OPHELIA’s Book-to-Movie Journey: An Interview with Lisa Klein

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By Kathryn Powers

Ophelia covers, courtesy of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

There are two sides to every story. The mad Prince of Denmark is the star of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, but what if Ophelia had the chance to share her tale? This is the premise of Ophelia, the young adult novel by Columbus author Lisa Klein. Lisa was a professor of English before embarking on her career writing books for young readers. Dissatisfied with the original portrayal of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, she crafted a modern retelling of the classic tragedy. Ophelia became Lisa’s first published novel in 2006. And now—over a decade later—the book has made a remarkable journey to the big screen as a feature film!

After viewing the movie at Gateway Film Center, Ohioana’s office manager and kidlit enthusiast, Kathryn Powers, had the chance to interview Lisa regarding this exciting book-to-movie journey.    

1) The process of how a book becomes a movie is so mysterious! Can you describe how this happened with Ophelia?                  

Just after Ophelia was published, an independent producer “optioned” it, reserving the rights while he pulled a production together.  First came the script, which the producers used to attract a director, whose vision shapes the production. It’s important to sign well-known actors to round out the package and attract financiers. The producers have to scout locations for the filming, hire crew, and build sets. And everyone’s schedules have to match. It’s a complicated process, requiring patience and diplomacy.  Sometimes it falls apart (as when the director who was interested bows out), and the producer has to start over again. This happened more than once, which is why it took ten years to finally “greenlight” Ophelia!

2) Were you able to give any input regarding the Ophelia script?

Once I signed the contract, I effectively gave up creative control. I was shown the script early on, as a courtesy, and I offered some input.  A few of my suggestions were adopted. But the script is the creation of the screenwriter as much as the novel is the creation of the author, and I came to respect that distinction. The movie is not the book, but stands as its own wonderful reimagining of the Hamlet story.

3) Are there many differences between the book and movie?

Yes, several! The movie keeps the romance between Hamlet and Ophelia alive until the last possible moment (to please a movie audience), while the book emphasizes their conflict and Ophelia’s decision to go it alone.  The last quarter of the novel, which occurs in a convent, is reduced to a scene of a few seconds in the movie. My character Mechtild, an herbalist, is at the center of a new subplot, created to give the actress Naomi Watts a larger role. (She plays Queen Gertrude and her sister, Mechtild.)  There are other differences, but the story is still Ophelia’s, told in her voice.  And it’s visually stunning, so readers who prefer to bring a story alive in their own imaginations won’t be disappointed.

Ophelia official movie poster, credit to IFCFlims.

4) What was it like to visit the set in Prague?

Exciting and a bit unreal. My friend Jody Casella, who is also a writer, came with me. She kept pinching me (well, not literally) and saying “Can you believe these hundreds of people are all here making a movie because of a book you wrote?” We met Daisy Ridley and George McKay and Clive Owen and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy!) who were all very gracious. People kept thanking me for writing the book, and I was like, “Don’t thank me, thank Shakespeare. We all owe what we are doing to Shakespeare.”

5) Where can people view the movie?  

The movie is playing in select theaters through July, and is currently available for streaming online.

6) Additionally, is there anything you want to share with us about your writing or next projects?

It has been a thrilling journey having my book made into a movie, and now that I’ve seen it on the big screen and celebrated, it’s time to settle down and get back to my writing. What was I working on again? Oh, my first novel for adults, set in Venice in the 1500s.

To learn more about Lisa, Ophelia, and her other books, be sure to visit her website at http://www.authorlisaklein.com.

Announcing the 2019 Ohioana Award Winners!

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It’s that time of year again! It’s to the pleasure of everyone at Ohioana to announce the 2019 Ohioana Awards. Every year, the Awards recognize an outstanding title in Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, About Ohio/Ohioan, Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature, Juvenile Literature. Readers are also invited to have their voices heard in voting for the Readers’ Choice Award. In addition, a young writer is chosen as the recipient of the annual Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant.

Six of the Ohioana Award winners, as well as the Marvin Grant recipient, were selected by juries. The Readers’ Choice Award was determined by voters in a public online poll. This year, more than 3,000 votes were cast for the Readers’ Choice Award.

First given in 1942, the Ohioana Book Awards are the second oldest, and among the most prestigious, state literary prizes in the nation. Nearly every major writer from Ohio in the past 75 years has been honored, from James Thurber to Toni Morrison.

The Ohioana Awards will be presented Thursday, October 17, in the Atrium of Ohio’s historic Statehouse in Columbus. Tickets for event, which are open to the public and include a pre-awards reception, will go on sale in mid-September.

The 2019 Ohioana Award winners are as follows:

Fiction: Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Sadness is a White Bird

Nonfiction: David Giffels, Furnishing Eternity

About Ohio or an Ohioan: Wil Haygood, Tigerland

Poetry: Marcus Jackson, Pardon My Heart

Middle Grade/Young Adult Literature: Ellen Klages, Out of Left Field

Juvenile Literature: Jacqueline Woodson, The Day You Begin

Readers’ Choice: Rachel Wiley, Nothing is Okay

Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant

Alongside the book awards, Ohioana has named David Grandouiller as the recipient of the 30th Walter Rumsey Marvin Grant, a competitive prize for an Ohio writer age thirty or younger who has not yet published a book. Born in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and raised in Jamestown, Ohio, David is a 2017 graduate of Cedarville College. He writes essays and is currently in his third year as an MFA candidate in creative writing at The Ohio State University.