How We Met: Chris Columbus & Ned Vizzini

'Watching a game of Quidditch with the man who put it on the map was surreal'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Chris Columbus, 54

Following success as a screenwriter on films such as 'Gremlins' and 'The Goonies', Columbus (left in picture) saw his directorial career take off with 'Home Alone', in 1990. He has since directed two of the Harry Potter films and produced the Oscar-nominated 'The Help'. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and children.

I came up with the idea of a story for a novel, but realised that if I still wanted to run a film business I would need to collaborate with an author to get it written. I'd devoured Ned's books and thought he was a funny writer. I liked how he had this ability to make his characters feel complex, too. So we met in LA and I gave him 90 pages to see if he wanted to get involved. A week later, Ned had done a rough draft, which I liked.

We each brought different things to the work: the fact that he's younger and closer to the characters' ages gave him insight into their internal world. And I brought with me the dialogue between the characters; I have four kids who've spent the past few years insulting, arguing and fighting one another, so I have a bank of material in my head when writing conversations.

We've spent time together at my house, over in San Francisco, and got to know each other a lot better there. What do we have most in common? That we both have a fear of heights. I think we share a sense, too, that darkness is good in children's literature, whether it's the death of Harry Potter's parents, or Pip interacting with an escaped convict in Great Expectations. The darkness gives a story integrity.

I'm grateful that Ned has made me more aware of a character's internal dialogue. As humans we're constantly thinking about something; our own fears or concerns. But as a film director you can forget that stuff should be going on. Actors love to talk about this stuff such as asking me, "What would be going on in his head?" and I used to get a little impatient as I'd be running late if I had to discuss with each of them what goes on in the mind of their character. But now, I try to be more patient.

What I love about Ned is probably our biggest difference. He's a deep thinker, while I'm often accused of speaking before I think. I appreciate the time he takes to consider everything I ask him.

Ned Vizzini, 32

An American screenwriter and author of young-adult fiction, Vizzini has also written for MTV's 'Teen Wolf' TV series and currently writes for the US television drama 'Last Resort'. He lives in LA.

My family bickered a lot while I was growing up. The only movie I remember that we all saw and loved was Home Alone, which was directed by Chris. I never expected we'd end up meeting.

Two years ago Chris was searching for someone to collaborate with on a book project in which an old house ends up floating on the ocean, and gets attacked by pirates. He had already read some of my work, and his agent got in touch.

His films such as Gremlins helped write the collective storytelling knowledge of my generation. And even now you can't talk movies involving kids in Hollywood without mentioning The Goonies. So I felt really nervous on the day I went to meet him and tried to find common ground. He's a family man – Chris has four kids and is happily married – and with my wife expecting our first baby at the time, I felt there was a kinship there, which helped a lot in the first few meetings.

I've never worked on a book with another person before, but you learn that you have to surrender your ego for the good of the work, and accept that the best idea might not come from you.

I'd sometimes send him a draft and he'd say to me, "I don't think this is working," and we would have to hash things out. We disagreed on the title, too: House of Secrets was not my favourite. I wanted to call it the Page Runners, or Legacy, which I liked, but Chris didn't respond to it. He's a very funny writer, though, and has a gift for wordplay, which was visible in the Goonies script.

What has he taught me? How to write cliffhangers better than anyone else; it's a movie sensibility that he has. I've learnt about the whole process of the Harry Potter films from him, too. He might have directed only the first two, but he helped pick the original cast and turn the Harry Potter franchise into one of the biggest film series of all time.

We went to Comic-Con together last year, in New York, which was a lot of fun. I remember passing this live [version of] "Quidditch" being played and watching it with the man who helped put Quidditch on the map. It was very surreal. Chris went up to them and told them that he was the guy who directed the movies, but they didn't believe him.

'House of Secrets' (£12.99, HarperCollins Children's), the first in a new series of books by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini, is out on Wednesday