Geoffrey Card: Creating the Rest of the Story for God’s Army
THE SEARCH FOR A WRITER
After the initial success of God’s Army at the box office, a novelization of the story seemed in order, but who could write it? Richard Dutcher began the search for a suitable author.
Geoffrey Card was put on the list of potential authors thanks to an article he had written and posted on the Internet.
“When I first heard about God’s Army, I was serving in the Anaheim Mission. I came home in time to see it on opening night at the Academy Theater in Provo. I brought a bunch of mission friends with me, and we spent the whole time cracking mission jokes and high-five-ing each other on the back row. If you went to that showing, I’m sure you remember us.
“I went home really excited. I couldn’t stop talking about it. Within days I had written a review of the movie and posted it at www.nauvoo.com. For fun, I sent the URL to the folks at Zion Films, thinking it would amuse then to read yet another positive review.
“What I got back was an invitation from Dean Hale to send in a writing sample. They were looking for someone to novelize the film, and they liked my take on the story. Of course, I hadn’t actually written any prose since high school-all my recent work was in screenplay format-so I went to see the movie again, adapted a few of the scenes from memory, and sent them in.
“The rest of the story I only got secondhand. Apparently, they narrowed it down to a few applicants, all of them really good writers, and Richard decided that my style was the one he thought would most accurately portray his vision of the film. I feel really lucky to have been chosen, and I have a lot of respect for the other writers who were up for the job.”ADAPTING FROM THE FILM.
Card was faced with the unique challenge of creating a novel from a screenplay, something that rarely occurs in literature. Hollywood produces a myriad of films every year based on successful novels, but the number of novels based on original films each year can probably be counted on one hand.
“My biggest challenge was to preserve the pace while expanding the story,” Card says of his unique situation. “Movies, by nature, are much shorter than novels, which is one of their strengths. They are incredibly economical. One of the first lessons a good screenwriter learns is to cut out every single unnecessary detail, no matter how much you love it.
“A screenplay isn’t really a story,” Card continues. “It’s the skeleton of a story, waiting for a hundred people with money and equipment to get together and decide how to finish it.
“The actual God’s Army story is really, really short. It contains upwards of six or seven major subplots, but most of them don’t get any more than two or three scenes to themselves. Adapted coldly and directly, it would make about an eighty-page novel. But that is a good thing. It means that the audience is never bored. It means they stay riveted to their chairs from the first scene to the last. But it also means that the novelizer will be chained to his office chair for weeks, figuring out how to fill in the gaps.
“The last thing I wanted to do was screw up the pacing and rhythm that Richard had established. I could have filled every page with purple prose going on and on about exactly how red Elder Dalton’s tie was that morning. That would have generated a thick stack of paper high enough to rival anything by Robert Jordan. But it would have completely smothered Richard’s story.
“Instead, I chose to spend the extra pages afforded by the novel genre tinkering around in the character’ heads. While the film God’s Army follows Elder Allen very closely for the vast majority of the film, I took the chance to get inside Elder Kinegar, Elder Dalton, President Beecroft, and nearly everyone else, writing their motives and perspectives and internal battles as they try to serve the Lord the best they can. I wove their thoughts in with the action, so the pace rarely stops, yet hopefully the story goes a little deeper and stretches a little further than it could on the screen.”
IN THE FAMILY.
Growing up in the home of an award-winning, best-selling author made its impact on young Card. “Storytelling was always a part of our childhood, growing up in a writer’s house. I actually think that we had kind of an unfair advantage, actually. Most budding artists I know grow up in environments where the arts are not considered a ‘legitimate’ sort of career. Their families are confused by their inordinate fascination with ‘hobbies’ like writing, painting and singing. In my house, it was the opposite. I think my parents would have been confused or frightened if I’d gone into business or law.”
Card started writing at a very young age, compiling his first collection of stories when he was just four. “I wouldn’t exactly submit then to publishers,” says Card, “but at the time I was really proud of them.”
