THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES
About the Production
In 2007 author Cassandra Clare introduced young adult readers to the reluctant warrior, Clary Fray, in The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, the astonishing first entry in what would become a fantasy-adventure empire. In Clare's carefully constructed magical world, a young woman finds herself surrounded by warlocks, vampires, werewolves, demons -- and the mysterious Shadowhunters, a hidden race of angel-human hybrids who secretly protect humankind from the ultimate evil.
Clare began writing her New York Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal, and Publishers Weekly best-selling series of young adult novels in 2003. "I've always been a huge fan of fantasy and epic stories of good and evil," she says. "I wanted to write a coming-of-age story with a girl at its center, which I don't see very often, and I decided to set it in New York City, because I had just moved there and fallen in love with its beautiful and amazing history."
Four years later, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones hit the bookshelves and became a worldwide phenomenon, launching not just five more novels featuring Clary Fray and her Shadowhunter comrades in The Mortal Instruments saga, but three more multi-part series set in Clare's brilliantly imagined Shadow World as well: The Bane Chronicles, The Infernal Devices and The Dark Artifices.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones was optioned for film in 2009, something Clare says she dreamed of but never thought would really happen. "It's been quite a journey from the kernel of the idea of the book to the production of the film," Clare says. "And it's been surreal. When you write a book, you hope maybe someday it'll be a movie, but you don't count on it. I still can't quite believe it."
Producer Robert Kulzer read Clare's The Mortal Instruments series at the suggestion of his colleagues, Bob Shaye and Michael Lynne, producers of blockbuster movies including The Lord of the Rings franchise. "When you read the novels, you discover a new world," says Kulzer. "I found myself wanting to spend more time with these characters as they go on this incredible journey of discovery. There are so many surprises contained in this world and we want to create a similar sense of wonder in this movie."
Kulzer shared his find with Don Carmody, with whom he has produced the five hugely successful Resident Evil movies. "Since the success of the Twilight movies, every movie producer has been trying to find their own equivalent," Kulzer says. "After reading these books, we felt they had the potential to become a huge franchise."
While Carmody was unfamiliar with the young-adult fiction market, he had a panel of experts close at hand. "It turned out that my teenage daughters are huge fans of the books," the producer says. "They had grown a bit blase about the movies I make, but this made them take notice. The Mortal Instruments is what they really want to see on screen. When I started checking around and realized how big the audience was for the novels, I enthusiastically came on board."
The books have been translated into 36 languages with more than 24 million copies in print worldwide. A sweeping epic that spans centuries and continents, the series has inspired legions of dedicated fans, with whom Clare keeps in close contact through personal appearances and social media.
"As an author, one of the most amazing parts of the experience has been to be able to create a world that started off in my head and that so many other people now want to live in," she says. "I try to stay in touch with them as much as possible online, through book groups, through signings and traveling the country. It's been wonderful to be able to share the excitement with people who are as involved with the story as I am. They love the characters like family and now they are fully embracing the film's actors as their avatars."
As compelling as the fantasy elements of the books are, Carmody believes the appeal lies deeper. "It's all about a young woman discovering who she really is," he says. "It's a brilliant premise and a great yarn, but it addresses themes that young adults are particularly interested in, because they are in the process of finding themselves."
The producers spent two years developing the script, always keeping in mind that Cassandra Clare's legions of dedicated fans were watching the process closely. "We had to be very careful when we altered the narrative or made changes in a character," Carmody says. "The movie had to be as true to the books as we could possibly make it."
Screenwriter Jessica Postigo Paquette was tasked with drafting three chapters in what is envisioned as a major franchise with an enviable heroine. "When I first read The Mortal Instruments, I fell in love with Clary Fray," says Postigo. "She is no damsel in distress -- in fact, she kicks ass. She is thrust into this parallel world that no one would ever have imagined even existed and handles it fearlessly."
"I also love the realistic urban setting," says Postigo. "Clary lives in Brooklyn and her life is not delicate or precious in any way. You want to know more and more about the characters. Despite having lived with them for years now, I never tire of them. I want to hang out with them."
