Narnia Producer Wants Netflix to Start From Scratch, Prefers Episodic Series

This past week saw the release of William O’Flaherty’s full interview with Douglas Gresham, the stepson of C. S. Lewis and executive producer of Netflix’s series and movies based on The Chronicles of Narnia, from the C.S. Lewis Symposium in Montreat, NC. He revealed his desires and concerns for the upcoming adaptations, including his hopes for an episodic series.

While this interview was only just posted online this week, it’s worth noting that it was recorded last November. Since then, Gresham has made no further statements.

William O’Flaherty: The information that we’ve seen [from Netflix] is saying films and series. Does that mean episodes?

Douglas Gresham: I would love it to be an episodic thing, because with a movie, you have an hour, maybe two hour maximum if you really stretch it, to put an entire book — an adventure storybook — into the film, and you just can’t do it. You have to drop out so much good material. If you go to an episodic streaming system, you can put the whole book up there, and if you really were stupid you could add to it. [Laugh] Which I would have no intention of doing. But I would like to put the entire book, every single nuance of it, on the screen. And I think we could make fantastic Narnia movies that way.

Douglas Gresham then described the state of the Netflix deal, as of November 2019:

Douglas Gresham: But we did a deal with Netflix, and since that deal was done, I have not heard a word from them. So I can’t tell you what’s going on. I have no idea what’s actually happening in their offices or what they’re getting up to. So I can’t answer any questions about that. I wish I could because I’m getting kind of worried myself as to whether anything’s ever going to happen.

He also talked about his desire to reboot the series with a clean slate:

William O’Flaherty: If [Netflix] were here today and they say “we’ll give you carte blanche”, would you go with The Silver Chair or would you go with a reboot and go back to the beginning? What would be your preference?

Douglas Gresham: That would entirely depend on the budget. If we had a big enough budget I’d start from scratch and put everything in the book, in the films. One after the other and we wouldn’t take a break in-between [filming] until we’ve done them all. That would take a massive budget, of course… But I do think it would be a huge advantage to be able to get every single nuance of the book into the film. It would be much richer and much more entrancing. People would drop everything and dash to their screen.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that Netflix spent “nine-figures” to acquire the rights alone for the Narnia series, with The Sunday Times claiming the price was nearly $250 million.

A recording of the interview with Douglas Gresham was originally posted as an episode of William O’Flaherty’s All About Jack podcast, which can be found here.


18 Responses

  1. Rogin says:

    So we’re still in limbo – at least as of November. I’m beginning to wonder if there’s actually been no development OR Gresham is just out of the loop.

  2. The Rose-Tree Dryad says:

    If these comments were given *today* I would be a bit more concerned, but when this was recorded, it had only been about five months after Matthew Aldrich was hired as creative architect, so it doesn’t come as a huge shock to me that Douglas Gresham hadn’t heard anything at that time. Aldrich/Netflix has a lot to decide when it comes to their game plan for the franchise (movie or series? Start with MN or LWW? What kind of budget? et cetera) before they can bring those plans to Gresham and ask him to sign off on them. Hopefully there’s been a lot going on behind the scenes since last November!

  3. Skilletdude says:

    We also have the worldwide pandemic to consider, and how that has likely complicated or stalled progress in these past months. My guess is that we won’t get updates on the Netflix series any time soon.

  4. Larry W. says:

    I think it would be better to start from scratch, but let’s hope that this time they will be able to finish all seven books. Of course it will take years, but that is what we will expect anyway. I think there is more hope for doing that with a less expensive series such as this one than the movies. I would love to see more of the big screen Narnia, but unfortunately that may be beyond the budget that many filmmakers would be willing to contribute for completing seven films. It’s making a series on a smaller scale, which may not be all bad. 🙂

  5. Twinimage says:

    Netflix spends a looooooooot of money. Whatever they create for Narnia, I suspect it won’t be at the level of a blockbuster movie, but I think the episodic nature of Netflix will work really well for a number of the Narnia books, if not the majority of them. The script writing will be more important, I think. We could be in for a treat with story and character. However, Netflix is a platform that offers darker, more progressive content. While the episodic format is ideal for Narnia, I don’t see how the tone and themes that are common on Netflix are a match to Narnia’s content. Though, since Netflix is losing all their Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm content to Disney+, perhaps this is their attempt to offer more family oriented content. Too early to tell, really.

  6. Cleander says:

    My Hope’s for the project are the same as Mr. Gresham’s. My idea of adaptation involves slightly expanding on the books, not stripping them down. I’m still torn as to whether I’d prefer movies or a series, but the series is beginning to
    sound like a good option.

  7. It’s kind of bizarre that we’ve heard nothing about this project. Weirder still that *he* hasn’t heard anything. In any case, I like where Mr. Gresham’s head is at. I think if all seven books were adapted into series, rather than 2 hr films, there’s great potential to create a truly special, immersive depiction of the Chronicles. One that is true to the books and is so captivating it lingers in the imagination of the audience.

  8. Ryadian says:

    You took the words right out of my mouth. I’m hoping that your last point is correct, and they want to diversify their content a bit more and will allow a more joyful/faithful adaptation of the series.

  9. Twinimage says:

    Me too. It would be very disappointing if the first movie/season came out and it’s a dark, progressive or subversive story wrapped in Narnian clothing. Or if half of the episodes focus on cringe inducing teen melodrama subplots that never existed in the books. I can see that happening the most. Maybe I should look into the Lemony Snicket series and see how fans of the books compare it. That’s the closest I think we have to a Netflix adaption of a book series that isn’t trying to be so… edgy. I know very little of that book series though.

