Writing for film makes author a happy camper
Last updated 4/12/2022 at Noon
Sisters resident Melody Carlson began writing books with little more than a can-do attitude, a yellow legal pad, and a dream. Thirty years and over 300 published books later, Carlson has long since exchanged her legal pad for a typewriter and her typewriter for a computer. But with the same unwavering pluck, she has now entered an all-new creative realm — writing for film.
Recently Carlson was on location in Colorado to observe production of “The Happy Camper,” the film adaptation of her novel of the same name.
When Carlson penned the screenplay, she couldn’t have hoped for better than to place it in the capable hands of executive producer Brian Bird of “When Calls the Heart” fame.
“He’s such a professional,” Carlson said. “He’s well-connected. He knows what he’s doing. All the cast, all the crew were just really nice folks.”
The movie stars Daniela Bobadilla, best known for her role as Sam Goodson in the FX series “Anger Management,” and Beau Wirick, known for playing the role of Sean Donahue on the sitcom “The Middle.” Carlson is pleased with the lead actors’ on-screen chemistry. In real life, the couple is married.
In Carlson’s fictional story, a young, disillusioned woman returns to her hometown in Oregon and undertakes to rehab a dilapidated trailer. In the process, she reinvents her life and finds romance.
When comparing any book with its film adaptation, Carlson notes that it’s helpful to remember the key word is adaptation.
“There are things you can do in a book that you can’t do in a movie due to budget and timeframe,” she said. “[Otherwise] it would be 10 hours long. I’m learning you have to tell the story as well as you can in the form of a screenplay. I have to think about what things cost.”
For example, in Carlson’s original novel the main character, Dillon, is a swimming instructor, which she points out is too impractical for film. Instead, in the Brian Bird production, Dillon directs a children’s choir, which Carlson said, “ends up being fun, cuz these kids are super talented.”
While the novel takes place in Oregon in summer, the movie version will be set in Colorado in autumn. Due to a series of scheduling delays, the film was shot in the Colorado Springs area in the dead of winter. Freezing temperatures caused filming to be relocated indoors.
In writing “The Happy Camper,” Carlson drew on her own experience of fixing up a 16-foot 1963 Oasis with an overcab. At a key time in her life, the project offered a healthy outlet.
“At the time, I was tired of writing,” she said. “I was in transition. I saw an old, beat-up trailer on the side of the road (in Sisters) for $2,000.”
The seller asked for payment in the form of a brown paper bag filled with cash.
“I gave him the bag. He gave me the title. He didn’t even count the money,” she recalled.
Throughout the process, Carlson sensed some kismet. The name on the title, as it turned out, was Carlson. She also discovered the name on an old army jacket inside the trailer. Applying an aqua-and-orange Southwestern theme, Carlson overhauled the camper top to bottom, inside and out.
Living in Central Oregon provides Carlson with endless inspiration.
“I set many of my novels in the Northwest — Washington, Idaho, Northern California,” she said. “But it’s always Oregon in my mind. I’ve been all around the world, and what could be better?”
“The Happy Camper” is the second of Carlson’s novels to become a movie. The first, “All Summer Long,” premiered on the Hallmark Channel in 2019.
A number of her other projects appear to be on their way to the screen as well. Carlson is in talks with two production companies interested in the screenplay adaptation she wrote based on her latest novel, “Looking for Leroy.” And Sony’s new family-friendly division, Pure Flix Entertainment, has plans to turn Carlson’s 16-book “Diary of a Teenage Girl” series into a made-for-TV series for teens. That collaboration is looking good, but as she puts it, “Nothing’s ever sure until it’s sure.”
So what makes Carlson a happy camper? Staying true to the way she was designed. It’s that combination of creativity and pluck.
“If I’m not doing something creative, I’m not happy,” she said. “Gardening, home decorating, anything. I just grew up thinking that was normal. My sister and I were raised by a single mom with limited financial resources. But you name a craft, we did it — stained glass, candles, macramé.”
Carlson and her husband, Chris, recently completed a new home for which Melody contributed the design work and Chris most of the construction.
“Even as a young person, I was always a risk-taker,” said Carlson, who by the age of 18 already had her associate’s degree and was on a boat headed for Papua New Guinea. There she taught preschool for a year before traveling the world by herself.
“I’m wired that way. Writing is risky, throwing yourself out there. I’m one of those people who couldn’t not write.”
Carlson anticipates “The Happy Camper,” now in post-production, will release this fall.