File this one under "Patience is the better part of valor," or "Good things come to those who wait."
In 1995, Jeff Bridges read my screenplay for "Mother Night." He was disappointed to have missed out on the chance to play Howard W. Campbell, but we had already cast the amazing Nick Nolte in the lead role. But after production wrapped, Bridges came to me with an intriguing offer. He had recently co-optioned (with another company) the rights to a novel called "The Giver," by Lois Lowry. The book had won the Newbery award for young adult fiction the year before, and Bridges and the other producers were looking for someone to adapt the novel into a screenplay. I read the book and was thoroughly intrigued, so I took the gig. I wrote a first draft in 1996, and another in 1997.
Years passed, as Bridges and the other producers found they just couldn’t find a taker for The Giver. There were countless nibbles along the way, and a handful of production companies and studios who became involved for varying periods of time. I even remember at one point a blurb appearing in Army Archerd’s column in Variety asking, "Any Takers for The Giver?" Apparently, the answer was "no."
Twelve years later, in 2007, Jeff and I would join forces on a different project as I directed him in the film, "How To Lose Friends & Alienate People," which also starred Kirsten Dunst, who was then 25. I reminded Jeff that when he first approached me about "The Giver," I thought Kirsten (who had a small role in "Mother Night") would be perfect for the part of Fiona, who was 13 in the book – Kirsten’s age at that time. It was another reminder of how long this project had lingered.
Over the years, a series of different writers would work on the script. Even directors would come and go. Fortunately, the book would still have a devoted following, as it remained on assigned reading lists for countess middle schools across the country.
In the early days of the project, Jeff was thinking that his father, veteran actor Lloyd Bridges, who was 83, might be perfect to play the title role. But Lloyd Bridges passed away in 1998. However, more than a decade later, a few circumstances came into play that would impact the project. In 2010, Jeff Bridges would win the Academy Award for his brilliant portrayal of (fictional) country singer, Otis "Bad" Blake in the film "Crazy Heart", which would raise Bridges’ stock considerably in the "bankable actor" game. On top of that, Jeff was now approaching the age where, with a little help from the makeup department, he might be a viable choice to play the Giver himself. Then, in 2012, a little film called "The Hunger Games" was released to massive success at the box-office. Now, it seemed, every studio in Hollywood was scrambling to produce the next film based on a best-selling "Young Adult" novel. It looked like The Giver’s time may have come. With Jeff committed to play the title role, and with Meryl Streep attached to play the Chief Elder, and Philip Noyce signed on to direct, the Weinstein Company came in with financing, and in the fall of 2013, seventeen years after I wrote the first script, cameras started to roll on "The Giver."
A decision was correctly made to age up the lead characters (from the novel and my drafts) from early-teens to late-teens. Brenton Thwaites would play Jonas, Odeya Rush was cast as Fiona, and Cameron Monaghan would portray Asher. Other cast members included Alexander Skarsgard, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.
The final shooting script was written by Michael Mitnick, with whom I share screenplay credit. I can only wonder if there are other instances of two writers, who had never met, sharing a screenplay credit on a film, with their respective drafts being spaced seventeen years apart. As of this writing, Michael and I are finally due to meet at the New York premiere in a couple of months.
The film opens on August 15, 2014, eighteen years after I completed my first draft.
Click here to view the trailer.
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