How Bridge to Terabithia Went From Book to Movie

When something terrible occurs, we often try to make sense of it. We ask, “Why did this have to happen?!” This is especially true when the tragedy was the result of an unfortunate twist of fate: a natural disaster. 

Katherine Paterson’s novel Bridge to Terabithia is an attempt to make sense of an inconceivable situation, one few of us are ever prepared for. 

Writing a story is about answering a question. So that was what Paterson set out to do, she wanted to understand what we’re supposed to do in the aftermath of a tragedy. What can we learn after we have suffered a great irreparable loss? How can we go on? What she ended up creating was a story that gave the readers a rehearsal for the pains of life. 

But it wasn’t simply Paterson’s life: Bridge to Terabithia was about her son, David L Paterson, as a child. When David grew up, he adapted his mother’s story — his story and the story of his childhood best friend — turning it from a book in literature studies class to one of the highest grossing movies of 2007, a year that included Spider Man 3, Transformers, and The Simpson Movie. 

Lisa Christina Hill was eight years old on August 14, 1974. She was with her family: mother, brother and sister, at Bethany Beach in Delaware that sunny day. But on the horizon, a storm was brewing. Lisa was sitting at the edge of the water when a lightning bolt tore through the heavens and struck her. In an instant, Lisa, David Paterson’s best friend, was killed. 

Since second grade, David and Lisa were close companions. David had a lot of trouble adjusting to the new class at the beginning. It was Lisa that he found solace in. They developed a relationship that was unusual for children their age where boys tended to hang out with boys and girls with girls. They would spend their time playing imaginative games behind the house in the forest and feeling comfortable enough to tell each all their thoughts. 

While the whole community of Takoma Park, Maryland grieved for the loss of Lisa, David took the news as well as a boy his age could. His mother remembered him crying, knowing there was nothing she or anyone else could do to bring her son’s friend back.

In the following months, Kathrine Paterson wrote Bridge to Terabithia, a story about an artistic fifth grader, Jesse Aaron, and his neighbour, Leslie Burke, an eccentric and affable tomboy. Even with an overlay of fiction, Bridge to Terabithia was undoubtedly a story about David and Lisa. When she was finished with the book, she read it to her son. She wanted his approval, because it was ultimately his story to tell. One could only imagine that David was as moved as would the millions of kids that will soon read it. 

A major change that the editors requested was the Leslie Burke cannot die by a lightning strike. This was a case of where reality is stranger than fiction. The editors requested that the death had to be caused by a more likely circumstance. It needed to be believable. The change was made and — spoiler alert — Leslie’s death would come from drowning in a creek after swinging from a rope within the kingdom of Terabithia, a imaginated realm the two children had created for themselves. 

The novel was published on October 21, 1977 by Thomas Y. Crowell Co. It would win Kathrine Paterson her first of two Newbery Awards, an award given to “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”. 

Paterson had written Bridge to Terabithia as an attempt to answer a life question, but when children started asking her why Leslie had to die, Paterson forced back the urges to cry for that was a question she didn’t have the answer to — even though, she was the writer. People began to find their own answers, or as Paterson puts it, “people brought their own lives to the book, their own images that creates it.” 

With all the attention, Bridge to Terabithia began to receive some criticisms regarding the moral of the novel, becoming one of the most frequently banned and challenged books in the United States. There were references to witchcraft, atheism, satanism, and there was an ample amount of swearing. On top of all that, many adults didn’t want to put their children through such a heartbreaking story. 

Over the years, Paterson would hear people telling her that after facing an emotional experience, they would reach for the pages of Bridge to Terabithia. In certain cases, people have given the book to children like David, who experienced the loss of someone they loved. Paterson sadly believed that giving the book after the tragic event may be too late. Bridge to Terabithia was a book to be read before that. It was an emotional practice. It’s not meant to upset the children, but prepare them for all the sadness and disappointments they have to face ahead. 

While Bridge to Terabithia faced resistance, it also became a tool for English studies in many schools around the world including, Ireland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the Philippines, Ecuador, the United Kingdom, Costa Rica, Panama, South Africa and the United States.

From 1984 to 1992, The Walt Disney Company and PBS teamed up to produce a made-for-tv-anthology based on the critically acclaimed children’s books. This series was called WonderWorks, and it included such hits as Anne of Green Gables, Chronicles of Narnia, and another of Katherine Paterson’s work: Jacob Have I Loved. 

On February 5, 1985, WonderWorks released the adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia. The 57 minute film was shot in Edmonton, Alberta. While Paterson got writing credits, the script was written mostly by Executive Producer, Nancy Sackett. However, the main criticism with the made-for-tv version was that the performances from the young actors were weak and unconvincing. On top of that, the dialogue was obviously dubbed over and gave off the impression of low production value. 

In 2007, David Paterson spoke about the 1985 WonderWorks version of Bridge to Terabithia and said that the film is “like the crazy cousin in a mental hospital that nobody talks about.” Neither his mother nor himself were much involved with the project or even happy with the result. 

