Fault in Our Stars: Making of Romantic Movie

the_fault_in_our_stars_posterJohn Green’s novel The Fault in Our Stars was published January 10, 2012 and debuted at number-one on The New York Times Best Sellers list.

Green began work on The Fault in Our Stars in 2000 after serving as a student chaplain in a children’s hospital, and explains: “I wanted to write a story about young people who were like many of those I had met in the hospital – who were funny, full of life and great fun to be around.

“I also knew that I wanted The Fault in Our Stars to be a love story, but it wasn’t clear to me for a long time what kind of love story it would be,” he continues.  “Finally after many years of looking for my characters, I found Hazel and Gus.  They have very different ideas about what constitutes a well-lived life, as well as constrasting world views, but they are brought together by their love for each other and for a book.”

Green’s friendship with a young woman named Esther Earl, to whom he dedicated The Fault in Our Stars, provided the direction he needed to tell the story.  Though Esther is not the model for a specific character in the book, Green notes that, “our friendship and the joy she had in her life were huge inspirations.”  Diagnosed with metastasized papillary thyroid cancer in 2006, Esther Grace Earl succumbed to the disease in 2010, at age 16.

Even before the novel was published, Hollywood came calling.  But Green was reluctant to sell the movie rights.  “I felt the story was so personal and close to me I just couldn’t imagine it being turned into a movie.”

Producer Wyck Godfrey was aware of the author’s reluctance.  Having just produced the phenomenally successful Twilight series, based on the books by Stephenie Meyer, Godfrey and Marty Bowen, his partner at Temple Hill Entertainment, had become adept at recognizing literature that was ideal for screen adaptation. “We had been trying to find something that would speak to the next wave of young readers who were looking for something that was very real, and The Fault in Our Stars felt like the next step for young adult fiction.”

Godfrey approached Fox 2000 Pictures president Elizabeth Gabler, and together they moved quickly to secure the movie rights.  “We got on the phone with John and convinced him we were the right people to turn the book into a film,” Godfrey recalls.  Their mutual love of football (soccer) helped seal the deal.  “I admitted to being a huge Liverpool fan, and as luck would have it, so was John,” adds the producer.

Bonding over sports, aside, Green says that meeting Godfrey and the film’s executive producer (and Temple Hill Entertainment executive) Isaac Klausner, and hearing firsthand of the two filmmakers’ commitment to be faithful to the book’s themes and characters, convinced the author that they were the right people to bring the story to the big screen.

“One of the things Wyck said to me during those meetings was, ‘You didn’t write a cancer book, and we’re not going to make a cancer movie,’” Green remembers.  “Wyck didn’t want the film to be sentimental or about learning to be grateful for every day.  Wyck wanted the film to be raw, exciting and a celebration of life.  And that’s exactly what I was looking for.

“I wanted the movie to be fun and something from which people would walk away feeling uplifted – that would capture the idea that a short life can be a good and rich one.  Wyck and Isaac really believed those things, too.”

Two of the book’s legions of fans – screenwriters Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber – were pleased to come aboard and adapt Green’s novel. “The truth is we were fortunate to become involved with the project before the book became a worldwide sensation,” Neustadter explains.  “At the time we read it, right before its publication, it was beloved…by us.  The reaction to the book since then is fantastic – we hope the movie is embraced in the same way – but it was not an issue when we were adapting, beyond our strong feelings for it.”

“Our goal was to preserve as much of the book as possible while making sure it’s a special cinematic experience,” adds Weber. “As with most books, the biggest challenge in that process is externalizing the internal voice of the book.  John Green read our first draft and sent us the most wonderful email of support.   When we work with an author of his caliber it means a lot to us that they approve of our adaptation.”

