A passion for bringing books to the screen

The acclaimed Dublin director is  working on the adaptation of ‘Conversations with Friends’ from Sally Rooney, which he hopes will be on air in spring 2022. 

Rei Campos

Adapting novels into films and tv shows that are highly praised by their audience is a talent that only few can master, but he has made a name for himself by doing so. 

His latest work ’Normal People’ from Sally Rooney has been an international phenomenon. 

Even, Kourtney Kardashian has had a love affair with the series. 

Back in 2015 he became best known for directing the Oscar-nominated movie, ‘Room’ (another adaptation, of Emma Donoghue’s 2010 novel).

Last December, ‘Entertainment Weekly magazine’ included the Dublin director’s celebrated TV show and the film in its, ‘20 of the Best Book Adaptations of All Time.’

And now, Lenny Abrahamson is the one leading the way for other Irish by creating outstanding book-to-screen productions.

Lenny Abrahamson on the set of ‘Normal People’. Source: © Element Pictures / Enda Bowe

Sharing his experiences 

During a morning from the comfort of his home, he met virtually via Zoom with over 40 students of Television and Film of BCFE. 

Abrahamson was very straight forward beginning the virtual talk, saying to fire away any questions the students wanted to ask. 

He was confident by saying that the industry has an immense appetite for fresh talent and even during the restrictions, they’ve managed to work on things such as production. 

“I would be very optimistic after the pandemic, because the demand for film and tv have been very high and very open for new people.” 

When asked about his next adaptation ‘Conversations with People’, Abrahamson said that the plan is to still shoot it this year and it will be on TV in spring 2022. 

He explained that shooting locations will be around Belfast and Dublin. “It will shoot on film, when normally nowadays it’s digital and I wanted to shoot on film again.” 

Abrahamson during his virtual talk with BCFE students.

Very attractive 

With a very warm voice and giving examples, Abrahamson explained that there are obvious reasons why books are so attractive, because from generally one point of view, books contain lots of amazing stories. 

He continued saying that maybe there’s an audience already, given that people love the book. However, he doesn’t think the best way, artistically speaking, would be reliance on existing material.  

He confessed that it’s a thing and that he has kind of made a name for it, but he’s very humble to admit that is not the healthiest thing for the industry.  

I’ve done a lot of books adaptations and keep saying that I’m not going to do anymore and keep getting tempted and doing another one.

Abrahamson said that some of his favourite films are based on novels.He thinks that is about recognising and getting a strong sense that can be portrayed on the screen.  

“I had that really strong sense with ‘Room’. I kind of knew within a few pages that I could turn it into a film. How you shoot in that space and how you get inside the voice’s head without getting into magical realism, so I knew it’d work.” 

According to the Dublin acclaimed director, when you’re doing the adaptations main things to remember are, that novels can exclude things and they just tell you about one detail they want you to know. 

“Cameras are in a way stupid and they just take you into the scene and show you everything. It’s about fining that true line in the novel and what are you going to follow. Films create poetry in a different way.”

Edgar-Jones, left, as Marianne and Paul Mescal as Connell in ‘Normal People’ © Element Pictures/Enda Bowe

He shared that he had this amazing moment in the States at this event, leaning up to ‘Normal People’ coming out before the first lockdown and he was with Sally Rooney, who wrote the novel, and they met a very senior executive of their studio.

“She said to Sally, oh my God! What an incredible piece of intellectual property you wrote! She didn’t even call it a book. Like It was just a thing that you could buy and turn into something else.” 

Hopes for the future

Abrahamson mentioned that he’d love to do documentaries and that he’s a big admirer, because it’s harder and they mostly do all stuff by themselves, given they don’t have the same big budget production, as on TV or film.

“Some of my favourite films are documentaries and I’d say if you’re looking to watch something from a big selection and you don’t know what, I’d choose a doc. It’s an encounter with real life.”

He thinks there’s not enough courses about production designers around colleges. It’s sometimes kind of people with theatre backgrounds. 

Directing theatre is something I’d like to do, because I’ve never done it.

He has made quite a few movies about common people in unusual circumstances: ‘Adam & Paul’ (2004), ‘Garage’ (2007), ‘What Richard Did’ (2012), and ‘Frank’ (2014), all of which contributed to Abrahamson’s six Irish Film and Television Awards.

In 2015, he received widespread recognition for directing ‘Room’, based on a novel by Emma Donoghue. 

The film received four nominations at the 88th Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director for Abrahamson. 

In 2020, he directed six episodes of the television series ‘Normal People’, for which he was nominated for the ‘Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing of a Limited Series’.

“Any book reader is armed with that extra knowledge going in, but thanks to the stellar acting of the leads Daisy Edgar- Jones and Paul Mescal, having read the novel isn’t a prerequisite,” noted the magazine. 

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