The John Green Formula

It’s no secret that John Green’s books sell. It’s ten years since his debut novel “Looking for Alaska” and it’s still in print. His 2012 novel “The Fault in Our Stars” was a hit the week it debuted – topping the New York Times Best Seller’s list and remaining there for seven consecutive weeks. Because his books have been so popular, movie producers believed their adaptations would be too, starting with “The Fault in Our Stars” (or ‘TFIOS’).

Though film rights to most of his novels were sold shortly after each novels’ release, Green’s break into the film industry truly started on January 31st 2012 when it was announced that Fox 2000 optioned film rights for the TFIOS book. The film was wildly successful. It earned $48,002,523 USD in its opening weekend and grossed a total of $307,239,013 USD worldwide, all on a $12 million budget. Due to this success, Fox 2000 also optioned and adapted the novel “Paper Towns” which was released in summer of this year. Though less successful than its same-budget predecessor, “Paper Towns” still made $12,650,140 USD in its opening weekend and grossed $84,780,192 worldwide.

Profits seemed to be continuously springing from the fountain that is John Green’s pen, and Paramount Pictures wanted in. Having optioned the rights to Green’s first published novel, “Looking for Alaska,” in 2005, Paramount finally decided to follow through on their promise to make the film and announced that their version of the novel will be released in 2017. Under the new production company, will the “Looking for Alaska” movie be as successful as the other two John Green movie adaptations? Well, I believe if Paramount follows what I like to call “The John Green Formula” it could be an even greater success. It consists of five simple components:

1. Cast young, rising actors.

Sometimes it’s hard to determine whether a hot young star will shine for a long time or simply fade away in a few years. However, the casting directors for John Green films have a knack for choosing just the right people. They’ve cast Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, and Cara Delevingne; all of whom are young actors getting serious about their craft and with ever-growing reputations to boot. “The Fault in Our Stars” made the otherwise sparsely known Ansel Elgort a household name and made him the subject of many a preteen girl’s romantic fantasy. It was also a big transition piece in the careers of both Wolff and Woodley’s careers. It allowed them to be taken more seriously as lead actors and led to roles such as Woodley’s “Tris” in “Divergent” and Wolff’s role as “Q” in “Paper Towns”. Cara Delevingne was really introduced into the acting community through “Paper Towns” and, because of this, she is set to star in films such as “Kids in Love,” “Pan,” and, “Suicide Squad”.

2. Utilize cameos in small and surprising ways.

In both movies so far, Green has been featured and with both features, coincidentally, come anecdotes. In TFIOS, as the characters Gus and Hazel sit in the airport waiting for their flight, a little girl asks about Hazel’s nasal cannulae (which helps deliver oxygen to her lungs). Then, the little girl’s father, John Green, apologizes for his daughter. Or at least that’s how the scene was supposed to go had it not been cut from the movie released to theaters. It did make the director’s cut, though! Green’s cameo in “Paper Towns” is even more difficult to spot because it’s not a visual cameo. He can be heard as an angry father shouting at main characters, Margo and Q, during one of their adventure scenes. However, many people, including Green’s wife, didn’t initially recognize his voice.

All complications with Green’s cameos aside, there is a much more noticeable surprise cameo in “Paper Towns” that I won’t spoil for those who have yet to see it. 

3. Allow John Green to interact with the actors and promote the movie in his own way.

Yes, press junkets exist. They are typically a series of short video interviews with different news sources and pop culture websites to promote a movie. Usually it’s mandatory for the actors to participate in junkets. However, in Green’s case it seemed that his video blogging and “Question Tuesdays” with the actors on his YouTube channel, Vlogbrothers, garnered many more fans and future viewers of the films. This is because often times press junkets lead to repetitive, impersonal questions that have to be asked in a 10 to 15 minute time span. Sitting in front of a camera, talking and goofing around promotes honesty, whimsy, and community, thus engaging the viewer and enticing them into watching the film in theaters.

4. Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (with the occasional John Green, I suppose).

Normally you don’t hear about screenwriters but Neustadter and Weber are worth researching. They’ve adapted both of Green’s books into movies, working in conjunction with him to make sure the themes stay the same. They manage to translate the texts to the silver screen in a way that stays loyal to fans of the books but that also allows newcomers to feel the same way readers did when they first read the books.

5. Stay true to the themes of the novel, even if you have to tweak the storyline a bit.

As mentioned before, the screenwriters for both TFIOS and “Paper Towns” made sure the themes in the novels and films stayed the same. This meant that, even when alterations were made to the storyline, the story felt the same. Both audiences generally received the same messages. This also means that fans of the novels, eager to see some of their favorite characters come to life on the big screen, are not blindsided by unnecessary plot twists or character alterations. So, in the end, just about everyone is happy.

Of course, these are only contributing factors to the successes of “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Paper Towns”. Yes, other aspects contribute to the films’ successes as well, such as the existing fan base, successful advertising, et cetera. These seem to be the five major commonalities between the two films, though.

It’ll be interesting to see if the upcoming “Looking for Alaska” movie works with the formula. It wouldn’t surprise me if a no-name, up-and-coming actress is cast as Alaska Young and it would surprise me greatly if Nat Wolff isn’t involved somehow. In fact, Nat Wolff is so central to John Green movies that he can’t even be considered a part of the formula; he is automatically attached to any Green movie that has been or ever will be.

Will Paramount stay totally loyal to The John Green Formula? It’s too early to tell how closely they will or won’t follow it, but no, they won’t remain completely loyal. They are a different company, after all. Plus, they’ve already strayed from #4: Neustadter and Weber. Currently, John Green is set to script “Looking for Alaska” with Sarah Polley. Maybe this means that Paramount will be taking a completely new approach. Maybe it means they’re just testing their limits. Only time will tell how the rest of the cards will fall.

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