Making a second film is always difficult. When your first film is a surprise $100 million comedy hit, coming up with that second movie can be even harder.
Writer/director Rawson Marshall Thurber had only a handful a short films — including the Internet hit Terry Tate, Office Linebacker — to his name before making the surprisingly hilarious Dodgeball in 2004. Despite the success, Thurber wasn’t completely sure how to follow it up.
“I have friends who make a big comedy that does well and then they go do another big comedy that does well and that’s all they get to do forever,” Thurber said.
“That’s how writers, actors, and directors get categorized and I didn’t want to be a part of that.”
His solution was an unexpected one. Rather than dive back into the studio system, Thurber decided to dip his toes in the world of independent film with an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon’s debut novel The Mysteries Of Pittsburgh.
“After I experienced what it was like to write and direct a film for the first time, I realized how much that takes out of you,” said Thurber. “There were a few opportunities to do other similar comedies. But at that point I knew how much you needed to love something to make a film. There was only one thing that I loved that much and it was Mysteries Of Pittsburgh.”
The director met up with Chabon and told him his take on the material. According to Thurber, “I said, ‘My take is pretty radical and it’s as much amputation and alteration as it is adaptation. But if you have any interest I’ll happily write up a six page treatment and send it your way.’
“He agreed so I wrote it up and sent it off. It was a nerve-wracking experience to write something and send it to a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. But, he read it and said, ‘It’s great. Let’s do it.’ I just about fell out of my chair.”
As Thurber had warned Chabon, he made pretty significant changes to the novel to shrink it down to a feature length screenplay. His decisions might irritate purist fans of the book.
But as Thurber is the first to admit, he was never trying to destroy the novel, it is just a necessary part of the adaptation process.
“I was kind of nervous about that at first because it’s a book I love and an author who I adore. But at a certain point I realized that the movie is the movie and the book is the book. No matter what the movie is, it won’t change what Michael Chabon wrote. The book that I love will always exist.”
Whether or not fans of the novel will agree remains to be seen, but at least Thurber can be proud that he made a movie that is drastically different than his debut without embarrassing himself.