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'Bones and All' Screenwriter David Kajganich on the many layers of collaboration in adaptations

November 22, 2022
3 min read time

In the center of Regan’s America, a father desperately moves his only daughter, Maren, out of their double wide for the umpteenth time. They have less than an hour to find a new home before the rest of the community figures out their terrible secret – Maren is a cannibal.

Born with a taste for blood, Maren has spent most of her life trying to hide her affliction with little success. Her father tries his best to keep his daughter’s appetite at bay, but it all becomes too much. After Maren’s eighteenth birthday, he leaves her alone for good. Portrayed gracefully by emerging star, Taylor Russel, Maren sets out on a cross-country journey of self-discovery, yearning to learn more about her genetic mutation. Luca Guadagnino’s Bones and All is the screen adaptation of the novel of the same name. Frequent collaborator, David Kajganich, wrote the project as a chance meeting with a producer.

“A producer sent me the book with a note that said I thought of you when I read this,” said Kajganich. “I read the book and saw a coming-of-age story about a young woman trying to find her identity.”

But before committing to writing the project, Kajganich wanted the blessing of the author, Camille DeAngelis.

“I wanted to make sure she didn’t prefer a woman telling the story,” he said. I explained to her my thoughts and how I would bring the story to life and she agreed. Early in the conversation, she asked to talk about the subtext of the book. I spent a lot of time thinking about the political and emotional layers of the book. I was surprised when she said she wanted the film to be about veganism! I promised then the story would be in service of that and she was happy with the adaptation.”

After getting final approval from DeAngelis on the script, it was now time to share the text with Guadagnino. Having now worked with the Call Me By Your Name director a few times, Kajganich explained their collaboration process as this –

“Luca likes to have really in-depth conversations early in the process,” he says. “We talk a lot before I start to unpack our preferences and attitude about the story so we cover everything and then I go off and write the script. Then a few months later he reads it. In every case, he comes back and doesn't have a lot of notes. The next step is to include the actors in the process – talk to them about what they’re thinking about the characters. They’ve become experts in these characters because they live with them for so long. During production, I’m there too, with Luca, leading the charge and some small changes are made.”

With Russell at the helm of the movie, the film addresses themes of racism, politics, and the pending doom of the 1980s trickle-down economics theory. This, according to Kajganich, was done on purpose.

“To be Maren’s true experience, those decisions aren’t accidental. Luca and I tried to pull so much truth out of those choices. If you keep your eye on the background actors in some of the scenes, we asked them to point a not-so-favorable gaze at Maren. You don’t have to explain everything explicitly. We let things play out as naturally as we could. We thought the best way we can do this is to leave the metaphor as ambiguous as possible so the audience can bring their own experience. “

Kajganich goes on to explain, “The book is not set in the eighties. It’s something I wanted to change in the film because Regan’s America was such a mind fuck. In rural areas like Ohio where I’m from, Black families absolutely were treated differently – they just were. One could argue it was worse for people of color in the eighties than in the fifties due to the economic hardship of that era.

Bones and All on the surface is a movie about two really hot people coming together through their shared trauma, but underneath is a multilayered existential human experience about tracing your roots to forge a new path for your future. Kajganich’s advice for writers echoes those same sentiments.

“A lot of writers think they have to please the people in power and it’s the wrong approach”, he explains. The best thing you can do is have a unique point of view. I would argue that one shouldn’t stay in their lane, but I think you just got to be a force and not chase the glittery thing “they” want – it’s a fool's errand. Dig deep and write something undeniably powerful.”

 Bones and All is now in theaters everywhere.






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