Tuesday’s 10: Books I’d like to make a film version of

I have a tendency to turn everything into a movie. I suppose that’s partly film school’s big influence on me, by the time I was doing my senior fiction studios in my creative writing degree a lot of my critiques were about how I should go into screenwriting because the way I wrote felt like a movie (that could have been because I blithely ignored the program’s ridiculous stand on genre and wrote modern noir and semi-comic heist stories for the most part.) (*there will be a whole forthcoming post about this, that I cut out of here after writing it because it was long and irrelevant and every so often I catch myself at that bad stream of consciousness tributary thing and nip it in the bud.) I see animated movies in my head when I listen to music (provided the music isn’t rubbish.) I try to cast books when I read them, or think of shooting locations I may have seen that would be perfect. It’s probably a terrible habit that would horrify the authors I’m reading, but it’s just innate in me, but I do think it sort of makes the work more real and personal to me. 

The 10 books here, aren’t just books I’d like to see a film of,  they are books I’d personally like to make a film of, if I had stuck with it and bulldozed my way into the industry (I realised at the end of my degree that I didn’t want to direct feature films, but now that I’m older, I’ve come to realise that I think I’d have been a brilliant development exec if I’d just decided to go to Hollywood anyway, finding rough gems that are worth fixing, or polished gems that will succeed, but that’s not something you walk into, but I think I’d have a good eye for what will make money and what would win acclaim.)

These are the books that I spent way too much time trying to cast in my head, or could see entire sequences for while reading. They’re also great reads, and happen to be some of my favourite books.

1. The Brothers Karamazov- Fyodor Dostoevsky.

This is probably one of my favourite books ever. The first time I read it was in 4th grade. I’d probably guess that I didn’t understand half of the complex themes at that time, just being more into the “look I’m reading a giant Russian classic while the rest of you are reading Judy Blume” as 9-year-old me could be a mite pretentious. But unlike Tolstoy, which bored 9-year-old me as much as it bored 19 and 29-year old me, Dostoevsky stuck and I’ve read Karamazov multiple times. I really did want to make a film version of this as I was a little horrified that there was an adaptation out there with William Shatner as Alexei and I obsessively cast it in my head while I was at Emerson.  At the time I believe I wanted Ralph Fiennes to be Dmitri, Liam Neeson as Fyodor (even though way too young at the time and against my other casting choices), David Thewlis as Ivan (he probably would have made a genius Smerdykov and I think sometimes I moved him over there), I forget who I wanted for Alexei, it might have been Edward Norton though at some point because I was just blown away by Primal Fear.   

2. Confederacy of Dunces- John Kennedy Toole

I can’t believe that there has, to my knowledge, never been a film or in fact a bunch of adaptations of this book. I know at one point Stephen Fry was writing a screenplay (and in his youth he would have been a genius Ignatius) and then there was supposed to be a version starring Will Ferrell in a fat suit a couple years ago. Look, I love Will Ferrell as much as the next person, and I know that he’s got a lot more depth and chops than things like Old School would have one believe, (I really loved Stranger Than Fiction) but it’s not right. He’s not the right Ignatius Reilly, he’s just not. When I think of Ignatius I see someone who looks a little like Ricky from Better Off Dead (And if that character and his mother are not informed specifically by Confederacy I’d be shocked) and I might be able to see something else, but it’s not Will Ferrell, plus I think he’s too old. Castingwise, no it would probably have to be a cattle call to find the perfect Ignatius, imagine a stack of photos of actors in that hunting cap and the hot dog vendor apron.  Hmm you know who might not be a bad fit, Nick Frost. I just think of the socialist organising scene, which I can just see in my head and I know this could be the best film ever.

3. The Secret History- Donna Tartt

I’m actually a little surprised this was never filmed either, especially since it seems to me like it would have been a fit in the mid-late ’90s when ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ and other such literary dark mysteries were cleaning up on the screen. Everyone I thought about casting is of course insanely too old now, but there is a lot of talent that’s the right age now or about to be the right age (say Dakota Fanning. I could see that.)

