A conversation with Lenny Abrahamson’s friends ends the show – The Hollywood Reporter

[This story contains spoilers from Hulu’s Conversations With Friends.]

When Chat with friends Launched on Hulu two weeks ago, it has become a series of true crime shows and high-reality TV series. This season of Emmys, in which the film adaptation of Sally Rooney’s debut novel was hoped to compete, is currently dominated by leads like Squid game, Ozark and Dropout. Lenny Abrahamson and his team at Element Pictures are betting on audiences’ willingness to spend their time on a TV show – viewers prefer quiet, complex interpersonal and suspenseful stories. Most came from a heated email exchange.

But Abrahamson has done this exact magic before, with a 2020 adaptation of Normal person (Rooney’s second but better-selling book). That limited series became a critical and commercial success, dominating the cultural conversation and pulling in both Emmy and BAFTA nominations. Abrahamson says he stays away from reviews of his work, but he’s always been as focused on the overall success of his projects as anyone else – especially since Conversationalike Normal person before that, must also answer to Rooney’s devoted and very steadfast fan base. He joined The Hollywood Reporter via Zoom from his office in Dublin to discuss the stakes in the game around this time, why he almost changed the show’s ending and he hopes the Rooneyverse will change tradition. how it looks.

When you’re working on a show or preparing for a release, do you feel like you know what your fans will be looking for? Do you imagine that the audience would be like for Normal person?

There’s something about the audience that amazes me because Normal person, that is it very wide. I think we’re going to find die-hard fans of the novel, and that it’s going to age because the making of the movie is pretty slow. It is quite low compared to what is currently available in the TV world. But I’m happy to see that we have a younger audience. I think we’ll find something similar to Conversationand my hope is that they will find it equally powerful.

What do you think about how you did? Chat with friends is a direct result of what you have learned to do Normal person? How would the performance be different if you did them in reverse order?

What we have learned to make Normal person is an audience willing to sit with the characters and watch life in motion in something closer to real life than you might believe in the television industry. That’s not criticism, of course. But we did this in a much simpler style. With Normalwhat we were told is, we have this intense love story and we know that if we do it right, we can slow and careful and bring people to these characters – instead for letting them scream off the screen to the audience.

And with Conversation, we said we believe we have a complicated story, with all these interconnected relationships and all these uncertainties and that we can maintain our slow-living instinct . If we did it first, we might feel scared or have a little voice saying, you need to speed it up and make it sexier, sleeker and bigger. That voice will be hard to resist if we do Conversation the first, and it has the benefit of being the second of two adaptations.

Do you struggle with studios and streamers to make the show go slower?

I would run out of praise for a studio (laugh) but we had a great time with Hulu. We fully expect to receive a call saying, here’s the long list of notes. But that didn’t happen, even though the studio staffing changed from the first screening to the second. I remember that with Normal, a lot of attention was paid to episode one. Everyone in the streaming space fears that people will only put up with something for 10 minutes, and if they don’t love it, there are 50 other shows they’re meant to watch. It’s hard to be a storyteller – my way of telling stories is to bring people in slowly, quietly and confidently and take my time. I don’t have a car chase to hook people up. But we really thought hard about those first 10 minutes in both shows.

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Melissa (Jemima Kirke), Bobbi (Sasha Lane), Frances (Alison Oliver) and Nick (Joe Alwyn) in Chat with friends
Enda Bowe / Hulu

You saved the last scene of Chat with friends extremely true to the book, which might make it hard for some viewers to see Frances make the split-second decision to get back with Nick. Have you considered softening the finish?

We talked about it. Everyone had different feelings about the end of the book, and I remember reading it and thinking, would she choose one over the other? And does that sound like another dismissal of the deep relationship she has with Bobbi? But what I hope the show conveys is that she’s opening her life up rather than choosing one over the other. That’s the question the characters ask, can you love more than one person at a time? Frances felt like she was answering: yes. The novel has an iconic ending and we all felt the need to keep it but also give it a nuance. I hope we’ve reached that end, which means you don’t doubt her feelings for Bobbi even if she lets Nick back.

