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CROSS ROADS: How Making a Book Trailer Hooked Marci Henna on Screenwriting

Dan Goforth talks with Marci Henna about making the novel into a film, and about how it spurred her to make the jump from novelist to screenwriter.

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when we last spoke

On October 27 & 29, will see the release Marci Henna’s novel-turned-movie, When We Last Spoke, in an exclusive two-night showing. The film features an all-star cast, including Melissa Gilbert (“Little House on the Prairie”), Corbin Bernsen (“Psych,” “L.A. Law”), Darby Camp (“Big Little Lies,” The Christmas Chronicles), Chandler Head (THE GLASS CASTLE) and Academy award-winning actress, Cloris Leachman (I Can Only Imagine, The Last Picture Show).

The film is set in 1967, when two sisters, abandoned by their mother, are taken in by their grandparents in the small southern town of Fireside, Texas. When We Last Spoke is a movie for all ages about the things that matter most—family, friends, love, and forgiveness.

Script magazine’s Dan Goforth talked with Marci Henna about making the novel into a film, and about how it spurred her to make the jump from novelist to screenwriter.

Dan: How did the movie come about from your novel?

Marci Henna

Marci Henna

Marci: Right before [the novel] When We Last Spoke was about to be published, I was on Facebook one day and saw a book trailer. I'd never seen them before and I was really impressed by it and thought, “Oh my goodness, I just really want to do that!” And so I did. Within a month, I had lined up the film crew and we were filming! After it was edited, I quoted it up through Facebook and it caught the attention of Fred Miller, who is a producer, and his wife, Kathy Miller. They reached out to me and the rest is history - here we are!

Dan: What was it like trying to decide these are the people I want to make my book into a film?

Marci: I knew of Fred's work, for sure, and Kathy. He's done phenomenal things - some that have won cutting award nominations and other films that include talent like Willie Nelson, so I knew he would do a great job. He introduced me to the rest of the team. Our screenwriters were Rick Eldridge and Jimmy Hager and Joanne Hock. Jimmy Hager did the rough draft and Joanne did the shooting script. Joanne, of course, was a director, so she was looking to polish.

Dan: How involved were you in the screenwriting process with the other writers, given the current pandemic situation?

Marci: I worked with them every step of the way, and enjoyed it so much. We did it in all sorts of ways. In the beginning, the entire team - Jimmy Hager, Rick Eldridge, Fred and Kathy Miller - and my husband and I were collaborating. We worked through the internet, telephone conversations, and later we brought (director and writer) Joanne Hock into the picture. Then I met her in Florida. She was there on business and I really, really liked her, knew that she got the movie, and I love working with Joanne. Actually, we were in development way before, so no, we were not impacted by that. Of course, you know trying to have a theatrical release during COVID… adventure! Yeah, but so far, so good.

Dan: When you were writing the book, obviously your first thought wasn't, “Wow, this would be great to make into movie”…

Marci: It just kind of happened. I always had the desire to make family movies that could be on television, that would be safe for all ages to be together, five to 95 and beyond, so that was always part of my plan. Actually, I'm working on the screenplay with Joanne Hock for the next one - a sequel, which is What Lies Ahead.

chloris leachman

Dan: You're actually writing your first screenplay now or doing your first screenplay adaptation?

Marci: We're writing What Lies Ahead, and I'm actually working now on the third screenplay myself.

Dan: What's been your process for learning screenwriting, because this is different obviously from being a novelist.

Marci: It's very different, and I've learned a whole lot through the making of When We Last Spoke. I don't think I would have been able to envision the screenplay for that - I had not gone through the process. There's so much about it, because a lot of it has to do with all that narrative in a novel that only takes about 30 seconds to show in a movie. You've got budgetary considerations - you have to reduce the number of casts. I could have as many people in a book as I want, but in a movie, you’ve got to use that to make it feasible.

when last we spoke

Dan: You mentioned you're working on a third screenplay?

Marci: I’ll actually write the screenplay before the book is written. I know exactly what's going to happen. With a novel, you do the same thing in terms of writing a synopsis and setting it all up in advance. I always start out with a lot of notes before. Sometimes that journey changes. I'm bringing in new characters and embellishing stuff that you've maybe heard a little bit about before.

Dan: You were on the set during the shoot. Was there anything new or out of the ordinary that maybe you weren't expecting once you saw your book coming to life with actors right in front of you?

Marci: I was very moved, I have to tell you. It was hard work, but we had a tremendous cast and a tremendous crew and I just really cherished every moment. I realized how hard the crew and cast were really working - those long, long hours. Your day might start at you know 5:30 in the morning and end in the evening, or you work all night.


Dan: For people who you know who are going to see this film, what is it you really want them to take away from these characters in the story?

Marci: One of the things is forgiveness - about forgiving family or people who may have hurt you. Because you've got to forgive others before you can move on. Another one is, in this instance, there were the grandparents who wound up raising their granddaughters. Two people can make a tremendous difference in the life of a child - they may not even realize how critical they were to them until years later. Another one is “dance where you are." Don't wait until life is perfect for you to enjoy your moment of fun - little moments to cherish - then you're going to be waiting a long time because life is hard. So dance in whatever situation you find yourself in. That could be a metaphor, or it can be actual dancing… but celebrate your life!

Follow the film, When We Last Spoke, on its website, and on Facebook.

More articles by Dan Goforth

Learn how to craft a compelling screenplay with Dave Trottier's SU online course, The Nitty Gritty of Spec Scripts: Writing Strong Action and Dialogue


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