How I Got Here


The year was 2002. I was sitting in the restaurant-bar of the Hotel Atlantic in Hamburg. Across from me was a chain-smoking Swiss-German film producer. At the time I was the companion of a cult film director from Los Angeles. Cameron was hysterical. Charismatic and biting, he was the center of any room in a self-described ‘bitchy, gay way’. I’d started out working part-time as his assistant and moved up to writing a screenplay with him. He would fly me out from my snowy town in Vermont where I went to school and deposit me in his warm ocean-side apartment in Santa Monica. He would hand me scripts he didn’t have time to read and ask me to comment on them. I was good at it. I would scrawl out pages of notes and tell him what I thought was interesting and not-so-interesting and make notes on character. Cameron. He would take me to film premieres and tell me about his boyfriends. He took me into the swank homes of television actresses and dragged me along to see edgy New York City performance art which left me covering my eyes in the theaters. Los Angeles was too much for me. New York was definitely too much for me. In retrospect, Cameron was a bit much for me too. He once took me to a performance by a friend of his named Jonathan Ames which featured the writer/actor naked with the exception of an anatomically correct prosthetic vagina, which he wore in an effort to get in touch with his ‘feminine’ side. Cameron’s nickname for me was ‘country girl’. It didn’t take much to shock me. The characters which populated Cameron’s world often left me wincing. He, in turn found my puritanism oddly refreshing.

Back to the Hotel Atlantic. Back to Hamburg. Cameron had just optioned the film rights to a book about a gay love affair set during the Holocaust. The story was a true one. Were were writing it in conjunction with a historian with a doctorate from Harvard who happened to be one of my writing mentors. John, Cameron and I would spend long afternoons at Cameron’s place in Santa Monica going through the book. Cameron taught me to break a book down into sections and chapter by chapter, re-script the text into scenes. I loved working with Cameron and John. But often felt far out of my element. I was in my twenties; my mentors were close to thirty years my senior. While John frequently recommended Holocaust literature for me to read: Primo Levi’s IF THIS IS A MAN and Eli Wiesel’s NIGHT, Cameron introduced me to films like ‘Europa, Europa’, ‘Sophie’s Choice’ and ‘Schindler’s List’. The three of us collaborated for four years. After several years, Cameron and I broke off into a bit of a duo. By 2002 we were at the Berlinale. I was gobsmacked. I fell for Germany. Instantly. The moment I stepped off the plane, my universe tipped. Everything felt so very…right. Admittedly, I was provincial. I had little international experience. My only European endeavor had consisted of 10 days in Paris. My only other ventures beyond the States had been small trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Cameron and I went to the Berlinale on a search for German producers. After Berlin, we went to Hamburg to meet with a producer who was interested. Hamburg was lovely that afternoon. Charming. I knew then I would make a life for myself in Germany. I never imagined it would take more than 10 years to get here.

Cameron and I never did make our film. Our funding fell through. And then the film producer died. After five years of film hopes, I decided to get a masters degree in literature and delved into familiar territory: books. I decided I would write them. I gave up film. I moved to Poland. I met someone who totally changed my life. I fell in love and traveled around with him. I sent Cameron postcards from places like Shanghai, Cape Town and Monte Carlo. I read compulsively and taught myself to be a writer. I got married. And then got divorced. After country-hopping for too many years, I decided to settle down. One morning in Belgium my husband left for work – and I started packing.

My destination?

Berlin.

I.S.

 

 

 

This Week’s Cover: David Fincher shoots ‘Gone Girl’ EW cover with Ben Affleck

AUTHOR:

 

A rather morbid re-enactment of the famed John Lennon-Yoko Ono picture, featuring Ben Affleck and British actress, Rosamund Pike. At least it’s provocative.

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Originally posted on PopWatch:

[ew_image url="http://img2.timeinc.net/ew/i/2014/01/08/1294cover-EW.jpg " credit="DAVID FINCHER for EW" align="left"]

When Entertainment Weekly approached Twentieth Century Fox about getting an exclusive inside look at the making of Gone Girl, an adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s 2012 smash best-selling novel due in theaters Oct. 3, the studio came back with a surprising reply: Director David Fincher was offering to shoot the cover himself. Not being crazy enough to turn down the Oscar-nominated provocateur who directed The Social Network, we said yes. Fincher dreamed up the image, which features Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne curled around his wife, Amy, played by Rosamund Pike. The result is an unsettling portrait of love gone demented.

