Charlie Kaufman adapts Queen’s alumnus’ novel for Netflix production

Author discusses novel’s film adaptation

Iain Reid.
Iain Reid.
Credit: 
Supplied by Simon & Shuster; Photo Illustration by Julia Balakrishnan

Academy Award-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman will adapt Queen’s alumnus and local author Iain Reid’s first novel, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, for Netflix.

Kaufman, who won Oscars for the screenplays of Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Adaptation, will direct and write the film adaptation while Reid will be a consultant on the project.

“It feels great and exciting,” Reid told The Journal. “I was a fan of his before. This book was probably influenced by some of his movies without me even knowing it — not directly [influenced], but just indirectly.”

After the initial surprise of Kaufman expressing his interest and appreciation for the novel, the two began a series of conversations to discuss a film adaptation. Over the course of these talks, Reid became comfortable with Kaufman, bonding over the phone about their mutual interests in books and philosophy.

“[The adaptation is] not going to be the same as my book. I know that, and I want it to be different. I want [Kaufman] to be comfortable with changing and making it his own,” he said. “Our sensibilities and aesthetics align nicely.”

Reid said he originally had no ambition for his work to cross over into film. However, he agreed to let his agent hire a film agent following the novel’s 2016 release. 

He was surprised by the initial amount of interest, but none of it was particularly exciting until Kaufman approached him. Although he said that, there was one notable exception that excited Reid prior to Kaufman’s arrival on the scene. Slash of Guns N’ Roses wanted to break into the film business and was looking at Reid’s book.

The guitarist invited Reid to his Toronto show and Reid met him at his hotel. 

“We talked for a while and he was a really interesting guy. Really thoughtful, loves books,” Reid said. Despite this, nothing came of the interaction beyond a Guns N’ Roses fan meeting the famed guitarist.

The eventual talks with Kaufman were more productive, with both writers sharing their understandings of the thriller genre. They agreed the scariest elements of their work were abstract, refraining from more stereotypical murder plotlines used in the genre.

“There’s a lot [more] emphasis placed on the internal, and the philosophical and the metaphysical. Especially when you get into the unsettling realm. We both agree that that’s more unsettling than anything physical,” Reid said.

Reid, who studied philosophy at Queen’s, expanded on the more cerebral elements that can make I’m Thinking of Ending Things so unnerving for readers.

“When I think about my day-to-day life, I’m not worried about a masked man jumping around the corner with a machete. But when I think about certain elements of philosophy, that’s unsettling to me.”

Reid said the production hopes to start filming in September but added that Netflix tends to be efficient in its content creation, which may result in a 2019 or 2020 release.

Nonetheless, he said “getting it right” was more of a priority than timing.

Meanwhile, Reid just finished writing his new novel, Foe, over the holidays, earning himself a rare break while the novel gets time to breathe. He said it follows in the philosophical, suspenseful footsteps of I’m Thinking of Ending Things

“It’s sort of a literary suspense novel,” he said, adding that the genre lends urgency that can be absent in other storytelling. 

“That can change: maybe in five years, I want to do a generic romantic comedy. I doubt it, but who knows?” he said. “I like the idea of challenging myself and trying something that feels different. This was very different, and I hope to continue to do that. I don’t know where it will go.”

 

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