Josh Boone Directs

The decision to have Josh Boone direct was an easy one.  Godfrey was a fan of Boone’s film Stuck in Love and had been tracking it since he had read the script. The film starred Greg Kinnear, Jennifer Connolly and Lily Collins, but as Godfrey says, “It’s ultimately about the character of the teenage son,” played by Nat Wolff, who has a leading role in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

“It’s sort of autobiographical and you watch this kid come of age in a way that is funny, emotional and yet never pandering,” Godfrey explains.  “It felt very real.”

Boone’s take on THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was certainly ambitious. His pitch to the studio and producers: “This story is ‘Titanic’ and cancer is the iceberg we’re going to hit eventually.  But the film cannot be about the iceberg; it has to be about the love story.  It had to have real and special moments.”

John Green was a regular presence on the set, and according to Boone, the author’s input was invaluable.  “John was terrific in helping us determine whether something was working,” says the director.  “He’s not only a wonderful writer, he’s a great audience.”

Shailene Woodley   

Shailene Woodley takes on the role of Hazel Grace Lancaster.  The young star of Divergent and The Descendants says THE FAULT IN OUR STARS will forever leave a lasting impression on her.  “It was truly one of the biggest honors of my life to be a part of this project.  Both the film and novel explore the most powerful and universal themes.  The story taught me that all is fleeting, that nothing is guaranteed, and that however long or short a life you live, it is the small moments that mean the most.

“I wanted the role so badly I sent John Green a long, long email about how much I loved the book, and how I had to play Hazel,” Woodley continues.  “So I sat down with the studio executives and producers and said, ‘I’ll be a P.A. or an extra, just please, please let me be a part of it!’”

Fortunately – for Woodley and the filmmakers – she was able to keep her day job, largely, says Boone, thanks to her spectacular audition. “We read close to 150 actresses for the role, and I saw about 50 of those.  Within ten or fifteen seconds of Shailene’s audition, I knew she was Hazel.  She held up her script pages and just her eyes were peeking over them.  Shailene has these incredible, expressive green eyes, and she could do so much with them.  She was emotionally available and creates such nuanced and subtle work.  I don’t know how she does it; it’s like some kind of magic.”

Woodley’s views on the story, themes and characters mirrored those of her director and the producers.  “THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is a love story about two kids with cancer, but it’s not about cancer,” she explains.   “I was so deeply moved by Hazel and Gus, who are able to see things that a lot of us are too busy living our lives to see.”

Woodley worked hard to capture Hazel’s many shadings and complexities. “Shailene understands Hazel so deeply,” says Green.  “She gives a raw, honest and totally unselfconscious performance.  I’m so grateful for what she’s done with the character.

“Hazel is a pretty sarcastic person with a gallows sense of humor,” the author continues. “But she’s always very loving and deeply concerned about the effect her illness has on the people around her, particularly on Hazel’s parents.  She doesn’t want to be what Hazel calls a ‘grenade’ – whose death causes pain and destruction.   I mean, she’s a vegetarian who says to Gus, ‘I want to minimize the casualties.’  She possesses an under-appreciated kind of heroism.”

In addition to capturing Hazel’s many qualities, Woodley was tasked with conveying her physical limitations, chief of which is her need to be hooked up to a cannula – a flexible tube attached to an oxygen tank.  Here, again, Woodley’s research was important.  “I met with a lot of people who had been on oxygen, one of whom said it was like breathing through a straw,’” she comments.

The object of Hazel’s affections, Gus, played by Ansel Elgort, is someone who believes in big, heroic gestures.  He’s brash and tough, but also possesses an appealing intelligence.

According to John Green, Hazel and Gus’ attraction to one another stems from the fact they possess a similar wit and intelligence.  “There’s a line in the Philip Roth novel The Human Stain, where a character says, ‘The pleasure isn’t in owning the person. The pleasure is this.  Having another contender in the room with you.’  I think Hazel is someone who doesn’t have a lot of contenders in the room with her, and when she meets Gus she realizes, ‘Oh, this guy can hang with me.’  For Gus it’s the same thing.  He’s used to being able to attract women, but he’s never encountered someone like Hazel before.”