4. Survivor- Chuck Palahniuk

Another book that was so close to getting made, and then 9/11 made films about people crashing jets like cinematic leprosy. Nevermind that he crashed the jet into the middle of nowhere and that he was the only person on board because he hijacked it, and dropped all the passengers off, but whatever. Survivor is, after Fight Club, what I think is Palahniuk’s best book. I guess 9/11 at least ensured that Madonna wouldn’t ruin the movie, she was apparently cast somehow.  According to Chuck’s website it sounds like this might actually leave development hell and get made. If not, maybe I’ll have to magically become a studio head and make it myself.

6. I, Lucifer- Glen Duncan

Rumours seem to abound that this is being made, and rumours of Ewan McGregor and Daniel Craig being attached, but it looks like it’s in development hell too. This book is a gem. It just reads like it was meant to be a film from the beginning. The Devil decides to have a go at being a human in the body of a sad-sack writer who is in the midst of committing suicide as part of a deal that could get him back into heaven  and while he’s at it he’s going to write his side of the bible so clear up some things that everyone had wrong, not to mention do lots of drugs.  I could see Simon Pegg or Peter Serafinowicz playing Declan/Lucifer too.

7. Church of Dead Girls- Stephen Dobyns

Of all the books here, this is probably the most difficult to film, because rather than being a conventional mystery, thriller, it’s really a quiet psychological portrait of how paranoia and fear and a grisly tragedy can implode a town. Done right, with the right cast, it would be a home run, otherwise it would likely end up a bad Lifetime movie.

8.  Fast One- Paul Cain

I passionately, unabashedly love film noir and classic hard-boiled fiction and Fast One is the perfect complement to Hammett and Chandler. I wrote a screenplay adaptation of this book as an exercise for myself back in the day. At the time I was still in the thrall of Denis Leary is a genius so I think I wanted him to play the lead, I still think he could, but nowadays I could see  whoever the guy playing the lead on The Glades or maybe Jason Lee though he seems more snarky than hardboiled when delivering any witty repartee in general.

9. The Cheese Monkeys- Chip Kidd

From its whacked out characters to it’s larger than life art school satire, this book reminded me entirely too much of my own experience, and cracked me up. It has the potential to be the film lampooning art school that Art School Confidential failed to be. It’s been optioned, but doesn’t look like it’s rolling. It’s a shame that Jeff Bridges is getting a little old, he’d have made a good professor.

10.  The Alienist- Caleb Carr 

Another great highly commercial mystery that landed in development hell. I always thought this book was better than the Bone Collector which I read around the same time, though that one did make it to the screen. Apparently there was also an issue in which the author feels that the producers that bought the rights wanted to basically gut and rewrite the story, which didn’t make him happy. I don’t blame him it wouldn’t make me happy either. In the studio I own in my mind, this movie would be made as faithful to the original as is feasible in the 2 hour time frame.

Honorable Mention:

M*A*S*H- Richard Hooker

I always hated that they cut the scene where Trapper John grew a beard and looked so much like Jesus that they got headshots autographed them as Jesus and flew him around hanging from a cross from a helicopter and sold them to raise the money for Ho Jon to go to Pierces alma mater in the States. Best scene in the novel.

A Prayer for Owen Meany- John Irving

I still refuse to watch Simon Birch they so gutted that they couldn’t even call it “based on the novel” they had to say “suggested by the novel.” Look I understand more than a lot of people that concessions must be made when you swap mediums, but first of all this novel is structured in a way you could make a true adaptation, you might have to lose some scenes, but you could feasibly do a pretty faithful adaptation and secondly the Vietnam part wasn’t just a scene or two you didn’t need, it was the fucking crux of the novel.  Also the only good casting in it was Ashley Judd, and I don’t even like her.  I get mad just thinking about it and I haven’t even subjected myself to the full brunt.  

1984- George Orwell

Who doesn’t want to make their own version of this novel? Secretly I don’t want to make it, I want to make the sequel. Or I want to make an updated version that’s about post-9/11 America, but that would be extremely deconstructed because if you went literal with the plot and update it would be tedious and expected.

Northanger Abbey- Jane Austen 

One day I’m writing an update, I have the whole idea in mind and it will be pretty perfect. Until then, I will keep it mum lest someone beat me to it.

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