An Interview With Homelander Series Author Andrew Klavan

Best Selling author Andrew Klavan is no stranger to the film industry. Two of his novels, True Crime and Don't Say A Word, have already gotten the Hollywood treatment with at least four more on the way in the form of his latest series, The Homelander. Summit Entertainment recently acquired the series adding yet another set of films to it's laundry list of young adult focused films. Except these are a little different.

The first book in the series, The Last Thing I Remember, is high action, fast paced, and is right inside main character Charlie West's head, giving you a real sense of who he is. The book is free and clear of any sappy drama used to reel in the teenage girl crowd and at it's core is a great piece of action and a large bit of fun, despite the lead's struggles. In the four part series, Charlie wakes up tied to a chair, beaten and bloody, confused and scared. When he hears voices ordering men to kill him just outside the door, he makes good his escape by taking out the guards and finding sanctuary in the woods, before starting his quest to uncover what exactly had just happened to him.

Recently, Andrew was kind enough to grant me an interview and chat about what it's been like working with Summit so far, the comparisons being made to the Bourne series, and how he'd like certain "shaky cam" directors to steer clear of his work.

So tell me how the Homelander series landed at Summit.

Well the books went out immediately when I finished the first book. CAA wanted to handle it and they sent it out immediately and there was a lot of excitement and a lot of action going on a lot of phone calls, but everybody kept saying "Gee, ya know the story doesn't really end in the first book" which is true, it's a series and, "We're not sure where it's going" and all this stuff so everybody sort of held fire. It was very frustrating because I knew someone would want it eventually, but they didn't want it until they could figure out what happened in the ending, because they couldn't figure out the tricks of the story. And then the second book came out and they all still sort of felt the same way, but there was still a number of people very interested. And when the third book came out it was kind of like, "AH, now we get it," and that was when Summit stepped up. And I was really glad it was them because they seem to really do a good job, they seem to be in a good place with what they're doing. The producer is the guy from Transformers so he seems to be really comfortable with this kind of story and big action stories. And so it's been a good fit.

So working with them so far has been really good for you?

Yeah it's been real good. Of course as a book writer you have very little to do with this part of it. I mean they're nice and they keep in touch with you and they've been really nice about letting me know what's happening. But you know people don't really get this but if youre not the screen writer you're just the book writer you're really far away from the process and you have little control over what happens next.

Well you've written some screenplays, right? So are you interested in holding on to that position for this series?

I dont think so. For one thing I've already told the story. I think it could use a fresh voice and a fresh eye to figure out how to put it on the screen. I've adapted books for movies and you really have to change them. You have to. You just can not fit a book into a movie and that just takes somebody else, another eye a lot of the time. But secondly I think before they even started they had their own vision. I believe they had a screenwriter in mind even when they sold it. I believe that was part of the package that Lorenzo di Bonaventura went to Summit with. I don't know who it is but I think that was part of the package so I never really had a shot at it.

Well if they have someone already picked out, I was going to ask you if you had any particular screenwriters that you might be fond of that you might want to have take a crack at it.

No, you know it's too big and broad a field. It's not like novels where I know who all the big guys are. I don't even really know who they're looking at today, it changes very rapidly and there's no one who immediately comes to mind. I mean there are guys I know, but I don't want to say one guy's name and not say another guy's name, you know? It really is a different world than book writing so I don't have anyone particular in mind. You always hope that they'll stick somewhere near the ideas and the tone of the book and that's kind of what I've got my fingers crossed for.

That leads me into my next question. After I landed the opportunity to interview you I went and picked up the first book [in the Homelander series The Last Thing I Remember] and one question I wanted to ask you was how you would feel about them downplaying the religious aspect of the story since that sometimes happens in the transition from book to film?

Well look I'd rather they didn't but I'd understand. It's a very funny thing, you know. Films with a faith narrative, with a religious narrative, make a fortune. Some of them like Fireproof arent even good, they're almost amateurish and yet they clean up at the box office. And yet the studios remain extremely nervous about making them. I read that when they were making The Book of Eli, which was a succesful film with Denzel Washington, he gave an interview to the LA Times where he said the studio was very nervous and they kept trying to get them to take out some of the Bible references and things like this and I was just thinking "Why? Are they afraid they're going to make too much money?" So you know it's kind of nonsensical but at the same time I understand they do it. And in this case it's interesting because most of the things, I was not at all trying to preach with this book AT ALL, it's an adventure story, but I was trying to be inside the guy's head. It's a first person story so I had to show him as he really would be, thinking about the things he would really think about. So some of that stuff is gonna go by the boards naturally as you make it an outer third person story as you have to do in a film. But I hope, I'd like to think that they would stick with at least the idea of who he is, but I just don't know.

