Author Elizabeth Green and filmmaker Matthew Scott Johnston talk in-depth about their process bringing this short film Confessions of a Curious Bookseller to life.

Elizabeth, describe the process of taking this character from your novel and writing her for the screen.

Elizabeth Green: It was a lot more challenging than I had anticipated! I have a background in playwriting so developing an idea in a visual medium like the screen wasn't super foreign, but I had never adapted anything like this before. I wanted to do Fawn justice and illustrate her quirks as well as her heart, and so it was a challenge to boil that down into something that was a few minutes long instead of hundreds of pages.

Matt and I collaborated creatively pretty much as long as we've known each other, but it had been a while, so bouncing ideas off of each other was a fun experience. He came up with some pretty great suggestions and ideas that infused Fawn's quirky humor into the piece. I couldn't have done it without him.

Tell us the story behind casting Corinna Burns.

EG: Matt and I have been fans of Corinna ever since we first saw her in plays with the Inis Nua Theater Company, which focuses on contemporary theater from Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales. I have always been captivated by her nuance, humor and sensitivity in every role she's played. When we were thinking about actors to play the role, I immediately thought of her. When I suggested her to Matt there was no debate. I think the next thing I might have said was, I hope we can get her for it!

How do you relate to Fawn?

EG: When I was first conceptualizing Fawn back in 2011, I was going through a time where I was working my butt off to make ends meet and getting up very early before work to write during what little precious time I had. I had quit acting and playwriting, and decided to try at writing novels, but it was a slog, and often I felt like I was working in a vacuum. It was easy to write Fawn, because I think what it all comes down to -- and what I think is deeply human -- is that we all just want to be accepted, seen and loved. We want our hard work to matter. Fawn, who lacks tact and a filter, isn't the best at articulating this and this deficit gets her into some pretty rough situations. Still, her heart is in the right place. In the end, I hope the book illustrates that happiness is a thing that is forged from within and not gained from how many fans/customers/followers you can rack up. Even when she was screwing up, as I wrote her, she reminded me of this and it kept me grounded and honest.

Matthew, what influenced the choice to take a ‘mockumentary’ approach with this story?

Matthew Scott Johnston: While reading Confessions of a Curious Bookseller, I was struck by how much of an unreliable narrator Fawn was. I wanted to express this aspect of her on screen, and the best choice was to approach it as a documentary, as if I was sitting down with her for an interview. I actually went so far as to write interview questions that Elizabeth Green and I “answered” as Fawn, and these ended up being the narrative backbone of the piece. I think this really allows the audience to get a sense of the Fawn from the book, her eccentricities and award moments really shine because it feels like they’re happening directly in front of you.  

Did the piece change much from page to screen to edit bay?

MJ: I always feel like there are three distinct iterations that every narrative film goes through. The first is on paper, when I’m writing the script. This is when I’m first learning about the characters and their motivations, and it’s a very personal process that’s really only being generated by me as the writer. The second iteration comes during production, when you’re actually on set working with the actors, director and crew. They bring the script to life and create new moments that didn’t exist on the page. The plot may not change much, but the characters and their internal life broadens and deepens all throughout this process. And the final iteration is formed in the edit. This is where I think you can really tell the complete story. It’s where you get to choose how to express a character’s vulnerability or desire and really showcase how they interact with the world around them. And it’s this depth and dimensionality that a whole ensemble brings to a piece that that can create these beautifully complex stories.

How do you approach post-production for a comedy?

MJ: In an odd way, I think editing comedy is actually harder than editing drama. Timing is a bigger factor in comedy than anything else, and if you’re off, the joke fails. There’s a rhythm to it, almost like editing a music video. And you have to keep coming back to it with fresh eyes. But really, I think the key to any good comedy is humanity. At the end of the day, I’m not editing to create a joke, I’m editing to showcase a personality trait or a moment or interaction as genuinely as possible. It’s that genuineness, especially in an absurd circumstances, that is the essence of the comedy.

I can’t over stress the importance of having other people screen the piece too! Sometimes, something you think is funny after staring at it for eight hours in the edit bay just completely flies over a viewer’s head and you have to go back and restructure. Plus, I love watching people’s reactions. Anytime I’m in a screening, I’m spending as much time watching the other people as I am the actual piece. Viewers will tell you a lot through their body language and their non-verbal responses.

Click here to see more of Elizabeths' work and order Confesions of a Curious Bookseller.

You can follow what Matthew is creating here.