About the Production
SAFE HAVEN marks the beginning of a new chapter in author Nicholas Sparks' already extraordinary career, which encompasses more than a dozen bestselling novels and a string of hit movie adaptations including MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE, A WALK TO REMEMBER, THE NOTEBOOK, NIGHTS IN RODANTHE, DEAR JOHN and THE LUCKY ONE. The story's North Carolina setting and exquisitely wrought romance are classic Sparks, but this time the author has added an element of mystery and action to the mix, producing a tense thriller wrapped around a tender love story.
"It's something a little unexpected," Sparks says. "There are a lot of elements in the film that are new as far as a Nicholas Sparks film goes. Of course, fans will still get the relatable characters and the strong love story that they come to my work looking for. There's a lot of chemistry between the main characters and the relationship evolves in a very natural way. But there are a couple of other threads that are different. It feels like Nicholas Sparks, until it suddenly doesn't."
The story of a young woman who has left her home in Boston for a place in which she can lose herself, SAFE HAVEN sets up some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to be conquered by true love and ups the ante with an element of real danger. "Our main character, Katie, is on the run," explains the author, who is also one of the film's producers. "I thought, what if this woman finds what she thinks is a safe haven? What happens next? All of a sudden you're on the edge of your seat wondering exactly how this is going to end. That's what I want in a film: threads of familiarity, then a surprise. SAFE HAVEN puts all of those things together in an absolutely amazing way."
SAFE HAVEN reunites Sparks with director Lasse Hallstrom and producers Marty Bowen and Wyck Godfrey for the first time since their successful collaboration on 2010's DEAR JOHN. "It was a lot of fun working with them again," he says. "When you work with people more than once, you get to know their strengths and their weaknesses, but most importantly you trust them. They did such a great job with DEAR JOHN and I knew that when they got involved they would do a great job with SAFE HAVEN."
Bowen says he and Nyberg were enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with the author again. "DEAR JOHN was such a positive experience that we knew we wanted to be in business with Nicholas again," he says. "This story seemed really special because it had all the great drama and romance that speaks to his core audience, as well as a thriller element, which separates this movie from his others.
"Nicholas is almost scarily attuned to the heartbeat of America," Bowen goes on. "He has a deep understanding of pathos and love and pain and hope. Making a film from one of his novels is about delivering something that contains all of what his fans love about his books, plus a twist they can look forward to. They know what's on the page, so they're looking for an interpretation that isn't completely literal. We try to give a little extra something to those readers."
According to producer Tracey Nyberg, adapting SAFE HAVEN presented the filmmakers with a unique opportunity -- and a challenge. "Because it's a thriller, we wanted to heighten the suspense as much as possible and that meant keeping things back from the audience. But we know that a large portion of the audience will have already read the book. So we tried to find ways to suspend their disbelief in order to surprise them. I think we've set it up so that you're not sure why Katie is being pursued or just who is chasing her. Everyone goes into a Nicholas Sparks movie expecting the romance and emotion, but the twist should set this one apart."
Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom was the logical choice to helm the film given his sensitive handling of DEAR JOHN, says Bowen. "Lasse is a special spirit whose soul is reflected in the movies he makes. He's fond of saying he loves sentiment, but abhors sentimentality, and he finds the charm and the awkwardness in moments that people less talented tend to make into cliches. That's real human nature, and he's so attuned to it. Like a Nicholas Sparks novel, a Lasse Hallstrom film is a truly special event."
The story's low-key romance and natural pace gave the director the opportunity to create the kind of authentically intimate film he prefers. "Two people slowly get to know each other and fall in love," Hallstrom explains. "We follow the story as it builds in small increments. The camera seems to be present as sparks fly and two people connect. I want you to feel like you're a peeping Tom, peeking through a keyhole."
Hallstrom helped build that authenticity by asking the actors to throw away the script and improvise key scenes. "Lasse believes that to find real, raw emotion, the actors have to let go of what they have memorized and start simply feeling it," says Bowen. "There were moments in every scene when he told them to just forget about the words on the page and tell him how they felt about the moment. The actors had to stop thinking about artifice and start thinking about their characters in a really special way."
The final film contains both scripted scenes and improvisation, which Hallstrom believes will draw the audience in and make them feel like they are a part of the story. "My interest is to evoke strong emotion," the director says. "I really want to walk that tightrope and move people. It can be dangerous territory. Especially with a love story, the performances must be authentic. Sentimentality occurs when you push too hard for emotion. You avoid that trap by being honest and truthful in the performances and the telling of the story.
"To be able to do that, I needed the actors to improvise and play around with the material," he continues. "Nicholas allowed us that freedom. He allowed us to take some liberties with the story, add certain elements and some more humor. We tweaked the script as we went along, which was great fun."
Hallstrom says he is extremely pleased with the finished film. "I had the ambition of creating something that rang truthful and authentic," says Hallstrom. "The thriller elements create a certain pulse, an engine for the story. As always with a Sparks story, there is an emotional twist at the end. I hope that will make people shed a tear or two. To move and entertain -- that's all it's about."
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