Interview: Nicholas Sparks on “The Choice”

Posted on February 6, 2016 at 8:00 am

Copyright Warner Brothers Entertainment 2015
Copyright Warner Brothers Entertainment 2015
Nicholas Sparks is one of the must successful and best-loved authors in the world. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, with over 100 million copies sold worldwide, in more than 50 languages, including over 65 million copies in the United States alone, and all of them have been made into movies, with stars like Paul Newman, Kevin Costner, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Rachel McAdams, and Robin Wright. Sparks is the man behind some of the most memorable love stories of the past 20 years, including “The Notebook” and “Dear John.”

The newest film based on his books is “The Choice,” with Benjamin Walker and Teresa Palmer as a couple who meet as neighbors on Sparks’ beloved North Carolina coast. I was delighted to get a chance to talk to him about what he loves so much about that setting and why letters are always a key feature of his stories.

Why are old-school letters on paper so important to your characters?

When I went off to college, back then they use to charge per minute on just regular phones. So I had to correspond with letters. My mom would write three letters a week and one of the high points of my day was to reach into the mailbox and to get letters. I was from that generation. I’m a person who is used to handwriting thank you notes and things like that. That has just evolved over the years into letters of appreciation for those people with whom I worked and of course letters to those whom I love. And so for me it’s natural and almost expected even in the age of email and texts and things like that, and it is sad to me that there will be some people who never get a personal letter ever in their whole lives.

In “The Choice,” Travis and Gabby learn that sometimes the people who bother us are the people who are best for us. Why is that?

I think that is hard to be bothered by someone unless you have some sort of relationship with them in general. I don’t mean really bad people, but the people who just get to you — you really can’t hate someone so much deep down inside unless you love them. And I think that by bothering what these people are doing is essentially challenging them to be the best versions of themselves. That’s a wonderful thing that we should always aspire to be, to be the best version of ourselves that we can possibly be. But the conflicts of the choice we see when Travis (played by Ben Walker) is saying “You’re bothering me,” he is saying “You are making me a better person, you’re making me the best version of myself and that’s hard for me at this time in my life.” And I think there’s something wonderful in that because that is a lifelong journey with ups and downs.

The beach and the ocean always play a very important role in your stories and it’s never been photographed more beautifully, more lovingly that it is in this film. What do you think we learn from going out on the water and experiencing that atmosphere?

There’s a few reasons why those elements seem to recur in both my novels and my films. I like stories that are set in coastal North Carolina. North Carolina is a little unique in that it’s a state in which the closer you get to the coast the smaller the towns become. And small towns on the beach means a slower pace, a slower rhythm of life and I think a slower rhythm of life allows people more time to think, more time to simply be alone and simply just be like Travis does in his chair, his single chair on the back lawn until he brings a second one and I think that’s when people are able to connect at the most human level, when the world slows down enough for each of them to really be able to talk and listen and be heard.

In the film, Travis tells a lie about a lizard, and lets a little girl think that her lizard has not died. Do you think that was the right thing to do?

I think in this particular context yes because it was a lizard. I certainly would not have done the same thing with a kitten, or a dog but as a father you do want to shelter your kids from the harsh realities of life when it’s possible while at the same time preparing them for a life that will be include some harsh reality and I know that often there are moments in which it’s very hard to have certain kinds of conversations with your children and certainly those conversations would be different depending on the child’s age.

Travis and Gabby both learn that they jumped to the wrong conclusions about each other; is that something that is true to an extent of all people who fall in love?

Their first impressions were made during a moment of emotion, so to speak, or at least hers were, and when people are in an emotional state they are not always the people that they are the rest of the time. Their emotions were faulty so that led to I guess a faulty persona that wasn’t necessary reflective of who they are most of the time. At the same time I think that first impressions can be very accurate, not always but I think a lot of people can form opinions about another person within a few minutes of talking to them if they given the chance to really have the kinds of conversations that lend themselves to it.

Do you ever learn something new about your story by seeing it in the film?

Without question I learn something new every time. I learn different ways in the future for example to condense two characters into one for the sake of efficiency. I learn to think in terms of even when writing to think in terms of making the scene visual to the reader.

What is the biggest challenge do you think of taking a novel and making it into a movie? Doesn’t it lose some of the descriptive language that you have worked so hard on?

Primarily I think what’s lost is the ability to have characters be introspective so you know what’s going on in their heads. At the same time, a novel is a story told with worlds and in film it’s a story told with pictures. So some things are better in one, like introspection, and other things are better in another like arguments or car chases or fires. Anything exciting always works better in film or even in this particular case the scenery works better in film that I can ever hope to portray in the novel. So the challenge is to take a story told with words and put it into a story told with pictures, well knowing some things work better in one than the other whilst still maintaining the spirit and intent of the story, the spirit and intent of the characters. I think that certainly “The Choice” was able to do that. And I have been very fortunate in that all my films were able to do that.

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Books Writers

The Choice

Posted on February 4, 2016 at 5:55 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sexual content and some thematic issues
Profanity: Some mild language, someone gives the finger
Alcohol/ Drugs: Social drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Serious car accident, character critically injured
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 5, 2016
Date Released to DVD: May 2, 2016 ASIN: B01D1JDCB0
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate
Copyright 2016 Lionsgate

Nicholas Sparks is one of the rare authors who has become a brand of his own, bigger than any of his movies. One reason is their predicability; fans know what to expect and they won’t be disappointed. The other reason is his genuine gift for creating characters audiences immediately like and want the best for.

