Catching Up on Caught: Allan Hawco on Bringing Lisa Moore’s Novel to Life on the Screen

Episode 1 of Caught premieres Feb. 26th on CBC TV.

Lisa Moore’s novel, Caught, racked up rave reviews and award nods in 2013-2014. It’s based loosely on the true story of the biggest pot bust in Newfoundland history, and it starts off running, literally: It’s main character, David Slaney, has busted out of jail. He’s on the run, and looking to right a few wrongs.

According to Allan Hawco, whose production company, Take the Shot, adapted Moore’s novel, the idea of turning it into a mini-series started out as an interesting idea, and quickly became “something I really needed to do.”

Securing Rights to Adapting the Book

Hurdle 1 was getting rights to the book. Take the Shot Productions was not the only company sizing up the book for an adaptation. There was interest all the way down in Tinsel Town L.A.

But as too many Canadian authors know, film companies tend to option more books than they can actually produce. Optioning a book gives the company legal rights to maybe adapt it, and so long as they have it optioned, no other company can adapt it. An author must choose to take the bait of the best offer for optioning, or, go with whom they think will actually make the project happen.

Hawco says he called Moore himself, she said yes, and CBC came onboard to air the miniseries immediately. That’s no surprise. Moore is a CBC darling, having won their popular national competition, CBC Canada Reads, with her previous novel, February.

On The Character of David Slaney

Allan Hawco as David Slaney

While touring her book in 2014, Moore spoke almost in admiration of her main character Slaney, as though she admired his youthful bravado and saw his pot smuggling as the daring entrepreneurial spirit of a young man trying to make a living.

Hawco also enjoyed the character, but for different reasons. “He’s got a quality to him that I’m drawn to as a writer: people who are forced into situations that they wouldn’t be in if given a choice,” he says.

“I have been drawn to people who are cornered , or at points in their life where they need to make decisions that don’t seem to be in their best interest, but they have to do it to get out of the situation they’re in.”

The Book V.S. The Script

Hawco says the script inevitably veers from the book a bit, because in Caught, the two main characters –  Slaney on the run from police, and Patterson, the cop who is chasing him – are alone for a lot of the book. Moore’s writing gets in their heads and shares their inner thoughts in a way a film cannot.

There were nuggets of plot appropriate for film in the novel, but they were surrounded by vast expanses of what he calls Lisa’s beautiful prose. “There were paragraphs that would ignite a fuse with me,” he says. “She’d touch on something and I would expand that.”

While he stresses that his adaptation remains “inspired by the kernel of what Lisa had left behind in the book,” Hawco had to tweak characters; their motivations and drives.

“In my adaptation, Slaney is a little bit older. A little bit more jaded than the innocent guy in the book … when we meet him, he’s after doing five years worth of time. He’s a little different than Slaney in the book, in that he has a different weight on him, different scars on him. Emotionally and physically. In my version, it’s more like it’s his last chance.”

A Perfect Post-Doyle Project for Hawco

Caught is Hawco’s first adaptation. He jokes that turning a book into a show is both easier and harder than making stuff up from scratch. He also adds that taking on an adaptation right after The Republic of Doyle ended was a perfect transition for him, for the creative space he was in.

“At the end of Doyle, we’d written 78 stand-alone episodes of 78 different plots. I was feeling kind of taxed, feeling like I’d burnt out all my ideas. So it was nice to have a jumping off point, with Lisa’s book,” he says.

“But also kind of super intimidating,” he confesses, laughing. “Because you’re taking someone else’s material, and you’re re-shaping it. So I talked through things with Lisa as I did it. Even before I wrote it, I’d sit with her and explain what I wanted to do.”

Important For Him It Was Shot Here

Tori Anderson as Ada

Most of the production was shot here in Newfoundland; naturally, the portions of the book set in Mexico and Columbia were filmed elsewhere (the Dominican Republic).

Hawco says it’s important to him to film here, and that his inspiration in forming Take the Shot Productions was to help create jobs and build an industry here. By his count, the film industry here has amounted to hundreds of jobs, and hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It’s about consistency now,” Hawco says. “If we don’t keep [the film industry] going here, these people can’t stay here in their jobs. We’ve lost many a talented film worker to the mainland when it’s dark times here.”

He says the state of the industry here when he started filming Doyle versus Caught is vastly different, and that over the years, the percentage of come-from-aways needed to come here and work on a film has gotten smaller and smaller, because Newfoundlanders can now fill almost any role a film crew would need.

Where & When to Catch the Show

Episode 1 of Caught premieres Feb. 26th on CBC TV at 9:30pm Newfoundland Time. Catch Caught as well on the CBC TV app, and at cbc.ca/watch. Read more about the show at: http://www.cbc.ca/caught.

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