The cast and crew of The Fault in Our Stars are filming outside of a church on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Shailene Woodley (Hazel) and Ansel Elgort (Gus) are filming a scene from John Green’s book where the former reveals that she used her one Make-A-Wish opportunity on a trip to Disney World.
Gus, with his brown leather jacket, perfect smile, and metaphorically-employed cigarette is outraged that Hazel would do such a thing. Hazel smirks as she walks to Gus’ car and deals with the repercussions of this revelation.
Behind the camera, Green is smirking too as he watches his book come to life. He’s laughing quietly into his hand, listening intently to the scene as it’s performed over and over again. He’s trading glances between the preview monitor and the actors a short distance in front of him.
In between two takes, Woodley shouts over to Green with a thumb up in the air. “Is it up to your cute standards?”
“Double thumbs up. Double cute,” Green replies, all smiles, with his wife by his side.
Later we asked Woodley if she asks the author for his approval regularly. “I actually don’t do that very often, but, there are certain scenes we will talk about how they’re our favorites and how sweet they are, and so if we’ve started a conversation beforehand, afterwards, I will ask, ‘What did you think buddy?'”
That little moment on set – one of countless down to earth interactions between star and author – reflects the purpose of the film: To make viewers feel happy through love.
Hypable visited the set of The Fault in Our Stars last September while production was well under way in western Pennsylvania. Although the book is set in Indianapolis, Indiana, the movie was shot further east because of tax incentives.
Directed by Josh Boone and produced by Wyck Godfrey, The Fault in Our Stars film has a passionate readership to please when it opens in theaters June 6. After all, with over 7 million copies in print according to NBC, the majority of viewers will be those who read the book.
Real Life Cancer Survivors On Set – And Mike Birbiglia
It’s clear that everyone on set has read the novel at some point, and connecting with the source material’s audience is a high priority. For many, the project hits close to home. On this particular day that Hypable was within the cast and crew, the extras who portray members of Hazel’s support group are real cancer survivors. People like Angel, PJ, and Sid. Each of them take a turn in front of the camera standing up to introduce themselves, receiving some light direction from Boone. While we’re watching them each make their Hollywood debut, we’re told that some of them are going through “pretty radical treatment” at the moment.
Says Boone, “All the cancer kids that we met are exactly how they are in John’s book. They’re really funny and irreverent, saying things you wouldn’t think they’d say. So that justified the book to me in some ways. We met many of them here in Pittsburgh. People who had gone to the children’s hospital here so we tried to include as many of them as we could. It was a nice thing to do and it gives them some authenticity I hope.”
In this same scene, Hazel meets the group’s leader Patrick, who asks how she’s doing.
Mike Birbiglia’s casting was one of the best ideas that producer Wyck Godfrey ever had, according to the author. “Strongest casting decision, maybe in the history of movies. I’m including Rob Pattinson,” he says, referring to Godfrey’s 2008 production Twilight.
As luck would have it, Green is a huge fan of Birbiglia. “He’s one of my favorite comedians and one of my all-time favorite individuals,” he says. “I hardly slept last night thinking about the fact that I was going to meet Birbiglia. Whereas, like, when I was meeting Willem Dafoe or Laura Dern – people I really admire – I could totally handle it, but Birbiglia! So I’m really excited to spend the next couple days watching him be amazing. He’s a great Patrick, he’s already just perfect, just everything I imagined and more.”
On this same day they’re filming one of Patrick’s flashback scenes, which is an aspect that was added to the film by screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber. To get to the church’s rec room to interview Green, we have to squeeze past a stretcher that’s being used in the church hallway, which is standing in for a hospital.
I interviewed Woodley and Elgort on a swing set in New York in May. In this report, and in another feature on June 6, you’ll see our chat in GIF form.
Ansel and Shailene take turns describing John
John, Meet Your Characters
Green was an honorary crew member on the set of his book’s film adaptation. On average he was on set for four out of five days a week, and would use the weekends to go home to spend time with his family. He got to keep the clothes he wore during his (deleted) cameo.
I wanted to know: What exactly is he doing on set all day? The answer is that he’s mainly a cheerleader. “My job is to be happy,” he told me. “There’s a lot of people on movie sets who have to have a job. They have things that they have to do every second, and that seemed very stressful – and they’re very proficient and competent at it – and my job is just to sort of marvel at their competence. And express my gratitude.”
He added that he’ll occasionally talk to producers about a scene or answer a question they have about the book, “but that’s very rare.”
In a separate interview, Woodley chimed in on Green’s involvement. “It’s really nice to have him around. He’s everyone’s biggest fan. It’s one thing when the director is happy and when the producers are happy and when your fellow actors are happy, but when the creator of the entire universe is happy; there is no better feeling. You know people always ask about the pressure of the fans, and that’s a whole ‘nother job, but regardless of what fans think or what anyone else thinks, I think the biggest judge is John Green because he is the one who created it all and knowing he is psyched out of his mind is.”