In “The Choice,” with a script by “Demolition” screenwriter Bryan Sipe, we meet easy-going Travis (Benjamin Walker, last seen as the bad captain in “The Heart of the Sea”) as he meets his new neighbor, a peppery med student named Gabby (Teresa Palmer). In the midst of studying, already furious because of his loud music, she discovers that her dog is pregnant and she goes next door to let him know how angry she is. He is captivated by her because she is different from the other girls he has known, who came to him with little effort and left with little fuss. “You bother me,” he tells her, intrigued and a little surprised.

They both discover that their initial conclusions about one another may have been wrong, but the chemistry between them is increasing in intensity, even though Gabby has a serious boyfriend, a handsome doctor (Tom Welling). Gabby likes challenging Travis and he likes having to work to get her affection.

Their side-by-side homes both look out onto the water of North Carolina’s Inner Banks, and the images of sky, water, and coast are exquisite, somewhere between travel brochure and screen saver. Sparks has to be the MVP for the North Carolina tourism bureau. All of his stories are set in this spectacularly beautiful (if plagued by storms) region. And it is certainly easy to believe that the glow from this enchantingly glorious setting makes this a sublime place to fall in love. Director of Photography Alar Kivilo and the setting itself are as important to the film as the storyline, and more important than the dialogue. Some lines are arch or cheesy: “Look who’s sassypants!” “You’re a dork!” “There you go again, bothering me.” We never find Travis or Gabby as appealing as we are asked to believe they find each other.

Sparks seems to have taken in some complaints about the formulaic nature of his stories, or maybe he just wanted to try something different (but thankfully not as different as the awful “twist” in Safe Haven). We still have a body of water, a letter, and someone who has to be taken down a peg or two. The surprises are not as surprising to us as they are to the characters. But there is something gentle about the story that is undeniably captivating.

Parents should know that this film includes a serious auto accident and questions of when someone should be taken off life support, along with some strong language, mild crude references, social drinking.

Family discussion: What small choices in your life have made the biggest difference? Why does Travis like to be bothered?

If you like this, try: other Nicholas Sparks films like “Nights in Rodanthe” and “The Lucky One”

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Based on a book Date movie DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Romance

Safe Haven

Posted on February 13, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Now that best-selling author Nicholas Sparks has rung every possible variation out of his core formula: damaged hearts, pretty people, syrupy pop-song montages, buttery, sunlit cinematography, the healing powers of a body of water (and rain), the healing powers of a small town community, a sad death, and a letter of great import, he has officially run out of new ideas and even thoughts about how to keep re-arranging the old ideas.  An unnecessary twist at the end feels desperate and it feels like a cheat.

Damaged heart number one: Julianne Hough plays Katie, who is on the run from the Boston police for what looks like a violent assault.  She has cut and dyed her hair (so efficiently that it never grows out or needs to be retouched), stops in small town on the North Carolina Coast (body of water is the Atlantic Ocean), takes a job as a waitress in a local cafe and somehow has the money to move into a dilapidated but picturesque little cabin out in a remote area of the woods.

Damaged heart number two: Josh Duhamel, as usual far better than his script, plays Alex, the extremely handsome widower with two children (one adorable and affectionate, one mini-me damaged heart who misses his mom) who owns the local store.  At first, Katie just wants to keep to herself and resists making friends with Alex and with Jo (“How I Met Your Mother’s” Cobie Smulders), another single woman living alone in the woods.  But soon Katie and Alex are out on the healing water and then, when it rains, getting drenched by the powerful healing effects of even more water.  A not-very-surprising mystery about Katie’s past is revealed and pretty soon there will be a very significant letter.

Hough is not an actress of great range, but she looks very pretty and wears a bikini well.  Duhamel has a natural ease on screen that makes it easy to overlook what a committed and subtle performer he is.  Even when he is called upon to make Alex to have some improbable reactions, he manages to find a smidgen of honesty that elevates the material.  Director Lasse Hallstrom (“Chocolat,” “The Cider House Rules,” “My Life as a Dog”) puts so much gloss on the images that it feels like a perfume commercial but never elevates the story above the Lifetime movie level.

Parents should know that this movie includes themes of domestic abuse with some graphic and disturbing images, fire with child and adults in peril, references to sad death of parent, sexual situation, some strong language, and alcohol abuse

Family discussion: What does Katie learn from Jo that she cannot learn any other way?  What changed Alex’s mind?

If you like this, try: the book by Nicholas Sparks and some of his other movies like “The Notebook,” “The Lucky One,” and “Dear John”

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Based on a book Date movie Drama Romance

Tonight! See Nicholas Sparks in a Live Interview about “Safe Haven”

Posted on January 17, 2013 at 10:21 am

Tonight only, fans can get a VIP first-look at favorite scenes from “Safe Haven,” the new movie based on the best-seller by Nicholas Sparks.  Moderated by Maria Menounos with Sparks, stars Josh Duhamel and Julianne Hough, and producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey, the event will be broadcasting live to select theaters nationwide.  The movie opens nationwide on Valentine’s Day.

Get tickets for tonight’s special first look at Fathom Events.

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Behind the Scenes

Nicholas Sparks is Writing for Television

Posted on November 5, 2012 at 8:00 am

Best-selling author Nicholas Sparks writes books that have been made into very successful movies like Nights in Rodanthe, The Notebook, Message in a Bottle, and A Walk to Remember.  His next movie is “Safe Haven,” coming out for Valentine’s Day.

He is now working on three television shows A Bend in the Road at TNT, The Falls at ABC Family and Deliverance Creek at Lifetime.  I’m guessing that we can expect to see an important letter and/or a sad death in all of them.

According to Huffington Post:

“Bend In The Road” centers on a sheriff managing life in a coastal Georgia town, while “The Falls” is a modern-day “Romeo And Juliet” tale.  Meanwhile, Lifetime’s “Deliverance Creek” will follow a woman as she attempts to protect her family after the civil war.

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Television Writers
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