I’ve been getting a number of questions about the movie version of Blue Like Jazz and I thought I’d update everybody. Steve Taylor, Ben Pearson and I have been working on the screenplay for a long time, nearly two years. We had hoped to shoot the movie last summer but because the economy tanked it has taken longer to find the right investors (a studio won’t give us the creative freedom we want) so we are scheduled to shoot the film this June/July. Anyway, recently Steve, Ben and I were able to get together for a few hours to go through the script again and I captured a bit of Steve on video.
Screenwriting is different work than essay writing in that the work (at least for our project) was done in community. I found this more enjoyable than sitting alone in a coffee shop or in my office trying to dial in a series of thoughts for paper. In screenwriting, the story is everything. And I was surprised at how much the process changed my approach to writing essays. I’ve applied a great deal of story structure to my non-fiction. The principle questions in story tend to be 1. What does the character want? and 2. What are the principles of antagonism? With those ideas in mind, a story involves taking the character on a journey through conflict, toward resolution. The same can be said of essays, if you think about it. The best essays are just that, an idea trying to surface through forces of antagonism.
I recorded Steve going through a new scene he had written so you can get a feel for how a scene unfolds. But this is late in the game. This scene was added to employ more internal tension toward the end of Act 2. But it’s a long way from the skeleton we started with two years ago.
Our first session involved an empty white-board, some characters from the book, and only a foggy idea about what our characters wanted. The story itself took several week-long sessions, spread out over a year, and then we began to plug in the dialogue. Once the dialogue was written, we worked on making the screenplay funny and moving, careful to keep the tension up throughout the arc.
We will shoot the film this summer in Portland and it will release in theaters in 2010. Because Jazz is mostly essay, there is little in the movie that is in the book, save the confession-booth scene, which itself is dramatically different. The only characters in the film that are in the book are me, Penny and Laura. My character is not much like my character in the book, and Laura’s has changed a bit, but Penny is pretty much dead on. We also added to major characters that do not appear in the book, one is called “the pope” and the other is “quinn,” a friend of Laura’s that is named after Penny’s daughter. Even though the narrative is different, reviewers have said the story works, and reviewers who are familiar with the book say the film captures the essence of the book. I feel the movie is more moving than the book since it explores the inner-lives of more characters. In fact, I’m not alone. A number of reviewers have felt the screenplay was stronger. I tried not to take that too personally.
You can check out the website here, on which you will find another video of Steve and I talking about the film. You can also hear Steve read a review from a studio about the script. And if you want to invest several-million dollars, you can get contact information on the movie website as well.