The YA author, who adapted her novel for the show, likens the process to origami. While in the novel there is just the shape, in the series, you get to pull apart the folds for a closer look
After Lauren Oliver’s 2010 novel, Before I Fall, was adapted into a film starring Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, and Jennifer Beals, her 2014 novel, Panic has been adapted into a television show. Lauren is also the executive producer and has written the 10-episode show, which tells the story of teenagers competing in dangerous challenges for a grand cash prize. While the show follows the broad outlines of the novel, there have been some rather radical changes as well.
How close an adaptation should be to the source material depends on the adaptation itself, Lauren says over a call from Indiana, USA. “Adaptations are like translations, and a good translation makes adjustments in terms of grammar and syntax in order to preserve the important elements of theme and style. The writer should be willing to sit apart from an adaptation.”
Lauren Oliver author and creator of the television show, ‘Panic’
The 38-year-old writer admits that the good thing about adapting her own material is that she could make changes that would otherwise be considered irresponsible if somebody else made them. “In the case of Panic you have to accommodate societal changes. As an actor or author, you would like to accurately reflect the society and its concerns.”
Apart from updating the novel for the show, Lauren says there have been changes with respect to character and locations. “With a television show, one of the things you have to factor in, is that you are dealing with live actors and that changes things. One of the perfect examples is Ray. When we hired Ray Nicholson to play Ray, I realised that I was invested in the character. It changed the entire arc of the character and the season because in the novel, he was the antagonist and I had to create a new antagonist for the show. The other change was setting the show in Texas, which compared to other American states has a very, unique culture and I wanted to reflect that in my characters.”
Lauren says new adult characters have been introduced. The police have a larger role to play. “They have recently become aware of this game called Panic. They are not sure what it is, but they are trying to find out and stop it. There are these different dimensions that I was not able to address in the book.”
Television gives you a lot more space to work in, Lauren says. “I compare it to origami. If, for the novel I created, let us say, a crane. For the novel, I made the shape of a crane while for the television show, I get to pull apart the folds and see all the different dimensions.”
Adapting a 400-page novel into 10 hours of television was tough, according to Lauren. “I wrote 20 different drafts of every episode. The characters have lived in my head for so long that if it were up to me, I would have written a 100-episode long TV show that would have been very boring and unwatchable. It was hard not because there was not enough material or it was superficial, it was hard because it is a completely different way of writing. Writing for television is dynamic, very fast paced, and things change. Every day you are getting feedback from a real-world environment. You write a scene, and if it is not possible to build it that way, it changes things. Writing for television is like working on one of those mobile sculptors where changing one thing, changes the balance of everything. It was an iterative process, and one I hadn’t done before so it was a huge challenge, a huge amount of work, but one that I was incredibly blessed to be able to do.”
The YA (young adult fiction) author describes her multiple roles as creator, writer and executive producer on the show as crazy, overwhelming and taxing. “Somebody asked me if there was a learning curve, and I said, ‘How about a learning cliff?’ (Laughs) Did I think it would kill me at one point, yes. Would I do it again in that way, no. Am I grateful for the experience? Yes!”
The novel, Lauren says is about Heather and Dodge. “The game is an allegory for the emotional journey that I had, between the ages of 16 and 26 when I wanted to break out of my fears. I thought I could cure myself of being afraid by forcing myself into situations that scared me. I didn’t, and I made the same mistakes that the characters do in the book. It was a way of distracting myself from a much deeper fear. That is true of the characters as well. That said, my sister was an idiot in high school. She and her friends would do unbelievably dangerous things for fun and it was terrifying.”
Fear is one of the themes explored in Panic. “It is about the true definition of courage. The teens in Panic believe that they are facing their fears when actually they are escaping their fear by playing the game. And that is ultimately what Panic is about, how to turn and face the things that really scare you, whether it is the fear of not being worthwhile, or not being loved or going nowhere.”
Panic is presently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.