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Did Joshua Ferris’s Novel Sell to HBO?

Photo: Andrew Testa / Rex USA

Hidden away in the middle of David Blum’s anti-analysis of book publishing in today’s New York Sun is a casual mention of a film deal for Joshua Ferris’s much-loved debut novel Then We Came to the End:

The book has already returned a profit for its publisher, has been optioned by HBO Films (with Mr. Ferris attached to write the script), and has come closer than most to hitting that ever-shrinking bull’s eye of best-sellerdom.

Luckily, Emily Gould’s already done a great job ripping Blum a new one over on Gawker this morning, so we can skip that. But we were curious about the HBO Films reference, because though we’d heard HBO was interested in Ferris’s book, we hadn’t heard that a deal had happened. So we called him to find out.*

So is it true that HBO Films optioned your novel?
Yeah, it’s true! There was interest from Miramax and from Paramount Vantage, but HBO from the beginning was very enthusiastic, and I’m happy they wound up with it.

Is this for theatrical release or for the network?
The idea is to do theatrical, but their mandate is to determine where to place it pretty late in the game. Often not until the script is ready.

And you’re writing the screenplay, right?
Well, a first draft, anyway.

Was that something you insisted on?
Alexander Payne was interested at one point, and obviously it would’ve been okay with me if he’s wanted to write it. So it wasn’t something I insisted on, but I’m glad to be able to do it.

How do you envision the novel changing as you adapt it?
When you’re adapting your own work, the risk is that you’re going to treat it preciously. I hope I’ll be able to have the objective perspective I’ll need to trim it down. It needs to narrow its focus to three or four major characters and plotlines, instead of the multiplying strands of storylines in the book.

How will you deal with the first-person-plural narrator?
I have some ways to demonstrate that — kind of a roving chorus of employees that slowly dwindles.

You’re not a neophyte screenwriter, right?
Well, my screenplay Goes by the Name Harvey is set up at Lorenzo di Bonaventura Productions. And I’m trying to produce an independent film called The Life and Death of Jimmy Katz.

Who’s your ideal director for Then We Came to the End?
Alexander Payne, but he already passed on it. Or Robert Altman. But he’s dead.

*Full disclosure: Ferris is the friend of a friend, and we’ve met him a few times socially and for business reasons.

How Not to Write a Best Seller [NYS]
Related: Cubicle Bard [NYM]

Did Joshua Ferris’s Novel Sell to HBO?