Bryant Dillon, Fanboy Comics: Half a billion books sold... The highest grossing films of all time... A phenomenon that inspired the world... These are some of the impressive accomplishments of author J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter book and film series. It’s also the story behind the story that is told in the top-rated Lifetime Original Movie, Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story.
I’m Bryant Dillon with Fanboy Comics, and today I have the pleasure of speaking with writer Tony Caballero about his work on Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story.
Tony, welcome and thank you for taking the time to speak me with today.
Tony Caballero: Thank you, Bryant.
BD: Can you give us a quick description of Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story and how it got started?
TC: Sure. My writing partner Jeffrey Berman and I had sold a project to NBC called Young Robin Hood, and our agents at the time put us up for this project called The Biography of J.K. Rowling. We thought it’d be a great project to do because we love the books, so we went and met with the producers and we had a good meeting and we gave a nice pitch on it and they liked it, but they didn’t think it was quite right. So, we came back after a weekend and pitched a completely new take on it that was more like a TV movie, and they were stunned and liked the take we did. So, they hired us onto the project.
BD: Obviously, you must be a big Harry Potter fan! Can you talk about your love for the franchise and any special memories or feelings you associate with them?
TC: Well, I wasn’t a fan when the books first came out, and I didn’t really become a fan ‘till after Goblet of Fire came out. And, it was probably because the press and the marketing were so big for it that I automatically fought against it. Midnight lines for a book sale I couldn’t accept. It had to be manufactured. I couldn’t believe anything could be that good! And, a friend of mine loaned me the books and said, “You have to read these! You, of all people, will love these books!” So, I took the books and I didn’t want to read them, and I didn’t want to read them. I put it off and put it off and she kept pestering me to read these books. So, finally, just to shut her up, basically, I started reading the first chapter and at the end of the first chapter I was like, “Oh my God! This is incredible!”
BD: Just in the first chapter in the first book?
TC: Just in the first chapter! And then, I read the second chapter and the third chapter and the next thing I knew, I was done with the book that day! And, so, I went through the next three books, just tore through them, and I couldn’t put them down. And, so, when book five came out, I made a point of going to Barnes & Noble in The Grove here in L.A. and for a midnight launch there were hundreds and hundreds of people gathered, and it just did my heart good to see all these people gathered for a book selling.
BD: Sort of an unheard of thing in today’s market.
TC: Yeah, it was phenomenal. I wanted to cry. I was so happy that books were so popular again.
BD: The young adult genre has become a big thing these days, and they owe a lot to Rowling and book series.
TC: Well, Rowling basically revitalized the young adult book market with the series. It had been pretty heavy in the ‘80s and ‘90s with R.L. Stine and the Goosebumps books, and that was, maybe not so much an inspiration for her, but she did see what was available and knew what she was up against when she was writing this series.
BD: And, we know it’s a huge thing these days. Obviously, if anyone listens to Fanboy Comics, they know our love for The Hunger Games, which seems to be the one that followed after Twilight and Harry Potter, of course, seemed to start the craze.
So, next can you describe your writing process and how it applied to your work on Magic Beyond Words?
TC: Well, when we worked with the producers, Jeffrey and I did a long treatment on what we wanted to do, and then we redid the treatment and then we redid it again. And, working with these producers, who were very good to us, they were very specific about what they wanted and how they wanted to achieve it. They gave wonderful notes, which are an incredible thing for a writer, because they knew what they wanted and we just had to give it to them in a way that made sense. So, if they said they wanted a certain thing a certain way, we went back and made certain it happened that way. Because dealing with a real person and a real biography, you have to stay as close to the truth as possible. And, you can take some literary license, but you don’t want to go overboard and you don’t want to make things up.
BD: The last thing I imagine you want is the person you’re writing the story about to be like, “That’s not my life! What’re you talking about?”
TC: J.K. Rowling is a very private person. She gives interviews, but she’s very, very tight with her personal information.
BD: So, it’s sort of difficult to find?
TC: Yeah. We did a lot of research. We went through a lot of English and Scottish newspapers. We read not only the book that was optioned, but several other books as well, just to make sure all the facts jived together. So, we were very careful and documented everything we put in the movie.
BD: Poppy Montgomery (Without a Trace) gives a great portrayal of author J.K. Rowling in the film. Were you excited to have her cast in the lead?
TC: I was. I hadn’t seen a lot of the stuff she had done before, but when I told people about it, they were overjoyed. So, I went back and looked over some of her work and she was incredible. She played Marilyn Monroe in one of her earlier movies and got massive acclaim for that. So, I was looking at it as we have a lot of pedigree with this project now with her attached.
BD: It’s always nice to have an actor that carries the emotional arc for the lead, and she’s definitely someone who delivers on that level.
TC: Yeah, she did a lot of work beforehand in developing the character, because, even though it’s a real character, it has to be a character that the audience can relate to. So, she worked with her drama coach to determine the best way to get this across, because they didn’t want to betray the strength that J.K. Rowling has and the strength we tried to write into her throughout the course of the script.
BD: I understand that you also got to be on set for the production. Do you have any favorite stories or experiences you could share?