View original 286 more words

Talking Pictures

 

 

Several years ago I started watching book trailers – brief promos like those for movies. Here is one for the Ransom Riggs’ book, TALKING PICTURES. For those of you who read the previous post for ‘Gone Girl’, the source of the article was THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER (not ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY). For anyone interested in reading the EW coverage, I’ll try to reblog the story, published in the 8 January 2014 issue of EW, this weekend.

I.S.

 

 

 

 

Gone Girl

 

I’m back to thoughts about the film I’d like to make loosely based on my novel. The buzz surrounding Ben Affleck’s soon to be released movie, ‘Gone Girl’ inspired them. I’m not used to to becoming wrapped up in the hype around Hollywood films. But the publicity for this one has me curious. I just read an interview in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER with Gillian Flynn, writer of both the novel and the screenplay. I’m posting part of the interview here. The fact that the main character in ‘Gone Girl’ is dead and appears in the majority of the film in flashbacks, leaves me wanting to know more about the techniques Flynn employed in writing the script. I’m back to thinking about Sophie and Sautin. I’m also following Zoe Saldana in the latest news. As I’ve previously written, I often think about both Kerry Washington (ABC’s ‘Scandal’,’Django Unchained’) and Saldana when I think about Sophie. But Freida Pinto also strikes me as wildly appropriate.

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‘Gone Girl’ promo still

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Freida Pinto

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Zoe Saldana

Here is an excerpt from the article on Gillian Flynn from THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.

All three of Flynn’s books have been optioned, with Reese Witherspoon producing one adaptation and Amy Adams starring in another.

Gillian Flynn’s first two books — 2006’s Sharp Objects and 2009’s Dark Places — earned her awards and acclaim, each selling more than 310,000 copies to date. But it was with this summer’s Gone Girl that the former Entertainment Weekly writer found her biggest success: The unsettling mystery, about a woman who goes missing and the husband she leaves behind, has sold more than 1.8 million copies and spent eight weeks atop the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list. The adaptation rights went to 20th Century Fox in a summer auction for a reported $1.5 million, with Reese Witherspoon, Bruna Papandrea and Leslie Dixon producing.

Witherspoon says she was impressed with the way Flynn was able to effectively tell the story from both male and female perspectives while also employing a nonlinear structure. “It’s just an incredible feat that Gillian was able to accomplish,” she says. “You really can’t anticipate where it’s going, but it’s one of those books you can’t stop reading. Two years ago, I really decided I wanted to get back into finding projects to produce that had great female characters in them, and this is one of the first that came up.”

Flynn also has managed a feat that most writers only dream of: Not only is she adapting Gone Girl herself, but her first two novels also have been optioned. Amy Adams is starring in Dark Places for writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key), while Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity) is producing the adaptation of Sharp Objects.

Flynn also has managed a feat that most writers only dream of: Not only is she adapting Gone Girl herself, but her first two novels also have been optioned. Amy Adams is starring in Dark Places for writer-director Gilles Paquet-Brenner (Sarah’s Key), while Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity) is producing the adaptation of Sharp Objects.

Gillian Flynn: I liked the idea of a whodunit revolving around a marriage. My previous books featured very isolated narrators and people who were lonely and alienated, so I thought I had already explored that really well. I wanted to go the opposite way, to write about two people who knew each other so well and were in each other’s times all the time, for good and often bad, and knew how to push each other’s buttons but didn’t know that the other was dangerous to a degree.

THR: [The main characters] Amy and Nick are both New York-based writers who had been laid off, which echoes your own experience.

Flynn: I certainly put some of that in the story line. I was a Missouri kid in New York working at my dream magazine and got laid off and had to figure out what to do with my life next. I did have more time to write; [Gone Girl] was the first of the three books that I wrote while I didn’t have a day job. I think it let me overwrite — I probably wrote two books and had to chop it back to one.

THR: Is it true that you originally set out to be a crime reporter but realized you weren’t cut out for that kind of work?

Flynn: I had done journalism school at KU and gotten my master’s at Northwestern, and I thought I wanted to be a crime reporter. Very quickly, I discovered I did not have what it takes to be a good crime reporter: I was too unassertive and a little bit wimpy. It was very clear that was not what I was going to do, but I loved journalism, and I’m the daughter of a film professor, and my mom taught reading. I grew up in a house full of books. So I applied straight to EW right out of Northwestern.

