From All We Had to X-Men: Josh Boone, a Busy Man
Josh Boone on his many projects, writing in a bubble, and building your career around books you love.
In All We Had, Katie Holmes portrays Rita, a desperate mother who lives on the road with her teenage daughter, Ruthie (Stefania LaVie Owen).
When their car breaks down in a small town, the pair have no other option than to create new lives there. However, when every action in their lives seems to lead them to yet another dead end, both mother and daughter find it difficult to trust what seems to be kindness from strangers, even well-meaning ones.
All We Had was adapted by Josh Boone and Jill Killington from the 2014 novel by Annie Weatherwax, and premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.
Boone has been a busy man ever since his first film, Stuck in Love, premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival. Only months later Boone was hired to direct The Fault in Our Stars, a romantic drama based on John Green’s bestselling novel. It was a blockbuster success upon its June 2014 release, grossing over $300 million worldwide on a very low budget.
Boone has since used the professional capital he gained from the massive success of The Fault in Our Stars to pursue projects he feels passionate about, including film and television adaptations of some of his favorite works. For instance, Stuck in Love featured a cameo by Stephen King, a writer who has had immeasurable influence on Boone’s career. And King will continue to inspire Boone’s work in the future, as the filmmaker prepares to work several adaptations of King’s novels.
Creative Screenwriting spoke to Josh Boone about All We Had and a number of projects that he has in development, including X-Men: The New Mutants, adaptations of Stephen King’s novels Revival and The Stand, and his original screenplay Pretenders, which was directed by James Franco.
All We Had is adapted from a novel that was published relatively recently. How did you get involved with the screenplay adaptation?
I just had a general meeting with Katie. I always really liked her, and thought she was underrated and a very good actress. She said she was interested in directing and had this book, and I had enough time to do a draft before she went off to do the movie. We just wanted to give her a road map to try and do something with.
There was a lot of structural stuff that needed to be adjusted for it to be a movie. The writing part was quick. We did it in just a few weeks. I wrote it with one of my writing partners, Jill Killington, who I also wrote Vampire Chronicles with.
There really isn’t a traditional antagonist in the film. At times, Rita and Ruthie are their own worst enemies – they don’t solve their problems, they just replace their problems with new problems. Can you speak about those internal conflicts?
If you think about the first movie I wrote, Stuck in Love, there is no antagonist in that really, either. It’s a character-driven piece, like this is. Even in The Fault in Our Stars, I guess the “bad guy” is cancer.
I approached it in the same way I approach any of these other smaller character films that I’ve written. For me, it’s all performance. When I’m writing, I usually write for specific actors. Knowing it was going to be Katie and knowing some of the other people who were going to be in it made it must easier to get inside those characters.
I thought it provided Katie with a really great opportunity to have a role she had never done before, and that she’d be able to go in and chew it up. What we strove for was to give her enough to do that she really had the opportunity to shine in a way that maybe she hadn’t had before.
We figured finding Katie’s voice and the voiceover were the key to unlocking it. I felt like as long as it was from Ruthie’s point of view, I felt like it would work.
Trust is a major theme in this story. Rita tells Ruthie not to trust Pam, but Rita is obviously not the best judge of character herself. Can you talk about trust in the film?
The thing that’s funny about Rita telling Ruthie not to trust Pam, is that I felt that was because Rita didn’t like the idea of somebody else being kind to her kid. [Laughs] I thought it was more a jealousy thing than anything else. I don’t think any of those characters really trust themselves or know themselves as well as Ruthie does. She seems to be the only one in the story who really knows herself.
I thought that relationship between Ruthie and her mother was so good. I love movies like Paper Moon and movies with that dynamic between an adult and a kid. I have a five-year-old daughter, and you have strange conversations with your kid. [Laughs] They sometimes say things that shock you because they are wiser than what you would say.
I thought it was a good opportunity for Katie to explore motherhood and other things she had been through in her life in a fictional way.
Ruthie has issues accepting normalcy. Near the end of the film, she rebels when her mother finally seems to have gotten everything together. Why do you think her character does this?
