One True Loves – Adapting Your Bestselling Novel Into A Screenplay

Not only is the story of One True Loves an original look at a woman’s difficult reckoning between her past and present life and emotions, the adaptation was unusual in that Taylor Jenkins Reid adapted her own story, working with her husband, Alex.

“The joy of having a writer who created the words originally, and who was now creating a new story and coming up with things that they got excited about — maybe things even that weren’t necessarily in the book — was great,” says director Andy Fickman.

“It sometimes can be challenging when someone has written 300 beautiful pages of prose and then they need to turn it into a screenplay, because every word naturally becomes precious. But Taylor was so
not that way. She and Alex wanted to write it as a film, and so they just dove right in.”

“In terms of what changed in bringing One True Loves from book to film, the biggest thing is its structure,” says Taylor Jenkins Reid. “The book is about 50/50 in terms of spending time in the past, and time in the present. With the film, though, we wanted it to be firmly rooted in the present. So, one challenge was finding a way to show what has happened in the past in a compelling way, without actually narratively spending as much time there.”

Says Alex J. Reid, “I’ve been fortunate enough to have adapted several books. But usually, I don’t have the benefit of adapting a book with its author — who in this case is also my wife! So here, the deck was stacked. If I had a question, Taylor had the answer; if a scene presented a particular challenge to me, Taylor knew how to execute it.”

Adds Taylor Jenkins Reid, “To me, the most fun part of an adaptation is the idea of, how do you tell the same story in a different medium — and how do you make it a companion to the book and not just a copy? Any book is a challenge to adapt, but because I’d written the novel in the first person, and we were set on not using any voiceover in the movie, it was an extra challenge to make sure we showed the full scope of Emma’s dilemma: She’s lived a big life with a lot of events that have changed her, slowly, over time. And we wanted to find a way to show that and all of her, and how much she had grown.”

“I’m a longtime fan of Taylor’s, and this one is my favorite of all her books. Getting to bring it to the big screen was such a treat. And having her adapt it — and with her husband, Alex — was a dream come true for a fangirl like me!,” says producer Betsy Sullenger. “There’s an elegance to Taylor’s storytelling that I always get lost in, and the way she unfolds Emma’s story is so captivating that I was up until 3 a.m. every night until I finished the book – often in tears. Every time I re-read the book, it’s the same experience.”

Sullenger, too, found all of those levels to Emma fascinating and a powerful hook for the screenplay.

“One thing I loved about this story is that ultimately, Emma’s choice has nothing to do with either Jesse or Sam. It’s about herself,” says Sullenger. “What version of herself does Emma want to be? As a woman and a lover of romance stories — which frankly are often about which guy a heroine loves most — that was empowering.”

Says producer Willie Kutner, “I was so touched by Taylor’s words, I couldn’t put the book down. I wanted
to live with all her amazingly nuanced and beautiful characters and follow their journeys. And I didn’t know what Emma should do, who she should end up with. I also liked that there were no villains — just life’s surprises. The book was such a lovely, powerful tale of possible second chances in life, love, and happiness — themes that all positively empower people. Add a romantic conundrum created by circumstance, and all of this was very exciting to bring to the screen.”

“Taylor Jenkins Reid’s book just absolutely blew me away,” says director Andy Fickman. “The minute I read it, I knew I had to bring this rich story and memorable character to life on screen. Is there anything more universal in the world than dealing with love and loss? Our film explores just how wounded our hearts can be at their lowest, and how wonderfully fulfilled they can be at our highest. But what if you were dealing with it all at one time? Love, and loss. What if you were forced to face the heart-wrenching moment in which you are asked the very real question: is it possible to have more than one soulmate in your lifetime?”

Director Andy Fickman with actors Phillipa Soo and Luke Bracey during the filming of One True Loves.