At points, David felt guilty that now he was getting famous from the death of his best friend. David graduated from The Catholic University of America in 1989 and pursued a career as a playwright, with over two dozen published. Additionally, he holds the record for having three plays premiere on the same month in New York. 

As a form of healing and honoring Lisa, and all the fortune she had given him in her passing, David approached his mother and asked for the right to adapt her story of Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke. His mother granted his wish not because it was his story, but because of his abilities as a playwright. With the confidence and blessing of his mother, David went off to translate the emotional story from page to screen, having already seen how it could turn out. The adaptation became a project that consumed him for 17 years. He wanted to do it right. 

Staying as true to his mother’s story as possible, David didn’t have the easiest time writing or selling the screenplay. At many points, he found that the story was too close to him. He approached screenwriter Jeff Stockwell to cowrite, as he would offer an outsider perspective to the story. What was most important to David was the spirit of the story and adapting a novel that spent so much time in a character’s head was not easy.  

Selling the script posed another hurdle. Many production companies had a problem with Leslie’s death. In some cases, the executives even suggested to David that perhaps she didn’t have to die and that Leslie can simply fall into a light coma — and then she’ll wake up. 

David took the role as a co-producer to ensure such a change would not happen at any stage of the process. But it was the president of Walden Media, Cary Granat that suggested Gabor Csupo to direct the movie. If you don’t know Gabor Csupo as a director or musician then you would most likely know him as the co-creator of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats and animator for Hanna-Barbera. 

Gabor Csupo had an interesting career, but he had yet to direct a live-action movie. This was not a concern for Granat who saw the little kid inside of Csupo and knew that he would have the perfect approach to the story. 

According to producer Lauren Levine, Csupo was inspired by the opportunity to create Terabithia. He wanted to approach it in a Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam type of way, going for a creative representation that went beyond the usual cliches of an imaginary environment. This got everyone very excited. 

Casting was a difficult process and required compromise. Csupo didn’t have any particular actors in mind when he set out on the search, so that opened the door to discovering new talents

AnnaSophia Robb had been a fan of the story and wrote a letter expressing her love for the book and the character to Csupo and the other decision makers of the film. Before casting began, Robb met with Levine to discuss the role. In that meeting, Levine was convinced that Robb would be perfect. She had the enthusiasm and the magical presence — the spark — that was Leslie. Csupo was onboard and AnnaSophia Robb was the first to be cast in the movie. 

Finding the perfect Jesse was more of a challenge. It was difficult finding a young actor that can go through the transformation of an isolated introvert to someone who exhibits courage and leadership, along with the imaginative whimsy needed. Josh Hutcherson was not the first choice, but won the job because of his chemistry with Robb. 

The leads and the characters in the movie were a few years older than the characters in the novel, but Csupo said that that change was perhaps advantageous as the story bordered on the idea of an innocent first love and upping the age allowed for that theme to rise to the surface a bit more. 

The movie began production on February 20, 2006, with a budget of $20-25 million. In 60 days, they completed principal photography. Bridge to Terabithia was the last film for cinematographer, Michael Chapman who had been behind the camera for such classics as Taxi Driver, The Fugitive, and Space Jam. Chapman said that he wanted this movie to be his last because he wanted to end his career with a happy experience. 

Post production took 10 weeks to complete and Csupo made every effort to keep the special effects minimal. Working with Weta Digital, Peter Jackson’s company famous for producing the special effects for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Csupo had a hundred team members working on the project with many of them on set during production to help create the unique creatures of Terabithia. 

Perhaps the special effects got too much of a spotlight, this was a criticism during the marketing phase of the movie. As you may know, a trailer for a movie is often created by a separate organization that takes clips here and there from the movie to get the people who see the trailer to buy a ticket and see it in the theatres. The trailer for Bridge to Terabithia was laden with special effects moments in the movie to a point where many consider it to be false marketing. If you had read the book, the majority of the story takes place in the real world and is mainly a relationship between two pre-teens. 

Many who were loyal to the book were appalled by how the story they loved was being presented on screen. It was a gross attempt at trying to sell computer-generated effects as opposed to the unpretentious story of loss. 

When Katherine Paterson saw the film she cried — in fact, she cries every time she sees it. She sang praises to the cast and was impressed that such a movie was possible within their indie movie budget. She also spoke about the sacrifices and changes necessary in the movie, none of which spoiled her taste for it. She regarded her son for standing his ground and keeping the movie as loyal to the novel as he could. 

Many writers can’t stand to watch the adaptations of their novels, because it feels so far removed from what they have created. Beside the age of the characters and the physical appearance of Leslie, perhaps the most notable change from the book was the time period, as the movie took place in a more modern era where Internet and cellphones exist. 

Bridge to Terabithia was released on February 16, 2007 and earned a total domestic gross of over $82 million, $137 million worldwide. The movie cemented AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson as young stars and household names. Additionally, it brought the novel back onto the New York Times bestsellers list, which Katherine Paterson commented to writers reluctant to sell the film rights thinking nobody would read the book if the movie was released, as being untrue. Lastly, the movie brought closure for David Paterson, who’s always thinking, in the back of his mind, about his friend Lisa, and how death lies behind every beautiful moment. 

