Early last week, the news started to do the rounds: Jack and Joseph Nasser were producing a remake of Orson Welles’ 1946 film The Stranger and had just brought Joseph Ruben (Sleeping with the Enemy) aboard to direct.
Alanna, now based in London but originally from Alberta, is the screenwriter behind the reimagined The Stranger.
Alanna was just 18 when she came to the one-year VFS program in 2009. But by all accounts she was already writing beyond her years.
“When I knew her, she had the creative sensibility and self-knowledge of a mature creative artist,” says instructor Kat Montagu.
In fact, one of the scripts Alanna wrote at VFS, Inheritance, would play a big part in getting the Stranger gig.
“From the start, she made me identify with a flawed protagonist and a truly dimensional villain,” Kat says. “She really found her voice in Inheritance‘s darker story of murder and self identity. Her greatest gift is that she’s a visual storyteller, leaving images behind long after you’ve finished reading her work.”
So how did The Stranger come about and what’s it like seeing your name splashed over the entertainment blogs? We got in touch with Alanna to find out.
Hi, Alanna. How did you get this gig on The Stranger?
Alanna: I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a bit of luck involved. Basically, this opportunity fell into my lap thanks to a fellow [classmate], Dan Benamor, who, being American, was able to snatch up an internship position with Nasser Entertainment, and was eventually able to score a full-time position as Head of Development. He was then given carte blanche to hire Canadian writers on spec for their current projects.
They had The Stranger in mind for a remake, with the knowledge they were going to swap Nazis for serial killers in the update – which, I agree, in the wrong hands could be lethal – so Dan remembered a script I’d written back in VFS, Inheritance, and that I had a flair (see: obsession) for writing interesting, empathetic psychos. So he called me up, I said yes, quit my day job, and that was that.
What are the challenges of remaking and modernizing an Orson Welles film? Were you familiar with it before?
Alanna: I actually hadn’t heard of The Stranger before Dan told me about it. So the first thing I did was Google the crap out of it, formed an idea based on the synopsis on the Wikipedia page, because I didn’t want to end up simply copying it scene for scene, and then I watched the film.
The challenges weren’t so much associated with the conception of the plot, because I was given loads of freedom to make it as close to or as different from the original as I wanted. Obviously, there is a stigma attached that we are automatically ravaging the original by removing the Nazi plot-line, but I’m determined to keep the sentiment of the original intact, as well as character relationships, and even much of the plot. so in my mind, we’re actually being quite faithful.
The hardest thing to update was the female lead, because in the original, she may have been ahead of her time, but drop her in a modern setting and she’s an annoyingly oblivious hausfrau with Stockholm syndrome. This required a complete revamp and wound up changing loads of the plot and was pretty much a personal nightmare.
The announcement of Joseph Ruben as director did the rounds on all the news sites this week. How did that feel from your perspective?
Alanna: When you said “all the news sites,” I thought, “Yes, all two of them!” But then the other night, my boyfriend Googled me and I was floored (and a little horrified) to see five-plus pages of sites that had listed the news. They all list the same information from The Hollywood Reporter, and some of the snarkier ones throw in their two cents about how they disapprove of the remake (well, remakes in general).
It’s all pretty daunting, but with the script still in development, it gives me the benefit of being able to respond to peoples’ reactions, and hopefully turn this script into something that won’t make Welles roll in his grave… too much. On another note, it is pretty damn cool to see my name listed on the same page as Joseph Ruben’s.
You’re also a photographer, a dog walker. But what compelled you to pursue screenwriting as a career?
Alanna: I’ve always done art of some kind or another, and for that reason, social-leperdom aside, I’ve known since I was little that I could never spend my life in an office or working with people in a non-creative environment. The last few years I’ve dabbled in expanding my headshot photography business (capitalizing on the Acting department!) but I’ve never felt like my work was particularly original and so I lacked the passion to do it professionally.
Writing, on the other hand, is just a part of my life. If I can’t write, I don’t sleep well – so it makes sense to me that I at least attempt to make a living out of it. Not to mention, I love seeing peoples’ reactions to my work, and if I can impress a film audience, then I know for sure I’m doing something right.
As for the dog walking, well. I just love dogs.