The TV adaptation of Rebecca Serle’s novel Famous in Love premieres this Tuesday night on the streaming platform Freeform. The book is about 17-year-old Paige Townsen, an aspiring actress who tries out for a Hollywood movie and skyrockets to fame. A sequel to the first book, Truly, Madly, Famously, was released in 2015. The TV series stars Bella Thorne, Charlie DePew, and Keith Powers. PW recently spoke with Serle about her venture into a new storytelling medium and what she’s learned along the way.
In the past, did you ever envision having the Famous in Love series adapted to screen? What has the experience been like for you?
I would say pretty soon after I finished the first book I thought it could be a television show. At the time I was focused on selling the novel—which was its own adventure. But I saw something there. Mostly it felt like the sort of thing I’d want to watch—like the WB shows I loved growing up, and Gossip Girl, The OC, etc.
The experience has been wonderful and incredibly challenging. Television is a different world and I had to learn a lot in a very short period of time. It’s also such a collaborative medium; there are literally hundreds of people who come together to make a television show. Learning to embrace the machine, so to speak, was a process. I’m used to being alone in a room most of the time! But everyone had so much pride in this thing we were making together. I’m truly grateful.
You’ve been very involved with the project, more so than many authors are with adaptations of their books. Can you talk specifically about what your roles have been?
Yes, I am the co-creator and co-executive producer of this show, and I’ve been there from the beginning, every step of the way. I wrote the first draft of the pilot before the book even came out—this was back in 2012! When I finished we gave it to Marlene King and Bella Thorne. Bella had read the book two years beforehand, when it was just a manuscript, and loved the project, and when we sent her the script she signed on. Marlene then came on board and did her pass on the script and then the three of us pitched to networks—this was back in the spring of 2015. Our pilot was picked up May 2015, we shot it December 2015, and then we were picked up to series in the spring of 2016. I was in the writer’s room every day and on set as much as possible. And since we shot on the Warner Brothers lot it was easy to hop in a golf cart and visit set after our room wrapped, in the mornings, and during lunch.
I am also, of course, the author of this series, and it’s important to me that I still wear that hat when I need to. Promoting the show now is quite fun. I’m learning to bounce back and forth more seamlessly. Each world is unique, but they inform one another. In terms of the show, we’re still very much at the beginning, and I definitely feel farther along in the book world. I see them as parallel tracks that might occasionally brush up against one another. They flirt, so to speak.
Can you talk about the decision to have the book adapted into a TV series rather than as a feature length film? What do you feel are the benefits to having the story told in this format?
For me there was never a question. I always knew it was a television show. I just don’t think it would work as well as a feature. The world felt playful and open to me, with plenty of story to propel a series. Plus television is really the medium I feel comfortable in. I fell in love with the young adult space watching Dawson’s Creek and Roswell. I’ve been a fan my whole life and it was always a dream of mine to contribute to that area. And television is just more intimate; people literally invite you into their home. They get to know you. They fall in love with you (if you’re lucky). I will never forget when Alex [Colin Hanks] died on Roswell. I came downstairs to my kitchen and I was sobbing. It felt like someone real had died; I felt like I had lost a friend. And that’s the magic of television—it moves people in very personal ways.
What is it about the story that you believe readers connect to? Do you believe that those qualities in the book are being effectively translated to screen?
I think it’s the height of wish fulfillment. Who hasn’t dreamt of being Kristen Stewart or Shailene Woodley or Jennifer Lawrence falling in love with a co-star on set? Becoming famous while the whole world watches? It’s exciting, and sexy, and it feels relevant to the age we live in. So much of people’s lives are broadcast now. How do we define who we are and what we want when we’re in a constant feedback loop? It’s definitely something Paige will grapple with as we get farther along.
In terms of the TV show, it was important to me that the characters and the relationships between them remain the same, and I think we’ve done a really good job of that with a few intentioned departures. Obviously with a show you need a tremendous amount more plot, which was actually really fun. We get to drill down and really open up things that are only hinted at in the books. I think fans will feel it’s a true adaptation that gives them much, much more. I hope fans of the show will return to the books, as well. Like I said, the stories are different but they speak to one another: there is a very big world here and we’re just getting started!
Famous in Love by Rebecca Serle. Little, Brown/Poppy, $18 Oct. 2014 ISBN 978-0-31636-632-8