Great. Well you mentioned you don't have any screenwriters, but do you have any directors, any dream directors, that you might like to see take a shot at this?

Boy, that's an interesting question, and kind of a tough one. You know it's funny whenever people ask me "who do you want to be in your books" I always draw a blank. Some of these directors are so talented. They can all do a good job it'll just be different. I won't mention any names but I hope they stay away from the shaky camera guys [Laughing]. It's that style of directing where they jump the camera around and think it's supposed to be action. I don't want to mention anybody, there's so many people that could do a good job with this. I just hope it's someone who really understands, the key thing to a story like this is suspense and I hope it's somebody who really understands suspense.

You kind of already answered my next question. One of the comparisons that people are drawing now that Summit picked up this property is that it's being comapred to the Bourne movies quite a bit so I was going to ask if you were looking for a Paul Greengrass type director or if you were looking for something more along the lines of an Indiana Jones that was big adventure but much smoother on the camera?

Am I wrong in thinking that the first Bourne, The Bourne Identity, was directed by someone else? Yeah, the first one was not Paul Greengrass and that was the great one. I thought the second two were OK, but that first one was a blast, that was a great film. It was Doug Liman. I don't know his work otherwise but that first movie was terrific and if it came anywhere near that kind of action and suspense I'd be thrilled.

Let's step away from the movies for a second. Why did you decide to take a shot at the young adult crowd after your novels in the adult thriller world were so successful?

Well not too long ago, well probably about ten years ago now, I was hired to write a script for a young adult classic called The Dark is Rising. I had nothing to do with the film that was ultimately made. That was somebody else's work, I didn't see it. But they made it into a film called The Seeker I think but I was like the first screenwriter that was brought on to it. And I thought, "this is interesting. I've never done anything for young adults before." And I started to work on it and I just started to have the absolute time of my life. I was coming home to my wife and saying "I can't believe how much fun I'm having. This is an incredible experience." And it had something to do with an imagined audience, with imagining an audience who are just very intensely interested in being entertained, and having you grip them and having you show them something that they've never seen before, and having you tell them the truth which I think is always in short supply. I think especially in stories for younger people we're always trying to tell them something instead of just showing them the world as we believe it to be. And so it was just a really good experience.

So flip forward a few years and Thomas Nelson called me up, and they had read an interview with me and they knew I had contracts for adult books and they said, "Would you be willing to do a young adult book?" And I jumped at it! They almost didn't even get to finish their sentence before I said "I'm really interested in this." I sort of had it in the back of my mind but I hadn't gotten around to doing it. And then from there I felt like there were all these stories out there about a little nerdy guy who finds a magic talisman and turns into a hero or goes to a magical place or something like that. And when I was a kid, I never wanted to read a story about little nerdy people [Laughing]. I wanted to read stories about big tough heroes so I could think about being like them basically. So I just wanted to write a story about that, about a guy who was a tough guy, who believed in things you could believe in, and who stuck to his guns in all this. And I came up with this idea of sort of imitating adolescense, because this guy goes to bed one night and he wakes up and suddenly he's in danger and his identity is in question and whether he's a good guy or a bad guy is in question, all his values are in question. And that struck me as very much what it's like to become an adolescent. You know, you go to bed one night, and you know what you believe and you know who you are and you know what your role in life is and you wake up the next morning and suddenly the world is entirely different. You've got to make a lot of decisions on the fly, and question all the things you've been taught so I thought it was a really good adventure story metaphor for what it's like to become an adolescent.

I meant to ask you this before when we were talking about the Bourne movies, but did you read the Ludlum novels?

Yes, I read them a long time ago, they were great. They go on and on, but the first one was really great.

[Laughing] Kind of like you think about the movies.

Yes. I mean he was a really substantial writer. He was like an actual good writer. That first Bourne Identity is an interesting, different book. It just comes from a different time you know, it comes kind of from the 70s when everything was like "he evil American government" which kind of played over into the first movie and then it got kind of silly I thought in the second and third movies. It's just a very 70s story.

Having had a few of your books adapted into film, do you ever write thinking you might see your work on the big screen?

Never. Not only do I not do it, if the thought strays into my head I get rid of it [Laughing]. The reason is simple because movies are like writing sonnets. They have a very very strict construct especially when it comes to thrillers and genre movies. A very very narrow space to move in, very little room, and very external and not an internal story. Not a story where something can happen because of who you are, exactly. Things have to follow a much more logical pattern on screen because you just can't get inside the character's head enough. And so I feel like if I'm writing a book with a movie in mind I'm depriving my reader of the book. I want to give my reader the book experience. And I remain through everything a book guy. I would much rather sit and read a book than go to a movie. You know I just love books. I love the fact that the whole thing takes place inside your head, and I love the fact that you're dealing with only one creative person and you're getting his entire vision of the world. And so as much as I enjoy the movies I'm always a book guy first. And I always try to put everything into a book that I want there and let the movie take care of itself.

