Interview: Tony DiTerlizzi & Holly Black from The Spiderwick Chronicles

We had the honor of sitting down with Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black the authors of the beloved book series The Spiderwick Chronicles. We talked with them about their feelings on the movie, the casting, and if we can expect to see a sequel at any point in the near future. Here’s what they had to say:

As authors, is it emotionally difficult to have your novels adapted for the big screen? Is it upsetting that scenes have to be changed, or that pieces have to be added to or taken away from the original story?

HB: One of the strengths of working with Tony on this series is that we had to learn to collaborate with one another, so I think it was easier for us to work with other people. There were only a few things that I really wanted to be sure made it into the final film – I wanted the character to be true to themselves and I wanted the faeries to be capricious and dangerous. So, I was happy on all counts.

TD: As a big fan of book-turned-film, I knew that changes would be made from our five-book series into a three-act structure. I think there are strengths that each medium offers. For instance, in film it is much easier to show action and emotion through fast-moving visuals and a musical score. In books, the reader is more engaged in the story as they have to visualize and imagine the events as they unfold.

So there was a clear understanding that things would get changed and omitted. What I told Mark (Waters) was that he remain true to the spirit of the stories Hol and I created, and I think he did that.

How involved were you with the translation of the books into The Spiderwick Chronicles?

TD: We were like the “Go-to” team for knowledge of the Spiderwick realm and the folklore, so we were able to offer input on the scripts. Also, I had many conversations with the production designer, Jim Bissell, about thematic motifs (like the leaves and plants that can be found everywhere in the film, from the wallpaper in the house to Mallory’s costume) and how best to instill the idea of man’s interaction with the spirit of nature… which is always how I have viewed the faerie-folk.

HB: We saw all of the scripts and gave our input on each. For me, my focus was trying to keep the folklore pretty accurate and also to just try to help make the script the best it could be.

The cast is absolutely perfect for the film. Were there any actors that you knew you wanted going into film, or was it something that just happened through casting?

TD: We were asked to submit a wish list, and David Strathairn was our number 1 choice for Arthur Spiderwick. I had been a fan of his since seeing Eight Men Out back in college. He not only looks like our book rendition of that character, he gives off the same aura in his performance.

HB: We definitely thought that, especially with Jared and Simon, that unknown kids would be cast. We had no idea that they would get Freddie and double him through mysterious means. And Sarah was just so amazing as Mallory. Really, the cast was so much more than we could have ever expected.

TD: Of course, Freddie and Sarah were beyond what I imagined for the leads. I was a big fan of their films too, especially Sarah in In America – that’s a great film.

How close are all the creatures in the movie to what you originally envisioned when writing the book?

TD: Very close! If you look at the illustrations in Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You, you will see that the goblins, sprites and the rest of the creatures are directly inspired from the books. Since there were so many talented artists working to bring these oft-timed hackneyed critters to life, I shared with them the inspirations that I used when designing them in the first place, and they really ran with it.

HB: Tony sent me sketches very early on of some of the characters and creatures so that I could tape them above my desk while I was writing. Those were always what I had in my head and the film makers brought them to life masterfully.

Was there a certain part of the book that you enjoyed seeing come to life the most in the film?

HB: My favorite part is at the beginning when Jared picks up that stick and whacks the car with it. At that moment, I knew Jared was going to get to be the angry, troubled kid he is and my sympathies went out to him. My second favorite part is when Jared sees Mulgarath in the goblin forest. He is absolutely menacing without making any real threat. So good!

TD: Two really big emotional scenes come to mind that I liked in the books and the film: One is the kids realizing Lucinda is NOT crazy as she conveys to them the danger they are in. And the second is Jared being redeemed by his mom with a hug at the end of the story. I made sure I illustrated that scene in the fifth book as well to accentuate the point. You spend an entire story on the tension between Jared and his mom, and you need that moment to know that it will be all right in the end for both of them… and who doesn’t want a hug from their mom?

Can fans look forward to more of the books being made into films? If so is there a timeline at all on that?

TD: We haven’t heard word yet on whether our sequel series, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles, will make it to film. Of course, I’d love to see it! Let’s hope the dvds do well…

HB: Fingers crossed.

What was the original inspiration for these stories?

TD: Hol and I had received many letters from kids telling us of their experiences with faeries, and I had been making field guides to dragons and monsters since I was a kid, so we knew there was something magic there. And Holly knows that folklore so well. We thought it would be cool to tell a story of modern day kids thrust into the realm of faeries.

HB: When Tony and I first met, one of the things we talked about was faery folklore so this was the perfect project for us to do together. We love the idea that kids might take the Field Guide and go out into their back yards or parks and look for evidence of faeries. If they do, they’ll probably find it.

How did the two of you start working together, and how does that type of collaborative relationship work when it comes to writing books?

TD: Hol came out to interview me on my artwork in Dungeons & Dragons for a magazine she was contributing to at the time. The two of us hit it off and became fast friends. We had so much in common, like our love of fantasy stories in books, video games, and film.

Because we are such good friends, we were able to sit down and plot out these stories together. Then off I would go to sketch and draw scenes while she began writing the manuscript. Along the way we would offer input here and there in hopes to make the final book the best it can be. That’s why there is no “written by” and “illustrated by” in the books, we blurred the roles so much that we felt those tags were not accurate. Hopefully the result is that our readers don’t care – they just enjoy our stories.

HB: It’s really an interesting process. Many authors don’t even meet the illustrators they work with, so our collaboration is pretty unusual. We really hit our stride somewhere in the middle of the series when Tony sent me the sketch of a knocker and wanted me to fit in a scene for it. I did and then he created a new sketch inspired by the new text. Collaborating definitely means putting your ego aside to try and create the best books possible, but it is really rewarding too.

Interview By: Emma Loggins

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