Olive Kitteridge Adaptation

As part of our participation in the Adaptation CoLab (a CoLab is a UMF experiment that connects several different classes through a shared topic), American Texts and Contexts students read Elizabeth Strout’s  novel Olive Kitteridge (2008) and then watched several episodes of the 2014 HBO mini-series based on the book. The award-winning mini-series starred Frances McDormand, Richard Jenkins, John Gallagher Jr, Zoe Kazan, and Bill Murray. As a contribution to our discussion of this adaptation, student Cameron Gelder interviewed his cousin Riley Fearon, who had worked as a production assistant on the film, about his experience during the production of Oliver Kitteridge:

This is an interview of Riley Fearon, about his first major filming production, Olive Kitteridge. Riley worked as a production assistant, doing errands for the filmmakers to help move things along. He had inside experience regarding the production of the miniseries, detailed in the interview itself. Riley is currently an Editor and Motion Graphics artist at Maverick Productions, LLC, where he helps create promotional films, advertisements, and assists with films and television. He also has his own company, Riley Fearon Productions, where he works on digital production and completes freelance work. Both are based in the Boston area, so the productions Riley works on are usually done in or near Boston.

Cameron Gelder is a Secondary Education-English major, currently in his sophomore year. He’s also Riley’s cousin, which helped facilitate the interview. He wrote the questions himself, and Riley answered accordingly.

 Olive Kitteridge Q & A

What was your job during the production? What did your job entail?

Olive Kitteridge was my first big break in the film industry. It was my first time working with a big name production company (HBO). I was hired as an Office Production Assistant, which meant I spent most of my time working in the production office and less on set. Job requirements ranged from printing scripts, creating shooting schedules, and buying office materials for the office and set. It was the perfect first job because I got to meet and network with the crew and actors in every department when I delivered the scripts and shooting schedules.

Did you read Olive Kitteridge before beginning production? If so, how did you think the miniseries and the book compared? If not, when, if ever, did you read it?

I hadn’t read Olive Kitteridge before beginning production. I was hired just a week before shooting and I had to familiarize myself with the script first. It was a backwards way of doing things, but I actually enjoyed that reverse process. I was able to read the script without any prior opinions. After reading the book though, I do wish they integrated more characters and made it a 13 part mini series instead of 4; or at least added a few more episodes.

Did you work directly with the director? If so, what was your experience with her? Were you confident in her direction?

I had a few interactions with the director, Lisa Cholodenko, during the production. Mostly it was delivering her a new script if there was a change or an update. I believe she was a great choice to helm the project. She is excellent at capturing strong women and depicting emotions such as depression; a disease most directors avoid or struggle depicting. Frances McDormand was actually the one who approached Lisa and asked her to direct the film because of her work on The Kids Are Alright.

Did you work directly with any of the actors? If so, what was your experience with them? How do you think they did in their performances? What did they do to achieve these performances?

I was lucky enough to meet most of the actors in the film. All the actors were kind and no one created any drama on set. The casting was, in my opinion, spot on, but I suppose that’s because I read the script first and automatically pictured the actors as the characters. It’s all about chemistry on screen and I think Frances and Richard Jenkins melted perfectly together.

What issues/challenges did the production face? How did you overcome them?

One of the most challenging parts of the production was finding areas in Massachusetts that look like Maine. Though I wasn’t working on the film yet, I heard that the scouting process took months. I think in the end they did a pretty convincing job depicting the Maine coastline. Most of the film was shot in the North Shore of Massachusetts. The towns included, Gloucester, Salem, Beverly, Ipswich, and Rockport.

Many people consider this to be a faithful adaptation of the book. Do you agree? Do you think this was the intent of the production?

Being faithful to the book was definitely a main priority for the filmmakers. When Frances decided to produce this she wanted to be sure it was faithful. She made sure it wasn’t a two-hour movie and convinced HBO to do a 4 part (4 hour) miniseries.

Were there any funny or interesting behind-the scenes stories?

I think the most memorable experience I had with an actor was with Bill Murray, of course. I had to deliver him his new rental car one day and he invited me into his trailer where we tried on different hats that the wardrobe department wanted him to try on. We eventually decided on a purple beanie, which you see him wearing in the film when Olive finds him in the park. According to Bill, it looks better on him.

You’ve since went on to work on such films as Joy, Black Mass, and the new Ghostbusters. How did your work on Olive Kitteridge compare to these experiences?

Olive Kitteridge was my first real experience working on a movie, so I was lower on the totem pole and didn’t have much of an input. As each movie comes along, I’ve been able to slowly work my way up and have more of a creative input into each movie. For instance, on Ghostbusters, I was able to research and purchase props and decoration for different scenes within the film.

Is filming an adaption of a book different than filming an original movie? How so?

Working on a film that is an adaption of a novel is extremely different from working on an original film. When working on a movie that is adapted from a novel, you have to make sure details such as clothes, locations, and even the actors lines match up with the characters and setting in the book. Working on an original script, however, the filmmakers have complete creativity on creating the characters and the world around them.

Is working on a miniseries different from working on a film? How so?

Feature films and mini series are very similarly structured when in comes to production. The only difference I noticed while working on Olive Kitteridge is that we had the same amount of scheduled shooting days as that of a feature film. So in our case, we had to film 4 hours of usable footage compared to a regular 2 hours for a feature film. The result is longer days and less sleep, but it’s always worth it in the end!

Batman or Superman?

Batman always wins!

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