Craig Johnson discusses the transformation of Longmire from novels to the small screen.
How long was the process from interest in turning the Longmire novels into a series until it actually happened?
For Longmire, it was an interesting but pretty straightforward path. I’d been advised by friends in Hollywood to not option my work outright, but rather, attempt to get a ‘package deal’ with a studio attached with producers, a director, and writers already in place.
While making the rounds, an agent from CAA contacted my literary agent in New York and asked her if she had any books that were very strong on character – not just mystery but any books. My agent pulled a copy of my first novel, The Cold Dish, from the shelf behind her and laid it on the desk between them. The agent from CAA wanted to know is there were any others, and my agent responded, ‘Not until you read that one.’
I was lucky enough to have CAA assemble a team from the Shephard-Robin Company that had been involved with the production of shows like The Closer, Nip/Tuck and a number of others. With the financial backing of Warner Horizon, they were able to put together a smart script that captured the characters, place and tone of my novels. It was two years in the process, but it was picked up and ordered to a full series.
How much input did you have in the creative choices?
They actually made me an Executive Creative Consultant on the show, and I worked pretty closely with them on the pilot and subsequent episodes. They even sent me DVDs of the actors and actresses they were auditioning for the roles. I gave them feedback, and they actually cast the performers I was hoping they would.
How faithfully does the first season keep to the books?
Well, about two weeks into the process the writers wrote me and said they were having a hard time cutting my first novel, The Cold Dish down to forty-five minutes – and I said I bet they were – my first draft of that book was close to six hundred pages long! We started firing back and forth ideas based on the books, but with shorter arcs of story and character – things they could accomplish in less than an hour.
I raided my story files for scenarios that might fit their purposes better than mine, and they used those and a lot of chunks of the books in the first season. I look at it being an alternative reality, one with the same place and characters, but with some different stories.