A week is a long time in politics. In the movie business, not so much. In the movie business, 10 years isn’t necessarily a long time. When I sold the film rights to The Dark Fields, my PowerBook G3 had a two-gigabyte hard drive and I didn’t have any children. It was 2001 and I was warned not to expect anything to happen quickly. So I figured it might take, what, a year, two years? Tops? If someone had told me it’d be closer to 10, and that would be good going, I’d have laughed, or cried, or both.
The Dark Fields was my first novel to be published and before it even hit the shelves various film companies were declaring “interest.” Eventually, Miramax took out an 18-month option, which at the time seemed like an eternity to me. Because how could they not get everything together in that space of time? Who were these people, complete slackers?
I think it was at the second or third renewal of the option that I began to feel something I would subsequently become very familiar with: excitement fatigue. That they were renewing was surely a good sign, and it also provided a much needed revenue stream, but was anything ever going to happen?
Around this time Leslie Dixon appeared on the scene. A professional Hollywood screenwriter with a slew of major credits under her belt, Leslie decided she wanted to take a shot at the book. Before long she had written a smart, expertly constructed, tightly paced thriller that just screamed out to be produced. This was good news and a major step forward. It was also 2003.
After that, there were many false starts with various names, at various times, being “attached”—it’s hard not to use air quotes when talking about this stuff—such names as Cusack, Wahlberg, Sturgess, Ledger. After each of these peaks, there’d be a trough, hence the excitement fatigue. Then suddenly Shia LaBeouf was “attached” and everything seemed to fall into place. He “signed.” Neil Burger was to direct. Universal Studios were providing the moolah. Hooray for Hollywood, that screwy, ballyhooey.
Then I spotted a news item online one morning. Shia LaBeouf had had a minor traffic accident and hurt his hand. I smiled, almost indulgently. Someone oughta rein this kid in, I thought, little knowing that this peak would be followed by a year-long trough, and near despair all around.
Next, Bradley Cooper signed on, and it all fell into place again. Almost as an afterthought, mention was made of Robert De Niro maybe being “interested” in the part of Carl Van Loon. But don’t get excited, I was warned. And I actually didn’t.
Then he “signed.”
That was a high point. Everybody I knew was “excited” about the movie in any case, but when you mentioned De Niro the air quotes fell away and jaws dropped to the floor.
Another high point for me came when I visited the set in New York last April. There’s a scene in the novel where the main character finds himself one morning staggering in an MDT-fueled haze across Brooklyn Bridge. I remember writing the scene very clearly, because I was drawing on my own experience, 10 years earlier, of having to stagger (in a very different kind of haze) across the bridge every morning to work. But now, here I was in 2010 watching a busy film crew meticulously recreating that scene. For a writer who spends most of his time alone in a small room, that was a pretty amazing experience.
And at what felt like a rush, the film was made and in the can.
My hard drive has increased from two gigabytes to two terabytes, and I’ve had two kids. They’re now making fart jokes and taking guitar lessons. But such is the nature and draw of the movie business that if any of my other novels were to be optioned in the morning, I’d be onboard like a shot, doubtless succumbing once again to the naïve delusion that it could all be done—this time—in 18 months.
Picador published Limitless (originally titled The Dark Fields) in March, to coincide with the movie release. It will publish Glynn's Winterland in July.