Behind the Scenes: The Joy Luck Club Movie

Amy Tan

Lesson time 08:57 min

Get Amy’s insider’s perspective on the adaptation of her bestselling book The Joy Luck Club into an award-winning film.

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Topics include: Earning the Emotions of a Scene


[MUSIC PLAYING] AMY TAN: Writing a screenplay of your book can be exhilarating and terrifying. What you'll learn is the nature of powerful storytelling that is true to both forms. When I found that we were going to do an adaptation of "The Joy Luck Club" into a feature film, I said to the director and the screenwriter, I know nothing about film. I do not want to participate. I like being at home in my own world. Thank you. I trust you. Make a great film. These two people, Wayne Wang and Ron Bass, felt that it was very important for me to work on that film because they sensed that what I understood was the soul of this book. It was not my ability to do a screenplay that was important. What I understood very quickly when we talked about the soul of the movie, the soul of the book that becomes the soul of the movie is that you are rewriting for that particular medium, that art form. And so it's impossible. You're going to come up with something very clunky if you try to do a so-called "transliteration" of your book, word for word. Here's the funny part. I'm supposed to guard the soul of the book. They wanted to start off with one of these interstitials in the book. Each section of the book had a little, almost like a parable. And it starts off with one called "Feathers from a Thousand Li Away," which is a saying that my uncle had given to me. He lived in Beijing. And he said that this is a feather from 1,000 Li away, meaning it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions. I said to them, feather or feathers-- they wanted to put in a feather, an actual feather. And I said, no, no, no. Those are just words. That's not the move. And they said to me, are you kidding? That is the whole movie. It's this whole thing about mothers' intentions coming over, and the feathers symbolizes that. And the thing that they envision was this duck that became a goose that became a swan, it was greater than anything, and the daughter just looked at it and thought it was worthless. That is the story. And I looked at them and I said, oh. And I had the feeling that they understood this book better than I did. They understood the heart of this movie. So I was not the only one guarding the soul of the movie. When somebody looks at a book afresh and how they're going to put it in another form, they're going to take out of it things that are meaningful that you need to show in the film. We had such a great collaborative experience that when we actually saw the film in its finished form, we'd laugh at a certain line. I said, that was a great line you came up with. And he'd say, no, you came up with it. Like, no, you. And that is a great proof of a successful partnership. [MUSIC PLAYING] - I see you didn't touch your crab. - Like I said at dinner, not hungry. - What happened before this scene is a crab dinner in which June is there and Waverly is there-- friends and arch enemies. Waverly's successful. June is n...

About the Instructor

Amy Tan was 33 before she first explored her voice as a fiction author. A few years later, her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, spent 40 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list. Now she’s showing you her approach to the challenges and joy of self-discovery through writing. Learn how to craft compelling beginnings and endings, find your voice, and embrace your emotional memory to bring powerful narratives to life.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Amy Tan

The celebrated author shares her approach to voice, story, and the craft of bringing narratives to life from beginning to end.

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