Every adaptation has a unique story, if there a book to movie that you’re interested in learning more about? Let me know in the comments below. 

For more in the series of adaptations, please check out this YouTube playlist here.

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Why The Catcher in the Rye Was Not Made Into a Movie

Imagine yourself in a war — a war as uncertain and violent as World War 2 — and in your pocket, you carried a piece of writing, six chapters of a precious and personal project. Occasionally, you would pull it out and rework in those brief — not so peaceful — moments. 

Imagine having your work travel with you as you stormed the beaches of Normandy, survived the Battle of the Bulge and marched through concentration camps in Nazi Germany. What would this piece of writing become? In Jerome David Salinger’s case that piece of work is The Catcher in the Rye

Imagine everything a person can go through in their early adulthood: surviving heart-breaking relationships, dropping out of university without a clear direction, and struggling to make it in a field as competitive as publishing. Salinger was that person before 1942 — before he was drafted into the Second World War. 

Asking why The Catcher in the Rye was never made into a movie is a question about what a writer sees in his own work. How much of his soul lies in between those lines? The pages did not simply represent the story written, but rather the turmoil and the resilience of the author. It represented who Salinger was… 

This is the story of why The Catcher in the Rye, one of the most infamous literary works, was never adapted into a movie. 

JD Salinger began writing The Catch in the Rye in 1940, or at least, that was when he first spoke about it. In his early 20s, Salinger was an aspiring writer. Having completed a writing course with American writer, Whit Burnett, he had a lot of momentum, as many young writers do. Salinger wanted to become financially stable and maybe even famous.

In those early years, he even told Burnett that he was eager to sell the film rights to his work so he could ensure that stability. Dating Oona O’Neill, daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill, appeared to be a move in the right direction. He was 22 when he met her and she was 16. A year later they were officially dating and he joined her at the pinnacle of the social ladder in New York City, attending some of the most elite parties in the country. 

Salinger was uncomfortable at these gatherings. He disliked the company — those pretentious socialites with their entitlement and their faux humility — those people were phonies.

Yet, he had a complicated relationship with Oona O’Neill. He would be hot and then cold. At times, he would show affection and then in a blink he would be stand-offish. This was grounds for O’Neill to find love elsewhere. And with a history of being neglected by her work-focused father, Eugene, she found the attention from a much older man, Charlie Chaplin. The superstar film actor was 54 when he married 18-year-old Oona O’Neill. 

Jilted and heart-broken, Salinger sent her letters after she wedded a man 36 years her elder, criticizing her. He was hurt, and the pain lingered. 

The 1940s was an intense time for Salinger as he began to navigate the world as a published writer. Each publication gave him a little bit of hope — although they came few and far in between — but even with the successes nothing elevated him to the level he wanted to be. 

Then Pearl Harbour, the day that will live in infamy. 

Salinger was drafted and sent off to war where he literally went through hell and back. With his proficiency in multiple languages (French and Italian), he served as an interrogator. Yet he never stopped being a writer during those dangerous times. Members of his counter-intelligence team could still recall Salinger writing, even once when they were at risk of enemy fire. Witnessing the death of many friends and the horrors of the holocaust aftermath, Salinger was hospitalized for post-traumatic stress after the war ended.  

Upon returning to America from World War 2 in 1946, he brought with him back a wife,  Sylvia Welter — a former Nazi Party member — and his writing, a work in progress. His marriage didn’t last, but the novel did. Holden Caulfield remained his closest companion. 

In 1946, Salinger sought help from his old instructor, Whit Burnett, in an effort to get a collection of short stories published. The collection like many of Salinger’s attempts amounted to nothing. And in that, Salinger disengaged with Burnett — as he now had a tendency to do with the people in his life. 

Life ebbed and flowed for Salinger, and in 1948, his short story entitled Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut was published in The New Yorker. Movie producer, Samuel Goldwyn purchased the film rights to the story, promising Salinger the career advancement that he had been yearning. On January 21, 1950, the movie — which was retitled My Foolish Heart, starring Susan Hayward and Dana Andrews was released to the American audience. 

Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut was a dialogue-heavy story, and with that being the case had to be rewritten significantly for the film. In hindsight, Salinger would have wanted it to be a stage production, but the allure of the silver screens was too great. My Foolish Heart was very poorly received to the shock of Salinger, who had uncharacteristically relinquished all controls to Samuel Goldwyn when the producer bought the rights. 

According to the critics, the movie was melodramatic and full of the typical soap-opera cliches. This gave Salinger, a writer already lacking confidence, another significant blow, leaving a bruise that would not fade. 

The Catcher in the Rye was published by Little, Brown and Company on July 16, 1951. It received its fair share of positive reviews but would end up being one of the most influential novels of its generation for negative reasons. While many critics enjoyed the book, they found that the character of Holden Caulfield himself was immoral. This didn’t stop The Catcher in the Rye’s success, within the first 2 months of publication the novel was reprinted 8 times and would end up spending 30 weeks on the New York Times Bestsellers list.

