Writing Romance: The Choice

An inspiring love story about the unexpected choices

With his latest film, The Choice, internationally best-selling author and literary superstar Nicholas Sparks returns to his beloved North Carolina roots for an inspiring love story about the unexpected choices, large and small, that come to define a lifetime.

The Choice, the 11th film based on Sparks’ work, challenges audiences to consider what they would do for a chance at a lifetime of love, as they watch Travis Shaw and Gabby Holland journey from the first disorienting flush of passion through an unexpected courtship that evolves into marriage and a family.

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The Choice chronicles the power of love from a young couple’s rocky first meeting to a life-long romance that will be tested as their lives take a turn that neither of them ever anticipated.

When feisty medical student Gabby Holland (Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies, I Am Number Four) moves in next door to perennial ladies’ man Travis Shaw (Benjamin Walker (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, In the Heart of the Sea) , they embark on a surprising romantic journey neither imagined possible. Travis has always believed a serious relationship would cramp his easygoing lifestyle, while Gabby is preparing to settle down with her long-term boyfriend—until an irresistible attraction between the unlikely couple upends both of their well-planned lives. Spanning a decade and tracing the evolution of a love affair that is ultimately tested by life’s most defining events, this story features a memorable ensemble of friends and family in Sparks’s beloved North Carolina setting, culminating with the question that every couple must ask themselves:  how far would you go to keep the hope of love alive?

Nicholas Sparks

Nicholas Sparks [Producer, Novel] is one of the world’s most beloved storytellers. All of his books have been New York Times bestsellers, with over 100 million copies sold worldwide, in more than 50 languages, including over 65 million copies in the United States alone. Sparks wrote one of his best-known stories, The Notebook, over a period of six months at age 28. The Choice is Sparks’s eleventh film adaptation. Including this year’s The Longest Ride, along with The Best of Me, Safe Haven, The Lucky One, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song, adaptations of Nicholas Sparks novels have a cumulative worldwide gross of over three-quarters of a billion dollars. In 2012, Sparks and his publishing agent and creative partner Theresa Park, launched Nicholas Sparks Productions, with Park as President of Production. Sparks and Theresa Park partnered with Peter Safran to produce and finance the film. A film version of The Guardian is also in development, as is a film based on football hall of famer Gayle Sayers’s life and memoir. Not only a film, but also a television production company, NSP currently has an exclusive overall deal with Warner Bros. Television and is developing a new slate of projects including a musical series, several comedies, a dark family cable drama, and a Young Adult book series for ABC Family. Most recently, the CW Network announced that it is developing a series based on Sparks’s bestselling 1996 novel (and the 2004 New Line sleeper hit film) The Notebook. The project is a Nicholas Sparks Productions in association with Warner Bros. Television. Sparks will serve as an executive producer on the project along with Theresa Park. Todd Graff is the writer and executive producer. Sparks lives in North Carolina. He contributes to a variety of local and national charities, and is a major contributor to the Creative Writing Program (MFA) at the University of Notre Dame, where he provides scholarships, internships, and a fellowship annually. He co-founded The Epiphany School in New Bern, North Carolina in 2006. As a former full scholarship athlete (he still holds a track and field record at the University of Notre Dame) he also spent four years coaching track and field athletes at the local public high school. In 2009, the team he coached at New Bern High School set a World Junior Indoor Record in the 4 x400 meter, in New York. The record still stands. The Nicholas Sparks Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit committed to improving cultural and international understanding through global education experiences for students of all ages, was launched in 2011. Between the foundation, and the personal gifts of the Sparks family, more than $15 million dollars have been distributed to deserving charities, scholarship programs, and projects. Because the Sparks family covers all operational expenses of the foundation, 100% of donations are devoted to programs.

One of the world’s most popular storytellers, Sparks has topped the New York Times bestseller list since 1996 when his first novel, The Notebook, became a runaway hit. Since then, his books have sold over 100 million copies worldwide and have been translated into more than 50 languages.

Touching, emotional and deeply affecting, his books have also become the basis for a series of hugely successful movies including this year’s The Longest Ride, as well as The Best of Me, Safe Haven, The Lucky One, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, Nights in Rodanthe, Dear John and The Last Song. To date, films based on Sparks’ inspirational stories have grossed over three-quarters of a billion dollars and have helped launch the film careers of a generation of young actors, including Channing Tatum, Ryan Gosling, Mandy Moore, Rachel McAdams, Zac Efron and Amanda Seyfried.

“The Choice may remind people of my very first novel, The Notebook,” says Sparks. “A couple comes together and we watch their lives unfold. We see what eventually happens between them and the choices they make. Watching it, you may think the title refers to a choice that occurs early on, but there are plenty of twists and turns that make the story even more memorable and profound.”

Nicholas Sparks Productions, launched in 2012 with Theresa Park, Spark’s longtime literary agent and creative partner, oversaw the making of The Choice, the company’s first feature film. “This is one of my favorites of Nick’s books,” says Park. “It’s among the most joyful, devastating and redeeming. Our goal is to capture the lives of these wonderful characters in a way that is less idealized and more grounded in real life. As always, there is an aspirational quality to this film, but in a way that feels very real and very attainable — you feel like this could happen to you.”

Working with Sparks, the master of old-fashioned romance, on a fresh, new look at the beloved genre brought producer Peter Safran into the fold. “There are never enough good love stories out there,” says Safran. “We deal with time-honored themes in the way that only Nicholas Sparks can. Nick taps into feelings that we all experience, which is what I love about his work. He’s wonderful at creating compelling situations in which two people you want to be together have to overcome almost impossible hurdles. The Choice takes all of that to the next level.”

