'The Giver': Why It Took 20 Years for the YA Adaptation to Hit Theaters

Jeff Bridges first planned the movie for his dad; now he's the star two decades later.

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Somewhere in Jeff Bridges' garage is a videotape of his father, Lloyd, acting out a home video adaptation of Lois Lowry's book The Giver. Nearly two decades ago, Jeff had stumbled upon Lowry's 1993 Newbery Medal-winning book, about a boy's escape from conformity, while seeking out a project that would allow him to direct his father.

"I was looking through a catalog of children's books, and I saw this one cover with a grizzled old guy," he says. "I read it, and I just loved it."

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But during the next 18 years, the project was shuffled through dozens of production companies, several studios and a handful of writers and directors, with no one able to adapt a partially black-and-white, dystopian story meant for teens. Bridges, his manager Neil Koenigsberg and producer Nikki Silver took hundreds of meetings over the years, with companies ranging from the big studios to the Jim Henson Company.

"Everybody was interested in talking about it, but no one could wrap their head around what it would look like on the big screen," says Silver. "I think what has made this project so difficult to do is that it never fit in a box."

The producers with Walden Media and came close to making the film in 2006 at Fox with Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) directing. But Bridges' option ran out, and Warner Bros. picked it up and attached David Yates to direct. "That was among one of the most depressing nights of my Walden career," says Walden Media president Michael Flaherty. "It just felt like it was the one that got away."

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But the project floundered at Warner Bros., Yates dropped out to direct a Harry Potter movie and Bridges got the option back three years later after he starred in True Grit.

"Pieces would fall off and then we’d be back to square one," says Lowry.

Then another YA movie hit big. "The success of The Hunger Games helped get this movie made, 100 percent," says Silver. "People finally believed that teens wanted something other than superheroes and rom-coms."

Adds Flaherty: "It made people less scared. I think when people saw The Hunger Games they realized that you could deal with some pretty difficult subject matter that can work for middle school and high school kids."

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The Weinstein Co. also realized that The Giver, which often is credited as a forefather of the YA genre, could work as a film, even with its dark subject matter. Silver got a call from Dylan Sellers, who had just recently started working at Weinstein, asking about film rights.

"Harvey's kids and Dylan's kids had read the book, and The Weinstein Co. really had a vision for how we could make this work," says Silver.

And in an ironic twist of fate, for the final version of the $30 million Phillip Noyce film (out Aug. 15), Bridges, now 64, takes on the role once meant for his late father. Says Silver, "We had a little bit of luck; Jeff never gave up, and Lois never gave up on us."

Email: Rebecca.Ford@THR.com
Twitter: @Beccamford