In that same vein, do you have any other of your books that you'd like to see made into a movie?

Yeah, there are a couple of them that I'm kind of shocked have never been made into movies, to be honest with you. Not every book I've written has been a movie, but a couple of them have been. There was a book called Man and Wife that was optioned, there was a script written, it never moved forward, but I think theres a good movie in that. There's a book called Animal Hour that I'm shocked has never been made into a film. Hunting Down Amanda is another one. There are a few of them in there that I think would make really good movies.

Is Man and Wife still optioned or has that sort of fallen by the wayside over time?

It's fallen by the wayside. Every now and then somebody asks about it, but it's a strange situation because Lionsgate has the rights to the script but I have the rights to the book so in order to put that together they'd somehow have to work out that deal.

It's weird how that works when copyrights wind up all over the place...

I gets really confusing. I have a novel that I wrote very early on in my career called The Scarred Man which I do believe they have spent multiple millions of dollars developing and it's never come close to getting made. It's bizarre. It's a weird thing.

So what's next after the Homelander series?

Well I've got a contract with Thomas Nelson to do three singleton books, three books that aren't in a series that are just three thrillers. I'm excited about that because that's a whole new way of approaching young adult fiction. And I've also got a novel coming out in November for adults called The Identity Man that frankly, just speaking in flat out honesty, I think it's one of the best books I ever wrote. I think it's just a really top notch book so I'm really excited about that too.

Do you think it'll get some attention from the film industry since you're getting the Homelander series put together right now?

You know, it's in there with a chance like it may be optioned. There's definitely some interest for it and I'm waiting to see. To be honest with you it's another one where I thought they would just snap it up. Sometimes I know when I finish a book that there's no movie in it, but this one I thought was a stone movie right off the page. But it's can I put it...It's dark and politically incorrect so it didn't garner widespread excitement the way the Homelanders books did but there's still some people very interested in it and I'm hoping it'll come through.

Well if its a little politically incorrect the right person will evetually be brave and step up to take the risk.

I think so. I mean the people who are most interested in it seem pretty brave about it and are pushing forward pretty hard. We'll just have to see if they can package it basically and put it together. This is the worst, because of the economy, this is the worst time I've ever seen in the business for everybody. It's a really tough time in the movie business.

Alright I have just one more question for you. I saw that you posted a blog about the video game Assassins Creed 2, so have you ever considered stepping into that realm by either writing novels in that universe or maybe trying to make something good happen in the world of video game adaptaions by taking on a screenplay based on a video game?

That's a really interesting question. In general I feel that everything is structured, especially in movies. And I feel like the natural structure of video games is not the same as the natural structure of movies. And they've gotten closer at times, but the kind of cut scene/action/cut scene/action thing turns out to be very boring in film but turns out to be very fascinating in video games because you're playing the action and the little cut scenes that link them together are really pretty secondary and rudimentary where in movies it's almost the opposite way around. The things that link the action are why the people come to see the movie. It's very rare that people come to see a movie just because it has a cool car chase and stuff like that. That's the mistake they made with the matrix two and three, they thought people turned out for all the slow mo action but no they turned out because the first one was such a great concept. So the structure of video games and movies is not a natural fit even though you'd think that it would be. But I'd love to be involved with the making of a video game, I'd love to do that. But it's a very difficult field to get into. And I've spent my life working so hard trying to get into the field that I am in that I'm not sure I have time to do that [Laughing].

So you'd be more apt to write a video game than adapt one to film?

Yeah, I'd be more interested in that because I feel like movies are kind of in a down period whereas games have had a golden age recently. I mean some of the games they're making now have hit a little slump, but they had this golden age of absolutely brilliant games a few years back. But the art in them is becoming mind boggling. If you saw Assassins Creed 2 it wasn't even that good a game but I couldn't turn it off because it was so beautiful. And the storytelling was fairly sophisticated. So I think when they start to figure out how to tell stories a little better and make the action a little more varied there's going to be some great video games up ahead I think. It's such a new and exciting and different world and achieves so many things. Back in the 70s and 80s there were all these theories going around that books were going to be online, they'd all be "choose your own adventure", eveything would be hypertext. And people wrote really learned essays about this, you know, this was the wave of the future. And I would look at this and think, "nah that's kind of boring." No one wants to read a story and keep jumping around in the hypertext. But video games have achieved that. They've achieved this world where your decisions and your actions make a difference and change the story, and that's exciting. That's to me a really interesting new way to tell stories. Not to go on and on, but every medium has it's own structure and TV for instance has a really interesting new way of telling stories that has brought on a golden age of television shows in the last ten years and I think video games will have the same thing.