Facebook is taking an ambitious stab at original programming, and a 10-episode series based on a Spokane author’s debut novel is among three new series announced Tuesday.
“Sacred Lies,” based on Stephanie Oakes’ award-winning young adult novel “The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly” (itself an adaption of the fairy tale “The Handless Maiden” by the Brothers Grimm), will be produced for Facebook Watch by Blumhouse Television.
The showrunner and executive producer will be Raelle Tucker, a former executive producer of “True Blood.” Scott Winant, whose credits include “True Blood,” “thirtysomething,” “Huff,” “Californication” and “My So-Called Life,” will serve as an executive producer and he’ll direct the first two episodes, according to deadline.com.
Ricky Van Veen, Facebook’s director of development, announced the project at NATPE, a conference for global content creators, distributors and buyers, in Miami on Tuesday. Also announced was a new series from survivalist Bear Grylls called “Bear Grylls: Face the Wild,” and the unscripted series “Fly Guys,” about TV and movie stunt professionals.
Oakes’ novel, released in June 2015 from Dial Books, centers on Minnow Bly, a teenage girl who is raised in a cult living off the grid in the Montana wilderness. When she refuses to “marry” the cult leader, he orders her hands cut off in retribution. She survives, and escapes, and must begin the process of relearning everything she’s ever known. It was a Morris Award Honor Book, a Golden Kite Honor Book, a Booklist Editors’ Choice, and named a Best Book for Teens by the New York Public Library. Her follow up novel, “The Arsonist,” came out last year from Dial.
“It’s pretty exciting,” said Oakes, a librarian and creative writing teacher at the Libby Center in Spokane. She said Tucker found the book almost on accident – it was recommended to her in an email from Amazon, as a “If you liked this book, you might like this one” marketing message. Tucker, Oakes said, has an interest in cults, and reads up on them.
“She told me she never reads books about cults that feel accurate,” Oakes said. “She asked me if I had grown up in a cult. Nope, I told her, but I am a librarian and that means I know how to research.”
Tucker bought the option on the book, and renewed it, Oakes said, and worked for couple years to find a place for the show.
“This a young female protagonist we’ve never seen on screen before,” Tucker was quoted as saying by deadline.com. “She’s complex, brave, funny … and sometimes dangerous. And she has no hands. But she refuses to let that, or her bizarre, brutal past define her or limit her. That’s the message of our series: no matter what life throws at you – ultimately only you have the power to decide what you believe and what you become. I’m beyond excited and honored to bring this unique, inspiring, badass character to life.”
The series will be told over 10 30-minute episodes, an unusual format for a drama, Oakes said, and will tell the story of the book in one season. Any subsequent seasons would tell a new, connected story.
There’s no release date set, Oakes said, but the plan is to begin filming in March. “And as far as I know they’re on schedule,” she said. Oakes visited Los Angeles in November and got to hang out in the writers room with the seven-person writing team. She read the pilot and “I really loved it. Everything that they added that was new I felt was really excellent. It fit with the tone.”
She added, “From what I can tell it will be pretty faithful to the book. After meeting (the writers), I feel I have a lot of trust in them. I respect them as writers and I respect their vision of it. I feel confident that in places where it diverges from the book – because it just has to, it’s a different medium – I think it’ll be good.”
Casting hasn’t been finalized – there’s an international casting call to find an actress to play Minnow Bly – and last Oakes heard, they were looking to film in either Vancouver, B.C., or Portland. She’s looking forward to seeing the CGI magic that will be involved in removing Minnow Bly’s hands.
But for Oakes, that’s even not the coolest part.
“The thing about it that’s the coolest is that it will drive more people to the book,” Oakes said. “That’s the most exciting for me.”
Facebook Watch, which launched in August, is Facebook’s attempt to compete with Neflix and Amazon Prime. It’s available on the mobile app, the desktop site and TV apps. Most of their content has been unscripted reality shows, such as their biggest hit so far, “Ball in the Family” which follows LaVar Ball and his sons, Lonzo Ball of the Lakers, and LiAngelo and LaMelo, who are playing pro ball in Lithuania. A Chicago-set drama with “Scandal” star Kerry Washington called “Five Points” was announced in October.
“We’re not going to win by competing in prestige hourlong dramas,” Ricky Van Veen said Tuesday morning, according to a story in the Hollywood Reporter. “What’s going to differentiate us is a show that uses social fabric.”