By the late 1950s, the story of Holden Caulfield represented a group of brooding adolescence, which was coined The Catcher Cult. A rise against the novel began to form as those who upheld Christian morals found the 277-page novel to be a threat. The words “goddamn” appeared 237 times, “bastard” 58 and “Chrissake” 31 times. This was enough to get the book condemned in many high schools and libraries across America. By 1961, The Catcher in the Rye was the most censored book of its time and will continue to be one of the most challenged books for decades to come. Nevertheless, the novel sold over 65 million copies and rocketed Salinger into the limelight. 

Salinger hated the limelight. 

In as early as 1953, Salinger stopped interacting with the public and by 1965, he stopped publishing his works — even though, he continued to write regularly, hiding away from his family to do so. Why did Salinger stop publishing? It was the same reason he became reclusive. Publishing was an invasion of his privacy. He loved writing and continued to do so, but with the success of The Catcher In the Rye, he no longer needed people to read his fresh material: the 15 potentially completed manuscripts in his bunker in New Hampshire. 

During this period, Salinger was solicited by many from the film industry who wanted to adapt The Catcher in the Rye and he would turn them all down. He had many reasons for doing so, but one that stood out was that he felt he was the only person that could have played Holden Caulfield honestly, and perhaps with Margret O’Brien as his co-star. That would be most ideal for Salinger. After seeing what someone could do to his work — as he had seen in My Foolish Heart — he was not ready to trust anyone. 

In 1957, Salinger answered a letter asking about the potential for adaptation. He responded with “The Catcher in the Rye is a very novelistic novel. There are readymade “scenes”—only a fool would deny that—but, for me, the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice, the non-stop peculiarities of it, his personal, extremely discriminating attitude to his reader-listener, his asides about gasoline rainbows in street puddles, his philosophy or way of looking at cowhide suitcases and empty toothpaste cartons—in a word, his thoughts. He can’t legitimately be separated from his own first-person technique. True, if the separation is forcibly made, there is enough material left over for something called an Exciting (or maybe just Interesting) Evening in the Theater. But I find that idea if not odious, at least odious enough to keep me from selling the rights…. And Holden Caulfield himself, in my undoubtedly super-biased opinion, is essentially unactable.”

Unactable — not even for The King of Comedy, Jerry Lewis, who tried for many years to acquire the rights to play Holden Caulfield. Salinger never even humored him. 

The list of elite filmmakers continued to knock on Salinger’s door as the years passed.

In 1961, Elia Kazan famous for On the Waterfront and A Streetcar Named Desire wanted to produce a Broadway version of The Catcher In the Rye. 

Billy Wilder of Double Indemnity made many attempts to communicate with Salinger, but it only ended up making the author annoyed and angry. 

Steven Spielberg, Harvey Weinstein, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Ethan Hawke, and John Cusack, who famously said that he regretted turning 21 because he was now officially too old to play Holden Caulfield, were not alone. Many generations of actors and filmmakers came and went — none of them added Holden Caulfield or The Catcher in the Rye to their credits.  

Acquiring the film right is the first step in adapting a novel to a movie; without it, there is no moving forward. No amount of money was going to sway Salinger, convincing him to relinquish the protection of his most precious work. 

On December 8, 1980, John Lennon was shot and killed outside of his apartment The Dakota by what police deemed, “a local crackpot,” Mark David Chapman. On Chapman’s body was a copy of The Catcher In the Rye. The killer continued to endorse the book during his arrest and trial. 

In 1981, after an attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, the authorities found The Catcher in the Rye in the culprit, John Hinckley Jr’s apartment. In 1989, after actress Rebecca Schaeffer was murdered by Robert John Bardo, the novel was found on him when arrested. Perhaps it was all circumstantial and merely a correlation, but The Catcher in the Rye was deemed a book with unholy powers. 

JD Salinger hid from all of this, as his novel continued to be both read and criticized almost four decades after its publication. To this day, The Catcher in the Rye holds a mystique. What power does it have over the readers, compelling them to do something so extreme? I believe if the novel was adapted into a movie, the power of the text would have been dampened. It would have been unlikely that these murderers would have been arrested with a DVD starring Marlon Brando or Jack Nicholson. Salinger knew what a poor adaptation could do to literature… 

In 2009, a Swedish writer by the pseudonym of John David California published a book called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, which chronicles Holden Caulfield’s life as a 76-year-old man. When Salinger caught a whiff of it, he sent his lawyer to sue California, real name: Fredrik Colting. 60 Year Later was banned in America. 

Even near the end, Salinger did not want his work to be tainted and defended it until his last breath which came on January 27, 2010. JD Salinger died at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. He was 91 years old. It was then that Hollywood wondered how long they will need to wait now until The Catcher in the Rye will be released in theatres. 

In 1957, Salinger wrote a letter, toying with the idea of giving the unsold film rights to his family as an insurance policy. They could sell it if they were financially desperate. He accepted that he would be dead and cannot see the results anyways. But that letter was written long, long ago. He had since separated with his second wife, Claire Douglas. And his daughter, Margret had written a memoir with a not-so-flattering portrayal of her father. Understanding how Salinger tended to respond to slights, it’s unlikely that the rights would be in their hands at the time of his death.  

