1. Tell us a little about how the project began: who first contacted you, and how did the team come together?
I was speaking at a conference in Southern California a couple of years ago and after one of my talks a fellow came up and introduced himself as Phillip Moses, a Christian who works in the film industry primarily creating action special effects, editing, and producing for films. He’s also a husband (as it turns out of one of my former students from long ago) and father of children; he had been reading aloud to them Duncan’s War and other books of mine, and indicated to me that they were loving the books and so was he. He casually mentioned (at least I took it as casual) that he would like to see DW as a feature length film on the big screen. I had heard this from a few others and thanked him but honestly gave it very little thought. Until he called me a few months later and said he was serious and wanted to negotiate film rights and get started on the project. That led to a number of other phone calls, some conference calls with the screenplay writer, and many emails over the last number of months.
To be honest, I have vacillated from excited to incredulous, to excited again, to incredulous again–and now pretty much just to excited. For the first time in more than two years, I actually am beginning to believe these guys will do this, and do it well. Maybe Duncan’s not just playacting after all. One of my big concerns has been that I don’t want to dilute the book by turning it into a movie. Novelist John le Carre expressed his chagrin at what film can do to good fiction when he said, “Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bullion cubes.” I so do not want to see that happen to Duncan’s War. I feel confident that neither does the producer.
The film is in what is called the Packaging and Development stage (I’m a newbie and learning all the lingo–wearing dark glasses and a paisley cravat too); every film that every makes it to the screen goes through this important stage. It was back in November (2013) that the creative geniuses working on this project decided to move forward with a soft launch (no paid advertisement, no press releases) with the FB page https://www.facebook.com/DuncansWar. Within about three days it had over 1,200 likes and many more comments. Phillip and James Chung (Art Director) were able to show this initial flurry of interest to potential distributors and others whose attention it has to win at this critical stage. There are a number of readers who have contacted me expressing their interest in using their training and skills in the production team. The producer is building a great network of distributors and producers who are interested in contributing to the project.
2. The visuals look great! (See more storyboard images here.) Do you feel a disconnect between the way you imagine the characters and the artist’s version of them?
The visuals on the FB page are the result of James Chung’s genius for creating rapid-fire story-board images (the guy is amazing, whips these out in a few minutes, does the same kind of thing for his own kids when he puts them to bed at night–amazing talent). So they are not actually what the film images will be; it’s not to be an animated film but live with real people acting the characters in the book.
3. What’s your impression of the film industry, based on your experience thus far? (or can you say?).
My sole connection is with two wonderful Christian men (Meridian Filmworks) who are really talented and committed to producing a film that stays true to the book as much as that is possible given the different mediums, fiction writing to film. My impression is, that if the entire industry was like Phillip and James, Hollywood would be an entirely different universe, one that would not deserve the slur Hollyweird (though they are both delightfully quirky). I likely will be able to answer this in more detail in the future.
4. What’s the most exciting thing about the production process so far? How about the most frustrating or puzzling feature?
I just sat down and read the entire script in one sitting last Saturday. These guys seek out and want my input on everything about the way the story gets adapted to film, which I appreciate (though it takes a chunk of time and never seems to come at times when I have a surplus pile of that commodity laying around). I was delaying, postponing, dragging my feet doing this. I think I was afraid that it would be a mess, not at all what I wanted to convey in the book. I honestly try to avoid putting myself in critic mode whenever possible (though it sort of comes with the territory when I have a pile of essays, sonnets, or short stories to grade–or my own manuscripts to beat up). So I stalled for as long as I could. But I am happy to say, the screenplay writer has done a very fine job. But that’s not just my opinion (or theirs).
These gentlemen are thorough. The producer Phillip Moses submitted the script to two different independent film script readers for evaluation. 90% of scripts get rejected off the top; 8% get “Consider” and 2% receive “Recommend,” the highest ranking they give, which means they think it’s a story and script that is ready to be made into a successful movie. One professional reader gave DUNCAN’S WAR a “Consider,” and said this (among other positive things) about it “There is a lot to like in this script and the historical aspects are very compelling.”
This is the best part: The other professional reader (they read without collaboration) gave it an overwhelming “Recommend,” and said this about it, “The script combined the two powerful thematic elements of resistance against authority and holding true to one’s faith. Either one would have been sufficient; having two is an embarrassment of riches.”
5. Excuse me for a minute while I act like a high school freshman girl and jump up and down—AWESOME!! Now for the next question: on the Duncan’s War Facebook page, you mention religious persecution in the world today. Of course, Duncan’s story is all about religious persecution of the 17th century Scottish Covenanters. How do you want the movie to speak to this? Is the production team sympathetic to this concern?
That’s such an important question. We are totally in agreement about this. It is our hope that the film will not simply be a principled Braveheart, entertaining but not particularly relevant and applicable to the modern world. Far from it. It would be my hope that the film could have a connection with an international ministry that raises the awareness and supports the cause of persecuted Christians today, likely far more of them now than in Duncan’s day. Moving one step closer to home, with the rise of devoutly devoted irreligious secularism intent on recasting morality and ethics in the image of its most prized dogmas, the net of persecution is gradually encircling our religious freedoms in America. I hope the film version reawakens our sense of the importance of preserving our constitutional freedoms here at home.
Ultimately, as with all things (literature, film–all of life), we want the film to be done with excellence on all fronts, and thereby to bring glory to God and placard the grace and beauty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Disconnected from Him, nothing else matters.
Amen to that. We’ll keep an eye on the project and hope to touch base with you later!
Meanwhile, be sure to check out the DW Facebook page and give it a like! And read another Bond book, such as Hand of Vengeance. Emily conducted a great podcast with Douglas and William Boekestein (another friend of ours) last year, covering a wide range of subjects from historical fiction through redemptive history.