TC: Well, I went up for a week of the shoot. It was a three-week shoot and I went up for a week of it and it was incredible. Everyone was incredibly polite and wonderful. We got complimented right and left for the script, which is wonderful! Working with the actors - I didn’t get to work with them, but I got to watch the directors work with them. But, I got to talk with them and find out what they liked about it and if they had questions. It was wonderful to see how the words we wrote come to life in their mouths.
BD: Yeah, I imagine it’s one of those things you’ll always remember as a writer, cause you think back to when you were writing that line and now, to see if fully set up, they’re shooting the cameras, the actor’s saying the piece. You’re seeing it all come together and that must be an incredible experience.
TC: Yeah, especially when you have a talented actress delivering those lines. You sit there and think, “That’s exactly how I wanted that to come out. She nailed it!”
BD: Right. Were there any major hurdles in getting Magic Beyond Words made?
TC: I think the biggest obstacle was time. We were hired to write the project back in 2004. We wrote it for a network and the network stopped making TV movies right after we finished it. So, our producers basically took the project out and tried to sell it around town for several years. Every time a new book or movie came out, they’d bring it out again to try and generate interest in it. Luckily for us, the producers managed to interest Lifetime with the fact that the final movie was about to come out. So, we had a very tight shoot once the decided to green light it, and it came out about a week before the movie came out. So, they fought to make that deadline.
BD: Perfect timing, though!
TC: Incredibly perfect timing!
BD: Did you have any initial concepts for the film that just didn't work or ended up completely different than you had first planned?
TC: No. The production was actually very faithful to what we imagined. It was very close. Any changes that were made were made before the camera started rolling. Because, on a set like that, time is money. So, we had to make sure it was as concrete and stable as could be before the first camera rolled. So, any changes happened before production started.
BD: I assume that’s another great thing to hear as a writer. You kind of know what’s coming around the bend.
TC: Yeah. There were no big surprises.
BD: Let's make the assumption that you're a fan of J. K. Rowling. Who would you say your other writing idols or influences are?
TC: Definitely Ray Bradbury. Stephen King. Harlan Ellison. Pat Conroy who wrote Prince of Tides. Neil Gaiman. Neil Gaiman writes with an incredible sense of wonder and fantasy, and he makes reality seem incredible.
BD: Do you find yourself attracted more typically to fantasy or mystical-type stories?
TC: I like things that are more magic-realism. My favorite book right now is this great book called Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. It’s just a story about magic and youth and regret and love that just knocks me away every time I read it. And, I’ve probably read it over a dozen times now. I’ve given it out as gifts to over a dozen people and I’ve not heard one complaint yet. So, I think that’s what I’m drawn to.
BD: I’ll have to check that one out. Alright, confession time! If you went to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which house would you want to be in and why?
TC: Oh, God, I’m afraid I’d be a squib. I’d love to be in Gryffindor, but I’d probably be in Ravenclaw.
BD: Ok. That’s a fair answer. Great creators usually have great taste! Once our viewers finish watching Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story, what other "magical" entertainment would you recommend? Any favorite books, comics, movies?
TC: Well, I’d recommend, like I said, Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. But, I’d also recommend a new comic book out by DC called All-Star Western. I’ve read the first issue and it’s just incredible. And, I just love how they’re making it a precursor to what becomes Gotham City and the Batman series a hundred years later.
BD: Right. If people haven’t checked this one out, it’s actually a story involving Jonah Hex who had, yes, a horrible movie recently, but he’s a good character. A western-based character. He comes to Gotham City’s roots, you could say, and has to deal with a Jack the Ripper-type killer on the loose. So, you see a lot of interesting things calling back to the Batman series. I’d agree with you, that’s a fantastic comic and people should check it out.
TC: I’d also recommend George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I just finished reading book five, and all I can say is, don’t get attached to all the characters!
BD: That’s what everyone tells you! If you’re a George R.R. Martin fan, that seems to be-
TC: - that’s the mantra.
BD: It’s not “Winter is coming,” it’s “Don’t fall in love with any characters.” Alright, so what's in store next for Tony Caballero? Any upcoming projects you'd like to tease us about?
TC: I’m currently working on an audio drama with some friends of The Hunger Games. It’s called The Katniss Chronicles, and you can find it at www.thekatnisschronicles.com, and it’s going to be a weekly serial drama that will end approximately a week before the movie comes out in March. And, it’s an incredible adventure to work with these people and to work in this different genre, a different style than I’ve ever worked in before.
BD: That’s cool. You get something completely new, something similar to Magic Beyond Words, something again connected to a novelization. Is there anywhere else people should look to get more information or a copy of Magic Beyond Words?
TC: The DVD comes out November 7th. And, you can find it on Amazon.com.
BD: Well, Tony, thanks again for taking the time to speak with me today.
TC: Thank you, Bryant.
BD: That wraps things up! All you fanboys and fangirls out there be sure to pick up a copy of Magic Beyond Words: The J.K. Rowling Story which is available on Amazon.com or Mylifetime.com. This has been Bryant Dillon for Fanboy Comics. You can find this interview and more like it at fanboycomics.net.