Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time is out now. We sat down with the screenwriter of A Wrinkle In Time, Jennifer Lee, and she shared information about her process of turning this book into a film, and lessons she learned along the way.
6 Things Jennifer Lee, Screenwriter of A Wrinkle In Time Shares About Her Experience
If you have kids, nieces or nephews, you are familiar with the Disney movie, Frozen. You can thank Jennifer Lee for that- she is the writer and director of this 2013 Disney hit. This also earned her an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. She teamed up with Disney (again) to write the adapted film of the book A Wrinkle In Time. We sat down with her to talk about her process of writing this film, working with Ava DuVernay (Director), and taking Frozen to Broadway!
On taking a classic novel and adapting it to film
“Well, it took four years, if that answers the question. It was a challenge but it was when I heard they were looking for a writer, I was like, “Oh, oh, oh!” ‘Cause I had loved it as a kid, my daughter was reading it. I was reading it again, and I kept saying, I had a whole take on it. But I wanted to try it. And what I loved is, Disney really responded to acknowledging that. Like I wasn’t trying to do the book, adapting it for the film, it was very much clear that like, I don’t want to try to be the book. If we try to be the book, we’ll fail. But showing our love for the book, showing how much inspiration there is in the book. And how strong the journey is in the book. I could stay true to that; then we might have a chance of finally getting it made. ‘Cause it’s been years of trying. And then of course, when Ava joined, that was the final magic piece of the puzzle.”
Jennifer’s process of writing A Wrinkle In Time, the movie and working with Ava
” Everybody was different. I tend to write in the mornings, and then I can edit and give notes, some things in the afternoons. So it was my morning writing time. But then I would go into animation in the afternoons and do that part of my job as well. So for me, it was more of like an every morning thing. But I spent about a year and a half to almost two years, just writing. And doing – and I would show – I worked very closely with Jim Whittaker and Catherine Hand, the producers, creatively. And then with the studio, getting notes. And what I loved is the notes were always about deepening. It was always, “this family.” And then there comes a time where they go out to directors. And look for interest. And I was – you know, I had thought of Ava, only ’cause I thought that’s what it’s gonna take to do – you can do – someone who can do science fiction, you could do all that. But what you really need is someone who can like, very evocative. And make you feel something that you never felt before. Do it in such a way that is so grounded in truth. And when they brought her in, I was shocked and couldn’t have been more thrilled.
So then we go to the next phase, which is we work with – what I – she sort of, it becomes her film, it has to be. And she didn’t even have to keep me on; she could have rewritten it herself. She’s an amazing writer. But luckily she wanted to keep me around. So, but we would just spend – first it was a lot of conversations. And we talked deeper and deeper of the characters. She wanted to get her head around the physics; I love physics. We would do all that. And then of course as the cast and the crew come…. A fun thing for Ava and I was the bully, Veronica (played by Rowan Blanchard) is a matchup of her biggest bully and my biggest bully.
What I appreciate though, is that journey was also like understanding that the bully has wounds as well. And so all of those little things we did together. And then we brought the cast in, and they brought a lot to it. Chris Pine loved the science. So when we met with Dr. Alexander, he met with us too. And we have these great conversations about quantum physics. I went, Why am I getting to have this kind of conversations? And connecting from the ground up, with something – particularly important is something so fantastical. So that’s kind of the four years in two minutes.”
On changing Mrs. Who’s characters and her lines.
“Well, in the book she didn’t just talk in quotes in the book. She also spoke with regular voice. But I couldn’t understand sort of the exact motivation of that. So for myself, I said, well, what if she’s evolved past language? She’s so evolved. And so she uses our words. And then what I loved about that is, it allowed us to never be on the nose with what she says. But, and it – if she’s drawing from the canon of history, she could draw from anyone. We didn’t have to stick to some quotes from certain periods of like Shakespeare or stuff. We could have Jay-Z, we could have anyone we wanted. We had a blast, people sending emails to Ava, to me, about favorite quotes they have. So that was really fun. There are some we loved, but we couldn’t do, ’cause we couldn’t get the rights to do it, too. ‘Cause it was like, you didn’t realize how complicated that process was. But it was fun.”
Her inspiration for this type of storytelling
“Well, you know, I came to it kind of late. But I think, I would say, I’d say it’s my job, I would just about look for the signs in your life. Because when I was little, I was drawing all the time. I love Disney; I thought maybe, oh, I could be an animator. But I wasn’t a good enough artist. But I was always drawing. And then I was always writing things, but they would gel. But it was like; there’s something inside, I was running sagas in my head. I would have these like epic journeys going on at night, to fall asleep. And one day I wrote a scene down. I overheard something, and I just started writing it. And I turned it into a scene. And I went, oh my god. Like this is the thing that I’ve been looking for, was the kind of writing that film is. What you can see, what you can hear, and what you can say. And like the reducing it that way, having those limitations did something. And I had already been a visual artist, so I knew there was – I was a visual thinker. But I was 30 when I went to film school. And I’d had a whole decade in book publishing. So for me, I came to it late. But it was certainly the signs of saying, Oh, I was drawing as a kid, but if I look back, I was drawing stories. I wasn’t just drawing – it was like, turn the page. ”
On writing Frozen, the Broadway show
Jennifer shared with us her process of writing the new Frozen, Broadway show. “You get to do Broadway and everyone, the actors own it, and they’re live. And that’s it, you surrender. So it was a great way to sorta ease me into that. But it’s been – you know, the amazing thing is, storytelling is storytelling. And everything comes from the character, from the emotion. It doesn’t matter how fantastical the world or whether it’s just a tiny set. It all comes back to the intimacy of those characters. And in fact, Disney didn’t put FROZEN on Broadway in a giant theater, into the biggest theater. Like LION KING, you know, it’s in the St. James. And it’s that way because you need that intimate connection, you need to keep it with the girls. ‘Cause that’s the foundation. And, so kudos to them, ’cause they didn’t have to do that. So every day I’m still learning.”
Writing for Oprah
A question was asked if Jennifer made any changes to the script after she found out Oprah, Mindy and Reese were going to the Mrs. characters.
“All of them came to this wanting to be these women. They were inspired by the book, by the script. They really came to it. So that was such a beautiful thing. And we were overwhelmed by that. But then at the same time, you know Reese, she’s hilarious. So there are fun things you could do. And then with Oprah, it’s like, with Mrs. Which being sort of the most, the wisest being, there were just some things where you have to go, god, I just want to hear her say that. It would mean the world. So you would say – and just even the way she would be a warrior. Like no one can say that like her. So there were – those were – and then Mindy was amazing. ‘Cause she had to wrangle these quotes. And the way she was able to humanize them and do each one of them differently. And really – I mean, she blew me away. So it was great.”
You can catch Jennifer’s work in Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time, now playing in a theater near you!
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