At the LA Times Festival of Books, Cassandra Clare and director Harald Zwart (who you may know as director of the Karate Kid remake) sat down to discuss the upcoming, highly anticipated movie adaptation of City of Bones, the first book in Cassandra’s Clare’s hugely popular Mortal Instruments series.
“It’s a bit of an exercise in letting go,” said Claire, of being an author and selling the movie rights. She had no expectations of being involved, and only found out about Lilly Collins being cast as Clary from Collider.com, like everyone else – but once Cassie signaled her interest in being involved, and once Harald came on board to direct, suddenly the doors were wide open and Cassie was weighing in on everything from casting to prop design. As to why the Hollywood types were willing to let her be so involved, Clare recalled one producer telling her: “Cassie, I never want you to say Harold and Robbie ruined my book. I want you to say, Harold, Robert, and I ruined my movie.”
Zwick said, of when he was first brought on the project: “I read the script, and thought it had potential – and then I read the book and went, oh my god, this is cool.” Zwick said he pushed to bring more of the book back into the screenplay (an early draft, at that stage), and always his main focus was making sure that Clary had agency, that she was the center of the story.
As for the demonology, Zwick said he looked to The Exorcist (the original) for inspiration – particularly with how in that movie you could always see the person behind the demon, and how he thought that made it all so much more scary, and so he tried to bring that spirit to City of Bones.
As for the differences in translation, from page to screen, Cassie noted how freeing it was to be able to step outside of Clary’s POV (impossible in a book written in first person narration), and so in the movie we actually get to see Magnus show up to heal Alec, which in the book happens off-page. Clare was also struck by how much could be conveyed visually – it took her pages to describe the Mortal Instruments, but in the movie they just made the archangel statue holding them. Cassie also made a point of saying how much she LOVED the Institute set – she thought the library was gorgeous, with such a wonderful aura of age, and so very many beautifully crafted books: “I was in there all the time, just messing with them.” Clare even admitted her mental image of the Institute changed, just a bit, because she loved the set design so much.
As for how the process of making the movie influenced the last book of the Mortal Instruments series – which Clare was writing as she was on set – Cassie said that mostly the reverse was true, that the later books influenced the movie in that she knew so much more about her characters now than she did back when she was writing City of Bones. So, for example, when it came to Simon and Isabel, knowing now what comes later, they made sure the two had moments in the movie. Cassie also said it was funny being on set while writing, because the actors kept coming up to ask her, “So, do I die at the end?”
When it finally came time to show Cassie a cut of the movie, Zwick joked about how nerve wracking it was: “I was not even in the country, that’s how nervous I was.” And as for what she thought of the cut, Clare smiled and said only that when she saw a scene that she dearly loved had been cut – a scene that made her cry, watching it on set – she made a plea, and Zwick actually put it back in the movie at her request.
So in the end, I think it’s safe to say that Cassandra Clare was very much involved in the making of this movie – Zwick even recounted a story of when, while they were doing reshoots, no one could remember the exact phrasing of a line and so the forty cast and crew members had to stand around and wait while Zwick called Clare to find out what it was supposed to be – so there’s good reason to hope that this movie will be exactly the movie adaptation that fans of the book want to see (for a change). But really, all we can do now is wait and see…