In 1976, the copyright act changed, and it allowed The Catcher in the Rye to be renewed in 1979, extending its terms by 28 years from its original publishing in 1951. There had been two more extensions in the succeeding decades and 67 years have been added on top of the initial 28 year extension. Without getting into too much copyright detail, The Catcher in the Rye will enter public domain in 2046 — 95 years after the story was published. 

2046. If you are eager to see The Catcher in the Rye movie that will be how long you will have to wait. However, many have claimed that a Catcher in the Rye-esque movie had already been made by director Burr Steers called Igby Goes Down in 2002, starring Kieran Culkin, Claire Danes and Jeff Goldblum. The movie follows a rebellious young boy who recently flunked out of prep school attempting to deal with all the relationships and circumstances required of him as he grows up. 

Steers acknowledged the similarities but said that Igby Goes Down was inspired by his own experiences living in New York as a child. He had initially wanted to write a novel, but the project became a script and then a movie. 

In 2019, Salinger’s estate announced that they are planning to release some of the late author’s unpublished works and in addition, finally bringing his available works to the digital form. Salinger had been against ebooks and audiobooks, but in an interview with the New York Times, JD Salinger’s son, Matt Salinger said, “He wouldn’t want people to not be able to read his stuff.” 

With this sudden change in the tide, perhaps the movie may come sooner. 

Would you go see The Catcher in the Rye when it comes out in theatres? Who should play Holden Caulfield? Let me know in the comments below. 

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Stephen King vs Stanley Kubrick: How “The Shining” went from book to movie

It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for the adaptations, Stephen King would not be the icon that he is today. Love him or hate him, he had made an incredible career out of writing fiction that could be translated to on-screen success. Even if you have never read a Stephen King book, you know his stories: It, Misery… and The Shining. 

Perhaps one of his most personal works, The Shining was an adaptation he might not have been prepared to leave to another artist’s hands. If you let someone else adapt your work, they might make it better… and therefore, the story itself might change ownership. 

This is the story about the adaptation of The Shining, and King’s struggle to reaffirm what was originally his creation, a haunting struggle that has lasted nearly 40 years. 

The Shining was the first book that Stephen King wrote where he was considered financially stable.  On top of his earnings from his previous novels Carrie and Salem’s Lot he also received a multi-book deal from publisher, Doubleday. With pressure off of his shoulders, King decided to take a trip to Boulder, Colorado in 1974 to take on a short residency. 

It was there, during the off season, Stephen King and his family, spent one night at the Stanley Hotel. King had been working on a story called Darkshine — about a boy with psychic abilities in an amusement park, but he preferred a setting that was more isolating and the hotel served as the inspiration. The King family found themselves as the only guests in the 142-room colonial hotel. 

King had a dream that night about his son running through the corridor, screaming, being chased by a fire-hose. He woke up, lit a cigarette, looked out the window at the Rockies and by the time the cigarette was done, the book was in his mind. 

The first draft of The Shining took four months to write and was published on January 28, 1977. 

The Shining was Stephen King’s confession. As a young father, he felt a lot of anger towards his children. Like his character, Jack Torrance, an alcoholic who had recently broken his son’s arm, Stephen King was feeling a lot of guilt for his own poor parenting during those early years as a father and a struggling writer. He poured all of it into The Shining. As he puts it, he was “getting it out of his system.” 

At its roots, Stephen King’s The Shining was about a family disintegrating — his worst fear — however, what Stanley Kubrick had in mind was a bit different. 

Hungover and shaving, King received a call from Stanley Kubrick, one morning, saying that he wanted to adapt The Shining. Immediately, Kubrick started rambling about his philosophy about ghosts and how every ghost story is an optimistic story. 

At this point, Kubrick had nearly 3 decades of experience in the industry and many of his finest films were linked with a literary work rather through adaptation or written concurrently. Lolita released in 1962 was based on the novel by Vladimir Nabakov, Dr. Stranglelove in 1964 was based on a book called “Red Alert” by Peter George, 2001: A Space Odyssey was released in 1968 which was followed by a novel by Arthur C Clark, A Clockwork Orange released in 1971 was based on the novel by Anthony Burgess, and Barry Lyndon released in 1975 was based on the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. 

It was easy to see how King was flattered to have Kubrick approach him, wanting to adapt his latest work.   

Kubrick had developed a fascination with ESP and paranormal activities, and when he received the manuscript for The Shining from John Calley, an executive at Warner Bros, he was excited to find that the story had a great balance of psychological and the supernatural. He wanted the audience to ask: are supernatural things even happening or is Jack Torrance just crazy? 

Kubrick preferred adapting a story as opposed to writing an original piece because he used the feeling he got when reading a story for the first time as a yardstick for his decision making as he directed the movie.  

During this time, Kubrick wasn’t particularly interested in making a horror movie. Many thought that he would be as he was known to hop around different genres. It was rather there were two stories on his mind. One was Stephen King’s The Shining and the other was Diane Johnson’s The Shadow Knows. Kubrick was a particular artist, he ended up choosing to do The Shining, but he hired Johnson to write the script for it — rather than pursuing The Shadow Knows, even though she had never written a script before. 

