Shepherding a saga from book to show
Author Andrew Peterson and showrunner Chris Wall discuss The Wingfeather Saga TV series
The Wingfeather Saga is a new animated series streaming on the Angel Studios app and based on the popular children’s books by Christian singer-songwriter and author Andrew Peterson. Chris Wall has extensive experience working in animation with Veggie Tales and Dreamworks, and he serves as the series’ showrunner. I recently talked with Andrew and Chris about what it was like to adapt a book for the screen and the collaboration and community that goes into a project like this. Below is our conversation edited for length and clarity.
Andrew, you’ve got this other life as a singer-songwriter and author of not just children’s books, but books for adults. In those worlds, you have a lot of control over your creation. What was it like handing that creation over to a team of people who then might leave their own fingerprints on the work? That’s a great question. It has been a total delight. There’s a myth of the author that he’s in his writing cabin and cooking up the stories all on his own. The truth is The Wingfeather Saga is influenced by all the books I’ve read, and also by the friends I have and the people who shaped my tastes over the years.
I do have veto power when working on a book or writing a song. But you do learn the lesson over and over and in music and in the writing process that collaboration makes the work better. It just does. So I didn’t come into the animated series with any kind of illusion that the only way for this to be good is for me to have the final say.
It’s nice to know I can be in the room and speak up every now and then. Part of the amazing thing Chris did was to pull together an incredible team of people who are better at their job than I will ever be at their job. So I get to be a cheerleader and be in the room and watch it happen. And there have been a few things that have surprised me—things that took me some getting used to.
I remember my first record many years ago. The producer was this New York producer who made all these big records, and I was this young, hotheaded songwriter—it’s embarrassing now to look back at the thing. But I remember I was so “precious” about my songs. We were in preproduction and he was like, “You know what? The song is six minutes long. Maybe you need to have one less chorus, or maybe you could shrink this verse down. Do you need to repeat this here?” And I fought him tooth and nail, and one of the things that he eventually started doing was saying, “Hey, just do me a favor, let’s take this out, and if it’s still bothering you a week from now, then we can put it back in.” And he knew good and well that a week from now I would have completely forgotten about this goofy little thing that I was clinging to.
That is a lesson any person in a creative field needs to learn. When you invite other people into the thing, it becomes less about you and more about the thing that is being made.
Chris, you’re on the other side of that. You’re picking up somebody’s baby. How do you approach that trust that’s been given to you? It can be a little paralyzing because I loved the stories. I loved reading them, and I didn’t want to break them or get them wrong.
And it was wonderful to have Andrew join, not only as author but as executive producer, to come alongside and be able to make sure that we’re headed the right way.
Inevitably, as you transfer from one medium to another, things have to change. We imagine this story lives out in its own space and we’re observing a version of the story Andrew also observed when he wrote his down.
And we’ll see things he didn’t see. We’ll get to capture little bits that he didn’t, and we’ll make it a fresh experience. It will not feel derivative. I think the hardest part of adaptation is things feeling derivative like it’s a lesser version.
People say they want this—“I want a page-for-page adaptation.” No, you don’t. It’ll be really boring. What you want is a story. And in our case, we’ve really been able to take to it and bring along some wonderful craftsmen in each stage. Andrew talks about the book being his own house. And we find new hallways in his house we get to explore.
We also have the benefit of all four books being done. I know the conclusion of the story, and it’s really good. It helps as a storyteller as you’re mapping it out. You can slide some things forward that maybe don’t happen until another book. You can just adjust some things, not break the story, but make it thoroughly fresh for audiences coming into it.
You’ve talked a lot about living in community, creating in community. How conscious are you of living and creating a community? And is there a particular community you have in mind while you’re working on some of these things, Andrew? Community is a hard word. It’s a big word for what we’re talking about. Community is often a byproduct of the creative process, and it often outlives the thing that was being created in the first place. One of the things foundational to The Rabbit Room, this ministry I founded years ago, was this idea that art nourishes community and community nourishes art, and we want to create a space for that symbiotic relationship.
What I love about it is that we have this idea—let’s make a TV show out of The Wingfeather Saga, and let’s make it an animated show. And by virtue of starting a project that is impossible without a whole bunch of people, you are necessarily inviting a whole bunch of people into that story. And then once The Wingfeather Saga runs its course and is gone, I fully expect that the friendships that were born here will remain.
Andrew, what is the thing that ended up in the series that you didn’t put there that delighted you the most? Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know. To be honest, the best way I know to answer that question is that the book and the TV show have thoroughly melded themselves in my mind.
We’ve spent so much time reading the book. Reading the book aloud. Doing the audiobooks. But then also being in the room for the development process. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to fully separate the two.
So every time I think of something, I’m like, “No, that was in the book too.” Or if I think it’s something in the book, I’m like, “Well, there it is in the movie.” So I don’t know.
I felt like there’s this Platonic Form of The Wingfeather Saga. The writing of the books followed by being involved in the animation series—we’ve just moved a little closer to the true heart of the story. That’s the thing I think has delighted me the most.
The first episode of The Wingfeather Saga debuts Dec. 2 on the Angel Studios app with new episodes arriving on Dec. 16 and 30.
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