Bringing Pope Joan to the Screen: BEWARE! Author on the Movie Set

“Pope Joan” © 2009 Constantin Film Verleih GmbH
“Pope Joan” © 2009 Constantin Film Verleih GmbH

Every author's nightmare: handing one's book over to a movie company.

Every director's nightmare: having the author of the book on which the movie is based on the set during filming.

Okay, I admit it: I was nervous when I signed the rights to my novel Pope Joan over to Constantin Film. As one wit remarked, "Handing one's novel over to a film production company is like handing your child over to the Charles Manson Daycare Center."

I got lucky. The director had the self-confidence, born of talent, to include me in the creation of the film. He sought my advice on the screenplay and even during casting. He took some -- not all -- of my suggestions, which is appropriate, for this was his project, not mine.

He also invited me to be on set for several weeks. The first set I visited was a medieval marketplace, complete with hundreds of extras (vendors, tooth-pullers, soothsayers, acrobats), animals (pigs, goats, horses, dogs) market stalls (gold and purple cloth, spices, scents, exotic foods). I stood very still, watching the colorful bustle, remembering what it felt like to write that scene in the solitude of my study. Then I didn't know if it would ever appear in print, much less on a movie screen. Watching this scene acted out before my eyes will always remain one of the "golden moments" of my life.

The director's warm welcome to the movie set evoked a reciprocal generosity from me. I behaved myself, stayed out of his way, did not intrude on his creative process unless asked for advice. The result is a wonderful film, one that I love, one that stays true to the heart of my novel.

And how often do you hear an author say THAT?

The two-part miniseries "Pope Joan" will debut on Reelz TV on December 18 at 8:00 PM EST. "Pope Joan" tells the story of Johanna von Ingelheim, a woman whose existence has been denied for a thousand years. A controversial figure of historical record, she disguised herself as a man and rose to rule the Catholic Church in the 9th century as the first and only woman to sit on the throne of St. Peter. Based on the international bestselling novel by Donna Woolfolk Cross, Pope Joan was produced by Constantin Film. Learn more at Check out an interview with the author here. Visit the author's website here.