Stephen King, on the other hand, had written a script for the movie — but allegedly Kubrick never even read it. After reading the initial manuscript for The Shining — and even though he appreciated the story — he found King’s writing to be “weak”

Kubrick called up Johnson and proposed a meeting, as he had been known to do with other writers, and in that meeting he offered her the job of writing the screenplay for The Shining. So she did. In about eleven weeks working with Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson wrote the script.

The movie’s initial release was on May 23, 1980 and it received mixed reviews. The common criticism was that the film was too slow moving for a horror and many found that the characters were hard to relate to. Despite the slow start, The Shining, which cost $19 million to make, ended up earning a profit with a domestic gross of over $44 million. 

Yet, The Shining is one of the few Kubrick films that failed to earn a single nomination for the Oscars or the Golden Globes. 

Still the toughest critic was perhaps the author of the source material himself. At first, King gave a fair critique of the movie, famously saying that “There’s a lot to like about it. But it’s a great big beautiful Cadillac with no motor inside, you can sit in it and you can enjoy the smell of the leather upholstery – the only thing you can’t do is drive it anywhere. So I would do every thing different. The real problem is that Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre. Everything about it screams that from beginning to end, from plot decision to the final scene – which has been used before on the Twilight Zone”

Kubrick didn’t care too much for what King said. He had his reasons for the changes he made, feeling that King had spent too much time focusing on the character’s background — or as he would put it overcompensating. 

For King, the character arch was the most important factor of his story. It was his personal tale, after all and Kubrick dismissed all of that. In the film, King felt that the Jack Torrance character was one note — he was always crazy. 

But perhaps the most critical change that Kubrick made to the story was the ending. First, he omitted all the toperaries that came to life in the novel, saying that due to the special effects of the era, it simply wouldn’t do and would have most likely come across as hokey. The second change was how Jack Torrance died. Spoiler Alert. 

In the novel, it was the explosion of an aging boiler that caused the death of the main character — while, in the movie, Jack freezes to death outside. 

King said it best, “The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.”

Finally, the last shot of the movie was a of a framed picture years ago: a celebration at the Overlook hotel. At the center, we see Jack Torrance, smiling. This sparked the theory that Jack was a reincarnation of an employee at the Overlook and he was destined and doomed to be trapped in the hotel forever. This was the Twilight Zone moment that King referenced in his criticism.

While it might have seemed like Kubrick had ultimately disrespected King’s original work, one can actually see many moments in the movie where he was loyal to the source material. The famous ballroom scene, where Jack sits in the bar, desperate for a drink, and then encounters a phantom barkeeper named Lloyd is perhaps the most loyal to the novel. 

And for me, rarely can a novel make my skin crawl, but remembering how I felt when reading the sequence with Danny Torrance leading up to that bathtub scene. Then seeing it come to life so effectively on screen is perhaps the moment that linked both novel and film. Two very different experiences, one chilling visceral effect. 

Even though Kubrick’s The Shining didn’t get the recognition it deserved upon its released, overtime it gained critical acclaim and many even deem it to be his finest work. 

While King and Kubrick continued on with their careers. The Shining entered the height of its pop-culture relevancy: from the highly quoted “Heeere’s Johnny!” to the word REDRUM scribbled on walls to the iconic scene of the twin girls in the hallway. All visuals that Kubrick immortalized. King’s ownership of The Shining had faded.   

Nearly two decades passed. 

After gaining some momentum in television with the four-part mini-series of, what I considered his masterpiece, The Stand, Stephen King jumped on the opportunity to reclaim one of his most precious work, The Shining. 

Essentially, he wanted to fix everything that Kubrick did wrong. The script for the 3-part series was written exclusively by King, and he wanted to stay as far removed from Kubrick’s creation as possible. At times, he even rewrote scenes which Kubrick had used from the original novel — such as the famous ballroom scene. Anything that can be done to separate King from Kubrick, King did. 

On April 27, 1997, The Shining mini-series was released to tepid response. While some critics found it to be a creepy suspense in the drawn out 6-hour experience, many more found it inferior to Kubrick’s adaptation. 

Yes, King had more attention focused on alcoholism, the struggle with work/life balance, and the interpersonal relationships of a family, but it lacked the eeriness that Kubrick was able to incorporate with aesthetics, best shown by the wide hallways that seemed to both be endless and suffocating. All that represented the haunting of the hotel. This was lost  in King’s version, where he had chosen to use the spark for his original inspiration: The Stanley Hotel as the design. 

Simply put, placed side-by-side, Kubrick’s version was deemed scarier. And when it came to a horror story, that was the key criteria. King sought redemption and had lost. 

On March 7, 1999, Stanley Kubrick died in his sleep from a heart attack at his home in Childwickbury Manor, United Kingdom. A few months later, On June 19, 1999, Stephen King was the victim of a life threatening car accident while walking on the shoulder of a road in Lovell Maine. Stephen King survived, but the feud between the two artists was over. 

