We are three months into 2019 which means it’s time to become obsessed with the latest book to movie adaptation. Luckily, Five Feet Apart is arriving in theaters this week to give us the perfect combination of love and tears. The romantic drama started out as a screenplay written by Tobias Iaconis and Mikki Daughtry before being turned into a young adult novel by Rachael Lippincott and then finally making it to the big screen. The final product, which is directed and produced by Jane The Virgin’s Justin Baldoni, tells the story of two teenagers Will (Cole Sprouse) and Stella (Haley Lu Richardson) who have cystic fibrosis and fall in love while undergoing treatment. Five Feet Apart's Will isn’t based on a real person, but Sprouse and Baldoni learned from and consulted with cystic fibrosis patients who helped inspire the film and the performances.
The title of the film refers to the infection and prevention control (IPC) guidelines for cystic fibrosis which recommends “a minimum six-foot distance between patients.” This is because the genetic disease causes recurring lung infections that hinder the ability to breathe. The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation explains that, “In the lungs, the mucus clogs the airways and traps germs, like bacteria, leading to infections, inflammation, respiratory failure, and other complications. For this reason, minimizing contact with germs is a top concern for people with CF.”
Sprouse’s character Will may not be based on a real character, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to learn about CF to accurately portray a patient battling the terminal illness. He told E! News at a premiere event for the film that he spent the pre-production process working with cystic fibrosis patients. “[Every] step of the way truly was working alongside medical professionals and alongside people who would help us dive into the research and get us into the psychology and the physical preparation that was demanded for cystic fibrosis patients,” he said. “Basically the entirety of the movie was getting into the headspace and staying in the headspace.”
Baldoni learned about the six-foot rule from late YouTuber Claire Wineland who he asked to be a consultant for the film and was in contact with during the production process. Wineland’s story was depicted in Baldoni’s CW docuseries My Last Days which led to their friendship. He told Bustle he asked Wineland during a conversation if she had ever dated someone with CF and that was when Wineland explained cross-infection and the rule.
In an interview with Entertainment Tonight, Baldoni said that that after hearing about the rule he thought it could be a great idea for a love story. “I'm a hopeless romantic, and I just knew I wanted to make a movie that could inspire us to not give up, to fight for love,” he said.
“I asked [Wineland] to be a part of it, and she joined me, and when I hired the writers, she sat with the writers, and we talked about stories, and ideas, and treatments, and she got to be a part of it," Baldoni said in his interview with Bustle. "She passed away [in September 2018] just before I could show her my director's cut."
Baldoni said Wineland was a “supporter” and “champion” of the movie. So, even though a character based on Wineland isn’t in the film, her presence will definitely be felt when watching Five Feet Apart.