Postigo says her first responsibility is to Clare and the books' fans. "It was very important for me to protect Cassandra's baby," says Postigo. "That's how I saw it. I have so much respect for the world she's created. The Mortal Instruments books are very different from any other young adult novel I've read."
She was careful to seek the author's counsel along the way. "Cassandra was an integral part of the process," says Postigo. "We consulted her often while we were developing the script. She was always very understanding of our concerns and sometimes had a solution we hadn't considered. She has such a strong, beautiful voice and she's very smart about the way she chooses to collaborate."
Clare also provided the filmmakers with an intimate understanding of her readers. "The fans have been very supportive," says Carmody. "I know it helped that Cassandra was part of the process. Nobody knows this story like she does. She was extremely helpful with casting and with helping us communicate with the fans."
With the writing process underway, finding the right director became the next step in the equation. "We were really looking for something very specific in our director -- someone who had already worked in the genre world and knew how to manage the fantastical elements of the book with the special effects, and create an original world.
When Harald Zwart, fresh off the enormously successful remake of The Karate Kid starring Jaden Smith, came in to meet with the producers, they realized he was the right director for the film -- approaching the material, not from the genre world as they had anticipated, but from a grounded, character-specific perspective. Says Kulzer, "Harald had fallen in love with the characters and the world," says Kulzer. "He wanted to recreate them just as they are in the book. Harald had a whole folder full of tear sheets and boards that he had put together. He had envisioned the characters, the setting, the color palette, even the magic, in such incredible detail."
After a single two-hour meeting, Zwart was hired. "I said, Harald, I get the feeling you really want to do this movie," Kulzer says. "He agreed to drop everything else he was working on and focus on prepping this film. He soaked up the world, reading all of the fan blogs to learn what they like and don't like. If he had questions about anything, he went directly to Cassandra, which made it a very transparent and fluid process, because she is so intimately connected to the fans. If she mentioned any aspect of the film to them, we immediately had thousands of responses."
The director says he was drawn to the excitement and the visual possibilities of the story, but his strongest connection was to the characters, especially Clary. "In some ways it's really a detective story about a young woman searching for something that is lost," he says. "On the way, she discovers that much of what she's believed all her life is not true. Every day, the character has a 'what?' moment that turns what she thought was true upside-down. But Clary is a very powerful young lady and she takes control of her own life. One of the things I love most about the character is that when someone tells her not to do something, you know she's probably going do it."
Zwart and Clare made a strong connection and worked closely together to develop a cohesive world for the story. "The first time I met Harald in Los Angeles, he launched into all these questions," says Clare. "It was so much fun talking to someone for hours about something that I've thought about almost exclusively for seven or eight years. It's very real to me at this point. He didn't have any experience with fantasy, so he was really fascinated by the rules and systems that you have to adhere to once you establish them. In Harry Potter, we know you have to point a wand and say a word to make magic. The magic in these books is completely different, but it is just as consistent."
Most importantly to Clare, Zwart was completely attuned to the emotional lives of the characters. "In this genre, it is easy to get caught up in the visuals, and he definitely understands that aspect. But he knows that no matter how cool the movie looks, it's no substitute for rich inner lives and emotional connections between the characters. Harald is a great director for the project because he is extremely interested in all the relationships: familial, friendship and romantic. That makes it feel real."
Zwart also sought Clare's advice on the best ways to fit the sprawling narrative into the limited length of a feature film. "When you adapt a very popular book, you have to make some difficult choices," Zwart says. "You have to give up certain things for all kinds of reasons. Perhaps something doesn't work for the logic of the movie, or it's a stumbling block to moving the story forward, or simply for budgetary reasons. We did our best to preserve what's really important, and thankfully, Cassandra was very supportive of the choices we made."
Clare sounds more like a fan than a best-selling author when she speaks about viewing the finished film. "To be able to actually see the City of Bones, the greenhouse, the Institute, Java Jones, Clary's apartment -- all these places that I have described in the books, is an amazing experience," marvels Clare. "The fans will finally get to meet the characters that they've come to love."
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