“This was the story I was born to tell. This was the story I needed to tell. This is the movie I was meant to direct. Matters of the heart are complicated, but they affect every human on the planet. We all share those complications – those highs, those lows. We fall down in love and we rise up in love. While the world is full of different cultures and languages…we are all united in matters of the heart. Through humor, drama, charm, tears and heart, our film takes the audience on a picture postcard journey through New England as we explore what it means to love…truly.”

In the film One True Loves, Emma (Phillipa Soo) and Jesse (Luke Bracey) are the perfect couple. High school sweethearts who fell in love, got married and left their small town in Massachusetts, away from family expectations. Together, they live life to the fullest and seize every opportunity to travel the world until their marital bliss is ruthlessly cut short on their first anniversary, when Jesse disappears in a helicopter crash over the Pacific Ocean. Emma is destroyed and moves back to Massachusetts in an effort to mend her life back together. Four years later, Emma runs her family’s bookshop and has grown to like her new life. She runs into her old best friend, Sam (Simu Liu), who has always been secretly in love with her, and they become inseparable. Newly engaged, it feels like Emma’s second chance at happiness is finally here. Until an unexpected phone call changes her world forever again: Jesse is alive! Completely
torn, Emma must now choose between a husband and a fiancé. She knows that she has to listen to her heart; she’s just not sure what it’s saying.

Writing as a team

“We’re different in terms of how we approach writing,” Taylor Jenkins Reid explains. “Alex is good at structure and understanding how to play within genre.” She addresses him: “You’re a craftsman. You can build the house. You don’t actually care what house it is or who it’s for; you just enjoy the process of building the house and any house that Alex made will be perfectly built whereas I am more of, I guess, an architect. I have a vision and I can do that vision. I feel passionate and strongly about it. Everything must be exactly right, but I can only do that thing that I’m interested in. Alex can function within any genre. He can take on any voice whereas I have a much more limited, but intense relationship to it and so I’m deeply neurotic, but I feel like you’re not that neurotic.”

“Taylor is like a sniper,” says Alex Jenkins Reid . “She takes a very long time.”

“A very long time?” she interjects.

“Like to set it up. To set up what you’re doing. She’ll spend a year or two years writing one thing and writing a hundred thousand words, which sounds like hell to me. She will just focus on this one thing. For me, it’s much more of a buckshot thing of like, ‘Cool. You want to do a kids thing? We want to do a thriller? Great.’ I care much more about figuring out [how to put my own unique spin on genre projects]. All of these stories have existed for forever. [I like figuring out] ‘What’s a new way to do it?’” He looks at his wife. “Versus you — you have this story in your heart that you have to tell, and I’m like, ‘Who’s going to pay me?’” 

They laugh.

“Alex is the first person to read anything that I write,” she says. “I always know his notes are going to make it tighter, smarter, stronger, deeper because he’s looking at it structurally. He’ll understand it as how it’s participating within the genre that it’s in and how it can engage with that more and be strengthened by it and I feel like when I read your stuff, which I don’t do as much anymore because you handle all of it on your own so much, but I do feel like I’m able to help you make the character stronger.” 

Taylor Jenkins Reid is a three-time NY Times bestselling author (The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo, Daisy Jones & The Six, Malibu Rising). Her
book Malibu Rising is currently being adapted as a series for Hulu and 20th Television. Her novel Daisy Jones & The Six recently wrapped production as a limited series for Amazon. Additionally, her novel The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo is being adapted as a feature film at
Netflix, with Liz Tigelaar penning the script. Taylor and her husband Alex Jenkins Reid adapted her book One True Loves as a feature film. Her newest novel, Carrie Soto Is Back, was released on August 30th to rave reviews

Alex Jenkins Reid is a character-driven comedy writer who recently wrote a remake of The Great Outdoors for HartBeat and Universal, and his original feature script Divorce Hotel is set up at Paramount with HartBeat producing. Alex and
his wife, Taylor Jenkins Reid, also co-wrote the feature One True Loves based off of Taylor’s novel of the same name.