'Fault in Our Stars' Writers: Fox 2000 Was Home for Literary, Midbudget Films (Guest Column)
"It's crucial that within our industry there's a home for moderately priced films that are about characters and dialogue-driven," says Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter.
On March 21, amid a reorganization after Disney acquired most of the Fox empire, news broke that Elizabeth Gabler's Fox 2000 would be shuttered. The label was known for producing successful book-to-film adaptations like Life of Pi, The Devil Wears Prada and The Hate U Give. Screenwriters Michael H. Weber and Scott Neustadter worked with Gabler and Fox 2000 on the popular John Green adaptations The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. The duo recalls working with Fox 2000 below:
With The Fault in Our Stars, Fox 2000 acquired the book before it was published. Like many times before, it seemed as if Elizabeth Gabler and [executive vp production] Erin Siminoff somehow knew it was going to be a huge best-seller. When we first met with them we were a little anxious they would want to turn the book into something else, forcing it to be more cinematic, because that’s what Hollywood does, and in the case of Fault the story is mostly just two people talking. To our huge relief and surprise, we quickly discovered Elizabeth and Erin loved the same things about the book that we loved. Their goal was to make a movie that preserved everything that made the book special.
It's about kids with cancer. It doesn't all work out. It's fairly sad. This is not an easy layup movie for anyone to rush into production. We found it very hard to believe that they would make the version of it that would be really authentic to the cancer experience because, obviously, it's hard to sell tickets to that kind of project. But they did. They wanted the cannula in the poster. They wanted to preserve John Green’s vision while at the same time portraying an authentic experience.
Fox 2000 was a very literary company. They loved to read. They loved books. They had a knack for finding books that would become part of the zeitgeist. And to their credit they were always talking about — no matter what book it was — "Let's make sure that this is something the author can also be proud of." Which is not something you hear in many places in our industry. With Fault it was always John Green's baby. That John seemed happy with how it turned out was the most important thing for all of us because it's such an important book to him.
And as screenwriters we were included in a lot of things that you don't always get to be a part of. We were consulted on casting, the poster and other decisions that typically the screenwriter only reads about in the trades, after the fact. It’s an unfortunate reality of our business that screenwriters often have to rely on their reps to advocate on their behalf throughout the process, hoping for information or an invitation, especially during production and release. We never had to do that with Fox 2000.
Yet inclusion wasn’t the only way they were good to us. Before the movie had come out and before it did anything at the box office, they had signed us up to do another John Green adaptation, Paper Towns. When The Fault in Our Stars did come out and it was successful, Elizabeth ripped up the contract and said, "We're going to start over. You guys deserve better." This is not something studios do. Whenever you make a movie anywhere, they talk about how you're part of the family. Very rarely do you actually experience that feeling. But they went out of their way to make sure that we did and then they continued treating us that way.
It's crucial that within our industry there’s a home for moderately priced films that are about characters and dialogue-driven. There will always be an audience for these movies when they’re done well. So we’ll miss Fox 2000, not just as screenwriters but as avid moviegoers.