Fight Club author Chuck Palahniuk has optioned his fifth novel Lullaby to indie duo Andy Mingo and Josh Leake. Mingo will direct the script which he will co-write with Palahniuk, while Leake will produce the adaptation. We speak to Leake about his involvement in the film, how he met Andy (at Raindance), and about his own film festival.
What was it about Lullaby that made you think “I want to play a part in portraying this visually”?
Everyone knows Chuck Palahniuk – Fight Club is arguably one of the most quoted movies of our time. How many times have you heard someone say “First rule of Fight Club: you do not talk about Fight Club”? I was introduced to Andy at Raindance through another filmmaker – a guy by the name of Alan who worked (and still does) for the Mexican Embassy in Rome. I partied a lot with Alan in the filmmaker lounge. Alan met Andy at a different point and he said that I should really meet Andy because he is from Portland too.
Andy had already done a short based on an article that Chuck wrote for Playboy called Romance. I loved the film – it was amazing and lo and behold it was from someone from Portland. We really hit it off after the Romance screening at Raindance and became great friends. We’ve always talked about doing a project together. Chuck had a couple of different books we were looking at and Lullaby was one that we both really enjoyed because the story is not just a Palahniuk book – it’s actually an amazing story. It also helps that there’s not tons of special effects. Another book Chuck wrote called Survivor had a kidnapped plane that ends up crashing. That would have been a little bit harder for us to do.
Lullaby is such a great story because it’s something that everyone can relate to. It’s about a disgraced journalist that loses his wife and child which devastates him. He does some research and finds out that it’s happening all over the US. He finds out that the cause is this book that he read them. It has this chant and if you read it to someone or think about it, it has the power to kill. He then goes out and tries to destroy all these copies of these books, so it doesn’t happen to someone else. It turns out that the people that he enlists to help are the ones that are actually sending it out, so it’s a really interesting horror/terror genre. Those films tend to do really well and I like that genre of film.
In regards to book to film adaptations, do you think that reading the book first can ruin the film?
No, but look at One Who Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. You see the movie and you absolutely love it but then you read the book and fall in love again or vice versa. The book is different than the movie. I think that both have their own life and I think that you can enjoy both — it just depends on what your preference is — some people prefer to read the book. Others want to watch the movie. Whatever, the case is for your readers. I encourage everyone to read Lullaby because it’s a good book. And once our movie is released, come watch the movie.
Are you going to stay faithful to the novel?
Chuck is actually going to work with us on the adaptation. He is going to co-write the screenplay which is huge because it’s the first film that he has co-written. It’s awesome for us having him involved. I can’t really give any spoilers but I can say that we’re going to make a good movie. Movies don’t always follow every letter of a book but his story is strong and I think we’re going to use everything that we possibly can to tell the story.
As you said this is the first film adaptation of one of his novels that he will be working on. Why this story? Is it because it is such a personal story for him? [Palahniuk wrote the book as he weighed the decision of capital punishment for the man who murdered his father.]
It’s hard for me to talk about that because I don’t really have any perspective on it. It would be really devastating to go through something like that. I think that it’s a combination of it being a personal story to Chuck but also the friendship that Chuck has with our director Andy. I think that friendships are something that can lead to things that you can’t do with just people you meet on the street. It’s interesting to see how filmmakers work with a lot of the same people with all their different films. I think that it’s those friendships that help make the film what it is – no one else could direct this film except for Andy and get that type of support from Chuck.
It was funny because we have a Facebook page and we had about 35 likes on it. Chuck tweeted “Go like this page”, and then in 3 hours we were up to like 7,000. Chuck brings a legion of fans and I’m just honoured to be working on the project. A lot of it I have to thank Raindance for, because it really put Andy and me together. It really has inspired me as a filmmaker and the connections I made at Raindance were amazing. It is a wonderful festival.
Yes - Raindance is amazing! How did Chuck and Andy meet?
Andy’s wife is an accomplished writer in her own right – Lidia Yuknavitch. She’s a well-known author with several books under her belt. She's in Chuck's writing group –there are several world renowned writers in the group including Chelsea Cain and Cheryl Strayed (author of Wild which was adapted into a film with Reese Witherspoon). Chuck was involved with the book which is kind of interesting. Lidia just wrote a book called The Small Backs of Children and she's going to San Francisco shortly. On a side note, go out and buy her new book—she's brilliant. What inspires me most about Lidia too, isn't just her commanding prose but also how giving she is to her community—she's a writing professor at a local college. Andy is great too—he just won the Oregon Educator of the Year award. So when he's not shooting or filming something, he's giving back to the community, and really that's what life's all about. So, how Andy met Chuck is through his wife.
How much did you buy the rights for? For Romance [Andy’s previous short] it was a bottle of wine.
Andy bought him a bottle of wine and maybe dinner for Romance but this is a feature film. I can’t really go into the details. Chuck Palahniuk, one of the most famous, most well-quoted and probably the most outstanding writer of our time, is one of the more expensive authors to option out there. I can’t really tell you exact specifics but I can tell you that his agent definitely got him what Chuck deserves.