STORY: Gillian Flynn Inks Deal to Write Two More Novels

THR: All of your novels have a crime element. I take it that’s not a coincidence given your earlier ambitions.

Flynn: My interest is in turning over a rock and seeing what’s underneath. It’s a personality trait more than anything; it’s what made me want to become a crime reporter, even though I was not suited for it personality-wise. [I wanted to explore] those bursts of violence, where they come from and how they unite people together. I wanted to figure out what drives people to these sorts of extremes.

THR: It’s an impressive feat that all three of your novels have been optioned. Why do you think Hollywood has gravitated toward your works?

THR: It’s an impressive feat that all three of your novels have been optioned. Why do you think Hollywood has gravitated toward your works?

Flynn: They are murder-mysteries, but with character — strong character-led story lines. And I’m certainly happy to see that’s become more of an interest now, that there is an interest in characters and exploring psyches and backgrounds, and not just telling an action-driven story.

For more of Gillian Flynn’s interview with THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, see: http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/gone-girl-author-gillian-flynn-395337

I.S.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 57th Room

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Modigliani, ‘Woman’s Face’

Tonight, I’m just back from Gabi’s place. I made spaghetti al tonno. She bought a bottle of white wine – and we had a good time, as always. I’m fresh off the u-bahn and stressing over what to post. I’ve got no new memoir so I’ve decided to post some old fiction. This is from my novel. It’s called ‘The 57th Room’. Tonight I’ll go to bed reading THE ROMAN INVASION OF BRITAIN.

I.S.

The 57th Room

In that hotel, my lover and I, we inhabited room number fifty-seven. The fifty-seventh room was where the love occurred. The fifty-seventh room was where love had no beginning, no end. We were in that room for days. We spent long days in the fifty-seventh room. In the evenings we sat in the warm, dark-lit restaurant, the restaurant called Szara. Back to the room, what kept us there? One another, we were besotted. Therefore we experienced a failure, a failure to leave the room. For days in that, our temporary bedroom, we laid, we laughed. We told one another secrets. We unfurled in the presence of one another. We unfurled as we had not unfurled with others. Why? Neither knew. We did things to which we were unaccustomed. We did those things without reason, rationale. Those were the things we did in the room.

We spoke of things long buried. We unearthed clandestine objects. We brushed the moist earth from beautiful and grotesque buried things, things that had been left in the earth to decay. In the presence of one another, we looked at them and they flourished, rooted themselves in the flats of our palms, sprouted exotic hot-bed flowers and grew into things of beauty never before envisioned. After such quarries, we made love in room number fifty-seven. It was the room reserved for loving, the room reserved for us.

Who booked the room?

That is the question.

Later, other couples inhabited the room, slept in what was once our bed. We left something in the room. We left something of ourselves. The spirit of us was left behind. The most exquisite parts of us were abandoned. Should you have the fortune of staying in the room, you will feel us. If you should go there, you will see our shadows. If you should go there, you will hear our night whispers. You will catch that which was our essence, our perfume in the air, for years, redolent, it has lingered.

I.S.

‘Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight’

 

It’s early Tuesday morning. I’m up early because I’m due at meditation group. Kurbiss is laying next to me as I write this blog. He doesn’t want me to work. Ever since I got back from Frankfurt, he’s been clingy.

Last Friday I went to my first screening of a rough-cut film. Billy’s friend had a preview of a documentary he’d just shot in Istanbul. It was good. He invited four or five people over to view it and tell him what we thought. I was reminded of my senior year in high school. Back then I’d been more film than literature-focused and met an editor at a film festival who’d been involved in a load of successful films. He’d worked on ‘Prince of Tides’, ‘Man in the Moon’. He was one of the assistant editors on ‘Little Man Tate’, a Jodie Foster film. And he’d worked with Robert Altman. He invited me on my first trip to Seattle which although similar to Portland, was a much larger city and in my eighteen-year old estimation, full of glamour and surprise. Chris was working on the Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks film ‘Sleepless in Seattle’. In the late evenings after work, he would bring me into the screening room to watch dailies. This was tremendously exciting for me. At the time Chris was also working with the director, Alan Rudolph. He introduced me to him the following afternoon. I was taking acting classes then and had been an extra in several small, mostly made for TV movies. Being at the screening last weekend reminded me that film has always been at the periphery of my life, despite the fact that writing is now firmly at the center.

