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When Your Book Becomes a TV Show! Stephanie Oakes Tells All

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We had to know, what’s it like when your book becomes a TV show? Stephanie Oakes‘ 2015 cult instant classic The Scared Lies of Minnow Bly was picked up by Facebook Watch and tonight Sacred Lies ends an absolute terrifically haunting first season – which you can watch at anytime right HERE. We had Stephanie look back at the process from page to screen including her on-set experience and cameo moment!

 

Writing a book is a kind of magic. I get to pass an idea from my brain, through words, into another person’s brain. And seeing characters that I created walking and talking on screen feels like another, even stranger kind of magic. It has been one of the most unique and world-altering experiences tuning in every Friday night for the past couple of months to watch ‘Sacred Lies,’ to watch actors and screenwriters and directors and cinematographers and many talented crew members turn my words into a television show. I will also never get over the feeling of seeing “Based on the book, The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes” on screen.

The first episode of ‘Sacred Lies’ opens just as the book does: Minnow is standing beneath a bridge above the beaten body of a boy. The police arrest her and we quickly learn several things about Minnow: She has escaped from a cult, the cult was destroyed in a fire and the Prophet was killed, and Minnow has no hands.

Elena Kampouris plays Minnow. When I visited the set of ‘Sacred Lies’ this March, all of the cast and crew members that I met spoke so enthusiastically about Elena and her skill as an actress. What she pulls off is frankly amazing. She portrays Minnow in all of her complexity. She is angry, scared, and wide-eyed at the newness of the outside world. But she is also curious and capable of friendship and humor. Elena’s performance is everything that I could have wished for. She absolutely owns the part.

StephanieElena

Each of the actors was so gracious and welcoming of me on the set. From Patti Kim (The actor playing Sheriff Harjo), who mailed me a magnet that says “Harjo hearts you,” to Kevin Carroll, who cared so deeply about the character of Dr. Wilson that he called me to collaborate about how best to bring his character to life, the actors were across-the-board so dedicated and friendly. I’m especially amazed by Kiana Madeira’s performance as Angel. As a character, Angel is one I feel particularly attached to, and I was mildly wary about the idea of seeing her on screen. I had no reason to worry, though, because Kiana absolutely nailed it. She brings the Angel from my imagination completely to life, and I’m so in love with her performance.

Not every actor in the show was brimming with natural talent. The second episode, “Love Bomb,” features a cameo by none other than…me! When I visited the set, the amazing showrunner, Raelle Tucker, kindly offered to let me be a part of a scene at the trailer park where Minnow grows up. The trailer park, by the way, was created from the ground up by the incredible art department. Each trailer was customized down to minute details—newspapers, board games, knickknacks, yard art. They even built the apple tree that’s featured in the scene (and, fun fact, the apples that the Prophet, played by Toby Huss, eats in that scene were tomatillos).

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My job was to walk into the shot, place a box of books onto a truck (we were giving up all of our worldly belongings before moving to the Community), and exit the shot after being thanked by the Prophet. I’ve never done any kind of performance, so I asked a ton of questions. I felt a little like a t-ball player getting coached by a professional baseball team. Everyone on set—from hair and makeup, to the director, to the camera operators, to the actors, and all of the other crew—were so gracious and kind. Even after one of the many, many, many takes, when I accidentally ploughed into one of the mind-bogglingly expensive cameras as I exited the shot (coordination was never my strength). One of the extras shouted, “That’s going on the blooper reel!” I don’t think I’ll be pursuing on-camera work as a career option.

I have been constantly impressed by the amount of work that went into the creation of the show. When I visited the set, I was floored by how long the hours were, how exhausted I felt at the end of the day (and I didn’t have to do any of the actual work!). Every scene had to be re-shot multiple times, from multiple angles, and the entire crew operated like one multi-faceted, highly efficient organism. Watching the way the hundreds of crew moved on set was like observing a complicated kind of dance.

One of the perks of being the author whose book inspired a TV show is that I got to read all of the scripts in advance and visit the set, so I knew basically what to expect from each episode. Still, it has been so incredibly fun to watch how the creators of the show actually pulled off some of the things in the script. The pond scene in episode four was one I awaited with particular anticipation. When I visited the set, the producers were mulling over how best to accomplish the scene in which Minnow sees a vision of her mother rising through the surface of a pond. What was only a few seconds on screen took an unbelievable amount of planning and troubleshooting. The end result looks seamless. The wonderful Anja Savcic, who plays Olivia Bly, was beautifully eerie in the scene.

After my cameo

At every step of the way, from the earliest stages in the writers’ room, to the airing of the episodes, the creators of the show did everything in their power to involve me and to ensure I felt safe entrusting them with my story. I am so grateful for their dedication to the project and the incredible amount of hard work that everyone put in to bring the story to life.

 

You can read more about The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly right now! 

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