Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor-in-Chief
Official Description: John Green, author of the beloved bestselling novel Paper Towns, discusses the film adaptation with cast members Nat Wolff and Justice Smith, screenwriter Michael H. Weber, and composer Ryan Lott of Son Lux. Moderated by Kathleen Heaney (@webgirlkathleen) from Elvis Duran and the Morning Show.
The moderator for the panel was introduce first: Kathleen Heaney to applause from the audience. She welcomed everyone to the panel and asked who read the book. Most of the people in the audience read it and they then rolled the original trailer for John Green’s Paper Towns. The rest of the panel then came out to thunderous applause, especially John Green. Other panelists included: Jake Schreier, Michael H. Weber, Nat Wolff, Justice Smith, and Ryan Lott of Son Lux.
Heaney: John, you wear so many hats. How is filming Paper Towns different than the Fault in Our Stars?
Green: It’s different because TFIOS was pretty sad. So it was a lovely place to be to go every morning, but it was also extremely sad. Every day. Relentlessly and physically painful sadness. This was very different. The movie has sad moments, but also romantic and funny ones. A lot of other stuff happens. There was so much laughter. I love watching Justice and Nat talking to each other, but I was a little annoyed with them because they’re like… children.
I’ve noticed a few differences in the trailer from the book. This is a question for Michael–how do you decide when you’re writing a screenplay?
Weber: You can never use the entire book. You have to make choices the preserve the spirit of the book. We knew John already, so we had him as a resource. We talked to him more this time around as we made some strategic changes. It’s a balancing act and a process. It keeps evolving and keeps getting better.
Wolff: I think people get hung up on little details. But we try to give people that feeling they got when they read the book when they watch the movie.
John, are you involved in the screenwriting process?
Green: I’m more prone to tell them to make it less like the book. I don’t feel an ownership of the book, I guess. I just want it to be a good story and capture the themes. It’s hard to make a movie about how bad young men are at imagining young women. We do girls a disservice by putting them on this pedestal and romanticize them.
Jake, let’s talk about this amazing cast. What were you looking for?
Schreier: I think people who could handle the different tones of the movie. The cast of the movie is incredible and I can’t wait for you all to see them in this movie. Everyone sort of fell into their character. I think all six of them are such great actors.
Green: I felt like everybody taught me something about their characters.
Schreier: Nat was already attached to the project before I came on as director, and I watched Palo Alto and thought did a great job. I just got lucky from the start.
Nat, you are so fabulous. I was a huge fan in The Fault of Our Stars. What is it about John’s energy that keeps you coming back for more?
Wolff: I like Paper Towns the most out of all of John’s books. I think I won the lottery for getting to work with these guys. Weber did a great job making the movie give the same experience that you’d read the book. I’m just lucky to be the guy in the most scenes. I was on set of TFIOS and one of the producers told me I should read Paper Towns and called me a couple months later to play the lead.
What was your favorite part about playing Quinten?
Wolff: Interacting with the rest of the cast!
Justice, you’re essentially new to the movie scene. What is the center of Justice? What makes you tic? What’s your favorite ice cream flavor?
Smith: Definitely mint and chip. I just love dairy. I love cheese.
Green: I was really nervous about this whole thing when it started. I sat down and before the first take, Justice had to do some stuff before his girlfriend called. He was doing actual chemistry–like actual high school chemistry just for fun, and I was like ‘Oh, we’re going to be fine!’
Ryan, when will the soundtrack come out?
Lott: June 16th!
How did you accurately portray these characters musically?
Lott: I didn’t read the book first. I think a successful adaptation stands alone, and my job was to score the film. I only had sneak peeks originally of the film and I started scoring right away to that. I only saw a rough cut. Right away, I felt like the performances were so strong and the casting was so strong. There wasn’t really a discovery period–I feel like I got it. Margot’s theme is whimsical, yeah, but it ultimately takes a direction towards the melancholy.
Michael, where did you get started in the adaptation?
Weber: We literally and figuratively take apart the book. We study the different parts. We get a print up of the book to write all over it. In the case of Paper Towns, it’s a couple of genres in one book. It was trying to find the right balance in those parts that we found the most challenge. There was a lot of trial and error. Scott and I are fans first and we wanted to stay true to the book. You’re always tinkering and playing with lines and moments. I think the framework was pretty much in place once we started shooting, but we were always tweaking.
Schrier: That’s one of the great parts of John Green being on set. We’re handicapped. John has this amazing voice as a writer, but we have to approach it differently. When you’re there on set and all John wants is it to be a little funnier.
Speaking of another funny actor. John, I heard you had a roll in The Fault in Our Stars that got cut. Jake, can you confirm?
Schrier: I think I can now confirm that John Green will officially be in the film!
Green: I feel like I had a useable performance. I’m so excited!
John, can you talk about the themes of the book?
Green: I think Q figures out that Margot isn’t his miracle. I think it’s unfair to ask Margot to be all these things at once for him and live up to these expectations that he’s built. There was an incredibly powerful moment where Q says, “I love you.” And Margot says, “What? You don’t even know me.” When you see the story from Q’s perspective, it seems pretty reasonable, but when you zoom out it’s unrealistic. The way Cara said that in the audition, I tears up. I think Q realizes his miracle isn’t just a person or people.
Wolff: I think the miracle, in a convoluted way, really is Margot, because she teaches him that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. You’re always searching for something without realizing it’s been right beside you the entire time.
Green: And I don’t think romantic love is the only love that matters.
Nat, could you date a girl like Margot?
Wolff: For the first half of the movie, Q thinks he’s going to date this girl. I could probably date the girl at the end of the book, the one that I know better. But in that night out, I don’t think either of them know each other.
They then played the ninja scene for the audience. Margot and Q are breaking into the house during the trailer. Margot convinces Q to put Nair on Chuck’s eyebrows.
How was composing for a movie different than an album?
Lott: In film, it’s sometimes more rewarding because you’re doing something bigger. Everything you do is in service to the movie, whereas in an album you can follow your whims.
Heaney posed a series of rapid fire questions to the panelists. Several were humorous in nature, such as what would you invent if given the chance. The cast and crew have obviously bonded, as they have a great chemistry in bouncing off of each other for laughs. They then turned it over to fan Q&A.
John, I watched your keynote speech at VidCon and how much of the content is put out for the community. With Paper Towns, what are some important aspects that helped the Paper Towns community flourish?
Green: Definitely Jake. He got them there early to form a really intense bond before shooting started. That was probably the most important thing once I showed up.
Schrier: I don’t think I’ve ever been in a project where literally everyone was in it for the right reasons. The producer cared about the book and John wanted it to be distinct from the book. Everyone wanted to make it be the best possible movie that could live up to John’s book. I don’t think it’s hard when it’s done like that.
We see in Paper Towns that Q has this flawed version of Margot in his head. Do you dislike it when people take quotes of Q’s perspective and attribute them to you personally?
Green: It does bother me a lot. I also think books do belong to their readers. Any time I’m trying to impose ownership of the story, I’m not doing the readers any favors. So I have to try and let that go, but I don’t always do a good job of that.
What was something you learned from filming?
Green: I guess the best example… the character Angela is better in the movie than in the book, because the actress brought that character to life so much. That’s the best example. But also, Lacy–the actress did a great job who took this girl you think you know and then she bauble-matizes a lot of those ideas.