Jeanne Ryan Discusses Her Debut Novel Nerve’s Journey from Page to Screen

Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette, Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, Jeanne Ryan, and Jeanne's husband at the Nerve premiere

Agent Ammi-Joan Paquette, Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, author Jeanne Ryan, and Ryan’s husband at the Nerve premiere

Young adult novels have been attracting Hollywood’s attention since before the category existed (The Outsiders, anyone?), and in recent years, many of the most successful box office hits and the buzziest television series have come directly from the YA shelves. Page to Screen is a series in which authors whose novels have been adapted for film share their unique perspectives on the process. Some have little to no involvement, others are writing scripts and sitting in monogrammed chairs on set, but all have experienced seeing their work in a new way. 

Up first, Jeanne Ryan talks about how her debut YA novel, Nerve, became a major feature film.

Nerve is about a girl named Vee who’s chosen to play in a game of online dares. She’s paired with hot guy Ian and tempted with prizes she covets, and at first she’s fully on board. But as the dares get riskier and the game takes an ominous twist, Vee wonders just how much is at stake.

Can’t you just see this onscreen with a killer soundtrack and lots of action? So could Hollywood. Nerve the movie opened in theaters in late July, starring Emma Roberts, Dave Franco, and Juliette Lewis. We talked to Jeanne about how the cool concept she came up with in a coffee shop went from page to screen.

When did the idea of adapting Nerve into a movie first come to your attention?
Lionsgate inquired about the screen rights the day before the book was released in September 2012. My literary agency has an agreement with a group in LA that manages these rights, so that’s how it got to the right people.

What was the first step in the process, and were you crazy excited or trying to keep expectations realistic?
First, they optioned the book, which basically means that for a set period of time no one else could purchase the screen rights. During that time, I spoke with one of the producers, Allison Shearmur (Catching Fire, Cinderella), and her team hired a screenwriter, Jessica Sharzer (American Horror Story), to produce a script. The initial discussion with Shearmur was about the book’s themes: ubiquitous use of phones/social media, eroding of privacy, consumption of reality programming. Beyond the timeliness of the premise, one additional selling point seemed to be that because it was a contemporary story without the need for elaborate world-building, it would be less expensive to produce.

All the while, my film rights manager often reminded me there were a thousand things that could derail a film, so I should keep my hopes in check.

Can we talk money? How does the financial part work for authors?
Yes. There is some money paid up front for the option. From what I understand, this is usually less than paying for the actual rights, since very few books that are optioned make the full journey to screen. Once the film was green lit for production, I received payment for the screen rights.

When did the project progress to the point where you thought, “Hey, this may really happen!”?
It’s weird, I simultaneously thought, “Oh, this will never happen” (see above, for keeping hopes in check), yet tried to visualize, “Of course, it’ll happen,” because I’m a firm believer in dreaming big.

Were you involved with the script or casting decisions?
I saw an early version of the script, but was not involved in the production. The studio sent a few updates along the way about casting and such but it was FYI only.

These things can take a while. What was the timeline from initial option to opening weekend?
First contact from the studio was in September 2012, with a contract in place by the following summer. The directors were announced in early 2014, and the lead actors were announced in early 2015, shortly after the film got the green light. Filming began in April 2015 and wrapped in June. The film is out now, as of July 27. From what I hear, this was an extremely fast process as far as book to film adaptations go.

You went to the set! What was that like?
The set visit was super fun! My family spent an afternoon watching them film a fight scene between the main character Vee and her best friend, Sydney. That night we watched them film one of the ladder scenes (I won’t spoil this with details). Since the filming schedule was near an end, the directors showed us dailies from many of the key locations. I also had a chance to meet the producers, as well as the actors playing the lead roles. I was introduced as the writer, and I learned that at least one of the directors was as big a fan of the show Black Mirror as I am. (Seriously, brilliant writing that dares to go where most other programs wouldn’t.) Everyone was very welcoming and the energy on set was palpable.

Can you tell us about the moment you first screened the full movie?
The premiere, scheduled a couple of weeks before the national release, was held at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. And the “red” carpet in this case was bright blue. I attended with my family, literary agent, editors, and “Team Nerve” from my publisher. It was surreal to say the least, seeing this idea I’d developed while sitting in a coffee shop now brought to neon life on screen.

My family and the publishing team cheered with gusto and, yes, we have pictures of my name onscreen. I sat there kind of stunned as my credit came up. The most conspicuous display, though, was when I went to see the film later with a bunch of writer friends back home. They announced to the audience that I’d written the book and got everyone clapping until I stood up. (They also informed the custodial staff, the hostesses at the restaurant we visited afterward, the server…).

As luck would have it, the movie opened in theaters during a family reunion, which was held in, believe it or not, Dare County. Seeing the movie on opening day with my extended family was such a fantastic experience.

How is the movie different from the book?
The movie kept the characters and premise, but changed the setting from Seattle to New York and created a new series of dares. As a storyteller watching the film, I could track the plot points of the book for the first two-thirds, but they came up with a new third act. Although the book is my baby, enough time had passed for me to approach seeing the film adaptation with curiosity more than anything else. Creatively, I found it fun to compare the differences and think about the reasons behind them. In my opinion, they created an edge-of-your-seat experience with stunning visuals and an amazing soundtrack. (I’ll be seeing it for the fifth time tonight.)

Honestly, I’m still in somewhat of a state of disbelief. I think of this whole occurrence as lightning striking, something you can never really predict or prepare for. This summer has been an amazing ride and I’m grateful for every bit of it.

Has the movie helped the book reach more readers and fast-tracked your career?
There’s a new paperback version out, which features the movie on its cover. (Aside from a few tiny fixes, it’s the same text as the hardcover.) The movie has absolutely helped sales! Nerve hit #1 on the Indie Booksellers YA list, and #2 on the NYT Bestsellers YA paperback list. We’ve sold the foreign rights to 20 countries, and about half of those sold before the movie announcement, but half came shortly afterward.

My second book, Charisma, hasn’t been optioned (yet!). As for a next deal, my agent (Ammi-Joan Paquette) is always attuned to and helping me seek opportunities. Stay tuned.

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