Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Michael Kun and Susan Mullen's "We Are Still Tornadoes"

Michael Kun is the author of the novels You Poor Monster, The Locklear Letters, and A Thousand Benjamins, among other works of fiction and non-fiction. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He practices law in Los Angeles. Susan Mullen is a graduate of Duke University, where she studied English literature, and the University of Virginia School of Law. She practices law and lives in Northern Virginia.

Here Kun shares some ideas adapting their new novel, We Are Still Tornadoes, for the big screen:
To start, would you mind if we called this particular installment “Our Book, The Movie” instead of “My Book, The Movie”?

You see, I co-wrote We Are Still Tornadoes with my old friend Susan Mullen, and it wouldn’t sound right to refer to it as “my” book, at least not without coming across like a complete prick. And as I get older, I try to avoid sounding like a complete prick whenever I can. Unless I’m at family gatherings or dealing with they guy at the car repair place, in which case all bets are off.

Anyway, do we have a deal?

Great, thanks.

Okay, so you want to know about casting a movie based on our book.

Well, by way of background, We Are Still Tornadoes is the story of two high school friends in the early 1980s when one (Cath) leaves for college and the other (Scott) stays home. It’s told entirely through their correspondence over the course of about 8 months of their lives apart. Letters, notes, cards, etc., etc., you get the point.

(This is where one of your readers says, “Doesn’t this jackass know that’s called an epistolarly novel?” First, let me say first that reader is very rude. And, second, yes, I know that our book is an epistolary novel. I've written two other epistolary novels, The Locklear Letters and Everybody Says Hello, and I’ve learned from them not to assume that everyone is familiar with that phrase. And I’ve also learned that people get embarrassed if you explain the phrase to them. I have no interest in embarrassing anyone. I always try to find a way to explain the phrase without embarrassing anyone. Like this paragraph.)

You might think that the epistolary format would render our novel completely unfilmable -- how the hell do you make a movie about letters, right? -- but I disagree. In fact, in the right hands, I could see We Are Still Tornadoes being a very unique – and very funny – movie. (In the wrong hands, it could be an unwatchable piece of trash, but you could probably say that about anything.)

Yes, the book is composed of letters, but those letters are made up of the types of stories and characters and details that would drive a film’s narrative. Most of the letters contain descriptions of the events, large and small, that each character lives through. Many of those events would lend themselves well to being fleshed out on film. Parties, dates, holiday gatherings, arguments, things of that nature. A lot happens in the book, it’s just that readers learn of those events in a different way than they would through a more traditional novel.

Not unimportantly, there’s a large focus on music in the book, which would create a natural soundtrack for a movie. It’s not just the references to the great music from the 1980s that the characters discover and tell each other about – and it was great music, don’t waste your breath arguing with me about it. No, there’s more. Trapped at home and feeling very much alone with most of his high school classmates gone, Scott picks up a guitar, starts writing songs, and forms a band. His music, and his performances of it, are a critical part of the story. He shares the lyrics to his songs with Cath, and they exchange letters about the small bars he and his band play in. And if you read We Are Still Tornadoes and don't wonder what his songs "Daddy Issues" and "Um" would sound like, well, I don't know what to say.

A movie could work. It really could.

But casting that movie? That’s a different issue altogether.

You see, the two main characters are both 17 at the start of the book, and for the life of me I can’t think of any teenage actors, let alone any teenage actors for those two roles. Seriously, other than the young actors who are on the Disney shows my 10-year old daughter watches, I don’t think I would even recognize any teenage actors.

That said, the first people who came to mind when you asked me to contribute to “Our Book, The Movie” were Grant Gustin (who plays the Flash on the TV show of the same name) and Anna Kendrick (who apparently is required to be in every movie). They’re both charming and attractive. They both come across as funny, friendly and likeable, at least in the roles they play; who knows what they're really like in real life. I can picture Grant Gustin playing a boy working in his father’s clothing store and teaching himself to play the guitar -- and I know he can sing from his time on Glee. In the same way, I can picture Anna Kendrick playing a smart, slightly awkward college student (probably because that’s exactly what she did in Pitch Perfect). But neither one of them is even close to 17 anymore. Without looking them up on IMDB, I’d guess they’re both in their late 20s or early 30s.

If they made the movie 5 or 6 years ago, I’d say those two. Or maybe Miles Teller as Scott and Shailene Woodley as Cath.

If they made the movie 9 or 10 years ago, I'm drawing a complete blank on someone to play Scott, but I think of Ellen Page or Mary Elizabeth Winstead to play Cath. (If you aren’t familiar with her, Mary Elizabeth Winstead is likely best known for playing Ramona Flowers in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, the girl with the bright pink hair. Anna Kendrick was in that movie, too.)

If they made the movie in the 1980s, I could see Paul Rudd or Robert Downey, Jr. as Scott. And Moira Kelly or Marisa Tomei as Cath. (If you aren’t familiar with Moira Kelly, you need to see The Cutting Edge right away. It’s only the greatest figure skating movie ever. You see, Moira Kelly plays a spoiled pairs figure skater whose partners keep dumping her because she’s so difficult. D.B. Sweeney is a hockey star who’s injured and has to give up the game, but he’s talked into skating with Moira Kelly’s character. Will they bicker? Of course. Will they fall in love? Yup. Well they make it to the Olympics? Hell, yes. Will they throw the frigging rule book out the frigging window and perform “the Pamchenko,” a move so dangerous that it’s been banned not just by the national figure skating association, but by the international one? Of course they will! And if you scour the faces of the crowds in the stands during the skating competitions, I have every confidence that somewhere, somehow, you will be able to spot the face of a very young Anna Kendrick. You know, just because.)

But if they need to cast actors who are about 17 today, I’m drawing a great, big blank.

Imagine I just stared at the ceiling for 10 minutes trying to think of anyone.

Nope, still can't.


If they ever do make a movie of our book, I bet they'll cast a couple of complete unknowns for the two lead roles. That would be absolutely fine with me. After all, Dustin Hoffman was an unknown before they cast him in The Graduate. After that, he was Dustin Hoffman.

And I believe he has a new movie coming out this week with Anna Kendrick.
Visit Michael Kun's website.

--Marshal Zeringue