An Interview with Gail Carson Levine
When you started writing Ella Enchanted did you imagine that it would one
day become a movie?
No. I didn't think it would get published. Everything I'd written till then
had been rejected. If it was published, I thought it might sell a few thousand
copies and go out of print. I thought if I was lucky I could write more books
and get them published, too. I still pinch myself over the way things have
As the author of the book, how involved were you in the production of the
Not very. I had what are called consulting rights, which meant that the
producer had to send me the script. I had the opportunity to comment, but the
producer and director had no obligation to act on my comments.
The script is very different from the book, and so is the movie. My comments
about plot werent acted on. But my comments about obedience were. I said
there had to be consistency in the way Ella responds to orders. She could follow
commands figuratively or literally, but it needed to be the same throughout. In
my book, Ella follows the meaning of commands. If she were told to hold her
tongue shed be silent. In the movie Anne Hathaway actually grabs her tongue
and holds it. So it goes the other way in the movie, but its consistent.
My husband and I were given the opportunity to go to Ireland to watch three
days of shooting. We were just observers, although Miramax did have my very own
director's chair ready for me! The filming was fascinating, and I'll never watch
a movie in exactly the same way again. They only shoot the tiniest pieces at a
time, only a few lines, which they film over and over until the director is
satisfied. We were told that the director and producer were happy if they got a
minute of usable film out of a whole day of shooting. And, since it was Ireland,
the film crew had to stop frequently in the middle of a scene to wait for the
weather to go back to what it had been at the beginning.
A mime was brought in to help. The idea was that Ella's body would process a
command before her mind caught up. The mime helped Anne Hathaway reflect that
idea in her movements. Isnt that interesting?
When did you first see the movie? Were there any changes to your
characters? If so, how did the changes make you feel? Did they make you think
about the story differently?
I've only seen the movie once, in November or December, I think, and not all
the special effects were in place then. The movie is so different from the book
that its hard to compare them. There are new characters. For example,
Chars parents are dead in the movie, and he has an evil uncle who has a
talking snake as a sidekick.
The changes made me remember some of the choices Id made when I wrote the
book ten years ago. For example, I had thought of adding a political dimension.
Id thought of having Kyrrian policies toward the exotic creatures be
inhumane. But ultimately I decided not to. Interestingly, the movie does just
What part of Ella Enchanted was your favorite to write? Was this
also your favorite portion of the movie?
I loved writing the letters Char and Ella exchange when Char is in Ayortha,
but theyre not in the movie at all! I loved writing Ellas flirtation with
the Earl of Wolleck when Ellas under the influence of the torlin kerru, but
thats not there either.
The movie is fun, and the book is fun. I wouldnt have wanted a somber
interpretation, so Im glad about that, and I love Anne Hathaways
performance. If Id had the choice of anyone in the world to play Ella, I
dont think I could have chosen better.
Do you have any suggestions for fans of Ella Enchanted the book
before they see Ella Enchanted the movie?
To fans of the book, Id suggest regarding the movie as a separate creative
act. You might want to think about the choices the screen writers made and why
they may have gone in the direction they did. But I hope you have the breadth
and sense of humor to encompass both movie and book.
For those who havent read the book, I hope youll start reading!
And to everyone, dont be too obedient!
Gail Carson Levine discusses how she got started as a writer
How did you get started as a writer?
I wrote as a kid, but I never wanted to be a writer particularly. I had
been drawing and painting for years and loved that. And I meditate, and one time
when I was meditating, I started thinking, "Gee Gail, you love stories--
you read all the time. How come you never tell yourself a story?" While I
should have been saying my mantra to myself, I started telling myself a story.
It turned out to be an art appreciation book for kids with reproductions of
famous artworks and pencil drawings that I did. I tried to get it published and
was rejected wholesale.
That book led me to a class on writing and illustrating for kids, and
when I went into it I thought that I would be more interested in illustrating.
But I found that I was much more interested in writing and that I didn't like
the illustrating at all. I had always been the hardest on myself when I drew and
painted. I am not hard on myself when I write. I like what I write, so it is a
much happier process.
That's how I got started. And then everything I wrote was rejected for
What are the differences between writing fiction, fairy tale, and historical
Contemporary fiction is the hardest for me because I am not really in
the popular culture-- I don't watch TV. I had to go to an eighth grade class and
follow them around, asking a lot of questions before I wrote The Wish. I was never certain about getting it right. I was aiming for
a timeless contemporary book. For example, I used the telephone in the book, and
phone technology changes so much. All the music at their grad night is oldies,
which is just as well because whatever is playing now is also going to be an
oldie. In spite of myself, it will probably be dated.
Making up one's own world is complicated. You have to keep track of it;
you have to make sure that you are clueing the reader in. But working in the
real world is very hard, for me anyways. For other people it's not.
Historical fiction, in a way, is not as hard. It's all about research.
I have a very vivid memory of the way my parents spoke and the 50's that I grew
up in are closer to the 20's, I think, than today in many, many ways.
What advice do you give the aspiring young writers in the workshops that
Save everything you write.
I think kids abandon stories all the time. They start stories and get
frustrated or get a different, better idea. I think that it is more worthwhile
to stick with a story and revise it and try to finish it than abandon ship.
Revisions, for any writer, are the name of the game.
I want to write a book. In fact, that's kind of getting high on my list
of things I want to do-- I want to write a writing book for kids.
What is your workshop like?
Oh I love the kids. I love doing it. It's great. It's the best thing I
do I think.
These kids are getting kind of sophisticated. This summer they blew me
away because they decided that they were going to bring enough copies of their
work for everybody to take home, so that they could read each other's work over
the next week. I couldn't believe it. They did this all on their own.
What do you enjoy most about being an author or going to the schools?
I love it all. I love having written. Sometimes I love writing. I love
to revise. Revising is my favorite part of writing. I love working with kids.