Now, as published authors, father and son have even more in common than genetics and a passion for words. Geoffrey Card’s novelization of God’s Army will hit bookstores about the same time as his dad’s latest novel, Rebekah.
Surprisingly, neither has yet read the other’s work.
“My father hasn’t read the novelization yet,” says Geoff Card. “Nor have I read Rebekah, the book he just finished. I think it’s going to be fun after our joint signing at Deseret Book for my dad and I to sit down in our newfound spare time and actually read the novels that we’ve been complaining to each other about for all these months.”
THE WRITING PROCESS.
Card found plenty of help in the writing process from his family, even if not directly from his father. “After the first draft, it was my mother who gave me my most valuable initial criticism. She’s been doing the same thing for my dad for twenty-five years, so I figured she was a good person to turn to.
“Then, after the second draft, I handed it off to my sister Emily, who did an incredible job of weeding out my inconsistent characters and all kinds of silly mistakes that I never could have found on my own. Emily is an excellent writer, and her work is a lot more poetic and personal than mine, so she is truly an invaluable resource when I’m trying to figure out why my stuff doesn’t go over as well as I had intended.”
And of course, Card found some help from the creator of God’s Army, Richard Dutcher.
“Richard was actually very hands-off on the project. Admirably so. I’m not sure if I could step back and let someone else have at my story the way he did for me. There were a few points where we initially disagreed, but once Richard explained where he was coming from, his story choices made perfect sense and flowed well with what I had already written. I would definitely work with him again if the opportunity arose.”
For Card, the most challenging part of the writing process is sitting alone in a room while he organizes the creative thoughts swimming through his head.
“Most writers I know are introverts, and I envy them. I thrive on interaction with other people, and the hardest thing in the world for me is shutting myself away in a cave to write. That’s why I’m attending film school now, and spending every spare moment working on student projects. I need to have a career that allows me to interact with other human beings on a near-constant basis.MISSIONARY EXPERIENCES.
Card’s own mission experiences in Anaheim also significantly shaped his interpretation of the story and the characters. He served in the Anaheim Mission from 1997 to 1999, about the same time as God’s Army was being filmed in Los Angeles.
“My old companions are probably going to recognize anecdotes from my mission and raise their eyebrows, wondering if I based any characters on them. So here’s the official word. The characters are themselves. I based them on Richard’s screenplay and on my own memories of myself as a missionary.
“If you asked me to adapt God’s Army today, I couldn’t do it nearly as well because I’ve been home for more than two years. But when I wrote the original manuscript, I was still very much the recently-returned elder. I spoke the lingo, I had the schedule memorized, and I could still teach the discussions from memory. The story is primarily an exploration of mission life. It’s a milieu
“I was able to use a lot of anecdotes from my mission. It was kind of fun, planting little details that only Anaheim missionaries who served with me would recognize. A mission house calledthe Batcave. A painted-up bike named Legion. A missionary who gets a free car and has to give it back. A Polynesian missionary whaling on some thugs with a knife sticking out of his chest. Not all of it is completely true, but. well, you had to be there.”IN THE FUTURE.
Home from his mission two years, Card is attending Chapman University School of Film and Television where he writes feature-length screenplays and films amateur movies. Most of his work to date has been in screenplays and film.
“I didn’t actually write anything I considered ‘serious’ until I was eighteen. By then, I had been making amateur movies for a couple of years, and had enrolled in BYU’s film program (back before it became a ‘media arts’ program). I knew I wanted to make a feature film, but lacking several million dollars, my only option was to sit down and write one.
“My first script was a terrible post-apocalyptic action flick that hopefully will never be produced. But I learned a lot from the experience. Six scripts and one novel later, I’m a better writer for it.
“Incidentally, that’s how I deal with the fact that no matter what, the work I did yesterday will always look sub-par to me today. I just focus on what I’m going to write tomorrow.”
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.