I haven’t a clue what to write about this morning which is why this post is a bit rambling. Instead of posting any new memoir or fiction, I’ll post what I’m listening to. I discovered Amos Lee seven or eight years ago. I was in Italy at the time. He appeared on some late night Italian talk show. At the time no one believed me when I insisted that he was mixed. Here’s the song I first heard and loved. ‘Keep it loose, keep it tight’.  The lyrics are below.

I.S.

Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight

Well I walked over the bridge
Into the city where I live,
And I saw my old landlord.
Well we both said hello,
There was no where else to go,
‘cuz his rent I couldn’t afford.

Well relationships change,
Oh I think it’s kinda strange,
How money makes a man grow.
Some people they claim,
If you get enough fame,
You live over the rainbow.
Over the rainbow..

But the people on the street,
Out on buses or on feet,
We all got the same blood flow.
Oh, in society,
Every dollar got a deed,
We all need a place so we can go,
And feel over the rainbow.

But sometimes,
We forget what we got,
Who we are.
Oh who are are not.
I think we gotta chance,
To make it right.
Keep it loose,
Keep it tight.
Keep it tight.

I’m in love with a girl,
Who’s in love with the world,
Though I can’t help but follow.
Though I know some day,
She is bound to go away,
And stay over the rainbow.
Gotta learn how to let her go.
Over the rainbow.

Sometimes we forget who we got,
Who they are.
Oh, who they are not.
There is so much more in love,
Than black and white.
Keep it loose child,
Gotta keep it tight.
Keep it loose child,
Keep it tight.

 

 

 

The House of the Girls of God

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Filmmaker, Maya Deren, 1943. Shot taken from ‘Meshes of the Afternoon’

The year was 1999. I was in Haiti. I received a grant to do research in Port-au-Prince. I traveled through congested streets, interviewing children with a retired child psychologist who was writing a book on homeless kids in Haiti and Russia. He was gangly, intelligent and congenial. Married to a well-known feminist writer, he and his wife were passionate about social issues specific to children and poverty. They each agreed I should accompany Paul to Haiti to help him conduct research for his book. The grant came from a small arts organization in New Jersey. It was just enough for me to spend the summer in the Caribbean country, purchase camera equipment and pay for two months room and board in a bed and breakfast staffed by former street kids. It was Paul who suggested we stay there. The place was clean and bright. Sunny and well-staffed, the children who lived there were encouraged to share bits of their lives with us. We woke up early in the mornings to the sounds of roosters crowing. By the 9 am it was sweltering and I was out on the streets with my tape recorder, my journal, my camera, taking pictures. I was 26 years old. I was still finishing college and the ventures with Paul were part of a study I did for my undergraduate degree. But what lead me to Haiti – widely reported as ‘the poorest country in the Western hemisphere’? After all, I went to the country long before it was typical for Westerners to traipse off to such places. This was well before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt were posing for photographs alongside war orphans and refugees.

The explanation was simple. I was searching for a family. At the time of my Haiti journeys, I’d left Portland far behind. I was studying in New England – two thousand miles away from the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t know what I’d find in Haiti but perhaps I secretly hoped I would find a new home. I didn’t. But I did have some rich experiences which greatly informed my life.

All of my old Haiti photographs are in storage back in the States. A few of them are good. But not many. There is one in particular I like. I’m holding a six or seven month old baby at an orphanage called ‘La Maison des Filles de Dieu’. I’m smiling brightly and the baby is looking up at me curiously. A little boy is standing beside me. He’s barefoot and has his hand on the baby’s head. Paul is in the background. He’s wearing a large pair of sunglasses and he looks a bit like a towering, hippie Santa Claus. For years I kept the photo on my writing desk. It reminded me of the kind of family I hoped to have one day: a mix of characters, some of whom looked as if they didn’t quite belong together but had been assembled, however mysteriously, by a happenstance series of events.

I.S.

La Ragazza – Andrea Lee

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Egon Schiele painting,1912

I’m posting an excerpt of the short story, ‘La Ragazza’ by Andrea Lee this morning. Lee is one of the writers I go back to again and again due to her marvelous penchant for detail. Her characterizations are brilliant. Lee is an exceptional raconteur though she is often accused of classism. However I find her story-telling enchanting. I’m never bored when I’m reading Lee. She is, as Phillip Roth famously said: ‘the real thing’.

I.S.

