Adapting JUST DON’T FALL for Television, a guest post by Josh Sundquist
I’ve had the remarkable privilege of adapting my memoir Just Don’t Fall not only into a young readers edition (September 2023), but also into a streaming series for Apple TV+, called Best Foot Forward.
Obviously there are major differences between adapting a memoir into another book for younger readers and adapting that book into a TV series. Most notably, since the book is a memoir, it is absolutely essential to me to adhere to the facts of reality as I remember them. However, in the TV series, we are not claiming that this is precisely what happened to me in my life, merely that the series is inspired by the book. We take liberties to fictionalize situations. This is a necessary part of adopting a written story to screen, though I know it can greatly irks readers of a book when the movie is “different” than the book.
The reality is that the mediums simply have different needs, different limitations, and different requirements. For example, in a first person memoir obviously everything happens through the eyes of the narrator. So it’s not important within a given chapter or anecdote that other characters in the story be present or play an important role in that situation. However, in a TV series, the primary characters must appear in every episode. Contractually, I mean: you literally must pay your what’s called “series regulars” for every episode.
So when writing the series, for a given episode, we in the writers room (I was one of a dozen writers we had on the show) would start with a real anecdote from my life or the book, and then we would ask ourselves: how can we stretch or condense this anecdote so it fits in exactly twenty-one minutes of a family friendly comedy show? And further, how can this storyline involve every one of our major characters?
Readers of my new young readers edition will probably recognize the kernel of a story from the book in every episode of the series. But, of course, there are always differences, which is a part of adapting to the screen.
The first episode of the series, what’s known as the pilot, most closely adheres to my real life. In my real life, I was homeschooled as a child and eventually I transferred to the local public school. In the series, episode one follows the trajectory of my real first day of school. People who watch the show often ask me if I really memorized the school yearbook so I could say hi to everyone by name as I walked down the hall. Yes, I did. Seemed like a great idea at the time. In retrospect, though, I certainly see the awkwardness of that choice, which is why we milk it for comedy in the series. Also on my first day, as I walked down the hallway on my prosthetic leg, a bully stuck out his leg and tripped me. I know that sounds like something out of a work of fiction, but it really happened to me. And we portray it in the first episode.
That brings us to the subject of disability: As it happens, I lost my leg at a young age to cancer. When I was growing up, I never got to see anyone who looked like me on TV or film. So to have a show out there that allows kids like the one I was to see themselves on screen is amazing. To also have been a part of writing and producing that show was the most amazing honor. I also played a minor character in the series, Josh’s prosthetist. That’s the person who makes a prosthesis for an amputee.
We’ve all imagined giving advice to our younger selves. In this scene, I actually got to do that. I had the chance to be a part of writing and performing a scene with this 12-year-old version of me in which I look at him and essentially say, “Hey, I know exactly how it feels to be you. And trust me, it gets better.”
The boy who plays Josh, Logan Marmino, reminds me so much of myself at that age. So it truly felt like I was looking into the eyes of 12-year-old me. The whole experience was surreal, almost magical.
There was a moment when we were filming this scene and Joy Suprano, who portrays Josh’s mom, missed her cue. Which never happens, she’s totally a pro and never forgets a line. There was this long pause when she was supposed to speak and everyone kind of looked at her and she was suddenly like, “Oops, I’m sorry! I got so caught up in watching this scene in front of me.”
In real life I rarely wear a prosthesis. I use crutches to get around instead. An amputee using crutches as their primarily mobility device simply isn’t something that gets represented in TV or movies. That’s why it was especially meaningful to have Josh (the character) and me together, neither wearing a prosthesis.
I hope that sends a message about being comfortable with your body however it happens to look. In a broader sense, I hope this scene also represents the kind of authentic representation we will see more of in the future.
I’d give any kid watching this scene the same advice my character gives Josh: you may feel uncomfortable with parts of yourself or your appearance right now. And that’s OK. I’ve been there. But trust me, it gets better. Hopefully a parent watching this scene will notice that these are basically two versions of Josh, sitting right across from each other: the frightened, upset 12-year-old Josh (who also happens to be fighting a life threatening illness), and the healthy, confident adult Josh. I hope this helps parents imagine a bright future for their own child.
Meet the author
Josh Sundquist is a bestselling author, motivational speaker, and Paralympic ski racer. He’s the author of four books and his life is the inspiration for the new television series, Best Foot Forward on Apple TV+. Josh’s videos on the internet have over 1 billion views. He is a former Paralympic ski racer and a member of the U.S. Amputee Soccer Team.
About Just Don’t Fall: A Hilariously True Story of Childhood Cancer and Olympic Greatness
Adapted for young readers from his adult memoir, Just Don’t Fall is the the hilarious true story about Josh Sundquist’s battle with childhood cancer and how he worked his way to making the United States paralympic ski team.
The inspiration for the Apple TV show Best Foot Forward!
When he was ten years old Josh Sundquist had his leg amputated to treat bone cancer. But this is not a sad story; on the contrary, this memoir is a story of resilience, heart, and most importantly: humor.
Young Josh had a lot of adapting to do after he lost his leg. He had to learn how to walk again. He had to accept that he wouldn’t be able to try out for the travel soccer team. He knew his life would never be the same again. But when he sees a poster in the hospital elevator advertising skiing classes, he realized all might not be lost.
Equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, Just Don’t Fall is Josh’s story of surviving cancer with 50/50 odds, learning to be a professional skiier, and making his way to being a bestselling writer and motivational speaker. Inspirational and moving, Josh’s story is one that can be appreciated by readers of all ages.
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 09/05/2023
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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