The Movies of My Life: Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls Screenwriter On The Films That Move Him The Most

As Patrick Ness will tell you, the path for bringing A Monster Calls, his award-winning YA book to life on screen was anything but ordinary. The tale, about a boy who creates a fantastical monster to help him cope with his mother’s terminal illness, originated with another author, Siobhan Dowd. Sadly, Dowd passed away from cancer soon after the story started to take shape. “She had an opening, 1,000 words, an idea,” says Ness who was approached by Dowd’s editor to take on the responsibility of completing the book. Published in 2011, Ness’ A Monster Calls did not just pay a wonderful tribute to Dowd’s legacy, but it went on to win multiple awards and inspire audiences worldwide through 40 translations.

When director J.A. Bayona read Ness’ book, he was drawn to its themes of loss, love and imagination. “Bayona spoke of how A Monster Calls could complete a trilogy about mothers and sons,” says Ness, referring to the director’s first two films, The Orphanage and The Impossible. Once the two started working together on the screenplay, it became a clear that a few key elements of the story needed to be changed. The first and most significant was turning the book’s 13 year-old hero, Connor, into an artist. The “monster tree” literally steps off the pages of his sketchbook. “It is a very, very internal book, and that is always a challenge when you are converting that to a screenplay. You can’t have a movie of someone just thinking,” explains Ness with a laugh. “Bayona's idea to make Connor an artist was very fruitful.”

Ness calls the process of working on the film -- including traveling to film festivals and premieres around the world -- “really, really thrilling” but admits he is eager to return to his true calling, writing books. “At the end of the day I love going back in front of my laptop and working out my story. There is still a thrill to that.”  Ness fans won’t have to wait long for his next literary creation, due out in September 2017. Also in the works: a film adaption of his book Chaos Walking and a Ness-penned TV series, Class, a Dr. Who spin-off debuting on the BBC-Three in January.

To get to the root what of motivates this cinematically-minded author, Focus Features asked asked Ness to reveal the most important movies of his life. Get ready to queue these films in your watch lists, with tissue boxes handy.

Where the Red Fern Grows, 1974

Movie That Always Makes Me Cry

Where the Red Fern Grows. It was one of those 50s-60s kids movies, like Old Yeller or The Incredible Journey, with a narrator telling you stuff. It is based on a novel, which is also completely emotionally destroying. I know these aren’t the politically correct words, but this is how it is described: It tells the story of a young Indian brave and his squaw. The warrior is so brave and so in love with his wife, that he dies in a battle protecting her. Then she dies of heart ache. As her heart breaks open, she lies on his grave. The blood from her heart pours on to the grave and then it makes a red fern grow. That story is told in the beginning of the film to a boy who has two dogs, and the dogs are mates. In the end of the film [spoiler alert!] the boy is attacked by a mountain lion. The [male] dog dies protecting the boy and then the [female] dog dies of heart break on the boy dog’s grave. And then a red fern grows there – the end.”

Watch it now: Amazon Video

Poltergeist, 1982

First Movie Scary Movie I Loved

“I saw American Werewolf in London and when I was far too young to do so. I didn’t understand that it was satire. But at the same time, I saw Poltergeist twenty or twenty five times, to the point that I had it memorized. That is one of my big formative films.”

Watch Now: Amazon Video

Howards End, 1992

Favorite Book-To-Film Adaptation

Howards End. I did my college thesis on E.M. Forster and Howards End is an amazing book and it is a surprisingly fantastic movie. The script is just super, super sharp. You think that it is just gonna be about uptight British people being stiffy, but it is so funny and sharp and experimental. It is a terrific film that really holds up over time.”

Watch it now: Amazon Video

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, 2004

Favorite Focus Features Film, Ever

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry is a great film. The screenplay, how it is structured, is so clever. It is a crazy universe to set a story in, yet you never question the reality of it because it is told with such authority. It takes a fantastical idea and makes something really emotional of it."

Watch it now: iTunes