‘Dear Edward’ Creator Jason Katims on Telling Emotionally Moving Stories
Feb 6, 2023
From creator Jason Katims (Friday Night Lights, Parenthood) and based on the novel by Ann Napolitano, the Apple TV+ original series Dear Edward explores the lives of the family and friends who lost someone in the same plane crash that had one lone survivor, a 12-year-old boy. Trying to figure out how to deal with his own grief, Edward Adler (Colin O’Brien) doesn’t feel like the miracle boy the world considers him to be, having lost his parents and older brother in the tragedy. But as he goes on his journey of self-discovery to figure out what comes next, a grief group forms that leads to new friendships and romances, showing even the most lost among them just how resilient and brave they really are.
COLLIDER VIDEO OF THE DAY
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, executive producer Katims talked about why he wanted to turn this story into a TV series, understanding what this story would be, the process for weaving in new characters to what was already there in the novel, reuniting with Connie Britton, deciding how to portray the plane crash, and telling such emotionally moving stories throughout his career.
Collider: How did Dear Edward come about? When you’re dealing with adapting a book, did you read the book and know that it’s something you want to see made, or did they come to you and ask if you’d be interested?
JASON KATIMS: In this case, my agent sent me the book, and I read it and I loved it. I talked to (author) Ann Napolitano, and we talked about the possibility of me taking it and making it into a show. That’s how it happened. There were things that I wanted to do that would depart a little bit from the book to make it into a show, and I got her blessing. That’s how it happened. I saw in it this story about resilience and the human spirit. I imagined this story of this tapestry with this big ensemble, about people that never would have otherwise been connected or known each other, that wind up having a deep impact on each other’s lives.
Image via Apple TV+
When you’re considering the possibility of adapting a book, do you have to immediately see it as a series when you read it, or do you need to take a minute and take some time to think about it before you decide whether to do it?
KATIMS: You have to be able to understand what the series would be. The novel works perfectly as a novel and it’s so beautiful, but for me to make a show, I felt like I had to find what the show would be, in order to do it. It’s a process. Essentially the heart of the book is what I wanted to try to capture. Even if all the characters were not necessarily the same, and the plot moves were not necessarily the same, the heart of the story was something that I really loved. There were also relationships and storylines that were critical, that were directly from the book. have come directly from the book. Lacey has been struggling to have a child, and suddenly this 12-year-old boy falls from the sky into her lap. And then, there’s the Edward and Shay relationship. Edward and this neighbor who’s this quirky girl that’s his age, and there’s this very beautiful friendship that forms between them. Those were the things I really grabbed onto from the book, and I used them as almost like a north star.
When it came to adding characters that weren’t in the book, what was the process for making those decisions? Was it just about what you need to keep the story going for a longer time span? Was it about coming up with interesting ideas that then seem like a good fit and you can weave them in? How did you figure that out?
KATIMS: I wanted to do a story that was about resilience. I wanted to do a story about what happens after this tragedy happens, and follow what happens to these people. In order to tell that story, I needed a place for those people to come together, so that’s how the idea of this grief group happened. The grief group happens in New York City, so New York became a character in the story. From there, you think about, “Okay, so who’s gonna be in it? Who are these characters?” There’s Lacey, who comes from the novel. And then, from there, I wanted characters that would be interesting to watch connect. I wanted to see people from different backgrounds and different backstories, and who were also very different, in terms of who it was they lost in the crash. That, to me, was very interesting. I’ve always loved doing shows that are big ensembles. I find the beauty of those shows is that, as a viewer, you get to see the same event or the same thing through many different eyes and different points of view. To me, that explodes it and makes it more interesting. Those are the things that I was thinking about, when I was starting to think about who these characters are and what their stories would be.
Image via Apple TV+
As those characters were starting to take shape, was there a moment where you were like, “Okay, I see how I could add Connie Britton to this”?
KATIMS: What happened was that one of the characters that I came up with was this character, Dee Dee. I was not thinking about Connie, at the time. I just fell in love with this character. And then, when we started working with the writers, everybody loved Dee Dee. I don’t know what it was about her, there was just something about her. And then, we started having early conversations about casting, and Connie came into my mind. From the time that happened, I could only see Connie in that role. It just became, “Oh, my God, Connie is Dee Dee.” It was just this wonderful experience, where she connected with this character, and we worked very collaboratively on finding different layers to her and figuring out her story. It was really fun. I got to work with Connie again, but we got to do it on a very different character than Tami Taylor (on Friday Night Lights). We never had to worry about whether Dee Dee was different enough from Tami. She was definitely different.
As someone who is terrified of flying, but who does it anyway, I dread having to see plane crashes or even bad flights in movies and TV shows. It’s a common fear that people have, and I was definitely bracing for how it would be portrayed in this and how that would make me feel. How did you figure out the way you wanted to handle that, visually and emotionally?
KATIMS: Fisher Stevens, who directed the pilot, did an amazing job at really making this flight feel real. We never wanted it to feel gory. We just wanted to feel what it would emotionally be like to go through this experience. We really wanted to make it seem like, “Oh, this is a story about this family who’s moving to California,” and we really wanted to invest in that. In doing that, we did months of work, prepping for this and figuring out how to shoot the plane. We got a plane that we had to bring in on trucks from two different states and in three different pieces, to then assemble on a stage in New York, so that we could do those all those scenes on the plane, in a way that it felt like we weren’t shooting little sections of the plane. We were able to shoot all the interior scenes and give them their due. We wanted to make it feel authentic and make it feel real.
Image via Apple TV+
You must be aware of the fact that the stories you tell tend to have very emotional moments that make audiences cry. When you’re writing, are you a good judge of where and when that will happen? Are you sometimes surprised by moments or scenes that people tell you they connected with, on an emotional level, or do you always get a sense of where those will be?
KATIMS: There are certain things that you feel. We could be in the writers’ room, and the writers, pathetically, are there, tearing up. I could be writing a script, and that has happened to me, where I get emotional writing the script. What I’m looking to do is dig into the complexities of relationships, the silences in conversations, what they really mean, and the humor. You want to feel like you can laugh with people and experience joy with people. That’s what makes it emotional when something sad happens. I really just wanna try to explore these characters and dig into them, and find those moments. Sometimes people tell me what got them emotional, and it is surprising. I love that. It’s not the moments that you thought it would be. And sometimes when I watch an episode, the things that feel most emotional to me are not the things that I imagine they would be in the script. Sometimes things happen with actors that are unforeseen. You can’t imagine it, but then, you put two actors together in a scene and something chemical happens that’s very emotional. That’s the way it works.
Dear Edward is available to stream at Apple TV+.
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