On the eve of the release of the new biopic Mary Shelley, we caught up with the film’s Brisbane-born screenwriter Emma Jensen.
What was the first thing that got you into writing in the first place?
I always wanted to write. When I was in high school I studied film and television which was a bit of a novelty back in the 80’s in Brisbane, and the idea of screenwriting was always there. After high school, I guess I lost a bit of that confidence though and really didn’t start writing until I was 35. I worked in the industry, I started out as a producer’s assistant at Film4 in London, which was such an amazing experience, and I just started reading everything I could and I guess I discovered development through the process of reading notes…and then I summoned up the courage to start writing when I was in Los Angeles and I just haven’t looked back.
Do you think being in L.A. and in the entertainment industry helped with your writing?
That’s an interesting question because I do ask myself that. Was it the right time, right place type of situation, having a little more life experience…there is such an energy to L.A. where all things feel possible. I guess I wonder…. did I need to be out of my regular space, my regular environment, to take that step.
You’re here now with the film Mary Shelley, was she always someone you wanted to write about?
Yeah, I read Frankenstein in Grade 12. I think we all did – and it fascinated me that this story was written by a young woman. A few years later I read more about Mary and Percy (Shelley, her husband) and that great divide between the artist and the man, and his relationship with her, and that very much lingered with me. I kept thinking we’ve seen so many adaptations of the Frankenstein story itself, but the story behind the story is just as interesting.
Did you ever consider telling a version of Frankenstein? Or was Mary Shelley always who you were interested in?
For me, it was always going to be Mary Shelley. And a very singular point of view at that. Back in the treatment stage there was a version where I entertained the idea of bringing in a more supernatural element but then I thought “come back to what you wanted to tell” and I just focused on that squarely.
I know at one stage the film was titled ‘Storm in the Stars’, do you have much say in that process when your script is being possibly renamed?
In this instance when they were going to change it from Mary Shelley to Storm in the Stars it came to me to think of another title, and Storm in the Stars is a line from Frankenstein. I did spend a bit of time grappling with thematic titles, but I just kept going back to the script – almost like it was staring me in the face the whole time – and this story is in her voice and it came back to Mary Shelley.
Obviously, Elle Fanning signing on was a huge coup for the production, when writing the story was she someone you envisioned? Do you ever have actors in mind when writing?
For me, I just see them as characters. I think there was one instance on another project when I had someone in mind, but for Mary Shelley they were all just characters in my head. Early on in production when casting was discussed Elle was someone at the top of my list and as things progressed I was more conscious of Elle embodying that role.
And Mary being only 16 years of age but having a wise-beyond-her-years mentality, Elle Fanning definitely suits that…
Oh absolutely, and that’s a testament to her skills as an actress. We thought of casting in the age range of the character herself but to find an actress with that level of maturity…we were just so fortunate when Elle came on board, and she just embraced it.
In addition to being a film written by a woman, you have a female Saudi Arabian director…it must’ve been quite an amazing feeling to have a production of this scale be driven predominantly by women…
Absolutely. Even in the early stages, the film was being driven by a female team, and then to have that happen globally was just incredible.
Well I think it’s really inspiring to see a writer from Brisbane doing so well, gives us all a little bit of hope…
Oh thank you, that’s so lovely to hear.
About Mary Shelley
She will forever be remembered as the writer who gave the world Frankenstein. But the real life story of Mary Shelley—and the creation of her immortal monster—is nearly as fantastical as her fiction. Raised by a renowned philosopher father (Stephen Dillane) in 18th-century London, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (Elle Fanning) is a teenage dreamer determined to make her mark on the world when she meets the dashing and brilliant poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth). So begins a torrid, bohemian love affair marked by both passion and personal tragedy that will transform Mary and fuel the writing of her Gothic masterwork. Imbued with the imaginative spirit of its heroine, Mary Shelley brings to life the world of a trailblazing woman who defied convention and channeled her innermost demons into a legend for the ages.
Mary Shelley is in cinemas in Australia from 5th July 2018.