We didn’t get any friendship deal on this. I don’t want it to seem like he wasn’t friendly – he's an amazingly giving and smart person. Given the opportunity to make this film into a feature narrative, Andy and I don’t take lightly. It was an expensive but well-worth project to get optioned.
Are you excited?
Oh yeah! This is one of the biggest projects that we’re both working on together. I’ve just come off a feature documentary that I’ve produced – which Showtime just bought - called Glena. We have some other information that will come out about the project hopefully in the next month but we can’t talk about it now.
I can tell you that something is happening. It’s about a 35 year-old single mum from The Dallels (which is in Oregon) that worked at a hospital and gave up her career to become a professional MMA cage fighter. She loses her home and her ex-husband sues her for custody of the kids but she ends up doing really well. She's on the national fighting circuit right now. But with this film, Lullaby, we are definitely excited.
Where are you looking in terms of your funding?
We’re bringing in all of our contacts and we've been contacted by a lot of people about partnering, producing, and financing. We've talked to different crowdfunding places too. The new laws in the US are starting to allow equity crowdfunding [with equity crowdfunding you can actually sell parts of the profit, so if people give you money they can potentially get part of the profit that you make at the end of the film]. That happens currently but you have to be a credited investor so you have to be worth a million dollars. There’s certain requirements in the US to be a credited investor but they’ve changed the laws so that someone could invest up to ten percent of their net worth.
It just makes it easier for people to put in smaller amounts which could grow. We haven’t decided to do that but we’re definitely exploring all the options and looking at what and how we could finance this film.
How is your film festival going? [Josh is the founder of Portland’s largest film festival for filmmakers.]
We started Portland Film Festival back in 2013. Raindance was one of the biggest inspirations for the festival because hanging out in London (which is just an amazing city), meeting all the other filmmakers, sitting next to Jeremy Irons watching his documentary, was just really amazing. Having that community of filmmaking was something that we were really wanting in Portland. There is a film community here but having an intense week of films and workshops was just something that really touched me. After I came back from Raindance, I just knew that it was something that we should do in Portland. We got like a hundred of my friends and we all got together and we put together the festival. It's in September and we're still pretty small but Raindance is definitely an inspiration for us.
Are you going to come and visit us again soon?
Yes – I wanted to come back last year but I had another film project that I was working on and it wouldn’t let me go. This year I think I’m going to buy my tickets earlier rather than later so I have to go and there’s no last minute negotiations. I’m excited! I would go to Raindance if I could every year.
Do you have any advice for aspiring indie filmmakers in the industry?
I’m still learning myself. Always be willing to learn. Be friendly and nice because you never know who you need and who you can work with on your next project. At a lot of film festivals that I’ve gone to, I’ve ended up meeting people that I’ve ended up working on projects with later on. Make relationships, build relationships, be friendly and don’t be afraid to ask. My grandmother always told me that "A closed mouth never gets fed". If you want something or need help with something, just ask because a lot of times people will be willing to help.
It's the people that don’t need to be nice that are genuinely nice. I had an opportunity to meet Hugh Jackman and he was the nicest guy ever, period, in the world. I mean he didn’t need to be nice but he was. He was caring, he asked questions and he was inquisitive. It was just like "Wow this guy is so awesome", and you really want to work with him. Then I’ve had the opportunity to meet other people that are just as well-known but they aren’t as friendly.
There was a guy I met at Sundance this year and I had always loved his movies. He would have been perfect to be cast as someone in Lullaby but when I met him in person, he was just so mean and rude. I couldn’t believe it – it was so disappointing. I guess I should be the bigger person and say that maybe he was having an off day but in this business you shouldn’t have an off day because that could be the one opportunity to meet someone. I think that it’s so small but just the nicer you can be to people the better because it’s so much nicer to be on set with people you want to work with than being miserable. Don’t be a miserable person!
Exactly, what's the point? Plus you got to love, love, love movies.
I love movies! I have a film club in Portland I started in 2009 because my girlfriend wouldn’t go to movies with me anymore. Now we have like 2,300 members and we go once a week. We watch a movie and we talk about it afterwards. I eat and breathe and do everything movies – it's fun and it's definitely something I love.
Raindance is a film loving institution. It's probably one of the best film festivals I've ever been to. It was so much fun. Elliot has really done an amazing job and his team are always so friendly. Having everything in one location – we are in like 8 different venues – makes it so much easier.
It sounds almost as if we're paying you to promote us! Thank you for your kind words!
ANDY AND I LOVE RAINDANCE. If I were to submit to one festival in Europe it would be Raindance. There are two types of festivals – the red rope festival and the festival where you can actually meet people. Unless you’re behind that red rope and in the inner circle, Cannes is a little heard to go to and Sundance you don’t get to meet everyone. But at Raindance you really get to meet everyone. There is no red rope, no barrier, and that’s what I really love.