The Imagined Movie

Gray Basnight is deeply immersed in writing fiction after almost three decades as a broadcast news writer, editor, producer, and reporter. His books and writing cross several genres, and features a range of voices and characters very different from himself.

Gray lives in New York with his wife Lisa, and their golden retriever Tinta. When not writing, he’s thinking about writing while walking Tinta, watching movies, and all other daily activities. He has lived in New York City long enough to consider himself a native, though he grew up in Richmond, Virginia.

He enjoys hearing from readers about his books and other authors they enjoy.

At a recent Q&A session with three literary agents sponsored by New York Writers Workshop, a local group I proudly belong to, the inevitable topic that lives close to every writer’s heart was raised.  Among all other serial inquiries such as “to outline or not to outline,” this particular subject is always lurking.  It’s been voiced, in one manner or another, at every pitch conference, lecture, and writing forum I’ve ever attended.

The subject, of course, is—Hollywood, the adaption of book to script to box-office smash-hit film.

“Would you, Mr./Ms. Agent/Editor/Publisher/Famous Writer please talk about your experience(s) shepherding your book(s) into film?”  “How does it work?”  “Are writers allowed on set?”  “Can writers demand a screenplay credit?”  And the all-important question on everyone’s mind: “What’s the pay range?” which, by the way, no one ever explicitly answers.

When the subject came up at this latest Q&A, my friend and novelist Charles Salzberg made a valuable observation. He noted that of all writers he’s known and worked with (of which there are many), all would say “Yes!” if asked whether their novel would make a good movie.  Not a surprise, of course.  No one ever says “Naw, my book is only for reading.”

A quick Google search reports that one of the first, if not the very first book adapted to screen was an 1896 French silent movie called Trilby and Little Billee.  A mere forty-five seconds long, it was based on George du Maurier’s 1894 best seller Trilby, about a young woman making a living in Paris as an artist’s model.  The short movie was a single scene depicting her seated with Billee, one of her suitors.  It’s doubtful Monsieur du Maurier earned a windfall, or that he had any say in who played Trilby or Billee.  Nonetheless, that set the ball rolling.  For writers, nothing has been the same since.  We all want to see our name on the credit roll, and our narrative transferred to cinematic magic.

So, I admit it.  Yes, I believe my latest novel, Flight of the Fox, would make a terrific film.  So terrific, in fact, that on my acknowledgements page, I urge the Coen Brothers to call me so we can work things out.  Hey, you never know.  I do not believe, however, that the story would best be served as a two-hour feature-length movie.  The plot twists are meandering, and the second half is an exploration of character backgrounds, including the pathology of the antagonist and the government bureaucracy he works for.  Because of this, I believe the novel best qualifies as a four or six-part series on Netflix, Amazon, HBO, or any of the other outlets drawing throngs of viewers out of the multiplex.

Now for the even bigger fantasy: if I were in charge of casting—whose agents would get the phone call?  Here’s my rundown:

  •    Sam Teagarden, a middle-aged math professor running for his life from mysterious hitmen and outwitting them without weapons: Ethan Hawke or Jeff Goldblum.
  •    Cynthia Blair, a smart woman, a lawyer, and Teagarden’s new romantic interest: Sandra Bullock.
  •    Harry McCanliss, an FBI agent with a license to kill, who does kill with great speed and efficiency.  He’s over sixty, bald, and a sociopath working in service to his country: Gary Oldman.
  •    Durgan Donnursk, a young, ambitious FBI agent, also with a license to kill: Logan Lerman.
  •    Thomas Rose, a handsome FBI agent, the office stud, who’s drawn into the license-to-kill program against his will: Christian Bale.
  •    Paula Trippler, an FBI bureaucrat who runs the license-to-kill program, though she’s thoroughly unqualified for the job.  Thomas Rose is her love interest: Frances McDormand.
  •    Svetlana Gelayeva, an Eastern European living in NYC to support her family overseas, which she does as a drug dealer: Drew Barrymore.
  •    Eva Ghent, Teagarden’s daughter, navy pilot, and head of FIDROPRO which turns pilots into drone operators: Jennifer Lawrence.
  •    Pangolin (Captain Kasey Landrew), Eva’s ex-boyfriend, a retired fighter pilot who lives a hermit’s existence on a boat off the coast of Key West: Tom Hardy.
  •    Chispa, a middle-aged woman who lives on a houseboat in Key West where she works as a cabdriver.  She is tough, vulgar and scrappy: Melissa McCarthy.

There you go.  If you’re any of the above-mentioned actors, read the novel and let me know if you concur with my casting judgment.  Likewise if you’re a reader.  Visit my website and email whether you agree or, tell me your own fantasy casting call for Flight of the Fox.

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An innocent math professor runs for his life as teams of hitmen try to prevent publication of their government’s dark history…

College professor Sam Teagarden stumbles upon a decades-old government cover-up when an encoded document mysteriously lands in his in-box, followed by a cluster of mini-drones programmed to kill him.

That begins a terrifying flight from upstate New York, to Washington, to Key West as Teagarden must outfox teams of hitmen equipped with highly sophisticated technology. While a fugitive, he races to decode the journal, only to realize the dreadful truth—it’s the reason he’s being hunted because it details criminal secrets committed by the U.S. in the 20th Century.

If he survives and publishes the decoded diary, he’ll be a heroic whistle blower. But there is no guarantee. He may also end up dead.