What do the Twilight, Harry Potter, Gossip Girl, The Vampire Diaries, Pretty Little Liars book series all have in common? These young adult books have all been turned into highly successful movies and television shows.
Creating a series (or a movie) is a daunting task under normal circumstances, but when there's a huge fan base with exceptionally high expectations, the stakes get even higher. From the color of a character's hair to significant events, fans of the book (myself included) tend to pick apart every aspect of a show or movie, so pleasing the fans without sacrificing good storytelling is the key to success.
Before Pretty Little Liars premiered last June, there was considerable buzz surrounding the show and expectations were unusually high. Luckily for all involved, the show was an instant hit with fans and in the year since its premiere, those little liars are more popular than ever.
I had the amazing opportunity to chat with Marlene King, the brilliant mind behind Pretty Little Liars, who filled me in on the creation of the show, collaborating with author Sara Shepard, and when the audience can expect to learn the identity of A...
Q: When did you read the books?
Marlene: "I wasn't aware of the books until I had a meeting with ABC Family and later that day they sent me the first book. I read it that night, called them the next morning and told them that not only was I interested, they must send over the rest of the books that day! They did and I just plowed through them. Sara did such a great job. Book one ends very much like the pilot -- who is sending those texts and what is the Jenna thing? I had to know what the Jenna thing was. As I read the books and started thinking about the show, I felt like if we could achieve in the show what Sara did so well in her books, which is to ask questions and answer them. You get something and then she teases us with something else, so we really set out to have those big cliffhanger endings on as many episodes as possible. I think we've achieved that and I'm really proud of that."
Q: How much did the books influence the creation of the show?
Marlene: "A lot, but then of course you have to expand on it. Basically, book one is the pilot episode. That book became 43 minutes of television. From that point on, we took from the books; they definitely inspire the tone of the show. We've very much true to the characters and to the tone of the mysteries in this heightened world these girls live in. I call it the deliciousness of the books and we try to keep that deliciousness to the show."
Q: When choosing the actresses for the show, what made you differ from the description of the characters in the books?
Marlene: "We cast Lucy Hale first as Aria and she pretty much looked to me like Aria from the book. Lucy was sort of an easy fit and then when we started seeing actresses for the other characters, it became clear very quickly that we couldn't cast for the look; we had to go with the person who felt the most like that character as they were developing that role. Sara was really good about embracing that early on."
Q: How heavily are you planning to continue the series to coincide with the books?
Marlene: "From this point on, it's really up for grabs. I think we will continue to flip in and out of the books in the way we have done in the past. We utilize the books a lot -- for example, in season one, the 'Homecoming' episode, the character of Toby in the books disappears and when they find him later he had committed suicide. We were true to that in the sense that there was a homecoming, Toby disappeared, but he came back in that summer finale very much alive. That's how I think we will continue; we'll leap in and out of the books."
Q: What made you decide to keep Toby alive on the show?
Marlene: "He just blew us all away. Originally, he was going to go kill himself after Homecoming and then we started watching his work and I just fell in love with him as a person and as an actor. He brought so much to that character; it was so refreshing to have this character who was the moral compass of the show. He didn't lie, he was always honest."
Q: When do you plan to reveal A's identity?
Marlene: "Originally, we all thought it would not be until the end of the series, but I think we have found very fun and delicious ways to give up who A is and keep the mysteries of the show. It won't be the very last episode of the series, it'll be before that -- but that's all I can say for now."
Q: Do you collaborate with author Sara Shepard?
Marlene: "We've become friends and friendly and I love and adore her, but she's just a fan of the show. She watches and loves it and I'm a fan of her books. We just organically collaborate -- her books inspire me and I think maybe the show has inspired some of her books I hope. It's just an unspoken collaboration in that way."
Q: What were your biggest challenges in creating this series?
Marlene: "Tone, definitely tone. And convincing people we could create a show that was tonally similar to the books and have it be believable. I think we pulled it off. We had probably 20 tone meetings before we shot the pilot."
Q: Do you recommend those who have not read the books to wait until the series is over or should they read them now?
Marlene: "I think it doesn't matter. People who read the books while watching the show seem to love them both."
Q: What's ahead on Pretty Little Liars?
Marlene: "This summer's finale is different from anything we've done before. It is unlike the last finale, the bell tower, which left us with so many questions. The summer finale does the opposite -- it's a cliffhanger, but it answers some huge questions."