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From Page to Screen: Interview with Jonathon Tropper

We attended the interview as a guest of Warner Bros.

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Plenty of books make the transition from page to screen, with varying results. The new Warner Bros. Pictures film “This is Where I Leave You” has been brought to life by Jonathan Tropper, who has the unique distinction of being both the novel’s author and the film’s screenwriter. He offered his perspective on bringing novels to life and what the future holds for this prolific author. I talked with the author earlier this week about what it was like bringing his book to life in the film “This is Where I Leave You.”

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Turning your novel about family dysfunction into a major motion picture from a big studio is no small task. We asked Tropper if he was happy with the results, “I was. I thought we were aiming for sort of a tough spot, which is that place where drama and comedy meet. And it’s hard to do under any circumstances. But it’s difficult to do as a studio film because studios are really good at broad comedies and they’re really good at the dramas. And finding that place in between where if you do something that people can’t quite categorize, then you run the risk of people not wanting to make it and/or knowing how to market it. But I feel like we did hit that spot,” said Tropper.

Tropper has been a novelist for awhile. Why did he decide to take on the big task of making a film? “I was not involved in the process beyond getting paid for the rights to the book. And I would sort of watch from the sidelines as the movies did not get made. Nothing happened. I started reading a lot of screenplays. I originally got into it thinking if I could become a screenwriter, I can at least adapt my own work. And so, my day job, I consider being a novelist. And then I have this really neat sideline writing movies. So, it’s fun,” said Tropper.

It took him five and a half years and a lot of heartache to make the film. “What I had early on was the studio really liked the material. It didn’t mean they were going to make it but they wouldn’t let it die. And so, yes, it took about five years and many, many drafts and a lot of heartbreak. But you know, five years actually in the movie business is a lot for me,” said Tropper.

Some of the decisions Tropper had to make with converting from book to film had to do with time and compression. Tropper said, “I don’t like voiceover and I don’t like exposition in a movie. So, telling a lot of the back story, there just didn’t seem to be a way to weave that in where it wasn’t either the viewer hearing about something they weren’t going to see, which I think is sometimes frustrating for the viewer and also sometimes just feels like you’re dumping a lot of exposition into the story.”

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

We asked Tropper if he finds it more difficult to do a screenplay of his own work, or when you’re adapting someone else’s work? Tropper went on to say, “I much prefer adapting someone else’s. But I know that having done now written three scripts based on three of my books that it’s one of those things that I’ve said before. It’s kind of like doing surgery on your own child. But in a perfect world, I would just as soon write. I like writing original scripts, not adapting anything.”

When it came to being married to the dialog in the film, Tropper said, “I’m generally open to it. In this case, I was way more open to it because when you have a comedy writer like Tina Fey on set, you’d be an idiot to get in her way. Some of the big laughs in the movie from her is stuff that she improvised on the spot that we kept. This was a great combination. Jason Bateman, Ben Schwartz, and Dax Shepard are all really fantastically fast improvisers.”

All of us who are fans of Tropper’s work are curious about where he finds inspiration for his writing. “Everywhere. The world is full of weird, strange, screwed up people. And you just have to keep your eye open for it. And then they’ll present themselves,” said Tropper.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

See the book come to life in the film “This is Where I Leave You” on September 19th. Learn more about the film online and on Facebook.

Jonathan Tropper is the internationally bestselling author of six novels: Plan B, The Book of Joe, Everything Changes, How To Talk to a Widower, This Is Where I Leave You, and One Last Thing Before I Go. His books have been translated into over twenty languages. He recently adapted This Is Where I Leave You as a feature film for Warner Bros. Studios, starring Jason Bateman and Tina Fey, and is currently adapting One Last Thing Before I Go for Paramount. Jonathan is also the co-creator and executive producer of the television show Banshee, which premiered on Cinemax in January 2013 and is currently shooting its third season. He lives in Westchester, NY with his three children. Follow author Jonathan Tropper on Twitter.

Karen Bremer is a North Orange County native. She’s a mom, freelance writer, and owner of www.shopbeecreative.com. Her company Bee Creative specializes in products for scrapbooking, card making, and paper crafting online and in person at consumer shows in major cities around the country. Married for 16 years with 13 and 11-year-old girls, her business provides the flexibility she needs to be a dance mom, room mom, and girl scout leader among other titles. Free time? She’s never seen it and wouldn’t change it for the world.
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