The first time Orso sees the new maid, he thinks she is a living doll. Not in the dated American slang sense—with which he is familiar because he was once married to a woman from New England (that overeducated and thorny beauty would never have used the phrase, but somehow in her chilly Puritan environs he brushed against it and picked it up like a burr)—but in a literal sense: she resembles a doll. The maid’s name is Caterina Zupancic, and she is Romanian, like so many of the maids in Turin these days, the ones whom Orso hears his wife, Lili, and her friends discussing in minute detail, as women always discuss their domestic help. Each maid is invariably referred to not by name but as either la colf—short for collaboratrice familiare, or family helper—or la ragazza, the girl. This particular girl has a flat, almost perfectly round face. Her cheeks, slightly scarred by acne, have a puffy droop that suggests childish sullenness or a case of the mumps. Then there are black eyes that seem to be set flush with the surface of her skin, a conventional rosebud mouth, and, barely restrained with a plastic clip, an almost inhumanly abundant mass of black hair, thick and wiry, with a coarse gleam that makes it look synthetic. Like the most successful maids, she is not beautiful and not too young. If she is a doll—Orso amuses himself by thinking—she is a slightly battered one, dragged around by the legs, left out in the rain, undressed with the cruel energy of an excessively loving little mistress.

The interview takes place, irritatingly, in Orso’s study—irritatingly because he hates the way that Lili, wise in so many other matters, drags him into the endless hiring and firing of their foreign domestic workers. The girl is wearing a carefully pressed pair of jeans that delineate a sturdy, flat bottom; also a pair of worn ankle boots and a blouse of some cheap flowered material whose large collar suggests a convent uniform. Her documents—reassuringly in order—say that she is thirty-two, but she stands in front of Orso’s desk with her spine straight and her hands clasped behind her back like a pupil at a school recitation. With her eyes cast down, she tells him, in a high fluting voice, that she was trained as a nurse, and Lili nods approvingly in the background. Also standing and grinning in the background is Milan, the Romanian handyman who found Caterina for them when their previous maid quit. Milan, a wiry rascal with rings in both ears, is married but a notorious womanizer among the maids of the neighborhood, and he is staring wolfishly at Caterina. When the interview is over and the girl turns to go, Orso sees Milan slyly pinch her upper arm. Caterina flushes a dull red and moves away with a hopeless sort of slowness, like a penned animal, and Orso, who is a warmhearted, impulsive man, feels an unexpected flash of anger.

For the first three months or so, Lili is enthusiastic about the new maid, who is so much better than the string of disasters they’ve had over the past year, since Pernotta, the faithful Sardinian who’d been with them for eight years, decamped to marry a tobacconist from Bolzano. Since then, there have been officious Filipinas who dropped unfinished any task that overran union hours; a melancholy Peruvian who sobbed through the ironing; a thickly lipsticked Moldavian, brilliant at cooking, whom they discovered to be a kleptomaniac after she’d stolen two tea kettles; a tall, practical-looking Piedmontese whom they fired after the first dinner, when she served a roast chicken with the head and feet intact. Slapstick catastrophes that have almost convinced the small and efficient Lili that she’d be better off muddling through without a live-in servant.

 But there’s the apartment to think of. Two elaborately panelled floors and a terrace at the top of an Art Nouveau house in the Crocetta district: huge, and as complicated and demanding as an elderly relative. And though Orso and Lili have no children—this is a second marriage for Lili, a third for Orso, and Orso’s grownup half-American daughters live, respectively, in Palo Alto and Tokyo—they entertain a lot. Orso’s job as a sourcing consultant to European manufacturers requires it. The younger son of a family of Padua intellectuals, Orso has many famous friends. Men love him for his generous, convivial nature, while women are drawn to the innocent, greedy look in his boyish blue eyes. Their dinner table has become one of the important salons of Turin, and their parties—two or three a week—are carefully planned to appear casual and relaxed, in a way that appeals to the professors, journalists, C.E.O.s, leftist politicians, and members of the European Parliament who meet at their house. The food may be simple—sometimes Piedmontese, sometimes peasant recipes from his and Lili’s home region in the Veneto, sometimes Chinese and Singaporean dishes, prepared in Lili’s quick and expert fashion—but the details have to be impeccable with such people. Lili finds in Caterina a true “family collaborator,” an intelligent but unpretentious woman who listens to directions, observes the way her employer wants things, and then swiftly anticipates her desires. A pearl.

 The complete story is available on The New Yorker website here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/02/16/la-ragazza