“Like all the time!” Elgort adds.
“Yeah, all the time. Like I’ve-never-been-this-happy-in-my-life psyched.”
Boone likes to have Green on set so he can get instant feedback. “I showed him an early cut scene of Nat egging Monica’s car with Ansel and Shai and he laughed the whole time and then he cried at the end. And I was like, ‘Yes.’ And then I made him watch it two more times. So I take that as a ‘we’re doing okay.’ As long as he’s happy then that’s the important thing. He seems happy.”
At one point during the day we were with Green in the Literal Heart of Jesus, and couldn’t help but notice the proud look on the author’s face as he slowly looked around the room, admiring what the crew had done. “I love this room,” he says as we stand in the center of it while the chairs that the support members sit on are stacked away for the day. “I love this church, I think it’s perfect. When these chairs are all in a circle it’s just so powerful for me.”
He points out to us that the rug in the center – which you see prominently in the film – was custom made. There were two copies of it made – one small, one large.
A question about finding the homes to shoot the film in led Green to tell us a story about finding Gus’ basement.
“The location scout was in the neighborhood, was looking at houses, knocked on a door, and said ‘I’m location scouting for an adaptation of a book called The Fault in Our Stars.’ And the first thing the homeowner said was, ‘Oh, I have Gus’ basement.’ She was a big fan of the book, her whole family had read it, and the location scout went downstairs and she really did have Gus’ perfect basement. I remember going downstairs and being like ‘What, this is crazy! This is really the perfect Gus basement.'”
What does Shailene think happened to Hazel after the events of ‘TFiOS’?
Learning From Hazel
One of the best parts about interviewing cast members on a set are the intimate discussions right where the stars are turning into characters. In this case, we had the unique pleasure of talking to Woodley and Elgort smack in the center of the Literal Heart of Jesus, on the chairs the support group members sat in earlier in the day.
One of the interviewers asked Woodley about how she relates to Hazel. Unsurprisingly, the actress went a step beyond comparing herself to the lead female. “We are all independent thinkers, and we’re all individual thinkers, and I think Hazel recognizes that. She doesn’t think she is special in any way, shape or form and I think that does make her special.”
It was Hazel’s love interest who her younger self would relate to, she says. “I remember being in high school and sort of being like, ‘Wow, I am the only one.’ It’s funny because reading the book, I felt like I related to Gus more at that age. When I was that age, I was, ‘Oh my god, there’s so much to do in the world, there’s so much to change, and I want to be remembered and I want to fix this and I want to save the environment and I want to do A, B and C,’ and that’s kind of how Gus is.”
So while Woodley doesn’t always relate to Hazel, she “learned a lot” from her. “I was very inspired by her groundedness and how centered she is and her ability to recognize the faults in the world and not to sympathize with them, but yet empathize some but understand it’s not her responsibility to fix those faults. I think those are important lessons for all of us to learn. Calm down, take each moment as it is, breathe through the moments instead of getting excited and anxious about them.”
Odds and Ends
Pretending to have only one leg: In the story, Gus has a prosthetic leg because his real one had to be removed when it became infected by cancer. When we interviewed Elgort on set, we noticed he had a brace on his (real) leg which he had been wearing while filming. “This is a brace which makes me walk like I have a prosthetic leg,” he explains. “It’s kind of like a terminator leg or robotic leg. So it works like a regular leg. You can snowboard in it, whatever [else you want to do], it’s not like a peg leg.”
The brace was invented specifically for Elgort’s use, he says. “It makes it so I don’t have to worry about it. It’s just there, and sometimes it’s painful, but as is having a prosthetic leg. So it’s better than wearing an ace bandage to remind myself. It actually does make me wonder what it would be like if it happened.”
Elgort had a body double named Tanner Boatwright who lost his leg in a hunting accident. In scenes where you see his prosthetic leg, it’s actually Boatwright’s prosthetic you’re seeing on screen.
Fans on the sidelines: The Fault in Our Stars and John Green obviously have a huge following, so it wasn’t a surprise to us when we saw fans along the church property border throughout the day. While security kept them a comfortable distance away from the filming action, Green and a couple of the stars were happy to say hello to everyone once they finished working for the day. We were told that fans were outside waiting to a catch a glimpse of the action any day that they knew the location of the shooting.
Same shoes: Upon entering the rec room to be interviewed, Boone told me that he has the same pair of red, white, and blue Sketchers that I was wearing.
Ansel and Shailene summarize ‘TFiOS’ in six seconds
It was a pleasure visiting the set last September, and the impression I received was that everyone on set cared about making the best adaptation possible. With such great source material, how can you not feel the need to do a double-thumbs-up good job?