Q: I read in an interview that you’ve been doing some screenwriting. Can you talk about adapting your stories into film, or whatever it is?
I have a screenwriter friend who advised me to only talk about a film once it’s been released and received positive reviews. I understand what he meant: the process is agonizingly slow and totally unpredictable, and the risk of saying something that ends up not being true is extremely high. The fact is, most scripts / projects end up not getting made, and the ones that do are usually very different from the way they were initially conceived. So with that in mind, I’ll keep this brief for now, and mostly just stick to information that’s already out there.
There’s three projects that I can discuss at this point, and the one that I can say the most about is Les Olympiades. It’s a French film directed by Jacques Audiard, and it’s based on three stories of mine (“Hawaiian Getaway,” “Amber Sweet,” and “Killing and Dying”). The script was written by Céline Sciamma, Léa Mysius, and Jacques Audiard. It was an official selection at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, and it will be released in France on November 3. It will be released in the US shortly thereafter, with the title Paris, 13th District, but I’m not 100% sure on the date.
After saying “no” to similar offers over the years, I agreed to this one solely because of my great admiration for the past work of the director and co-writers. I had no creative input on the film, and was largely oblivious to its production process. Essentially, I signed the contract, waited five years, and then saw the finished film.
Watching Les Olympiades was among the strangest, most indelible experiences of my life. It was the first time I’d been back in a theater since the initial COVID shut-down, and I was sitting in one of my favorite Manhattan theaters at 9:00 am with an audience comprised of only my wife and someone from the American distribution company. More significantly, I was watching a breathtakingly beautiful black-and-white French film in which pieces of my characters and stories are alluded to, replicated, transformed, and, in some cases, omitted. I’ve read, watched, and thought a lot about the process of adapting books into films, but no amount of research could’ve prepared me for the experience of being a part of that process. I did my best to just get lost in the fiction of the film, to think about it solely on its own terms, but—at least for that first screening—it was impossible.
In some ways, I feel like Les Olympiades is an original work, only loosely inspired by my stories. But other people who’ve seen it have said the exact opposite—that it’s very much an adaptation, and that it’s infused throughout with aspects of my comics and illustrations—and I admit that I’m completely unable to be objective on this matter. Either way, watching the film was an incredibly gratifying, humbling, and moving experience for me. I will admit that, as a lifelong movie obsessive with a particular fondness for French cinema, I nearly burst into tears when I saw my name pop up in the opening credits among all those other names. Sitting in that theater, I was overwhelmed by the film’s energy and beauty, and I felt honored to be some small part of that unfathomable accumulation of talent and labor.
The second project that I can talk about is a feature adaptation of my graphic novel Shortcomings, and it’s something that I’ve been working on, in fits and starts, for many years. In this case, I’ve written the screenplay myself, and have been closely involved in the development process. The film’s director is Randall Park, and it’s being produced by Roadside Attractions and Imminent Collision.
Production has not yet begun on the film, so I probably shouldn’t say too much more. But I will say that the process of adapting my comic into screenplay form has been, unexpectedly, one of my favorite creative experiences. At the end of a work day, my wife was often surprised by what a good mood I was in—something that was often not the case when I was mid-way through a 200-page graphic novel. After thirty years of making comics full-time, it’s felt incredibly liberating to sit at a different desk, to be able to edit something with relative ease, and for once, to have work that was portable. I also feel like it’s been an opportunity for me to revise, update, and (hopefully) improve upon the material. To be honest, I’ve never been 100% satisfied with anything I’ve published, so the chance to take another swing at this story was something I relished.
There’s one other project that’s been announced, but is still in its very early stages of development. It’s an animated adaptation of The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, most likely for television, and I’ve written the scripts myself. As unlikely as it may seem, the project came about through conversations with Ari Aster, and it was his insight and guidance that helped me see how an adaptation of this material could work. The project is being developed and produced by A24 and Square Peg.
As with Shortcomings, the process of writing these scripts has been surprisingly fun, challenging, and invigorating. After working in isolation for essentially my entire career, it’s been a great pleasure and an education to collaborate with so many talented, experienced people. The goal of staying true to the source material but also aiming for something that works well in its new incarnation is a thrilling (and sometimes maddening) endeavor, that for now at least, feels very addictive.
Q: I’m a filmmaker and cartoonist, and I have a crazy question about the Shortcomings adaptation. Is there any possibility for me to work on it?? I’d do anything--P.A., storyboard, even act!
I’ve actually received a lot of similar messages since this project was announced, and I’m sorry I haven’t been able to respond to them all. To be honest, I think you’re vastly overestimating the power of a first-time screenwriter. I really have no idea how someone goes about getting work in this business—it’s taken me 12 years of trying—but I’d imagine it requires more than just sending a message on Instagram.
I’d like to be as helpful as possible, though, so I talked to one of the producers on Shortcomings and asked if he had any suggestions. He recommended reaching out to the team at Roadside Attractions with any inquiries about the project, care of the following email address: email@example.com. I know that’s not the same as me saying, “You’re hired!,” but it’s the best I can do right now.
Q: In terms of movies and tv, what have you been watching lately?
My immediate impulse was to respond to this question by carefully curating my recent viewing history and omitting anything that I didn’t like or am embarrassed to have watched. But in the interest of transparency, I hereby submit an unedited, unranked, and unexplained list of everything I’ve watched in the past few months (which, now that I look at it, runs a pretty insane gamut):
Scenes from a Marriage
The Card Counter
On the Verge
The Many Saints of Newark
Before I Go to Sleep
Love on the Spectrum
The Chef Show
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
The White Lotus
Only Murders in the Building
Love is Blind
Pen15 animated special
Les Olympiades (Paris, 13th District)
Ohayō (Good Morning)
I May Destroy You
Ronny Chieng: Asian Comedian Destroys America!
Tōkyō Monogatari (Tokyo Story)
Biggie: I Got a Story to Tell
The Killing of a Sacred Deer
How To with John Wilson