I had been on the West Coast, staying in a hovel just a few blocks away from one of my favorite places and finishing up research on a memoir about my father and speaking to a very prominent Jewish organization. The memoir was emotionally difficult work, and I knew that for my next project, I would want to do something fun. A screenplay sounded like a good change of pace, so I met with my agent in his plush office just for a few moments before he had to meet with a far more celebrated client. He told me briefly about screenplay structure—how a script needs to have three acts, last about 120 pages, and have an “eleven o’clock” moment on page 90. Before he left, he gave me a stack of screenplays, which I read on the plane ride home; one of the scripts was rumored to be a Tom Cruise vehicle.
My initial idea was to see if I could adapt one of my novels into a script, but I had trouble motivating myself to revisit an old work and, instead, turned my attention to a novel idea I had abandoned—a comic thriller set in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and told in a hyper-literary patois. I enjoyed the pace of the writing and the made-up language I was using (I had spent more than enough time reading hard-boiled thrillers that used their own hard-to-decipher lingo and wanted to pay those writers back). But the story, which had something to do with manuscript authentication, never coalesced in my mind, and I didn’t get much further than the first scene, set in a fictionalized version of a coffee shop where I like to write. Other writers, Jewish and otherwise, seem to enjoy the atmosphere at this coffee shop as well.
I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to write in my screenplay. I talked about collaborating with a writer friend of mine on an update of a Henry James novel, but we never made it past a quick conversation about it while walking around a fairly grotesque Chicago food festival. Without necessarily knowing where I was going, I began work on a script about a frustrated young barista named Ian, who finds himself embroiled in a confidence game when he considers putting his name to a fake memoir. I love films about con games and thought that the literary world would be a great place to set one. I found myself inspired by a great Scandinavian film about the writing life, which I saw with a fellow Jewish writer, and a classic Hollywood satire, which I saw with a fellow not-so-Jewish editor. After a few months of work, I wasn’t sure whether I had a great script or not, but I did have one with three acts and 120 pages and an “eleven o’clock moment” round about page 90.
View Adam’s first dabblings in screenplay writing:
His most recent novel, The Thieves of Manhattan, is now available. Visit his official website here and check back all week for his posts on the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog series.