  10. Hermitess of Narnia says:

    Yes. For example, Netflix’s version of a Series of Unfortunate Events is in a similar genre as Narnia, but they did make it for an older age group and modernized some values.
    I hope that Netflix will find people who want to work on Narnia without changing the values. If they start adding stuff like, I don’t know, adding tons of romance and flirting or making it very grim and agnostic, I don’t think I’ll have the heart to watch the series.
    Maybe Netflix can make it like they made the teen’s/children’s Trollhunters series. That one was pretty good and generally stayed family-friendly. Maybe they’ve outsourced production to a non-English-speaking-country and that’s why we haven’t heard anything? Or maybe they don’t want other studios to know if they are actually making Narnia until they have it all planned out?
    Maybe they don’t see enough enthusiasm among Narnia fans. I mean, maybe if we made more memes and stuff like other fandoms do, Netflix would see more of a demand for the show?

  11. Twinimage says:

    Alas, I doubt it’s a matter of hearing from Narnia fans. It’s rare when a studio caters to the fans of the source material. Normally content for a franchise is created to appeal to the broadest audience possible to get the biggest returns possible. Sadly, the OG fans rarely count for much with most franchises. Narnia especially is somewhat of a more niche fanbase. There are instances though, such as Marvel Studios, where the main producer (Kevin Feige) is a fan of the original source material and embraces it in the movies. But that instance is rare. His producing 22+ wildly successful movies in a row, with minimal duds is also very rare. I don’t see anyone from the Netflix side being that “Kevin Feige”. Douglas Gresham wouldn’t count. He’s more so an advisor or consultant. I don’t even know what power he has to say yes or no to something pertaining to the scripts and story points. I think a lot comes down to producers, who can make some really crazy requests sometimes with what they want to see in a movie, as well as higher ups, such as the CEO or president of Netflix. I’m not familiar with Netflix’s functional structure though. That seems like kind of a black box.
    My guess is they’re in pre-production. They could be planning out and mapping out the stories, maybe drafting some different scripts, working on overall art design for the look and feel, researching how to do all the visual effects for the animals and creatures. This would be slowed down due to the pandemic as well. Plus Netflix normally doesn’t tell people where they are in production until it’s time to release a trailer. Unless it’s an already popular show like Stranger Things where they may announce the beginning and finish of filming and that’s it. Or they announce a new season is coming. But that’s all.

  12. Monty Jose says:

    As much as I respect Gresham, I do believe it’s impractical to say nothing should be added to the story when transferring the story to screen. Good films require a different approach than most books, especially classics. And if you want the series to be successful, changes will have to be made in order to appeal to a modern audience.

    I’m not talking compromising the characters (*cough* VoDT *cough*), but more along the lines of story structure and emphasis. This would be similar to Prince Caspian in some cases and in others almost no change. I believe Silver Chair offers itself very well to film with very little change at all.

  13. Keeper of Lantern Waste says:

    @Twinimage I actually growing up loving ASoUE just like I grew up loving Narnia and I have to say, Netflix’s series blows Paramount’s movie out of the water as far as accuracy to the books. A few major-ish changes I can think of are [Slight spoilers ahead]

    They did sort of add a romantic subplot, but it was between non-main characters and the duo had a lot of interesting stuff to do I.e. they didn’t just sit around mooning over each other.

    They introduced some characters and plots lines way earlier than in the book series. They also really expanded (or even created) some reoccurring side characters (adults generally) that didn’t heavily feature in the books, however they were often more entertaining than the Baudelaire’s A-plot.

    As far as for making it “dark and/or progressive” the only changes that come to mind are things that the books didn’t totally make clear I.e. characters’ ethnicity or orientation. Like, a pair of side characters are unhealthy business partners in the books. In the Netflix series, they are unhealthy partners in both senses of the phrase. I don’t mind this change because 1) I cannot definitively say they weren’t partners in the books and 2) an emotionally unhealthy relationship would explain why the delightful, sunshiny one would be willing to stick around with a businessman who treats everyone (including sunshiny character) pretty terribly. This detail also doesn’t change the A-plot nor does it create create some sort of extra drama that takes up inordinate amounts of screen time.

    As fan, overall I’d give it a 8.5/10 as far as accuracy to plot and tone. Daniel Handler was extremely involved with the process, and several of the crew members were big fans of the book, and it shows. There are even several jokes that viewers would only understand if they were fans of the books and/or have read the Unauthorized Autobiography.

    Phew sorry if that reply was long:D if you have any other questions I’d be happy to answer because I like talking ASoUE

  14. KalmUrself says:

    I feel as though if they are to do the series many people would want the old cast back although obviously that cannot happen as they have grown up. Could they not cast the original Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy as the 15 years older parts… It would be a way to round off the series completely and satisfy the fans

  15. Hermitess of Narnia says:

    Yes, they could, but Skandar Keynes no longer does acting and works in the British government. However, if Netflix wants to remake all the series – including LWW, PC, and DT, it would be better to not cast them as the older Pevensies, because it would tie it to the Disney/Walden franchise.
    I would love it if the actors could have cameo roles, though. It’d would be even more interesting if they could bring in some of the BBC Narnia actors as well. It might be difficult though; it seems to me that a lot of the Netflix shows are made in Canada, so it would be more work to fly actors in from Britain for just cameo roles.

  16. JFG II says:

    The Chronicles of Narnia Film & TV Series (Idea)
    5 Seasons / 2 movies + Extended Versions

    Season One: ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ (2021)
    Season Two: ‘Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia’ (2022)
    Season Three: ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ (2024)
    Season Four: ‘The Silver Chair’ (2025)
    ‘The Horse and His Boy’ Film (2027) / Extended Series (2028)
    ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ Film (2028) / Extended Series (2029)
    Final Season: ‘The Last Battle’ (2030)

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