TCR Talks with Elizabeth Crane
BY: Jaime Parker Stickle
Elizabeth Crane is the author of such novels as We Only Know So Much and The History of Great Things. She has a unique, honest, and quirky voice, and you’ll relate to her characters, even those at odds with each other, recognizing them as friends or family. Crane’s writing is addictive in all the best ways.
When film director/writer/producer Donald Lardner Ward suggested Crane adapt her novel We Only Know So Much into a screenplay, she did. The result is an award-winning film.
The Coachella Review had the great pleasure of sitting down with Elizabeth Crane to discuss the process of adapting her novel into a screenplay, and what book and film fans can expect from Crane in the future.
THE COACHELLA REVIEW: This was such a great book.
ELIZABETH CRANE: Thank you.
TCR: It was such a slice of life… have you seen the film Home for the Holidays?
EC: I think, yeah, some time ago.
TCR: This [book] has that same wonderful feeling. You can relate to it as a family. When I was reading it, I thought it read very cinematic, and this is before I knew you had developed it into a screenplay.
EC: Oh! That’s interesting! I guess that’s what my screenwriting partner/director thought when he read it, which is awesome.
TCR: It is awesome! I am so glad he did.
EC: He’s totally the reason this happened. I mean, he’s an old friend of mine, Donald Lardner Ward. We’ve known each other for 25 years. I was his assistant on a TV show. It was fun. It was called “Too Something”—it was on Fox. It aired six episodes, but we shot a whole season. So, we stayed friends and he came to me about it and he basically was like, “I have no money to offer you,” but what he proposed and what I know about him and his background was such that he knows how to finance what he calls a micro-budget movie and get it distributed.
TCR: That’s amazing, that’s a big battle in general.
EC: Yeah, I mean, he’s been in business for a long time and he’s done this before with making straight-to-streaming projects that are low budget, and you know, it’s an interesting model because you can kind of make your money back fairly easily if your budget is as ours was, under $200,000. It’s a beautiful-looking movie.
TCR: It is! I mean, I’ve seen the trailers—it’s on the circuit right now. When and where is it going to be distributed for people to be able to watch?
EC: We don’t know yet… it’ll be on one or more of the streaming platforms that you know, and we do have a big distributor. I don’t know if I’m allowed to name it, but there is a deal.
TCR: Awesome. Congratulations!
EC: Thank you. So, it’s kind of hard for me to say but, I mean, I would imagine 2019, but it’s hard to say.
TCR: You are a wonderful author who has multiple books out, but what was it like to actually tackle a screenplay? Because you did this yourself. You adapted it.
EC: We cowrote it. I actually started, or at least after college, I mean, I’ve always written, but at least after college I thought that’s what I would do. I thought I would be a screenwriter. I sort of put most of my energy toward that when I was young. I wrote a bunch of stuff, but I didn’t really try to do anything with it. Then, I went and worked on that TV show and I was, like, I don’t want to be in Hollywood. And that was sort of when I discovered short stories—around the same time, maybe a little bit after that, but I was working on a novel and then I started looking into that. I got really excited about fiction. I was reading stuff that was exciting, so I sort of tabled that [screenwriting] but then when Donny approached me about this, you know, there was another thing that was sort of appealing about going with him. It was that he was willing to collaborate with me. If it had been bought by a major studio or something, the likelihood is that I would not have had that opportunity. I have sold rights to stories before and you have to really pitch hard to try to be a screenwriter on your own story.
TCR: What about having final approval?
EC: No, no, no, they give you an amount of money and you take it or leave it pretty much.
TCR: That sort of leads me into the next question. Obviously, to make this into a screenplay, you would have had to pare down or cut some things.
EC: Yes, yeah, very much.
TCR: How was that process? How do you decide?
EC: Well, so Donny has been doing this for, you know, 25–30 years, right? So, he, I always like to say, did a lot of the heavy lifting, although we did some of that together. Basically, when we started having conversations about it, we started talking, and I can’t remember exactly the order of things, but he wrote down all the scenes in the book, he wrote down all the characters, then he has, like, a chart of who was in what scene and what characters, and then we started to eliminate things that were clearly not possible.
One of the reasons he chose it was because making an independent film on a low budget, well, low budget is the key word. So, you’re thinking about, okay, there’s no special effects here. I know it’s a family and a house, and there are some, you know, scenes outside the house, but it’s very kind of straightforward. He knew that he had access to locations out in the Hamptons and Long Island where he lived at some point and people would donate their houses or let him use a restaurant, or whatever, for either little or no money. So, budget is a huge consideration of what can be done so things would have to be modified. Let’s say, if someone worked in a big-box store, it would have to be a small local grocery store instead, or whatever.
Also, one of the bigger things we had to eliminate originally is an overarching “we” narrator. Short of doing voiceovers, there didn’t seem to be a creative solution to including the “we” narrator that kind of comments on all of the different scenes. So, you know, we decided just to make it a straightforward story, basically. We pared a lot of things back and we added a lot of stuff too, as needed or as warranted. We actually did some rewriting after we chopped, too. Just as it seemed kind of like, okay, what are we really pulling out? What are the sort of central conflicts for each character? And how can we cover that as economically as possible?
TCR: Did you have deadlines? Were you able to create your own deadline? I say that because you didn’t have a big studio tracking your budget or tracking your deadlines, so how long did it take to write?
EC: So, we did sort of an unusual thing, which is, we started writing it before [Donny] went and looked for money, and he’s, like, let’s just see what happens. And that’s how I write everything, so it didn’t matter to me. Ordinarily, I think in a bigger thing, you would always get the budget first, and then hire a screenwriter, or whatever, but he’s, like, let’s just see what happens. So, that’s what we did. And it was a really easy working relationship. I think that, after several revisions of our final script, he just started showing it to people.
TCR: I love that. That’s great. It’s such an organic way, too.
EC: And I think we knew, too, that if we were able to attach one or two really good actors, that would attract more actors, but also that there were really good roles for actors.
TCR: Do you have the bug to get back into screenwriting? Directing?
EC: I don’t know about directing. I mean, I did think I wanted to do that when I was younger. Now, I don’t know because that’s a whole other thing. Once you’ve written it, from that point forward, the vision is the director’s. I embrace that because I know Donny, and also, even if I just sold it to somebody else, then you’re, like, okay, well, I sold it.
TCR: Donny Lardner Ward directed and cowrote?
EC: Yes. I had a little input on casting, which was nice. He included me in a way I’m sure I wouldn’t have been on a bigger-budget thing. So, we’re going to try to collaborate on something else. We’re just talking about it.
TCR: I am very excited right now!
EC: I think part of that is because we’re starting to see the response and it has been really good.
TCR: You won an award!
EC: It’s amazing. It’s crazy. I didn’t even know that they were giving them out.
TCR: I can’t wait to see the whole thing. Thank you so much for sitting down with us and being such a supporter of The Coachella Review.
EC: Thanks for having me!
*Click here to listen to the entire interview.
Jaime Parker Stickle started her journey in Detroit but has considered herself an Angeleno since the day she arrived in California. She is a neurotic, anxious, and downright panicky writer and is also the current Managing Editor of The Coachella Review. Jaime has made a career writing stand-up, television, film, web series, candy packaging, and radio and has learned the most important thing about herself through writing: she loves to entertain readers. Jaime is an MFA candidate at the UCR Palm Desert Low-Residency program. You can read more of her work on her website JaimeParkerStickle.com and can follow her on Instagram: @JaimeParkerStickle.