That was an idea from the book that I liked, because throughout the whole story Ruthie is the one who is trying to be stable, but when she’s faced by a mother who might possibly be stable she doesn’t know what to do any more. Because she had to take care of her mother for all those years, then when her mother finally has the potential to have a real life, Ruthie rebels against it.
The only thing she’s ever known is the road and barely getting by. I think people get scared when presented with something that could be good when they’ve never had anything good.
One of the biggest upcoming films your name is associated with is X-Men: The New Mutants. Earlier this year, I interviewed Simon Kinberg, who I know is something of a godfather of Fox’s X-Men universe, and is also known to be tremendously supportive of screenwriters. Can you talk about working with him on New Mutants?
Co-writer Knate Gwaltney (who wrote and directed a movie titled Cardboard Boxer and wrote a movie titled Kidnap starring Halle Berry that will come out in 2017) is my best friend – I’ve known him since the day I was born, because our moms are best friends and we grew up together in Virginia.
We had a comic book company when we were kids. We would draw comics, staple them together, and then sell them to our uncles or whomever. And we were always obsessed with Marvel Comics through the 1980s, long before there was a Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie.
We had loved this X-Men spinoff, The New Mutants. We had loved Bill Sienkiewicz’s run with Chris Claremont that had Demon Bear. It was really dark, interesting, and different from the typical X-Men stories that we had read.
After I made The Fault in Our Stars, we made Fox a comic book. It walked them through a trilogy of New Mutant films that would build on each other. We used this program called Comic Life, and took all the images we had loved from the series and strung them together to show them the movie we wanted to do.
We brought it to Simon and he really liked it. We’ve been going for the past year and a half to get it ready, and I’m about to go location scout and we have a release date now.
I’ve had very, very different screenwriting experiences based on how the project comes together. For example, I have a good relationship with Stephen King, so when I wanted to adapt his novel Revival I really just went and asked him. I was able to write it in a very pleasant bubble and we attached Russell Crowe. I plan to make that right after New Mutants.
But New Mutants is different – when you work with a studio, you’re not in a bubble. The process of writing becomes a much different thing because you have so many people who have an opinion since the movie is so expensive.
It’s a balance of getting to do things in a bubble, which I’d say is the best way of writing anything, and then having to negotiate all the politics of studio filmmaking, which is its own special beast. With New Mutants, we wrote a few drafts, and I brought in Scott Neustadter and Mike Weber, who are the friends of mine that adapted The Fault in Our Stars, to do a draft while we did something else. My guess is that it will never be done until we’re done shooting! [Laughs]
It’s a different experience, because on my last two movies I went into shooting them with very locked scripts. I knew every beat of what they were going to be. This has been different because it’s constantly morphed as we’ve gone along. It will probably continue to morph as we’re making it.
Whereas I wrote Revival it in a bubble in a month, did a rewrite a few months later that took two weeks, and haven’t touched it since. We just went and put the money and cast together. It’s certainly the better way to do it, but to get the opportunity to do these big properties you have to go through a much longer process to get to the same end result.
— Josh Boone (@JoshBooneMovies) May 14, 2015
You mentioned your relationship with Stephen King. I know you’ve been attached to different adaptations of his work, including Revival, but he also did a cameo in your first movie. What’s the story behind your King connection?
I was raised by evangelical Christians and when I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to read Stephen King. I would rip the covers off Christian books and glue them to Stephen King books. My parents would think I was reading This Present Darkness or another Christian fiction book.
When I was twelve, I read The Stand. I cut a hole in the box spring under my bed, and while a normal person would hide pornography in it I hid Stephen King and Clive Barker books in it. My mom found my stash and she burned them in the fireplace. I still have a picture somewhere of a giant pile of ashes which were the hardcover editions of The Stand and It. [Laughs] I remember weeping when they did it.
I wrote Stephen King a letter not too long after that about how much his work meant to me, and how I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I sent him the first three Dark Tower books to sign, which were like my Lord of the Rings when I was a kid.
