The ultimate challenges of transferring an educational ebook to the display (opinion)



In a previous article, I recounted how my ebook The Final Duel was offered to a significant commerce writer and, over a interval of 15 years, optioned 3 times for movie. On this essay, I’ll describe its last journey to the massive display.

Visors and Masks

In Might 2019, I used to be invited to a gathering at Pearl Avenue Movies to debate plans for the display adaptation of my ebook. Across the desk had been Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, in addition to Drew Vinton, the Pearl Avenue producer who had found my ebook at his public library, and Kevin Walsh, president of Scott Free Productions. I used to be thrilled to be on the desk, and all of us had been immediately on a first-name foundation.

Matt had with him a well-thumbed paperback copy of my ebook with yellow Put up-it notes protruding of the pages. After just a few inquiries to me about how I had discovered the story and researched my ebook, he and Ben started outlining the script in progress, taking turns to relate a three-part story harking back to Akira Kurosawa’s traditional movie Rashomon.

I used to be delighted—I’d been impressed by Rashomon years earlier whereas writing my ebook, and I’d additionally learn the supply materials by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. I’d been particularly struck by a line within the unique “Rashomon” story, though not the movie, that appeared to echo Marguerite’s horrible plight after Le Gris’s brutal assault: “The thunder of his descending steps pounded within the hole tower, after which it was quiet.” The ensuing movie would depict Le Gris pursuing Marguerite up a tower and descending afterward.

That summer time, the writing staff grew to incorporate acclaimed author and director Nicole Holofcener, who was answerable for the essential third a part of the story, Marguerite’s. I’d been employed as a guide, and for a number of months, I fielded questions from the writers about medieval legislation, feudal society, knighthood, weaponry, army vocabulary and the principles for duels.

Three writers evidently can work sooner than one, and by December, a accomplished script was prepared. Kevin and Drew referred to as me to relay a command from Ridley Scott: “Inform him to kick the shit out of it.” The script was good, and I discovered no shit to kick. However I despatched again some notes suggesting small modifications right here and there, lots of which the writers adopted.

Months earlier, I had additionally urged one thing else—on the outset, why not present the 2 males as comrades in arms throughout a bloody skirmish the place Carrouges saves Le Gris’s life, giving the climactic duel a tragic twist: Carrouges now should kill the person he saved—or be killed by him. It was satisfying to see this beat additionally embedded within the script and framing the entire story.

Capturing started in February 2020 in France at some spectacular areas, together with the Château de Berzé, a wonderfully preserved fortress, and the Abbey of Fontfroide, close to the previous Roman metropolis of Narbonne. Casting requires extras drew big crowds. Some enthusiastic candidates confirmed up in full medieval apparel and carrying weapons or different props.

Early on, I’d been invited to affix the staff on location, and my spouse, Peg, and I had been stuffed with anticipation. However then in March, with one other flip of fortune’s wheel, manufacturing halted due to the worldwide pandemic.

However Ridley had confirmed his logistical genius just a few years earlier, when compelled to reshoot a lot of All of the Cash within the World attributable to unsavory accusations in opposition to its main man. Manufacturing on The Final Duel resumed in September in Eire, as initially deliberate, with solid and crew adhering to full pandemic protocols.

Even with all the additional COVID precautions, the shoot wrapped in mid-October. Below a “Breaking Information” banner, Deadline Hollywood saluted the director, who had greater than lived as much as his knighthood: “Whereas most are hunkered down as a result of pandemic, Scott is transferring like a locomotive.”

Postproduction started, with a launch date pushed again from Christmas 2020 to almost Halloween 2021. It was a foreshadowing that was misplaced on me on the time.

Trailers and Tie-Ins

In July 2021, the primary of a number of trailers was launched, garnering thousands and thousands of views on YouTube. In September, Jodie Comer, taking part in nuanced variations of the brave Marguerite, wowed audiences on the movie’s world premiere in Venice. Early opinions had been blended, nonetheless, and controversy flared on social media in regards to the on-screen depiction of rape.

Detractors posted set off warnings, denouncing the movie weeks earlier than its launch and lengthy earlier than they might have seen and judged it on its precise deserves. The Vatican’s 1988 condemnation of Scorsese’s The Final Temptation of Christ had inadvertently promoted that movie worldwide. Maybe on this case, too, there can be “no such factor as unhealthy publicity.” We might solely hope.

The critics got here round, and ultimately the movie (with over 250 opinions tallied) scored an 85 on the influential “Tomatometer.” It was a critic’s choose in The New York Instances, the place Manohla Dargis, noting Scott’s “affinity for powerful girls,” wrote that he “has directed what would be the massive display’s first medieval feminist revenge saga.” Different critics discovered a lot to admire, as nicely.

By now, my ebook had offered in almost 20 languages, and film tie-in editions proliferated. A once-moribund title had been reborn. The audio rights, unused by the writer, had reverted. My good brokers Glen Hartley and Lynn Chu enlisted English actor Robert Glenister, who had learn the ebook on the BBC years earlier, to do the unabridged model, and his entrancing efficiency was promoting nicely on Audible.