Making a film outside the studio system gave them the opportunity to elevate the genre, Safran explains. “There have been some wonderful films made from Nick’s work, but we didn’t want to do the exact same thing again. This movie feels completely current. I love romantic comedies, so I wanted to approach The Choice with heartfelt humor, as well as passion and pathos.”

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Bryan Sipe’s [Screenwriter] most recent feature film credit includes Demolition directed by Jean-Marc Vallee. Sipe is currently working on an adaptation of the Nicholas Sparks novel The Guardian. The New Jersey-born screenwriter attended college at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington before dropping out a few credits shy of graduation to begin his practical education as a filmmaker. At 21 years old, he co-wrote and directed his first feature, A Million Miles, taking it to film festivals around the country, ultimately landing and staying in Los Angeles. Sipes’ screenplay for Demolition was selected for the much-coveted Black List and soon after his spec pilot for Americano sold to NBC with Parkes/MacDonald producing. That working relationship would continue with Walter Parkes, an award-winning producer, becoming a mentor. Parkes next hired him to write the remake of the Hitchcock classic The Man Who Knew Too Much for Paramount. Next came another spec pilot, Valentine, that Sipe sold to HBO with Parkes/MacDonald producing and Kevin Bacon attached to star.

With that in mind, the filmmakers brought in Bryan Sipe, a young screenwriter whose recent romantic comedy, Demolition, debuted at the 2015 Toronto Film Festival. The New York-based, North Carolina-educated writer brought a contemporary perspective, as well as an ear for crisp and fresh dialogue, while shining a brighter light on the supporting characters.

“It became important to me to create a world around Travis and Gabby, while I stayed true to the original characters and themes,” he says. “So I gave Travis’s family and close circle of friends more prominence as a way to share some of his history and show the world he comes from. I knew if I got that right, the fans would follow.”

Sparks and his fellow producers were fully supportive of Sipe’s ideas. “When you’re adapting a novel for the screen, there are always changes that need to be made,” the author says. “Bryan gave us a reason to assemble a fantastic ensemble cast, but the essence of the story remains, which is the best of both worlds.”

Sipe says he prefers writing scripts in which the most impressive pyrotechnics come from human emotion rather than big-ticket special effects. “And what is more quintessentially human than falling in love? As I got to know Gabby and Travis, I began to look forward to spending the day with them and watching their love grow. But this kind of relationship works best the longer you keep them apart and the more obstacles they have to overcome, so I couldn’t make things too easy for them.”

The producers agree that Sipe’s adaptation added depth to the original story. “The screenplay is genuinely funny,” says Safran. “The second act is hot and sexy as Travis and Gabby discover this irresistible attraction. And then the third act is really intense drama. Throughout, you have two people falling in love and making the difficult choices that can go along with that. Every step of the way, it feels real.”

The producer continues, “Nick and I were both really blown away by the job he did. He turned this into a much more of an ensemble piece with a younger, hipper feel. He stayed true to the characters and what draws them together, while adding tension, humor, romance and passion.”

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Ross Katz [Director] is an award-winning film and television producer whose transition into directing has garnered him additional accolades and critical acclaim. Katz made his directorial debut in 2009 with the HBO drama Taking Chance. His sophomore effort, the feature comedy Adult Beginners opened at the 2104 Toronto International Film Festival to tremendous reviews and was recently released in Spring 2015.

The priority for choosing a director, Sparks says, was finding someone with a vision for the film that matched the potential that he and his fellow producers saw, as well as the experience to realize that vision. They found that and more in Oscar® nominee Ross Katz (Best Picture, In the Bedroom, 2001; Best Picture, Lost in Translation, 2003), he says. “He brings North Carolina alive. He’s great with actors. In his hands, it’s immediately obvious why Gabby will risk everything for Travis and at the same time you can see why Travis can’t pull himself away from her.”

After a lengthy career as a producer of films, Katz began directing, taking on projects as diverse as the emotional HBO drama Taking Chance to the romantic comedy Adult Beginners.

Katz first learned about The Choice when his agent called and told him to stop whatever he was doing and read the script immediately. “There was so much about it that was surprising, in the best possible way,” the director says. “I was laughing out loud as I read it. The Choice has all the things that Nicholas Sparks fans look for, including a really fun courtship, but I didn’t expect it to be so funny. And then it became sexy and romantic and ultimately very poignant. It is refreshing and surprising. Even people who don’t already love Nicholas’ books are going to be intrigued and satisfied.

 

Choice“It’s a story that reminds you to always follow your heart,” the director says. “Life is a series of choices and each small decision could have a tremendous effect. I hope that people see themselves and their journeys toward finding a partner, friendships and commitment.”

The audience can look forward to a story well told, says Sparks. “People will be delighted by the humor, by the visual beauty of the movie and by the explosive chemistry between our stars, Ben Walker and Teresa Palmer. I think that this film does an extraordinary job of moving through all the emotions that make up a full life.”

Anyone looking for a perfect date movie should look no farther than The Choice, says Safran. “This a film for anybody who has ever fallen in love or even dreamed of falling in love. Whether you’re watching Gabby and Travis spend their first day together on his boat with all of his friends or the two of them alone on the porch talking about what they believe, there’s so much joy on the screen.

“The Choice is an especially beautiful love story about real characters and real situations,” he adds. “In the midst of watching Gabby and Travis transformed by their love, we are reminded that life ultimately comes down to the choices we all make, large and small. I thought it was an inspiring book and we’re proud to have turned it into a movie that does it justice.”