Michael Stipe's Single Cell Pictures has optioned "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint," the first novel by Brady Udall who was recently included in the Village Voice's annual roundup of "Writers on the Verge."
The novel is a picaresque story in the mold of John Irving about a half-Apache youth who is run over by a mail truck. Shipped to a hospital he begins a new life that eventually lands him with a Mormon foster family.
Stipe and Single Cell partner Sandy Stern, who are shopping the book to directors before trying to set it up at a studio, optioned the book with private funds.
"It's hard to set up a book right now without a star or director attached," says Stern. "We'd rather ante up and option it, then decide if we can find a buyer for it."
The shingle's biggest production to date, "Being John Malkovich," cost $10 million, says Stern, and this project lends itself to a pic that's bigger in scope. "This is a self-contained epic," says Stern, befitting "an A-list director and a great movie star."
As a seventh-grader in rural St. John's, Ariz., Brady Udall once played a football game against a ramshackle rival school on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation.
The reservation school had the hopeless air of a prison. Its football field was littered with broken glass, and a cactus grew in one end zone. After St. John's beat the ragtag Apache players by some lopsided score, Udall and his teammates climbed back onto their shiny new bus to head home.
Udall was gazing out of the bus when Apache students began hurling bottles, folding chairs and chunks of concrete from a nearby three-story dorm building, denting the bus and shattering its windows. In the seconds before the barrage, Udall locked eyes with an Apache boy staring back at him through the bars of one of the dorm's windows. The youth had broken teeth, scabbed hands and a expression of weary disdain.
"For some reason, the look on that boy's face has never left me," says Udall, now 31. "I knew one day when I wrote a novel it would be the first thing I'd write about. I'll never know anything about that boy, but as the god of my own little universe, I decided to give him a story and a name."
The boy's name and his story form Udall's debut novel, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, published earlier this month by W.W. Norton. A witty, wise and heartwrenching tale of a naive orphan's struggle to survive an often unforgiving world, Edgar Mint marks an ambitious step forward for Udall, whose previous book, 1997's Letting Loose the Hounds, was a collection of stories.
Udall will read from The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, much of which is set in Utah, Thursday at The King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. He also will teach a short story workshop during the weeklong Writers at Work conference beginning June 24 at Westminster College.
"One of the reasons I wanted to write this character [of Edgar Mint] was that I was given anything I needed in life," says Udall, whose great-uncles include former U.S. congressman and Interior Secretary Stewart Udall and former congressman Morris Udall, who ran for president in 1976. "And here you have this orphaned, half-breed kid who's grown up in exactly the opposite situation. One of the jobs of an artist is to step across the line and imagine the other. The last thing I wanted to do was write about myself."
As conceived by Udall, the singular life of Edgar Mint is somehow both blessed and doomed almost from its start. Bastard son of a rebellious Apache girl and a bumbling would-be cowboy from Connecticut, Edgar experiences his life's defining moment at age 7 when a mailman's Jeep runs over his head.
Left for dead by his drunken mother, the runty Edgar is miraculously revived at the local hospital by Barry Pinkley, a doctor who takes an intense and peculiar interest in the boy's well-being. After a long hospital stay, Edgar is shunted to the Willie Sherman school on the Apache reservation, a despairing, dead-end place filled with delinquent youths who torment him.
"I knew it would get ugly. I just wasn't prepared for how ugly," says Udall of the novel's grim Willie Sherman chapters -- a locale inspired, of course, by his school's ill-fated visit for the football game. Interviewed by telephone, he says, "I can see some people getting upset that I'm portraying Native Americans this way. But to me it has nothing to do with race. It's poverty and alcoholism and abuse, and these kids are the result of that."
Edgar perseveres and eventually is rescued from Willie Sherman by two LDS Church missionaries who find him a foster home with a kind but troubled Mormon family in rural (and fictional) Richland, Utah. Before long his unlikely savior Barry Pinkley resurfaces, setting the now teen-age Edgar on a new course to find the anguished mailman and show him the boy he ran over is still alive.
Desperate for stability, Edgar cherishes his few possessions: a pearl-handled jackknife, a urinal puck and a Hermes Jubilee manual typewriter, on which he hammers out pages of gibberish. By the novel's end he has become an indelible character: sweet-natured but sneaky, docile yet given to impulsive acts that propel his life in new directions. But he is no hero. Over the course of the book Edgar lies, steals and evens commits murder -- albeit an arguably merciful one.
"I [originally] imagined him as a little more noble," says Udall, who expects some readers might balk at Edgar's behavior and at the cruelty inflicted upon him. "I never imagined I'd write a book in which I'd brutalize a small child for 500 pages."
Early reviews of Edgar Mint have been anything but brutal. Author Junot Diaz called the book "a story that tears at you and calls you back to it." Kirkus Reviews called Edgar Mint "a remarkably assured debut novel that brings to life a unique world. A bit of a miracle in its own right." Novelist Tony Earley said, "If Dickens had been born in Arizona, he might have written a book like this."
Other reviewers have compared Edgar Mint to John Irving's picaresque A Prayer for Owen Meany. Most, however, invoke Dickens -- a comparison that makes Udall squirm.
"That's a little much for me," he says. "I think that's just because there's an orphan in it."
Edgar Mint also attracted the attention of Hollywood, or at least of R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe, whose fledgling film production company optioned the rights to the novel.
Udall traces his writing career to about age 12, when he won $25 in a poetry contest. He won Playboy magazine's fiction contest while a graduate student at the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop. The success of his first book, Letting Loose the Hounds, led in 1998 to a teaching post at Franklin and Marshall College in the Amish country of southeastern Pennsylvania. This fall, Udall starts teaching at Southern Illinois University -- not the ideal job, perhaps, but closer to his beloved West.
