Friday, January 10, 2014

John Katzenbach's "Red 1-2-3"

Three of John Katzenbach's novels have been made into feature films: In the Heat of the Summer (adapted for the screen as The Mean Season), Hart's War starring Bruce Willis, and Just Cause starring Sean Connery. His other books include the New York Times bestseller The Traveler; Day of Reckoning and The Shadow Man. Katzenbach was a criminal court reporter for The Miami Herald and Miami News and a featured writer for the Herald’s Tropic magazine.

Here the author shares some thoughts on a big screen adaptation of his new novel, Red 1-2-3:

See, I’ve already had four of my books filmed and… well, let’s just say the results were, ah…. mixed. The trouble is, oftentimes one learns that this or that screenwriter has been hired and this or that actor is all set to play the lead role and it just seems totally dandy, great, fantastic, astonishingly prescient by the producers to pick out the absolute perfect team, who are completely devoted to both the plot of the book and the personality and the physical presence of the main character as I originally conceived him or her. Then, author excitement steadily building, hopes flourishing, Hollywood box office success dreams firing off like firecrackers on the Glorious 4th, the director shouts “Action!” cameras roll and…


You know what occurs next:

Wait a second! Hey, what the hell? Where’s my book? Who are these odd people saying these strange things that have little or nothing to do with what I had in mind?

What just happened?


Here’s the deal with books into movies: Somewhere between optioning the material, investing in a screenwriter, hiring a director, cinematographer and a bevy of talented performers, and spending a whole lot of money – all the solid reasons for thinking the book would make a good movie get lost in the proverbial shuffle. In the process of dealing with all these disparate entities and personalities (all movies are a well-known series of compromises) the essence of the book gets, well, compromised. And there’s the rub.

Bippity-bobbity-boo. Put it together and what have you got?

With apologies to Cinderella, it’s usually not a magic coach drawn by white horses, but a rancid pumpkin. Maybe, if one is fortunate, a stew – but a steaming often over-cooked stew, with some pretty tough to chew slices of mystery meat.

But – enough of this childish whining – because there are cinematic moments where one sees their creation transformed into images and it’s simply wondrous. Even if these moments seem more or less accidental, they’re still memorable, and thrilling not just for me, but I suspect for any author.

The trick is not to let it go to one’s head. As a writer, you are totally responsible for those words on the pages of your novel – and little else. And even if the whole damn world prefers to remember the cinematic representation of these things (no matter how close or how distant it is from what you first intended) what you have to keep in mind is what you did and how you did it. That’s where the true satisfaction lies.

Sort of.

I might be lying.

Or maybe stretching the truth some.

Regardless: So endeth the lesson for today.

And, deep in my dark, blackened, psychopathic heart, I love the movies. I like movies where things blow up. I like movies where people talk and talk. I like movies about the road and about home fires. I like love stories and war stories and even animal stories.

And, if I had the choice for the main character in Red 1-2-3

Kevin Spacey.

Damn, he’s a fine actor. Filled with subtlety, nuance and a definite style. Who could forget Verbal Kint in The Usual Suspects and when that limp disappears? He’d be A-OK in my eyes.

And probably it would be someone else completely who would utterly screw everything all up.
Learn more about the book and author at John Katzenbach's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue