The difference between the vision of novelists and filmmakers is often so distinct that many writers, once their works are purchased by studios, completely separate themselves from the cinematic process.
But prolific author Jonathan Ames, creator of the HBO series Bored to Death (which was recently renewed for a second season), has high praise for the movie version of his 1998 novel The Extra Man. The film concerns the prickly relationship between an older, struggling playwright (Kevin Kline) making ends meet by serving as an escort for wealthy Manhattan widows, and the young, aspiring writer (Paul Dano) he takes under his wing. It will be shown Thursday, Jan. 28, at the Belcourt as part of Sundance Film Festival U.S.A., a series of special events airing for one night only at eight selected theaters across the United States in conjunction with the famed festival in Park City, Utah. The Nashville event sold out in a day.
"In general, a writer whose work is being adapted for a film kind of sees it the way a jazz musician does hearing his composition being done by someone else," says Ames, who will be making his second visit to Nashville to attend the film's screening Thursday night. "You respond to the other responses coming from a new person approaching your work."
In this case, the new people were American Splendor directors Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman, who eventually shared writing credit with Ames on the film's script. They will attend the Belcourt screening as well, part of an initiative to expand the festival's reach and introduce indie films to a wider audience.
"The novel and the movie exist in their own separate worlds, but I was very involved in the process," Ames said. "Robert and Shari had a lot of feature experience, and many times they took the lead in determining what emphasis we put in a situation and how it was played. When it got down to the relationship between [the playwright] Henry and [the young writer] Louis, then my experience as a novelist was more important. But it was definitely a collaboration, and I'm very satisfied with what we've done."
Ames' involvement extended into casting as well. "When they first came to me about making a film I told them I wanted Kevin Kline to play Henry," Ames adds. "Then when they asked about Paul Dano, I'd seen his work and was very happy with that choice." Others in the cast include John C. Reilly, Katie Holmes and Cathy Moriarty-Gentile.
Though The Extra Man is currently at the top of his agenda, Ames' main venture is Bored to Death. Jason Schwartzman plays struggling writer Jonathan Ames, who moonlights as an unlicensed private investigator, something Ames says he's always wanted to do but never really pursued.
"Well, there was one time on the set where a woman lost her purse and I tried to help her find it," Ames says, laughing. "Then there was another incident where I did some things on a divorce case that a private eye would do, but I've never really tried to be an investigator, though it was always one of my dreams. Jason plays my character in a really inventive and great way, so it's kind of like living out the fantasy that way."
Ames is also a big fan of Ted Danson, who plays his magazine editor boss, calling him "someone larger than life both on and off-screen," and "an unbelievably good guy." Both The Extra Man and Bored To Death, he says, are embodiments of Ames' philosophy about life, art and work.
"I always tell young writers to be prepared for more rejection than acceptance, never write a book you wouldn't read yourself, and always be persistent," Ames says. "Try to write things that people enjoy and things that make them happy."