Udall graduated from Brigham Young University and considers Utah his second home. The last third of Edgar Mint unfolds in the Southern Utah home of Clay and Lana Madsen, a well-meaning Mormon couple with marital problems and a sexually curious teen-age daughter. Edgar soon discovers Lana is having an affair with another man.
"I can see a lot of Mormon people might be upset by the way that family is portrayed," says Udall, himself a practicing member of the LDS Church. "I don't mean to offend anybody, but I think sometimes it's kind of necessary. It's high time somebody out there, if not me, wrote about Mormons in a real and honest way."
Somebody recently asked Udall if he wants to be considered a Mormon writer. He said no.
"This is not because I am embarrassed by my faith and culture, but because I am working hard to create the kind of art my culture seems set on rejecting," he says. "We, as a people, have always been a bit immature when it comes to art. We have always been threatened by anything that doesn't fit squarely within our system of belief. Good art will always be complex, contradictory and will resist easy judgment -- all things that would make any good Mormon nervous."
Will The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint make some readers nervous? Maybe. More likely, it will make them root for the scruffy boy with the lumpy head and a profound longing for a home he has never known.
"It sounds corny, but this book has some spiritual aspect to it," Udall says. "There's power in accepting who you are, in finding the place you belong instead of the place people tell you that you belong."
NEW YORK (Variety) - Single Cell, the production partnership between R.E.M (news - web sites). frontman Michael Stipe and Sandy Stern, is turning up its volume of film production, making a movie deal for Douglas Coupland's upcoming novel, "All Families Are Psychotic" and prepping an MTV sitcom about the world of a Stipe-like rock star.
To be published in September by Bloomsbury Press, the Cape Canaveral-set "All Families Are Psychotic" chronicles a family get-together the weekend before the first female astronaut is launched into space.
"She might be the most grounded family member, when she is about to fly off into space," said Stipe. "This is a very real story that turns into a fairy tale."
Coupland's books have been magnets for movies, with "Generation X," "Shampoo Planet" and "Micoserfs" all under option. Stern said Single Cell will seek to enlist a young writer-director who embraces Coupland's take.
Stipe and Stern are further along with the MTV project, with a Gustin Nash-scripted pilot script about to be delivered, based on Stern's simple idea.
"It was based on my life with Michael, transposed into being the story of a young 22-year-old rock star whose best friend is a young A&R girl and together they navigate the New York music scene and their personal lives," said Stern.
Stipe said he didn't see it as his life story, as he keeps a comfy distance from both the music and movie businesses by living in Athens.
After making a splash with "Being John Malkovich," Stipe and Stern have moved carefully to assemble projects they believe in, turning down many because Stipe's as exacting with movie quality as he is with his music.
Stipe and Stern's other projects include "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint," a Brady Udall script which Stipe said "portrays a child's life from a more realistic point of view than most films." The script is out to directors. They've got a deal on "Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star," a Maryanne Melloan-scripted adaptation of a book for Showtime about a teen asked to eulogize his dead mother, a rock icon.
They are out to cast on "Saved," a black comedy scripted and to be directed by Brian Dannelly about a girl who finds her pregnancy makes her an outcast at a Baptist high school. "It's like those monster vampire high school kind of movies, only here the monsters are Jesus-freak teenagers," said Stipe.
Another high priority project is "Blonde,"...
Director Francis Ford Coppola is holding readings of his long-gestating, hotly anticipated script "Megalopolis" in New York City, Variety reported last week.
The legendary filmmaker ("The Godfather," "Apocalypse Now") has signed up some major talent to participate, including Kevin Spacey, Parker Posey and Warren Beatty.
"Megalopolis," reportedly similar to Ayn Rand's novel "The Fountainhead," concerns a real estate entrepreneur who wants to construct the title building out of new and cheap advanced plastic compound and the well-liked New York mayor who is out to stop him.
Coppola is rumored to have written the part of the mayor specifically for Beatty.
WHAT'S THE CAREER SHIFT, KENNETH?: R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe is setting his sights more and more on making movies and TV shows, according to Variety.
Stipe and Sandy Stern, his Single Cell production company partner, are working on a deal to make a film based on Douglas Coupland's upcoming novel, "All Families Are Psychotic." The pair also are preparing a sitcom for MTV that revolves around the world of a rock star.
Stipe and Stern produced the 1999 critical success "Being John Malkovich." Stipe co-produced the made-in-Milwaukee documentary "American Movie," which won the best documentary prize at 1999's Sundance Film Festival.
Other projects in the works at Single Cell include "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint"; "Tribute to Another Dead Rock Star," a project for Showtime about a teen who is asked to eulogize his dead mother, a rock icon; "Saved," a black comedy written about a pregnant girl who becomes an outcast at a Baptist high school; and "Blonde," a variation on the Bonnie and Clyde story.
Michael Stipe (from the rock band REM) and his production company, Single Cell Pictures, have optioned the film rights to Brady Udall's first novel, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint. The drama tells of an Apache half-breed boy who is run over by a mail truck. Recovering in a hospital, he begins a new life with a Mormon foster family. No studio is attached yet.
Michael Cuesta, creator of the controversial film "L.I.E," will direct "The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint" for gay R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe's Single Cell Pictures. Stipe, who's added film producing ("Velvet Goldmine") to his musical credits, is the first to hire Cuesta since the release of last year's same-sex pedophilia-themed "L.I.E." Based on a novel of the same name by Brady Udall, "Miracle Life" focuses on a poor half-Apache boy who gets run over by a mailman at age 7, and whose luck goes down from there. Cuesta, who is straight, will co-write the film with his brother, Gerald, who collaborated with him on the screenplay for "L.I.E.". Michael Cuesta also recently directed his second episode of HBO's "Six Feet Under".