The OtherLife Journals (OLJ) are a series of chronologically-random posts about writing, selling, and making the film OTHERLIFE. One woman’s view of the wild ride of indie filmmaking.
The OtherLife Journals begin! And the right place to start is with the novel Solitaire.
I never believed Solitaire would be optioned for film (and how that happened is definitely a future post for OLJ). The book is not a good fit for a faithful adaptation. It’s an internally-based character-driven story of isolation and connection; of hope and fracture and rebuilding; the reconstruction of Jackal Segura, as the text says (one of my favorite scenes, that quiet brief narrative summary of putting down tenuous anchors). I love my book a lot, but honestly, if you film it straight off the page, you come out with 16 hours of people drinking and having feelz.
- There are various kinds of books that filmmakers option (Caution! Massive generalizing ahead! There are thousands of reasons people option books…):
- Enormous best-sellers that already have an audience who would love nothing more than to see the book on screen. Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, The Da Vinci Code. Every Jane Austen novel ever filmed. Filmmakers will spend a fuckton of money on these movies because audience, and because the stories are already full of the action, momentum, and external conflict that tentpole movies require.
- Novels (or works of nonfiction) that touch an individual filmmaker deeply and personally, and that they believe will work on the screen with some necessary adjustments or compression. A story that makes someone willing to spend years of their life to bring it alive on screen just because it’s that important to them. Who want to make it as powerful and compelling to strangers as it is to them. And that’s a special thing: it’s the desire of an artist to be involved with another artist’s work.
There’s a book right now that I would do this for, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I see it in my head. I won’t be the person to write it because I don’t have the money or the cachet, but wow, I could write the shit out of that screenplay. Sigh. Examples of this kind of crazy love for a story: Twelve Years A Slave, Brokeback Mountain, Winter’s Bone, and pretty much every “faithful adaptation” ever made, successful or not.
- Books with an idea at the core that someone finds appealingly cool and wants to use as the basis of a different story tailored for film (see above re: action, momentum, etc.). On Stranger Tides (which was the springboard for PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN #4). And Solitaire.
Tommaso Fiacchino optioned Solitaire for Cherry Road Films because of the core ideas of virtual confinement and time expansion (that allows Jackal to experience years in VC in only months of real time). The story that he brainstormed with Gregory Widen, the original writer on the script, uses these ideas as a launch pad to a different set of characters and situations. When I got involved with rewriting the script, one of the first things I did was to change the title to OTHERLIFE; that title is both more reflective of the movie itself, and (I hope) helps to set the movie apart from the book.
The interesting thing for me is that the ultimate story that we all created together for OTHERLIFE reflects so many of the essential emotional pivot points of Solitaire, even though it is utterly different in all the surface “plot” ways. Ren Amari in OTHERLIFE is not Ren Segura of Solitaire, but she has her talent, her family issues, her deep secret that she fights so hard to keep, her need to make things right. There’s no elevator, but there is… well, you’ll see. There is no Ko, but there is… well, you’ll see. There is no Solitaire-the-bar, which is part of the book that I love enormously. There is (sadly for me) no Snow, but that’s a fight I lost years ago, and that’s part of what makes the movies not every writer’s cup of tea: there are compromises.
Selling a book to the movies is everything that everyone says it is. I say in all seriousness and without snark, any writer who thinks that her precious work is too sacred to be adapted — which is to say actually changed, for better or for worse, to more readily conform to the new medium in which it will be expressed — ought not to sell her book to the movies. Novels make movies in our heads and hearts. But movies on screen are a different vehicle: every bit as potentially deep and true, but not the same kind of ride. As plays are also different, and poetry, and live music, and all the other kinds of storytelling we have. I think this is good, but it is definitely not for the faint of heart.
I imagined fiercely what it would be like to see Solitaire on screen. But that won’t happen. And what I have learned is that’s completely okay. I’m enormously proud of the film, and the collaboration that has made it what it is. It’s a better film than I would have written all by myself, and I had the singular experience of telling my own story in a completely different way — so different that it wasn’t until I went back and looked that I realized how closely related the book and the film are at the deepest levels.
This collaboration thing is what (I think) makes it hard for authors who give their books over to the movies and then wait to see what happens, because generally the author has no control or input. I was lucky (and also intentional) about having a greater role than that. The extended role I have is part of what I’ll talk about in these meandering journal entries. But for now I will say that it was hard, and scary, and exhilarating, and amazing, and that all the people I’ve worked with over the last 9 years have helped shape the film and made it better. That’s not a thing you get in fiction, where the prevailing ethos is “I Made This All By Myself” because that’s where the only credibility lies. Well, sisters and brothers, in film we all make a thing together, and let me tell you that it takes a fucking village to make a movie. The interesting question is whether your village is functional or not. I’m delighted to say that in the case of OTHERLIFE, the village rocks it.
As I said to my director in one of our final rounds of talking about the script, If all the ideas had to be mine, I wouldn’t write a screenplay, I’d write a book. Oh wait, I did that.
And also, I wrote a movie! Actually, in terms of how much the story changed over time, I wrote about seven movies. We’ll talk more about that somewhere down the road.
Thanks for starting this journey with me!
Enjoy your day.