By October, the film poster was plastered on billboards and rumbling by on buses. Teasers ran on TV, and buddies reported sightings to us. I saved busy with articles and interviews for the London Instances, Le Monde and the Los Angeles Instances, in addition to podcasts akin to The Jess Cagle Present, Most Infamous and others. It was enjoyable and thrilling to achieve a wider viewers. Given the persevering with controversy, nonetheless, I requested Peg to vet all the pieces I wrote and to assist prep my interviews, eyeballing each element for content material and tone—in brief, to “kick the shit out of it.”

After Venice, photographs had popped up on-line of somebody impersonating me on the crimson carpet. My amused disbelief turned to alarm: Had the impostor spoken to the press? Was I about to be pilloried on Twitter for one thing I’d by no means stated? At Peg’s urging, I alerted the studio, they usually obtained Getty Pictures to take down the images.

Even bona fide interviews carried dangers. At international media shops, my cautious English was translated in a single day, and we crossed our fingers {that a} misquote wouldn’t appeal to on-line trolls. We utterly averted social media, leaving that to the writer and the studio, particularly the expert publicist at Penguin Random Home, Michelle Giuseffi.

On the eve of the movie’s launch, our hopes soared that the superb true story of the 1386 trial by fight, and one lady’s brave stand for the reality, can be successful on par with Ridley Scott’s The Martian or Gladiator. Others had been evidently hopeful, too—solicitations for cash we didn’t have started rolling in.

A Field-Workplace Bomb

The Final Duel got here out from twentieth Century Studios in U.S. theaters on Oct. 15 in opposition to Common Studios’ Halloween Kills, a franchise slasher movie. Each had been rated R, and Common’s movie was additionally obtainable on streaming, which could have bled off a few of its personal field workplace. Nonetheless, The Final Duel tanked, incomes solely $4.7 million within the U.S. that weekend, whereas Kills lived as much as its identify with $47 million.

As extensively famous on the time, an older viewers afraid of catching COVID stayed dwelling, whereas a youthful viewers wanting to be again in theaters after months of lockdown didn’t, understandably, see The Final Duel as an amazing date film. And but I ponder about that youthful crowd of individuals—together with many faculty college students—who rightly demand that society take sexual assault rather more severely and but shunned an excellent movie providing a critical historic take a look at Me Too points, as a substitute cramming right into a slasher movie for a bloody feast. “A Movie for Grown-Ups,” wrote the columnist Ross Douthat, lamenting the movie’s box-office failure.

Ridley, understandably aggravated that his epic historic drama tanked on the field workplace, blamed it on “millennials” with cellphones. If his ire was a bit off beam, the person remains to be entitled to his outrage on behalf of the 13,000 folks for whom the movie offered jobs and who had labored very onerous below difficult situations to ship a meticulously crafted murals.

The Final Duel is a tour de power that thrilled many critics and viewers, ourselves included. I’ll always remember seeing it with Peg at a personal screening in Los Angeles on the Fox studio lot: we each had been utterly blown away. However as an enormous Ridley Scott fan, and writer of the ebook, I’m clearly biased. And my first date with Peg, nearly 40 years in the past, was Blade Runner, one other box-office bust—though ultimately redeemed by time and immortalized by the American Film Institute as one of many “100 Biggest American Movies of All Time.”


When The Final Duel flopped, many critics lamented the demise of big-budget Hollywood historic epics. I hope that’s untimely and that future generations will know the fun of watching big-screen historic movies. In December, the film had its streaming debut on Amazon Prime, iTunes and Vudu, adopted by Hulu and HBO Max, in addition to Disney+ and Star+ abroad.

Virtually in a single day, it discovered its viewers, and an enormous one, even rivaling later Oscar favourite The Energy of the Canine for the No. 1 spot in dwelling viewing. And over the following two months, it made the Top 10 on quite a few platforms worldwide. It additionally has held its strong important rating of 85 on the Tomatometer, and a wholesome 81 amongst moviegoers. True, it’s been largely snubbed within the awards race. The field workplace, definitely, and maybe the controversy, too, have taken a toll.

Nonetheless, the movie’s streaming future seems to be brilliant, and ebook gross sales have additionally been brisk, together with 5 weeks final fall on the New York Instances best-seller record. Not unhealthy for a title that was remaindered 20 years in the past after it did not promote out in hardcover.

I hope that this cautionary story in regards to the ups and downs of fortune’s wheel that may attend any commerce ebook, and any movie adaptation, hasn’t dampened the hopes of anybody aspiring to see their very own ebook apotheosized on the display. Some authors are understandably leery of Hollywood and even reluctant to assist adapt their very own work. A a lot beloved and splendidly profitable writer with thousands and thousands of books in print informed me that when Hollywood calls, he all the time says, “I’ve only one situation: I don’t need to be concerned.” However in case you actually need to see your ebook on the display and would leap on the likelihood to be concerned, my recommendation is, do your highest analysis and writing, cling on to your dream, and go for it.

Maybe most necessary of all: benefit from the journey as you chase your dream, and be grateful to everybody who shares it with you. However once more, don’t maintain your breath, and watch out what you want for. Good luck. Might fortune smile upon you.



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