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Exclusive Interview: Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini Discuss TEN THOUSAND SAINTS

(All photos are courtesy of Falco Ink.)

Curfews are always a recipe for trouble in the city that never sleeps. And trouble is often found at the grubby old bar on 315 Bowery. For outsiders, it is a place to avoid after sunset. But for a group of young misfits, CBGB is a second home.

Inside, playing for a crowd of bodies slamming against each other, the Green Mountain Boys perform vigorously on stage, getting louder and louder with each new song.

Their guitarist, a boy no older than 16, dives headfirst and arms wide open into a sea of outstretched arms.

His eyes are closed, but the wide grin on his mouth says it all. The boy is high as a kite. He is high… on life.

In Ten Thousand Saints, the latest feature by husband-and-wife team Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (the Oscar-nominated writers/directors behind American Splendor), the straight-edge scene of ’80s New York City is the backdrop for a charming coming-of-age story about love, loss, and punk rock.

An adaptation of Eleanor Henderson‘s acclaimed 2011 debut novel, Ten Thousand Saints follows Jude (Asa Butterfield), a baby-faced teen from the (fictional) town of Lintonburg, Vermont. Having been raised by an adoptive hippie mother (Julianne Nicholson), Jude has never been afraid to experiment, spending his youth getting high with Teddy (Avan Jogia), his best friend.

On the eve of New Year’s 1987, however, Jude learns that life of excess is not without its consequences: Following a night of reckless partying with the boys’ new friend Eliza (Hailee Steinfeld), Teddy dies from an overdose.

To escape from the tragedy, Jude moves in with his estranged father, Les (Ethan Hawke), who’s made a new life with his English girlfriend, Diana (Emily Mortimer), Eliza’s mother, in the East Village, a neighbourhood full of possibility and excitement.

After befriending Teddy’s half brother Johnny (Emile Hirsch), a Hare Krishna devotee who leads a straight-edge punk rock band, Jude adopts the lifestyle devoid of meat, sex, and drugs.

Together, Jude and his new friends try to adjust to a world without Teddy… But as they soon discover, the boy’s memory has found a way to live on.

I spoke with Springer Berman and Pulcini about the challenges of adapting Henderson’s novel, the subcultures that define the ever-changing Big Apple, and the message behind Ten Thousand Saints. Check out the interview below.

Ten Thousand Saints 2

Hi, Shari and Robert. Thank you so much for taking time for this. I’m Alfonso Espina from ScreenInvasion.com. I wanted to first, before I start the questions, to say that Ten Thousand Saints is one of my favourite films of the year so far.

Shari Springer Berman: Thank you so much.

Robert Pulcini: Oh, thank you.

So, as is the case for all adaptations, creative liberties have to be made and not every character or subplot from the novel will make it to the screenplay… The third act of the film is quite different from the novel’s. What did you find was the biggest challenge in adapting the novel into a screenplay format?

Shari Springer Berman: It’s a very dense book. It’s a wonderful book, and all the characters were great, but there’s a lot of characters in the novel. The first thing is really narrow the focus of the story, and then say, you know, there are certain characters and subplots that we’re just not going to be even able to deal with in the movie unless we do a miniseries, which was tempting. I would say that was the first big issue with it. In a movie, obviously, you have to create a certain momentum, dramatic momentum, to an ending. It can’t meander the way a book can in a really beautiful way, and so that became another pairing down in our editing process, to still keep the spirit of the story and spirit of the novel.

In translating the novel into a screenplay, you also changed the narrative. The novel was a third-person omniscient, and now, in the film, it’s a first person narrator. Interestingly, I actually watched this interview with Eleanor [Henderson], and she mentioned that she started writing the story as a screenplay and from Jude’s point of view. How did you both come to that decision that it was the best way to tell that story from Jude’s point of view?

Robert Pulcini: We really knew that we wanted the opening to be that scene in the greenhouse between Jude and his father, so it’s really Jude’s story that we’re telling. He does a lot of observing and reacting, and we thought it really was, in a lot of ways, the story of this boy who finds out he’s adopted in the opening of the movie. He kind of witnesses at the end a similar thing happening to a new life, coming into the world. That’s the defining structure that we thought would be the best way to weave the characters in and out.

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The Author

Alfonso Espina

Alfonso Espina

Alfonso Espina is a Toronto-based freelance writer and graduate of the Journalism program at Ryerson University. He has written for The Huffington Post, Tribute Magazine, Next Projection, Pop Wrapped, MuchMusic, Screen Invasion, Flicks And The City, and UpandComers.