The film adaptation of English professor Peter Bognanni’s first book, The House of Tomorrow, is coming to theaters in April. The Mac Weekly sat down with Bognanni on Tuesday to discuss the movie-making process, balancing writing and teaching, and an upcoming trip to Los Angeles. The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Mac Weekly (TMW): Your novel, The House of Tomorrow, has a film adaption being released [starring] pretty recognizable actors such as Asa Butterfield, Nick Offerman, and Ellen Burstyn. Would you say that this development has affected your role on campus at all? Is it something that the community is aware of?
Peter Bognanni (PB): I think so, yeah. There’s been a little bit of publicity about it and I’ve tried to transfer some of the things I’ve learned from it into my teaching. While [the production] was going on, I taught a class on literary adaptation – as in adapting novels and comics and memoirs into screenplays, which was kind of a direct result of that experience. Also, I think it’s affected the way I teach my screenwriting class, because I’ve had a chance to work with a professional screenwriter, and [I] talked to him a lot while he was adapting the film. I learned a lot that started to make its way into the classroom.
TMW: How would you describe your involvement with the film’s production?
PB: I am technically a producer (laughs), though my role is a little bit symbolic there. Mostly it was just a relationship I developed with the writer/director, whose name is Pete Livolsi. He had been trying to get the film made for about six years, and during that time, he wrote a lot of different drafts of the script. So, Pete would send me a draft of the script, I would read it, and we would talk on the phone about it. I would also do that with one of the producers. For the most part, I was acting as a sounding board and consultant to the production. And then, while it was being shot, it was shot mostly in Minnesota, so I was on set during that time, and occasionally Pete would ask me what I thought of a scene, and we would talk about it. I didn’t have an enormous amount of power, but it was nice to be included.
TMW: Moving into your writing career more generally, you identify as a ‘Young Adult’ author.How does the affect your perception of your own work?
PB: [The label] is something that I have embraced a little more recently. The first book [I wrote] was actually published for adults, but it ended up on some “Best Of” lists about adult books that young adults might really like. Then for my second book, I didn’t really know I was writing a young adult book (laughs) until I finished it, and figured that out. Ideally, I would like to do both, but I have always been interested in writing about younger characters. There has always been a presence in my work of young people, and so I think to some extent I am destined to do more of that. But I have no idea how much of that will continue to happen in the future.
TMW: You have another recently released novel, Things I’m Seeing Without You. How do you find the balance between being both a college professor and a young adult author? Is there one path that you find yourself more invested in over the other?
PB: I’m really invested in both, I think the timing is just different. I do most of my writing in the summer actually, when I’m off. I try to do some writing during the year, some revising, but I’m really pretty focused on teaching during that time because it requires a lot of my energy and I really like putting my energy into that. So then when I’m off, I slip into writing mode and try to really get a lot of momentum going on a project. So far the balance has been okay; I have a two-year-old, and so throwing a kid into the mix has been probably more difficult than just balancing those two. But up until now, I feel like I’ve been able to make both of them work okay.
TMW: Is there anything else you would like the Macalester community to know about you and your work, and what you are doing here on campus?
PB: One thing is [that] I’ve just agreed to go on the MacConnect trip to LA over Spring Break, which I think will be a really cool opportunity. The students are going to tour a bunch of different studios and meet a bunch of Mac alums who are in entertainment. I will go along with them and hopefully have a few connections of my own to help introduce them to.
TMW: And those connections come from the production of your novel as a film?
PB: Yes, and also from former students that I have had, who have gone into that area of work… They have already chosen the students for this trip, but from what I understand this is an opportunity that will keep being available in the future. If students are interested in that, they should keep an eye out for it.