However, the story of The Shining was not. 

During a promotional tour for Stephen King’s novel Under the Dome in 2009, King brought up a concept for a sequel, a story which will follow an adult Danny Torrance as he navigates the world with his paranormal powers and his haunting past. King made a poll on his official website asking his fans which story they would want to read next: The sequel to The Shining? Or another instalment in his Dark Tower series? 

The poll lasted one month and in the end, The Shining sequel, which will be titled Doctor Sleep, beat out The Wind through the Keyhole, the Dark Tower prequel, by a mere 49 votes. On September 24, 2013, Doctor Sleep was published. 

In 2014, Warner Bros Pictures acquired the rights to the Doctor Sleep adaptation. It took over 3 years to secure the budget, and only when the studio saw success with the remake of the Stephen King classic, It in 2017, that they got the green light to move forward with Doctor Sleep. 

Mike Flanagan, creator of The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix, signed on to direct the sequel that — as he stated would have a three-way connection between Stephen King’s The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation, and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep was a story written completely removed from what Kubrick had created, so one of the earliest conversations that Flanagan had with King was getting his blessing to combine the worlds. 

Perhaps a true test of King’s character was accepting that Kubrick’s film had become the undisputed representation of The Shining. It’s what the world recognized. The conversation between Flanagan and King went well, and King gave his encouragement. The movie is an adaptation of King’s work, but it will exist in the same cinematic universe as Kubrick’s film

Doctor Sleep is expected to be released on November 8, 2019, starring Ewan McGregor in the role as Dan Torrance.  

And with that, there is finally peace on The Shining front. 

What is your favourite version of The Shining? And Is there a movie-based on a book that you are curious about how it got made? Let me know in the comments below.

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How “Life of Pi” Went From Book to Movie

While Pi Patel might have spent 227 days trapped on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger, executive Elizabeth Gabler and producer, Gil Netter spent 11 years bringing the impossible story from page to screen

Life of Pi was published on September 11, 2001, perhaps the worst day to have a book launch. Nevertheless, it sold over 10 million copies and won author Yann Martel, the prestigious Man Booker Prize. It was a huge success. 

Yet, it was deemed an impossible movie to make — and the 11 years in between publishing and the release of the movie directed by Ang Lee is a story about the complexity of adaptation. 

Life of Pi is arguably my favorite book. I remember reading it as a teenager and feeling like I had a choice in what to think. Not often a case for a high school student. I remember my teacher asking me: which story did you think was real? The one with the animals, I responded. 

I loved that book, because it wasn’t tarnished by a movie. My imagination wasn’t skewed. It would not have been my favorite book, if I saw the movie first. Yet, it might have became my favorite movie. This is the first in a series about adaptations: the story of how a book becomes a movie. It’s not about which is better, it’s about how such a feat is even possible.  

In 1990, Yann Martel read a review by John Updike for a Portuguese book that has recently been translated into English. This book was called Max and the Cats by Moacyr Scliar. It was a negative review and Martel never read that book. Still the premise stayed with him: a boy trapped on a boat with a man-eating jaguar. 

Reeling from the disappointing reception of his first two published books, Martel in the midst of quitting a work in progress about Portugal, travelled to India for inspiration. This was 1996 — five years before Life of Pi was published. It was during this trip that it all came together. 

By 2002, Yann Martel had become a household name. Winning one of the biggest prizes in literature will do that. In addition, Life of Pi spent 61 weeks on New York Times BestSeller. While Martel received criticism for not acknowledging Scliar, eventually all that faded, when he stated it could not be plagiarism of any form, if he had never read Scliar’s book. When put side-by-side, most critics failed to see many similarities between the two: structurally and thematically. 

In the same year, at the height of Life of Pi’s popularity, 20th Century Fox Pictures Executive, Elizabeth Gabler was on maternity leave, where she saw the novel everywhere. All the other studios had passed on Life of Pi, so when producer, Gil Netter called her and pitched the project — she recognized the complexity of the story: it takes place predominantly on the Pacific Ocean, it’s highly spiritual, it’s not a superhero sequel and it’s not easily summed up. These were all concerns.

Still, Gabler saw a lot of potential in the story, so she made the deal for the film rights with Yann Martel a little over a year after the novel hit the shelves. 

When an author options their story to a production company, it is not always clear how much they will make. They may make a deal for as little to nothing with a promise of a percentage of the budget of the film (if it ever gets funding), or they may get an upfront payment for film rights all at once, perhaps $500,000. It’s hard to predict how much exactly Martel made from optioning the rights for Life of Pi, but one may wonder if the lengthy duration it took to make the film and the trouble it will soon have with the budget work for or against him monetarily. 

In February of 2003, Gabler had officially acquired the rights to Life of Pi and pre-production began. Screenwriter, Dean Georgaris, known for Manchurian Candidate, Triston and Isolde, and Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, was hired to write the script. 

