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Kara Holden: On Adapting a Person's Life for the Screen

Screenwriter Kara Holden shares her experience with writing the script for Clouds on Disney+, and how she decided what moments of her subject's life to include in the film.

Kara Holden is a WGA winner for the Disney+ film, Clouds. She has written scripts for nearly every studio in Hollywood. She adapted the popular novel. Holden has several other projects in various stages of development.

A Kentucky native, Kara earned a degree in biology from the University of Louisville before moving to Los Angeles where she spent several years as a successful film and television actress. She acted and was directed by comedy greats such as Neal Israel on the show Clueless and Amy Sherman-Palladino on The Gilmore Girls. The interaction with Sherman-Palladino inspired her to pursue writing.

Kara Holden

Kara Holden

Holden enrolled in USC’s Graduate Professional Writing Program where she honed her skills in dramatic writing. There she thrived creatively under the mentorship of the late author and screenwriting teacher/guru Syd Field who served as her thesis advisor. Holden was also taught by show business greats Shelley Berman, Mel Shavelson, Steve Mazur, and Hubert Selby Jr. Before graduation, her one-act play, Take Two, won USC’s Jerome Lawrence Play Festival.

Her other projects include Carrie Pilby, starring Bel Powley, Vanessa Baer, Jason Ritter, Nathan Lane, William Moseley, and Gabriel Byrne; Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life for CBS Films, which starred Lauren Graham, Adam Pally, and Rob Riggle; the adaptation of the novel The Opposite of Love for Anne Hathaway at Fox; Zapped for The Disney Channel, which starred Zendaya; and Soul Surfer, which starred Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and Anna-Sophia Robb, by Sony Pictures.

In this post, Holden shares her experience with writing the script for Clouds on Disney+, how she decided what moments of her subject's life to include in the film, and much more!

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Name: Kara Holden
Agent: David Boxerbaum at Verve/Ryan Cunningham & Robyn Meisinger at Anonymous
Script title: Clouds
Production company: Wayfarer Studios
Release date: October 2020
Genre: Drama
Elevator pitch for the script: Clouds is based on the true story of Zach Sobiech, a 17-year-old musician who discovers how to live life to the fullest when he turns his terminal cancer diagnosis into the inspiration to go after his musical dreams and the courage to pursue the love of his life.
Previous scripts by the writer: Carrie Pilby on Netflix, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life on HULU, Meant to Be

Clouds, Disney

Clouds, Disney+

What prompted you to write this script?

When the director Justin Baldoni told me about his friend Zach Sobiech, I had an overwhelming feeling that the world needed to know about his incredible and inspiring story, and I wanted the chance to write about such a special person.

Dead Poet’s Society was a film that really inspired me when I was young, and I have always wanted to be able to write a movie that had that “carpe diem” kind of feel, the kind of movie that makes you want to jump up and go live life to the full the moment the credits begin to roll. Clouds was my chance to make a movie like the ones that have always inspired me, and it really meant a lot to me to be able to write something that truly felt like it could make a difference in the world.

(Script Classics: Adapting to the Adaptation Process)

How long did it take to go from idea to release?

I was hired to write Clouds in May of 2017, and it was released in October of 2020. Since it was based on a true story, the core idea never really changed much during that time, but there were many drafts spent discovering which of Zach’s real-life experiences were important to include in the film and which ones didn’t serve the story for the purposes of a cinematic experience. I ended up combining some events and characters to streamline the story and highlight the theme as cleanly as possible.

Were there any surprises or learning moments in the production process for this script?

There was an incredibly moving surprise scene that I got to write during the actual filming that came as a result of working with the actors and the director—we realized that Sammy and Zach got to share a lot of wonderful moments creating art together, but that Amy and Zach didn’t have anything like that.

I pitched the idea that Zach should sing something for Amy to create a dance to, to show how their love inspired them both, and when the director spoke to Fin (the actor who plays Zach) about it, Fin told him that he had actually written a song based on an unfinished melody of Zach’s. It was a full-chills moment and became a very important scene to show how much Zach and Amy loved each other.

(Take Two: How to Adapt a Book Into a Screenplay)

Were there any surprises in the writing process for this script?

I was incredibly surprised at how deeply I tapped into Zach as a character and was quite frankly incredibly humbled to have written many things that I wasn’t even aware of during writing that actually happened in his real life. For example, I wanted to be able to frame the movie from Zach’s point of view because I really wanted him to be the one to “tell” his story throughout the script, and so I came up with the idea that he would actually write a college essay that he initially felt was too hard for him to write…

When I told the director about it to make sure it was okay to fabricate such an essay to help tell the story, he contacted Zach’s mother Laura who told us with amazement that he had actually written such a college essay, and she even sent it to me to be able to use parts of it in the script. There were many such “Zach winks” throughout the writing process, and was surprised with delight every time Zach’s family and friends approved of something I’d written by saying “That is so Zach!”

I was also surprised, given the difficult and quite sad subject matter, at how much joy I found in writing the script. I certainly cried over the keyboard on many occasions—but I was amazed at how often those tears came from a true sense of joy and wonder about the fact that I got to be a part of bringing such a beautiful and inspiring story to the world.

What do you hope your audience will get out of it?

I hope the audience will take Zach’s admonition that “you don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living” to heart. I hope they’ll be inspired to be authentic about whatever pain and struggles they may be enduring knowing that vulnerability fosters connection between us, and that joy and love can and do exist even in the hardest times. Also, if it inspires anyone to read to more of Mary Oliver’s poetry and give more money to cancer research, that would be awesome.

Kara Holden: On Adapting a Person's Life for the Screen

If you could share one piece of advice with other writers, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to write the thing that scares you, or for whatever reason you feel you might not be good enough to write… because it will probably be the thing that pushes you most to grow as a writer, and it feels pretty freaking amazing to rise to the occasion after a lot of hard work.

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