April 13, 2011

Howard Blum on the upcoming film, The Floor of Heaven.

(Click image to enlarge)

The following comes from Word and Film.

Film rights to New York Times bestselling author Howard Blum’s forthcoming book, The Floor of Heaven, have been acquired by Twentieth Century Fox for a feature film. Here, Howard Blum shares his experience in Hollywood and the making of the movie deal, and will continue sharing the journey in future posts on Word & Film. The Floor of Heaven: A True Tale of the Last Frontier and the Yukon Gold Rush will be released from Crown Publishers on April 26.

“Walk past the cowboy, then left at Marilyn Monroe.”

It was one of these shiny, bright blue, and comfortably warm California days and if that weren’t enough to awaken the senses after the long Connecticut winter, the Twentieth Century Fox Studio guard’s directions were further reason to rejoice. With wide-eyed wonder I ambled down the grass-lined path until I passed first the wall-size cowboy image (a scene from “The Ox-Bow Incident“) and next the wall filled with Marilyn as her skirt was blown by a mischievous gust (”The Seven Year Itch“). Then I arrived at a small, yellow bungalow that immediately reminded me of the cabin at the sleep-away camp I’d attended a lifetime ago. I walked up the steps, arriving for the meeting with the studio executives from Fox 2000 and Chernin Entertainment. Just days earlier I’d agreed to sell them the film rights to my new book, The Floor of Heaven.

Talk about heady moments! I had spent years researching then writing my book. It’s a true story about a cowboy turned Pinkerton detective who gets caught up in a puzzling and suspenseful mystery that leads him on a chase across the far north during the Yukon Gold Rush. All the time I’d spent writing my mind was filled with same grim thought: Would anyone want to read this? Sure, I was caught up in the story; each day at my desk I felt as if I was entering a world filled with the icy challenges and dangers of the north country. But would anyone else be willing to come along on that journey with me? However, in the past few weeks I’d begun to get the first real inkling that perhaps I’d not set off on my long expedition in vain.

Although the book would not be published until April 26, the advance reviews were very flattering and gratifying (“Wildly compelling … a huge success,” said Publisher’s Weekly. “Truly memorable,” Kirkus. “In the tradition of great history and great literature,” Library Journal). Then, there was the movie interest. Out of nowhere (or so it had seemed) there were several studios suddenly competing to purchase the rights for my still-unpublished book. After some phone conversations with the principals, and discussing things with my longtime movie agent and friend, Bob Bookman of CAA, I decided to go with the Fox group. Now I was going to meet them and learn if I’d made the right choice (although in truth, a large motivation in my making the “right” choice had been the desire to cover my smart childrens’ oversized tuition bills).

My first impression was that I was outnumbered. There were four of them, and just one pale, jet-lagged author. But what I lacked in numbers I made up for with nervous chatter. And soon we were deep into the discussion of what kind of movie this would be. Straight off, we all agreed that it would be a “northerner” (to use Bob Bookman’s word) rather than a Western. The goal would be to create a world that captured the dangers of the high mountains and snow-packed passes of the far north. To accomplish this, the movie would need a director who could re-create this world and stars who could authentically play the men and women who inhabited it.

But who? Perhaps the only moment headier than selling your book to the movies is to sit in a room with studio executive and bandy about the names of the famous and talented who might be approached to be involved in the film. Oh, there was quite a list – and many of them familiar boldfaced names.

Would they be interested? Would they read my book (or at least the outline I’d put together)? Would I soon be working with them (after a fashion)?

On that first giddy afternoon in the meeting in Bungalow 78 on the Twentieth Century Fox lot anything – and everything! – seemed possible. But the making of The Floor of Heaven will, even in the best of all possible movie worlds, be a long process. And this was just the opening scene … Check back on Word & Film as I document my experiences with “The Floor of Heaven: The Movie.”

Here are links to other posts on this blog pertaining to this topic:
March 26, 2011
March 9, 2011
March 8, 2011
February 24, 2011

Jeff Smith


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