M. Night Shyamalan — yes, M. Night — was first to partner with the project as the director in 2004. He had just finished with his movie The Village and Life of Pi was tempting, after all, Shyamalan grew up in the very city, the character Pi did, Pondicherry. However, he would back out of the project worried that the twist ending in Life of Pi would be affected if he was to direct it. People will be anticipating the twist the moment it began. That would hurt the story, and so, Shyamalan would sacrifice himself and begin work on his next movie, Lady In the Water. 

The project went in and out of limbo at this point. As of March of 2005, Alfonso Cuaron was rumored to have signed on to direct it — but stepped down to work on Children of Men. 

In October of the same year, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, director of Amelie was hired by 20th Century Fox to take on the job. Jeunette jumped on the opportunity — after backing out of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not long before — and began working on the screenplay with his partner from Amelie, Guillaume Laurant. Things were working great, Jeunet had a script that the studio liked, he built miniatures of the lifeboat, and even started location scouting in India.    

Then a major problem materialized: the budget. For an Indian boy in open waters with a lion, the project would cost an excess of $85 million. According to Investopedia, the average cost of a major studio movie in 2007 was $65 million. So the mission was to get the budget to $60 million, however, that simply wasn’t going to happen for Jeunet. In frustration, the heads of Fox told him to produce the movie himself. 

For 2 years, Jeunet had been working on Life of Pi. Suddenly the movie was at a standstill as the producers sought new solutions. Then time ran out for him. Jeunet did not want to spend the rest of his life working on Life of Pi and four months later he had a script for a new project, MicMacs. Life of Pi was once again without a director. 

At this time, Life of Pi was getting a reputation as being an unfilmable movie. It was getting riskier and riskier for 20th Century Fox. With no marketable star and every money-sucking challenge imaginable for a filmmaker, the adaptation of Yann Martel’s Man Booker Prize winner seemed impossible. 

In early 2009, almost eight years after the novel was published, the fourth director for this film was hired, academy award winner, Ang Lee, best known for his diverse resume including Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Brokeback Mountain, and Hulk. 

Screenwriter, David Magee, known for Finding Neverland, was personally hired by Lee to write the screenplay, working closely together. Writers, if you ever feel like giving up on a project, remember everything Life of Pi went through… In three and a half years of working on the movie, Magee and Lee wrote 170 drafts of the script

Life of Pi was a story that is told primarily from the mind of the character. Pi alone on a lifeboat with a tiger. How can they translate it to the screen? Lee and Magee dove deep into the project: speaking with those who have survived at sea, visiting holy locations in India, and even setting out in a boat during harsh weather themselves to gain the personal experience. 

Once again, it felt as though the movie was back on track. Yet, there was still the issue of the marketable lead. Finding a young Indian boy to play the role of Pi — a huge responsibility — was challenging and lengthy. It required a worldwide search with Lee auditioning 3000 actors. In the end, he found Suraj Sharma and placed him in a setting as daunting as a lifeboat with a tiger, his first impossible Hollywood movie. 

Lacking a familiar name on the bill continued to be a concern for the studio, at least for the North American audience. At a time, Tobey Maguire, the original Spiderman himself, was cast as the author interviewing a much older Pi Patel, but Lee later felt that having a recognizable face would be more of a distraction than a benefit — much like having M. Night direct the movie.

On top of that, there was another worry for the studio. Yes, the same concern that troubled them a few years ago: budget.  

In 2010, Jim Gianopulos and Tom Rothman, two chairmen of 20th Century Fox called Elizabeth Gabler letting her know that they were going to withdraw from the project — ending funding completely. Life of Pi the movie was on life support about to have its plug pulled. The proposed budget was simply too big of a risk for the studio. 

Gabler called Ang Lee to deliver the bad news. Fox is off of the project and Lee was free to shop the film to another studio, a mammoth task to say the least — which may stall the film for another decade. Gabler was as disappointed as Lee. There was nothing else like it. Yes, it wasn’t the conventional movie with heartthrobs and superheroes, but that was what made it worth fighting for. 

To her surprise and admiration, Lee did not give up. Before the call ended, he told her he will make his way to LA to discuss the matter in-person. With him, he had Suraj Sharma’s audition tape and a pre-visualization scene of the shipwreck, the pivotal moment in the story that left the character Pi stranded at sea. In addition to those two selling points, Lee was willing to accommodate with the expenses. Gabler was impressed and she bought it to Gianopulos and Rothman. Together, they cut $25 million from the proposed budget. This was helped by filming many portions of the movie in Taiwan. 

In 2012, Life of Pi was released to rave reviews, earning the film 11 Academy Award nominations, including a nomination for screenwriter, David Magee for best-adapted screenplay and producer, Gil Netter for Best Picture, along with Ang Lee and David Womack. The film ended up winning 4 Oscars, including one for Ang Lee as best director. Not only was it well received by the critics, to the delight of the studio, the movie turned out to be a commercial success, grossing over $500 million worldwide, with a final budget of $120 million. 

Ang Lee claims it was the hardest movie he had ever made, taking him nearly four years. 

Not every adaptation will be deemed impossible or receive critical acclaim and be a commercial success. Yet, every adaptation will have their own unique story. Is there a movie based on a book that you are curious about how it got made? Let me know in the comments below. 

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