I sent them out into the universe hoping he would get them – I didn’t have his address, I just knew he lived in Bangor, Maine. I assumed that the post office would get it to him because there is only one celebrity in Maine, so they probably knew where he lived.
Then a few weeks later, I came home from private Christian school and my dad pulled me aside and said, “There’s a box here from Stephen King!”
He had written me the most beautiful letter in the front covers, where he wrote a little bit of the letter in each of the books. He just said the kindest things and was so supportive. My parents were so moved that they lifted the ban.
I went to him years later and asked him if he would be in my movie because he is such a big part of my life. Slowly over time we built a relationship.
Revival is much more manageable. We’re just trying to line up movies to do one after another, and so many of them are based on books that I loved when I was young.
I’m adapting a Philip K. Dick book that I’m going to direct. I’m adapting Clive Barker’s The Great and Secret Show for television with Stephen’s son Owen. I’ve sort of built my entire world around the books that I loved when I was twelve, to be honest. [Laughs]
What was it about those novels that led to them having such an influence on you and your work?
For me, Stephen King is the Great American Storyteller in the way he’s able to do what he does so beautifully. The trick that he knew that nobody else really knew as well as him, was that if he established his characters credibly and made you believe that they lived in the same world that you lived in, but then slowly started to introduce supernatural elements, you would swallow the whole thing.
I don’t like horror movies that much. Of course, I love the classic ones like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby, and The Shining, but I really love horror novels because they have so much more scope conceptually than horror movies where a family moves into a house and there’s a ghost. They’re always so small so they could be made for so little.
We’re really trying to pioneer and champion doing prestige versions of horror films. That’s the idea with all these projects – to take these authors and elevate their work as high as we possibly can. I guess it’s a “Thank you” for having such a strong grasp on my imagination when I was young.
You’ve also written an original screenplay that is being directed by James Franco titled Pretenders. What’s the story behind that one?
I’m really excited about that. I always intended to direct that movie. I wrote it after I wrote Writers, which was the original title for Stuck in Love. I was going to make it immediately after that with Imogen Poots, Michael B. Jordan, and Anton Yelchin. Then I got The Fault in Our Stars, and all these other opportunities came and it didn’t happen because I didn’t have time.
I was friendly with James because he was attached to play Larry Underwood in The Stand. He asked to read it, and said he wanted to make it.
The thing that’s funny is that when you write a movie and direct it, you see it so many times by the time the movie comes out you never want to see it again. I thought it would be nice if Franco directed the movie and I could just watch something I wrote and enjoy it! [Laughs]
He was very lucky and got a great cast, including Jane Levy, Shameik Moore, Jack Kilmer, and Juno Temple.
Funny enough, on the set of my first movie I pitched it to Logan Lehrman, who is a buddy of mine. We talked about it for a while, but I didn’t end up making it with him. But he and Imogen Poots were both instrumental during scripting in that their thoughts are in there as well from conversations that we had.
It takes place over a decade and is sort of inspired by Carnal Knowledge. Jack Nicholson is one of my favorite actors, because when I was a kid my dad had all these movies on Beta like Carnal Knowledge and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
I even remember watching Heartburn and thinking, “Eh, this one isn’t great.” But I loved Carnal Knowledge, and I always wanted to write something in the same vein about two guys and their relationship with a girl over the course of a long period of time.
It has to do with how the male gaze in film, art, and photography morphs women into something that they’re actually not. It’s interesting, weird, and complicated, and I think James shot the first act in black and white. It looks great, the performances are really good, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it comes together.
You obviously have a lot of projects in the works. Are there any we haven’t covered yet that you’d like to mention?
We’re doing Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series at FX. We already set that up. And we have several other TV projects that we’re working on. I write some stuff by myself, and some stuff with my producing partners. It depends on what’s the right thing at any given time and who’s the right person.
We are surrounded by stacks of books everywhere at all times. We have a billion highlighters and clothespins to keep them open.
We really enjoy it. We’re basically paid to do what we did for free when we were twelve, which was writing and making movies on home video.