'The 5th Wave' Author Talks About "Surreal" Process of Turning YA Book to Film

"I think people who are writing in the YA market recognize that writing about issues that are important to young women that are coming of age in our culture tends to do very well."
Getty Images; Courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Rick Yancey; 'The 5th Wave'

Rick Yancey is the mind behind The 5th Wave -- the young adult novel turned major motion picture starring Chloe Moretz.

The 5th Wave follows the story of Cassie (Moretz) who finds herself in the aftermath of an alien invasion, struggling to survive and find her brother in the post-apocalyptic wasteland that once was her home. The film also stars Ron Livingston and Jurassic World's Nick Robinson.

Yancey talked to The Hollywood Reporter about the "surreal" process of having his novel brought to life on the screen and the young heroine archetype in YA literature.

This is the first book you've had that has been turned into a feature film. What surprised you about the adaptation process?

Practically everything. I had heard horror stories of writers being left out of the loop and feeling like they were an afterthought and the source material is ripped to pieces, but my personal experience was nothing like that. I was meeting with the producers and talking with the screenwriters throughout the whole process. They really made an effort to include me. I was also there for a lot of the film, for about 50 percent of it.

What was it like being on set?

It was surreal. When you write a book, the action and characters are inside your head but then you go onset and see it in three dimensions. I have tried to describe it before, it is like seeing someone you knew in middle school all grown up. Like you kind of see the middle schoolers face in the grown up face but it just feels different.

For me, seeing iconic scenes from the novels actually done with actors and props and sets was exactly like I imagined it while being not at all like imagine it. Like seeing a picture of a rose and then getting the chance to smell the rose.

Like in The Hunger Games and Divergent, The 5th Wave has a young heroine at the center of the book. Why do you think that in action-heavy YA lit there are these young girl protagonists, and why do you think these are the books that get adapted?

I think there is a could of thing going on there. One is about recognizing the market. It is no secret that in the YA age range the vast majority of young readers are female, and we tend to want to read about people who are like us. I think people who are writing in the YA market recognize that writing about issues that are important to young women that are coming of age in our culture tend to do very well. This is not to say there aren't great books written with young male protagonists.

I think the other part is that it is great to see empowered woman breaking through the traditional stereotypes and roles.  I love seeing women as kick-ass protagonists that, in the past, have been portrayed from the masculine point of view. It is taking those female characteristics and traits and shoving them into a whole different type of context. What is so appealing for me about this story is Cassie's heart and drive and understanding as a young girl. When she reaches the end of the world, what is the little shrub you hang onto that keeps you from falling off the cliff. For Cassie she finds that connection to the world to be her brother.

Did Chloe Grace Moretz embody Cassie in the way you imagined her?  

I haven't seen the finished product but here was this moment on set—this tin little scene—and the apocalypse has happened and she hasn't had a hot meal in months and she sits down at a table for a meal. It is so subtle but there is this look on her face when she realizes 'Oh my god, this is the first hot meal I have had in months.' It's a simple human moment. It was in that scene that I thought that that's exactly it, that is how Cassie would react.  

The 5th Wave is out in theaters on Jan 22.