Creating WONDER: A Conversation with David Hoberman

by John Bucher (@johnkbucher)

David Hoberman has brought some of the world’s most beloved stories to the screen. From Beauty and the Beast to The Muppets, Hoberman has developed a knack for crafting films that appeal to the widest ranges of audiences. He was nominated for an Oscar in 2011 for The Fighter but has continued to work across mediums, producing hit television shows such as Monk. Hoberman’s latest project is Wonder, the story of a young boy with facial differences, trying to fit in, as he enters public school for the first time.

LA Screenwriter’s John Bucher sat down with Hoberman to discuss his body of work and how he brings popular stories from other mediums to the screen.

John Bucher: I’m curious to know how Wonder came from the pages of the book to the screen. Can you tell me about the origin of the process?

David Hoberman: Well it was a long one. I think it was about five and a half years from when we first read the book to where we are today. My partner and I had read the book and fell in love with it immediately. I think we were given it after we had lunch with an agent and both read it that night and called him the next day and said we wanted to produce it. We met with Raquel or RJ [the author] and she put her faith in us, and then we went through several scripts and a couple different directors before we finally had something that we liked. It actually proved to be a bit more difficult of an adaptation than it would seem to be on the written page.

But we got there, and Stephen Chbosky, who we had worked with on Beauty and the Beast, said he couldn’t do it because he was having a baby, so we did another pass with the script and then we had another director and then that didn’t work out and we went to Stephen a year later and he said, “Okay my baby’s a year old. I’ll do it.” And that’s how it all came to be.

John Bucher: How did you know when the script was ready? At what point did you say, “Wow. We’ve got this. Now, this is going to work on screen”?

David Hoberman: I think once we got Stephen involved and worked with him. The toughest thing was to figure out how we were going to do the different perspectives from the book and was that only a great novel device that wouldn’t work on film? We struggled with that for a long time. How many characters do we do it with? Should it always be from Auggie’s point of view? Which is what you always want when you’re making a film. You also want a director to come aboard who knows exactly what he or she wants to do and Stephen wanted to do it just like the book did — to tell it from everybody’s point of view. That’s how we settled on it. I don’t know that a script is ever perfect. But we had enough to know after doing some work with Stephen that this was the movie we all wanted to make.

John Bucher: David, you’ve got quite a track record now of material that you’ve been able to identify in some other form — a fairy tale, a book — and be able to say, “This could be made into a film with a really wide audience.” Is that something that you’re intentional about as you look for material, or has it just worked out that way?

David Hoberman: I was an executive at Disney for many years and even ran the studio for a few years. I had a lot of training in the types of movies that Disney makes. I think it kind of fashioned my sensibilities and my taste, so I’m not the guy to go to make Fast and the Furious. I’m not the guy to go to make Transformers or those kinds of movies. It’s not in my blood. But I love telling stories that are humanistic, about people that go through obstacles in their life, which we all do, and end up on top. I did it in television with Monk and I’ve done it with several movies. There’s just something about that experience of making a movie like that and making a movie like Wonder where you have a character and a family that goes through all these hardships and difficulties but they end up getting through it and seeing the light and moving toward it and triumphing.

I think those are wonderful stories to tell. They all have messages in them that hopefully make us better people and the experience of watching the movie stays with us in our hearts and our souls and allows us to become better human beings.

John Bucher: Let’s talk about Auggie [the protagonist in Wonder] for a moment. He’s a character that we all can relate to in so many ways even though most of us have not had his specific experience in life. Can you speak to that? Why is it that even though we might not have had Auggie’s experiences, we as the audience can fully relate to who he is and his struggle?

David Hoberman: I think that we are all outsiders at some point, in some fashion in our life, whether it’s in grammar school or high school or work or social circles or wherever it is. I think we’re all outsiders and we’re all alone in our skin and I think that’s a really relatable thing we all have. It’s like I always say, “Nobody gets out scot-free in this life,” and we all have struggles and we all have things we have to overcome, and therefore I think Auggie is just a version of that and I think that we all would like to be understood and appreciated for who we are and not for what we do or what we say or what we look like, so yeah, I think there’s a universality that Auggie’s experience brings to the screen that everyone can relate to.

John Bucher: What would be your ultimate hope or ultimate goal for telling a story like this? What is the thing you hope audiences walk away with from this film?

David Hoberman: I would probably say tolerance and compassion, and this movie is so timely right now. The world is so divisive, our country is so divided and I think there seems to be anger out there and resentment out there and if this movie can help people see through all that and become compassionate, loving, and empathetic to others, I think the world would be a better place and that’s what I hope the film helps make happen.

~

John Bucher is a writer, speaker, and story consultant based out of Los Angeles. He is the author of several books including The Inside Out Story and Master of the Cinematic Universe: The Secret Code to Writing in the New World of Media. He has written for entities ranging from HBO to U.S.  Ambassadors. He teaches at The LA Film Studies Center and has conducted story seminars on five continents. He can be reached on Twitter @johnkbucher and through his site, tellingabetterstory.com.

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