Nobley.
"I sat in a chair ... put on headphones, and watched characters I invented speak lines I wrote," Hale recorded in her blog about her first day on set. She found it exciting to see how each person working on the film interpreted things.
“It was really cool to see some one else’s vision,” she said. “It was like watching your favorite movie all day long and seeing many different interpretations.”
So while many would expect an author to be frustrated over the changes made in their story, Hale’s biggest struggle was, as she said, being just an observer.
The hardworking mother of four now has 10 books under her belt and more on the way. She’s not used to just sitting and watching. She called her filming experience a vacation.
Another difficult part of the experience was being away from her family.
Hale, who’s added twins to the family since the Deseret News last profiled her, took the two babies and a trusted baby sitter with her, but she had to leave her husband and other two children behind.
“It was a really long time (to be away),” she said.
Because of that, unless circumstances are different and permit her to still have her family with her, Hale’s counting this filming experience as once-in-a-lifetime.
Hale blogged frequently about her seven-week "vacation," pining for her family, but maintaining a pinch-me-I’m-dreaming attitude the whole time. As the filming wrapped up, she wrote:
“The movie! There will be a movie! How cool to be with dozens of professionals in various fields, all working together to make something. And it’s something we can share with all of you.”
Hale hopes the movie will come out next year, but she’s not sure if they’re going to go a festival route, studio route or some other route. There are many options.
With filming done, next on the busy mother’s list is the release of a sequel to “Austenland” early next year.
Hale said that the book, “Midnight in Austenland,” will feature a new main character with a bit of a darker, albeit just as witty, story À la “Northanger Abbey.”
When asked about the possibility of her other books being made into movies, Hale admitted she couldn’t help imagining things for her other stories while she was on the set of “Austenland.”
She’s even had a few offers for her Newberry Honor-winning “Princess Academy," but Hale is cautious.
“As much fun as it is to have one of your books made into a movie, seeing one of your books made into a bad movie is not worth it,” she said.
While the success of the “Austenland” movie has yet to be determined, Hale’s blog posts are evidence of an incredible movie-making experience for the author.
“The whole project just felt so blessed,” she wrote.
For more information about Hale, visit http://www.squeetus.com.
For updates on the movie "Austenland" and the release of "Midnight in Austenland" visit Hale's blog at http://oinks.squeetus.com/.
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