July 14, 2020
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Best-selling author and Internet celebrity John Green ’00, who just has been dubbed "The Teen Whisperer" by The New Yorker, paused for an interview with Assistant Professor of Film Jon Sherman as he anticipates the June 6 film premiere of The Fault in Our Stars, based on his novel of the same name.
Sherman: I keep reading comments from Kenyon students on social media about how excited they are to see the movie because the book is so “Kenyon.” Do you agree?
Green: I don't know. I think Kenyon is probably just embedded in my way of looking at the world, so I'm sure it shaped the story. A lot of the concerns and questions at the center of the story are things I started looking at in a serious and focused way while at Kenyon. So I'm sure that time of my life is part of the story in many ways.
Sherman: Author Michael Chabon has said he thought adaptations were mostly two-hour advertisements for the books they are based on. Do you think the filmmakers of The Fault in Our Stars actually capture the soul of your novel?
Green: I think the easy part of an adaptation is re-creating the story. The hard part is preserving the tone and the themes of the story and finding a way to make them visual. You also have to use the structure of the film to reflect ideas. I don't know how to do any of that. I know basically nothing about visual storytelling – and many critics will be glad to tell you how little I know about plot – but the screenwriters and director and cinematographer found beautiful and fascinating ways to get the tone right.
And maybe the most important thing is the complete commitment of the actors to their characters. In that respect, and so many others, I was just really lucky. Everyone in the cast cared about the book. They wanted to make people feel the way the book made them feel, instead of just charting the plot points of the novel. And I think that shows.
Sherman: Along those lines, since film is a visual medium, it’s often hard to capture the interior voice of a novel’s narrator. How did the filmmakers convey the depth of Hazel’s character and reproduce her dark and funny outlook on life?
Green: Well, they use voiceover, but they also use a lot of silence. I just watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier, an excellent movie but not one with a lot of quiet. In fact, I think there might be one or two seconds of near-silence in the whole movie. In The Fault in Our Stars, the director, Josh Boone, lets the actors' faces and eyes say a lot in quiet moments, and I honestly felt like Shailene (Woodley) was often able to say exactly the lines of narration from the book in silence. She's incredible.
Sherman: How much of the film represents your vision of the original novel?
Green: Well, I think the word “vision” is really important in that question. I don't really imagine stories visually when I'm writing, or at least not in the kind of vivid and super-powerful way that you must when watching a movie. One of the things I like about writing, and reading, is that the brain "sees" things in ways that aren't just visual – for me, the visual imagining flickers in and out while reading and writing, and much of how I see a story is in the words themselves or even in their rhythm. It's hard to talk about this without sounding really dopey. Partly I think because reading and writing are both so personal that it's impossible to know if my brain's way of reading is like your brain's way of reading.
All of which is just to say that I'm not sure I had a VISION while writing so much as I had a series of interconnected ideas that kept unfolding and then refolding, and instead of ending up with, like, a narrative that I could see from beginning to end, I ended up with, like, a polygon that I could play with. I feel like the filmmakers had to make a different polygon, but that the shapes ended up being surprisingly similar. That probably sounds dopey.
Sherman: Writers of the original novel are never on set for filming. What was it like for you to be there and what was your contribution?
Green: Yeah, I was so, so lucky to be on set for the filming of the movie, and it was so fun. Every day was genuinely fun. I truly had no role on the set except to be excited.