Pea Ridge native Jenny B. Jones was teaching for a school near Bentonville, filling in for another teacher on leave during the covid-19 pandemic, when the trailer for "Finding You," writer-director Brian Baugh's adaptation of her book "There You'll Find Me" went live online.
In between online classes, she watched the film trailer and then had to begin the virtual class.
"I was in between classes, and I'm just sitting in my classroom, and I catch it," she says. "I had not seen the trailer. Everything is a surprise to me at this point, and so I am just in a state of shock. The trailer was a hundred times better than I could have imagined, and it's got One Direction singing in the background. I had to start class.
"So I began my virtual class, and I'm teared up and I can hardly catch my thought. I finally said, 'OK, you all may remember I mentioned I wrote books. Well, one of them got turned into a movie ... I just saw the trailer, and I'm a little overwhelmed.' And then I showed them the trailer and they said they were super supportive."
Jones, a 1993 graduate of Pea Ridge High School, returned to Pea Ridge to teach in the 1990s and early 2000s then began teaching in Bentonville. For the past three years, she has been a full-time writer, working from home, she said recently.
While she advised her students on writing, Jones never let on that her advice was grounded in her experience as the author of a series of romance novels like "There You'll Find Me," "On the Loose" and "Save the Date."
She had mentioned to the students that she wrote books, she didn't revisit or expand on that information until the movie came out. She said that she'd been pubished for about 15 years. She did keep it "low-key" so students didn't feel as though they were being marketed or sold to.
"Finding You," opened theatrically in May and should be available to stream via Amazon Prime in August.
The film stars Rose Reid as Finley Sinclair, a music student struggling to deal with the death of her brother. She hopes that by retracing his steps in Ireland she can find meaning in his loss.
On her flight to the Emerald Isle, she meets heartthrob actor Beckett Rush (Jedidiah Goodacre, "Descendants 3"), who thinks she'll swoon for him the way every other woman under 25 would.
She doesn't. The cast also includes Oscar-winner Vanessa Redgrave, Tom Everett Scott and Patrick Bergin ("Sleeping With the Enemy," "Mountains of the Moon"). While the title of Jones' tale has changed on its path to the big screen, the plotline and character arcs are intact.
Jones visited the Irish locations for two weeks during the shooting and readily approves of Baugh's modifications. Because 10 years have passed since the book's publication, Baugh thought the pop culture reference might need an update and Jones agreed. For example, in the novel, Beckett has achieved fame by playing a lovelorn vampire like the one that gave Robert Pattinson his early fame. In "Finding You," the fictional actor's breakthrough role seems more like Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones."
"The idea was what if an actor gets a great role, and he just gets pigeonholed into that," she says. "What happens? It was what about if this is the only thing they want to cast you in."
She hasn't had a chance to see the complete film, but she thinks moviegoers won't be shortchanged by the revisions.
"I've seen pieces of that part of it. I thought it was pretty clever," she says. "That's the problem with contemporary references. They're going to change pretty quickly."
In addition, in the movie Bergin plays a hard-drinking street fiddle player named Seamus, who only appears in one scene in the book (with a different name, no less). The big screen character is actually two mashed together.
"In the book, the (music teacher) character is a nun," she says. "I definitely liked the casting of Patrick Bergin. I got to meet him. He has a huge connection to music himself, and so it was great to kind of hear him speak to that and connect to the part."
Speaking of religion, faith plays a large part in the book and the movie, but "There You'll Find Me" is more explicitly Christian. Both stories involve the search for a Bible verse Finley's brother found on a graveyard cross (in the historic Clonmacnoise monastery).
"That was presented immediately with the first conversation we had (with the filmmakers)," she says.
"Two different entities ... approached me. Both were interested in turning it into a movie. A lot of Christian movies are for a smaller audience. I knew I was fine saying no to either one of these teams. I heard the pitch from the production team that ended up getting it. They were on the same page completely. They respected the faith-based elements. The goal we all shared was that we wanted it to appeal to a wider audience. I feel like if somebody wants the faith message, they are welcome to also pick up the book and find it there."
When I bring up how both Martin Scorsese's "Silence" and Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront" have both explored faith in challenging and gripping ways, she adds "It can be done well. It can be a very polarizing, limiting thing. That wasn't what any of us wanted. We wanted it to be a story of hope, having no idea it would open during plague, when all of us involved are proud of the fact that it is an uplifting story," she said.
While Jones visited Ireland when she was researching the book, she said her return was educational as well because film shoots can be far different from how audiences imagine them.
She said she was intrigued to learn that all-day filming may only yield two minutes of screen time.
If any filmmakers want to tell classroom stories, they might want to hear how Jones says they frequently get the teaching experience wrong.
"The teacher always has a desk at the front of the room, and she's sitting down," Jones says. "There's a chalkboard. None of that exists anymore. Her desk or his desk would probably be in the back of the room. Nobody uses chalkboards anymore."
Jones was still happy about how her story would be reaching a new audience today, but she discovered that her initial euphoria ended after the previous class learned of her previously hidden achievement.
"The next hour, I showed them the trailer. They could not have cared less," she laughs. "Typical teenagers for you."