On its debut weekend, the Nicholas Sparks novel brought to life, The Lucky One made $22.5 million at the box office. It beat out The Hunger Games, which was at the top of the box office for the last four weeks. Sparks’ film adaptations, which include The Notebook, A Walk to Remember, Dear John and The Last Song have brought in over $600 million in box office dollars.
We all know Sparks for his beautiful stories centering around two people who are romantically involved. But how exactly do his popular stories come to life on film and who is behind the transformation from book to motion picture?
Denise Di Novi is a rare producer, in that she is on set everyday and is fully involved in creating the cinematic experience of a perfect love story. Di Novi has produced over 30 films including these Sparks adaptations: Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and Nights in Rodanthe. I spoke with Ms. Di Novi about The Lucky One, Nicholas Sparks’ involvement in the films, and what it is about love stories that draw us in every time.
Lauren: As a producer, how involved are you in the process of the book becoming the script – who makes the decisions on what parts to cut out? Obviously, certain elements of the book don’t work well in film.
Denise: It’s a collaborative thing. It’s a little different with me and Nic Sparks, in that we’ve worked together so many times. Some authors are very involved and some are not involved. Nic and I have a trust in our relationship. When he writes the book, I read it very early and then he and I discuss the themes and the characters and the structure of it. We figure out what’s important and what to let go. Then, we give the book to the studio, in our case Warner Brothers, and that’s when the studio executive weighs in and discusses what she thinks is important. But I stay pretty close to the book with Nic because they are huge bestsellers and very beloved by the fans. I’ve changed thing before, taken out characters, added characters, but it’s all within the context of being true to the theme and the character.
Lauren: So it seems like Mr. Sparks is very involved in the movie-making process. Who is the person that calls him and says, “We’re going to cut this scene from the book out of the movie?”
Denise: “I call him. He’s very busy and at any given time he’s writing his next book, promoting his last book, promoting his movie and doing book tours. He’s not involved on an daily basis, but at every step of the way I’m involved. First I have an outline, then a screenplay, then casting, then production and he weighs in on all of that.
Lauren: Are you on set everyday? How mind-blowing is it every time you walk on a film set?
Denise: Well I’ve been doing this for many years and I am on the set every day. Some producers do not do that, but I do and I’m happy to be there everyday. I’m like you, I’m no different than you or your friends, I’m a fan of the books and the stories. It’s fun for me because I feel like there is a positive energy on the set of these movies. They’re really about important, beautiful scenes and great characters. There’s no negativity on set, even though there is sadness and loss in all the movies because it’s about redemption and overcoming hardships.
Lauren: It always amazes me how exactly the book comes to life. Since you are a fan of the books as well, if you could insert yourself into your favorite book of all-time what would it be and why?
Denise: I would want to insert myself into any of Nicholas Sparks’ books, just look at who the leading men are! That’s why they’re hit movies because they hit this amazing balance of being every woman’s fantasy, but also being very realistic. None of the characters are rich, famous, fancy people, they’re average women and the guys are regular guys, but they’re still our total aspirational fantasy and that’s tough to pull off. In terms of my other movies, I would be in heaven if I could be in the time of Little Women for one day. I think that would be so much fun!
Lauren: What do you think it is about love stories that intrigue people? We’ve seen so many, but there’s a new hook for every one. What attracts us back to these love stories and why are we so fascinated by them?
Denise: There are paintings that show love stories, if we are going back to the earliest of human existence. In a thousand years, there will still be love stories. It’s what drives the human condition and it always has been that way, it always will be that way. From Shakespeare to today, it hasn’t really changed. Every person experiences love in a different way and every single person that’s ever been born is born with a desire to love and be loved. That’s how we were created. It’s really the most important, fundamental story to be told. On your death bed, you think about who you loved and who loved you, you don’t think about how much money you made or all that other stuff. There’s a great quote from Thomas Moore that reads, “In the evening of our lives, we will be judged on love alone.” When you’re looking back at your life, it’s how did you love and who loves you.