This time around we are going to take a peek at the optioning of a short story for a short film. This is kind of a hybrid of sorts since most short horror films are made from original scripts. But that is not the only angle to this story since the producers made a feature length film first and then decided to try their hands at a short, once again bucking the usual progression of filmmaking.
Eric Shapiro and Rhoda Jordan are a husband and wife producing team, him a writer/director and her an actress/writer. Their sensibilities and drive are perfectly matched and they seem to feed off of each other's energy and drive. Eric is the author of the book Stories for the End of the World and the writer/director of the feature length film Rule of Three. Rhoda, who has 14 films in her acting credits, wrote the screenplay for Rule of Three based upon an idea of Eric's after getting tired of B-movie roles.
Jack Ketchum's work has always held a fascination for the couple and they originally optioned his novel Right to Life for a period of 18 months but could not get it made. Eric believes the story's psychology may have been too strong.
"The subject matter was a killer," he said, "though we were close to financing at a couple of points. We ate up stretches of time trying to attach specific actors. In the end, we were with a financing entity that wanted to alter the spirit of the material too far from the book; it wouldn't have been worth it, so we didn't renew the option."
Their next foray into the land of Ketchum was Mail Order, a short story from Jack's book Peaceable Kingdom. But this time, with the Right to Life experience under their belt, they decided to use a different tact.
"We made the buy as Wildlight Entertainment, LLC -- our production company. With Mail Order, it went beyond the option stage to an outright purchase. We bought the rights to make a short film from a short story, and the result couldn't exceed 30 minutes. For what we were paying, it wouldn't have been fair for us to have the ability to tie up these characters and this story on a feature basis. Those rights belong to Ketchum.
"It is 16 minutes long. I'd wanted to adapt a Ketchum story for a long time and didn't want to let our failure to finance Right to Life stop me. This was a project that our company could finance easily on its own, without having to wait for permission and we are happy that Ketchum was game."
The failure of the blossoming of Right to Life was from their having to wait for other people to make up their minds and not change storylines and such. Not wanting that to happen again, their entire point of doing Mail Order as a short was the fact that they would have to answer to nobody.
"Exactly. When I approached Ketchum's agent, part of my pitch was referencing Stephen King's 'dollar babies' -- short films made by King fans over the years from his short stories, which he licensed for a dollar apiece; though we paid fair market value for Mail Order. I thought it was a cool idea since we've been seeing a lot of Ketchum media in the past five years. I thought a short would be exciting to make and exciting for his fans to see. Mail Order was a natural story to use. Great storytelling, as tends to be the case across Ketchum's body of work.
"The search for a story was only half-intentional. I was reading Ketchum's short stories in Peaceable Kingdom when the idea landed on me. The licensing process between us and Ketchum's agent took a couple of weeks. The broad strokes were easy, but we spent some time tuning certain terms. Since it's a unique arrangement, being for a short film, they wanted to ensure that we wouldn't try to sneak a feature through, and I wanted to be sure that I could exploit the short freely, et cetera.
"From the license to the screen it has taken about six or seven months, starting with paperwork in January or February, shooting in May, and wrapping up post in July-August. It's still undergoing a final sound mix to get it enriched for distribution (for which we've yet to finalize an avenue)."
Eric is a talented prose writer of speculative horror fiction. One wonders, for a fledgling company why he did not pull one of his own works to film. It certainly would have been less expensive. But it seems the challenge of filming another author's work was part of his fun.
"It certainly would have cost significantly less (laughs). But I'm not always in the mood to conjure original material. There's a beauty in interpreting and adapting. For example, when I first read Mail Order, the ending surprised me -- it caught me off-guard and made me smile. I've engineered plenty of surprise endings as a writer, but when doing so, I always have to show ten people to see if I pulled it off. In this case, it was already pulled off -- I was surprised! That's the fun of adapting, and directing in general; you're half creator and half audience."
I wish Eric the best of luck with his new endeavor and his new feature length film Girl Zero which Rhoda and him are working on next. One last point. Eric has been through the options ringer several times now. For a first time filmmaker, what advice might he leave us with for the first time newbie to consider?
"Get good legal counsel or an experienced professional filmmaker to advise you. Option and licensing agreements can be long and complex, and you will have to abide by specific terms regarding how credit is allocated, what rights belong to you, what rights don't, how you can market the piece, and so on. If a piece of material is worth optioning, then it's obviously coming from a pro, so you have to know your stuff."
Both Rhoda Jordan and Eric Shapiro can be found on Facebook under their names. There is no website for Wildlight Entertainment.
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies "The Home of Horror" in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com. If you have any information on the optioning of horror books he would love to hear from you.