There seems to be an element of suspense about whether the phone call plays out the same way it does on the show as it does in the books…

We want the final line to be exactly “Come get me.” There’s a lot of pressure on that ending. We were actually waiting to shoot that scene so it was Christmas in Dublin. We finished filming a few months ago and then came back for that scene. Joe [Alwyn, as Nick] too bright and raw at the end of his scene.

How much do you think Frances and Nick’s rekindling means to Nick and Melissa’s marriage?

What you imagine happens then is Melissa would really think wow, I can’t believe this. But she is strong. And even in the last conversation she had with Frances, when they were on the phone, you got the sense that Melissa was trying to understand the possibility of a more human relationship. She was open to that. And even though she was furious with Frances, she still cared about her. I think Nick will be honest with her; I don’t think Nick and Frances intend to keep this a secret.

Much of this drama takes place in the final episode, with Frances and Bobbi getting back together and then the potential shot of that final scene. Was there a discussion about drawing any of those?

Absolutely yes. I can see a world in which perhaps an entire episode is dedicated to what happens between Frances and Nick’s breakup and getting back together. But it can get people really invested in Bobbi and Frances to the point where they end up feeling hurt by Frances’ decision. What you don’t want to do is show Frances with Bobbi but somehow still yearn for Nick. I don’t want people to think that Bobbi isn’t enough for her. And we don’t want problems in our relationship with Bobbi. I think Frances just loves them both and she was ready to let Nick go because of how much she made things up and hurt Melissa, but then when she talked to him again, She almost suddenly realized, I still really love this person. . It was the beginning of another complicated relationship, but that part is not our story to tell.

In the end I understand the instinct for people to feel bad for Bobbi, but it doesn’t seem like Bobbi wants a relationship to move towards normative or even monogamous…

That is absolutely correct. For example, the conversation Frances and Bobbi had in the kitchen the morning after they slept together, they talked about how people think in couples and you have to try not to do that. I think all Bobbi wants is honesty and Frances has to be honest with herself too. And Sasha [Lane] what a genius in the way she plays her, because you really believe her.

The sex scene between Frances and Bobbi was shot much more intimately than the one between Frances and Nick, much faster and cut out. What were you trying to achieve with that difference?

When Frances and Bobbi get back together, we want to feel at home. There was loads of laughter and they were talking to each other – even though the audience couldn’t hear what they were saying. Bobbi was Frances’ closest friend and always will be, so sex must feel different to Nick. Frances and Nick are always coming or going, with risk and uncertainty. While Frances and Bobbi is about fun and we want that unattainable fun.

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Amy Sussman/Getty Images); Penguin Random House

It’s been almost 5 years since Sally Rooney’s first book was published, and it’s clear how she has shaped literary trends. Do you think these adaptations will have an impact on the type of television we watch?

Just anecdotal, I’ve heard there are a lot of comparisons to our performances during the pitch. The DPs and directors are pasting pictures of the show on their boards and such. But my hope is that these shows will open doors of risk for streamers and broadcasters, and they will realize that audiences are smarter than they can give. They risk more than they credit. Small stories can have a big impact.

I also hope that this arms race to make things bigger and fancier starts to slow down. There is a slight flattening effect when you try to make things more glossy. Of course, I don’t work in this world, but I see it in action and sci-fi movies. Nothing, no amount of effects, can shock the audience anymore. I hope to pay more attention to storytelling in its purest form, and that shows and movies are allowed to be silent and still stand out from the crowd.

Have you learned any lessons about the best way to make a successful book adaptation?

There is no way, the only thing you can’t solve. You need studios that are prepared to sit down and let talent figure out the best way to make the best product. With adaptation, you have to keep going until it’s just right. But other than that, I also want to move away from adaptation a bit. There’s a crazy kind of IP right now, I’m getting and of course I’m guilty of getting in. And it’s hard when people give you the opportunity to create amazing things like this. But I wanted to see original stories, nothing told without a studio without the comfort of an existing book.

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