Jennifer Niven: The All the Bright Places Film and Beyond
The movie adaptation of Jennifer Niven’s bestselling novel All the Bright Places was released on February 28th, featuring heart-wrenching performances from Elle Fanning (Super 8, Maleficent) and Justice Smith (Paper Towns, Everyday). From the adaption process to seeing her personal, heart-felt novel come to life, Jennifer and I discussed All the Bright Places and all the effort and love that went into one of the most successful teen films to hit Netflix. For more on what’s next for Jennifer and All the Bright Places, see the highlights from our conversation below:
When did you first find out that ATBP was becoming a movie? Where were you, and how did you react?
It was the spring of 2014, nine months before All the Bright Places was published. I had known that studios and production companies were looking at it and that there was interest, but when Mazur Kaplan optioned it, I think I ran around the house and danced for about an hour.
Casting can be a difficult choice in any adaptation. Were Elle Fanning and Justice Smith the only actors that you could envision for the roles of Violet and Theodore? Were there other candidates for the parts?
I actually wrote the book picturing Elle Fanning as Violet. I always cast the stories I’m writing as I’m writing them because it helps me envision the characters, especially when that character is personal to me, which was the case with Violet. I’d originally pictured Nicholas Hoult as Finch, but by the time we were actually casting the movie, he was too grown up. We saw almost every big male star under the age of 25 in Hollywood, and they were all so good. So good. But the minute we saw Justice’s audition, we all knew unanimously—he was Finch. He did something no one else did—he seemed to channel Finch.
How involved have you been in the adaptation process? What was it like being on the set of the film?
I’ve been very involved in the process since the beginning. Because the book is so personal, the filmmakers felt that I was the one who should write the script, and I was honored to get to do so (with Liz Hannah). In addition, I was involved with the casting and other decisions along the way. And I was lucky enough to get to be on set for some of the filming, which was a dream come true. Just seeing all those people—from craft services to lighting grips to camera operators, wardrobe, makeup, hair, line producer, extras, security, director, actors—it was hard to fathom that they were all there because of a book I wrote about a boy I loved and lost so many years ago.
How much interaction did you have with Elle Fanning and Justice Smith? Do you have any interesting/funny/memorable stories from interacting with the cast or being on set?
In addition to being brilliant actors, Elle and Justice are both incredible humans, and I’m honored to count them as friends. I’ve had a lot of interaction with them—on set and off the set—and one of my favorite stories is of being on location at the blue hole, which was freezing on the sunny October day we filmed there. Elle and Justice had been in the water filming, and in between takes they would sit in this outdoor portable hot tub and eat snacks from craft services. It was just so lovely to see them become good friends over the course of filming. Same with Lamar Johnson and Sofia Hasmik, who play Charlie and Brenda. Justice filmed a scene with the two of them where they were trading funny line after funny line and just improvising, and I could have sat there all day because the three of them were so damn funny. One of my other favorite memories is the day Keegan-Michael Key was on set and Justice was SO EXCITED because he admires him so much. Justice is so funny and easy off camera, but he was nervous that day. But as soon as he sat down with Keegan in the scene, he became Finch and nailed it, and Keegan told him how impressed he was.
What can fans expect from the film? How consistent does it stay to the book?
It’s important to remember that there is less room on the screen than there is on the page. Short of making a six-hour movie, we knew we’d have to cut certain scenes and maybe even some of the secondary characters. While readers may not see every scene from the book on the screen, they can rest assured it was very important to us to capture the heart and soul and feel of the book so that watching the movie leaves you with the same feels as reading the novel.
All the Bright Places is a very personal story. Was it difficult seeing this story come to life on the small screen?
I cried on set. I’ve seen the film twice now, and I cried from the first scene till the last scene. It’s incredibly moving to see Violet and Finch come to life, and some moments are definitely challenging for me to watch because they are so close to what happened in my real life, back when I knew a boy like Finch. But it’s also a very cathartic experience, one I can’t begin to put into words.
What was your favorite scene to see come to life in the adaptation? Do you have a favorite quote that was included in the movie?
The roller coaster scene! It was just so full of joy and love, and John and Sharon Ivers, creators and owners of the real-life roller coaster, played themselves for the film, which made it even more special. My favorite quote included in the movie is: “You are all the colors in one, at full brightness.” If I had to choose one line that readers love most, it’s that one, and I was determined to get it into the film!
The trailer just dropped on YouTube in recent weeks. What was your first reaction when you saw it and shared it with readers?
I just can’t believe it’s real, even though I’ve watched it 100 times! The very best moment was sharing it with my readers and hearing their reactions. So many of my readers have been with me from the start of my journey, and to be able to share this with them and my newer readers is the very best feeling. I’m so excited for the movie to debut, but their excitement makes me even more excited!
Can we expect a film adaptation of Holding Up the Universe in the near future?
I wish I could say right now, but just know I’m crossing my fingers… I’m hoping to say more soon!