‘Divergent’ author pleased with transition to the big screen

Shailene Woodley and Theo James is shown in a scene from "Divergent." (Summit Entertainment)

Shailene Woodley and Theo James is shown in a scene from “Divergent.” (Summit Entertainment)

By Rick Bentley
The Fresno Bee

LOS ANGELES — Veronica Roth joins the growing list of authors whose work has been adapted into movies. The film version of her first book, “Divergent,” opened in theaters Friday.

The 2011 best-seller is the story of a future world where the walled-in citizens of Chicago are divided into five factions. The system begins to show cracks when a young girl learns the truth about those in charge. The three books in the young adult series have sold more than 11 million copies.

Because of the popularity, Roth was approached about selling the movie rights. Many authors balk at allowing others to turn their works into scripts, but that was never a problem for Roth.

“My anxieties were just the standard anxieties of any author who hands over their work to be adapted. But, I know from the second the book hits the shelf, it stops belonging to the person who wrote it. It starts belonging to everyone who reads it. So I was pretty well practiced in letting it go a little bit, which is a good thing,” Roth says.

The reality is that Roth wouldn’t have been as happy with the final product if it had been an exact representation of the book. She spent more than 400 pages creating the world, characters and events. A movie with that much material would run more than eight hours.

Any anxieties Roth had faded once she picked the production team. She was confident director Neil Burger — writer / director of “The Illusionist” — would make the right decisions in turning her book into a screenplay.

“The challenge for me was fitting all that story into a movie because we loved the story and all of the different characters and all the different events. But the movie is different beast than the book. It has different dramatic needs. There are a lot of events in the movie and they are compressed. It has kind of a crazy pace because of that,” says Burger, who was happy that Roth was on set or a phone call away if he had any questions.

Roth was kept in the loop on all decisions made in making the movie. That meant she had to split her focus with writing the third book in the series, “Allegiant,” while the casting was being done for “Divergent.”

“Writing is what I love to do. I don’t make movies. It’s been wonderful to be a part of this, but at my core I’m just somebody who wants to write novels. We didn’t test how much influence I had because they kept saying, ‘Here’s who we are considering,’ and I would be like, ‘Sounds good,’” Roth says.

The 25-year-old author got the idea for “Divergent” when she was a freshman in college. It’s not a coincidence that she wrote a story about a teen-aged girl having to make a major life decision at such a young age. She went through a similar process with her decision about pursuing higher education.

“I think that you have to choose at 16 is more of an emotional reality for young people than an actual reality. Because we know when you grow older, you can change your mind. You can change your career. You can change your whole life. You don’t have to pick it at 18,” Roth says. “But, when I was 16, I felt like I had to decide right now. Figure out what classes you are going to take. Make sure you’re getting good grades. Prepare your college application. Pick your major. Plan your whole life.
“That felt real to me so I wanted it to be on the page.”

And now, it’s on the big screen.

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