CHATHAM — Local author Elizabeth Rudnick Hessler has been on a roll in the past few years in terms of novelizations. Ever since 2006, she’s been novelizing films for entertainment titan Disney, and it’s proved to be a very exciting job.
“I am lucky enough that when I worked at Disney, I made great contacts, and my editors and co-workers from that time are still there,” said Hessler. “They know what my strengths are and what I excel at, which is doing middle-grade adaptations—so when it’s something like 'Lion King,’ they tend to reach out to me for ones that are typically on the older side.”
“The Lion King” is set to hit theaters July 19. Her adaptation of the film is out now, and she'll sign copies before the first showing of the movie at the Chatham Orpheum Theater Friday at 10 a.m. She also recently wrote “Aladdin,” and has completed novelizations of upcoming films including “Mulan” (February 2020), “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” and “Lady and the Tramp” (both releasing in November 2019).
Hessler is typically asked to write her novel about a year in advance. “I wrote ‘Aladdin’ and ‘The Lion King’ last summer,” she said.
Hessler got started at Disney after graduating from college. “I ended up going to the Columbia Publishing Course in New York City, which is an amazing program where you essentially get a crash course. They let in about 100 kids every summer, and you live on Columbia’s campus. You get to meet all the people from the industry, whether it be magazine publishing, book publishing, and at the time I went, online publishing, which was the smallest portion of the group, and I’m sure now is much larger.”
While she was there she met her first boss, who ended up hiring her out of the program. Hessler went to work at Hyperion, which is the literary side of Disney.
“I worked there for four years, and then I moved on to Disney Press,” she said. “I was hired there to support an up-and-coming franchise called ‘Pirates of the Caribbean,’ and they seemed to think I did a good job there, so when I moved back to Cape Cod, I was lucky enough to be hired again.”
Hessler wrote the novelization for the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” film in one weekend in her New York apartment, and she actually had the film to watch while she was writing. Today, she doesn’t have the same luxury.
“I rarely get visuals or images, so I have to infer what’s going on in the script. If there’s an action scene, I hope what I’m describing will reflect what’s in the film. When I try to describe characters’ expressions or outfits, I don’t necessarily know exactly what it’s going to look like in the finished film.”
These days, Hessler receives the script digitally. "Rightly so, Disney is very careful with what they allow to go out. When I worked at Disney years ago, they would send the physical scripts to the authors at their homes, but now I get access to a Disney server that I am only allowed to view for a certain amount of time, and oftentimes my script access will be cut off, and I’ll have to have it renewed by reaching out to my editor. I’m usually working with two to three computers, because I’m looking at a script, typing the manuscript on another, and usually I have reference materials on another screen.”
When asked about how long it takes to complete an adaptation, Hessler replied that “It depends. Most scripts for these types of films are roughly 112 to 130 pages, and I’m typically asked to write about a 50,000 word manuscript, which equals about 236 pages or so. I wrote ‘Maleficent 2’ in three weeks because they were really pressed for time, whereas I had three months for ‘Mulan.’ It really just depends on not so much the script, but more the studio’s schedule, what I’m asked to do and when I’m asked to do it.”
Hessler acknowledged that things have definitely changed from when she first started her novelizations. “It’s not quite the days of paper, when it was easier.”