TV Shows

Cassandra Clare opens up about the film and TV adaptations of her SHADOWHUNTERS books

Cassandra Clare shared the frustration and triumph of having her SHADOWHUNTERS world on both the big and small screen.

Cassandra Clare, bestselling YA author of The Mortal Instruments series, revealed some interesting details about having her books optioned for screen and the challenges that came afterward, including how much she was involved in the process for both the movie (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) and the TV version (Shadowhunters) of her books.

Some of this information is pretty much on par for what we think about Hollywood when they option a much-loved book, especially when that book is labeled as “young adult.” But she did reveal some details that was a little eye-opening in regards to how much more the filmmakers/showrunners wanted changed from the story to the characters.

The cast of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (via Just Jared Jr.)

The film option for the series happened first. When was that?
The Mortal Instruments was optioned in 2009—a very basic option and a boilerplate contract. I never thought it would come to anything, but they continued to renew the option and as the books became more successful in their own right, there was a definite push forward to make the film. They started seriously moving forward in about 2011, with casting in 2012, and the movie was released in 2013.

And how did Shadowhunters, the TV version, come about?
Well, Constantin Films made the movie, but it didn’t make the money they wanted, so they didn’t plan a second one. But they still owned the option on film and TV for the Shadowhunters world, and they felt they had really missed an opportunity. They looked at the book sales worldwide and they thought, there’s an audience there we really didn’t reach. So they decided to try to reach that audience with a television show, and they had a lot of interest from different channels looking to develop with them. In the end they went with ABC Family, now Freeform.

How do you feel about your stories being translated this way?
Unless you’re able to get a really rare and stellar contract, it’s not up to you whether you have any input into a show or movie made from your work. So it’s been, I guess, an exercise in letting go—but no matter how much you let go, you can’t turn off all your feelings. You still care, more than anyone else in the world, about this story and characters. And you still answer to your fans. It’s always hard when people ask me, “How could you let such and such happen or be changed” in the movies or show, and the answer “it’s just not up to me in any way” is a hard one to give.

The cast of Freeform’s Shadowhunters (via Getty Images)

So, mixed feelings?
My experience has definitely ricocheted around. Changes are always going to be necessary in order to translate books to film. I think if you’re lucky you get a team who makes changes that honor the spirit of the books, that continue to communicate the story, and that preserve the characters. Outlander and Game of Thrones come to mind as adaptations that do that successfully. I remember being on the phone with a director who wanted to reimagine the whole idea of demon fighters as counterterrorist operatives and they would all be in their late forties. Eventually you wonder why not just make all the characters ice-cream cones? They could be fighting the evil effects of lack of refrigeration.

Cassandra was involved with the casting for the show, for at least one of the major characters, but after that, things changed.

How so?
I wrote notes, the kind of notes I’d write on another author’s book. Some good and some critical like: “This isn’t working,” “maybe this isn’t a good idea,” etc. After they received my notes they made clear to me something I hadn’t realized before, which was that their target audience was older and male—specifically the 18–35 male demographic. Which is very different from the book audience, and the audience I’d been thinking of, many of whom are young women and girls, of say, 14 to any age. The idea was that the show should be Batman and not The Hunger Games. So a lot of elements meant to attract men were introduced—technology and computers—and there were a lot of scenes with “sexy” women, a good portion of whom were bloodily murdered. For a long time the “steles,” the magical tools used to make runes, were turned into Mont Blanc pens because they wanted a merchandise deal with Mont Blanc, but that didn’t work out.

Mont Blanc pens?! Did they have such things in 1234?

So there was definitely a disconnect from the books at first, which must have been hard.
That introduced a lot of confusion for me—what do you do with a show based on your books that isn’t being written for the people who like your books? And of course, it’s Hollywood, where people say pretty shockingly racist, misogynist, and homophobic things to you constantly. People involved in the first season, who are now gone from the show (people know the showrunner left, but not that many of the writers, crew, and even execs also left—basically a whole team left) described a female character of mine to me as “just tits and ass” and told me no one wanted to see a gay character onscreen with a man so a woman would be introduced for him to spend most of his time with. She was described to me as his “soulmate.” And yet, whenever I was tempted to step away, I remembered that I had been able to make some positive changes to the pilot and the direction of the show. Some of the scenes of murdered women were removed or changed. A scene where the hero touches the heroine intimately while she’s passed out was removed.

But that was at the beginning, too. Eventually I realized that having had that impact, I wouldn’t be able to have any more impact. But all that changed when the showrunner left and that whole team left, too, so this second season is a different thing altogether.

She had visited with first season showrunner Ed Decter many times and had visited once for the second season, meeting up with the current showrunners, and explained what the show has done for the fans of the books.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from readers?
The show has created a very divided fandom. In its first season especially, it diverged a great deal from the source material, which always creates conflict. The book fans and show fans are pretty separate. But the new showrunners and I would like that to change, we’d like to bring them together, so we have to see how season 2 goes. When I do run into show fans, though, the questions are mostly about whether scenes and plotlines from the books will show up in later seasons—asking about Sebastian is the most popular question. They look very closely for “easter eggs” in the show—mentions of plot points and characters from the books or bits of dialogue.

While Cassandra admits that the show didn’t feel right to her in the first season (not through any fault of the actors), but she’s optimistic about the second season, which she finds much darker than her books were, and she’s really interested in seeing where they take it.

Read the whole interview at BN Teen Blog.

Cassandra Clare’s next book for the Shadowhunter Chronicles is Lord of Shadows, which you can pre-order now.

By Kait

Kait is a New Englander, a YA book and adaptation lover, and a Slythindor, as well as a red velvet and red wine enthusiast. She likes to like things. Catch her on Twitter: @kaitmary