Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Films, Fame and What Really Matters

For every novelist I know, the brass ring is getting a movie out of your novel. I’ve had options for four of my novels, and at one point, I was unnerved by how long the process could take and how quickly things could stop (I had a producer disappear! For two days Madonna considered my novel Into Thin Air for her directorial debut and then that interest fizzled!) that when I got another option, I lied and said I could write the script, that in fact, I had written dozens of scripts before.

“Fine,” the producer said, “Fed Ex me one of your scripts tonight.” In a panic, I ran to the bookstore and bought up half the screenwriting books there, and I stayed up until four in the morning hammering out a first act for the book the producer had optioned. I prayed it would be enough. I sent it off, and two days later the producer called.

“You lied,” he said. “You can’t write scripts. Why should I hire you to write one?”

I sat, terrified, trying to think what to say. “Because I’ll do it for free?” I asked.

I guess it was an offer he couldn’t refuse (my agent at the time wasn’t happy, but I was delirious.) He gave me six weeks to learn how to write a script, and I wanted this so much that I did learn. I learned well enough for him to use the script, and though that film never go made (welcome to the world of movies), another script I wrote made me a finalist in Nickelodeon’s Screenwriting Fellowship. Every since then, I’ve been in love with the process (and FinalDraft, by the way, is God’s gift to screenwriters.)

To my astonishment and delight, I’m back in the film business again. First, because of an essay I wrote for the anthology, The Other Woman, which got into New York Magazine’s special Love and Sex Issue before the anthology was even published. I wrote the script for it and all of a sudden there was all this interest and I am now trying not to bite my nails as I wait to hear.

But what is really exciting is when you can do a film, and it really can have world impact. A friend and colleague of mine, Leora Skolkin-Smith, has just become my screenwriting partner in a project I’m really excited about: Edges, her novel which was published by Grace Paley’s Glad Days Books and is now an audiobook read by the brilliant actress Tovah Feldshuh (It will be released during Jewish Book Week in November.)

Edges is set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it explores the changing borders of the relationship between a young girl and her mother. It’s a fantastic book, and when I admit when Leora told me there was a film development deal in the works, I gathered my courage and got pushy and asked (okay, I begged) her to let me either write the script or help her write it. We've already done the miniscript, and are about to start on the real script. (I can't wait, I can't wait.)

To be shot on location in Jerusalem, some of the proceeds are to go towards building an archive in the name of the very first people of Palestine before WWII. Meant to heal the peace process, this would show that everyone—Muslim, Jews, Christians and Armenians did live together peacefully once, and can do so again. The film is meant to promote a better understanding and to really do something to try and stop the heavy and mounting losses.

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