MysteryPeople Q&A with Screenwriter and Author Scott Frank

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Scott Frank is a screenwriter and director of exquisite talent. He has adapted Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and Minority Report. As both writer and director, he has given us two of the best crime films in past decade, A Walk Among The Tombstones (from the Lawrence Block novel) and The Lookout.

Frank has now added “novelist” to his already impressive resume with his debut, Shaker, a crime satire that takes a New York hitman to L.A. just in time for one of California’s worst earthquakes. The book looks at gangs, the media culture, and politics, all in a style that allows for human depth and darkness as well as laughs. Mr. Frank took a few questions about the book and the switch from screen to prose. He joins us Monday, February 1st, at 7 PM, appearing alongside authors Terry Shames and Josh Stallings. 


MysteryPeople Scott: You mainly are known for your work in film. What made Shaker more suitable to tell as a novel?

Scott Frank: It was a story that depended so much on understanding the history of several characters. You couldn’t really go forward without knowing what had come before. So it just seemed more of a novel to me for that reason.

MPS: What did you enjoy doing in prose that you couldn’t do in a screenplay?

SF: When you write a film, “show not tell” is always your mantra. You don’t ever get a chance to go deep. You want to define scene and character as quickly as you can. And if you do go backwards, it can’t play as digression. It will feel like a mistake. We just don’t watch movies in the same way we read books. In a book, a digression can be the most satisfying part. It was so much fun writing about what happened before the book began, and then making it pay off.

MPS: The book has an interesting interplay between plot and backstory. On the surface, it plays like a Carl Hiassen crime satire, yet you slowly get introduced to everybody’s dark history. Was this planned going in or just happen since you were dealing with some pretty unsavory characters?

SF: It just sort of evolved. I realized that if I wanted a reader to actually care about these people, I couldn’t always write them as jokes. I thought it might be interesting for introduce someone, make an impression, then subvert that with their backstory, so that you cared about them, no matter how unsavory they turned out to be. The tone in those past sections, then, had to be more serious, but still had to somehow dovetail with the rest of the book. Was the hardest part for me. But I just heard those parts differently in my head.

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MysteryPeople Brings Back Free Noir Double Feature Film Series

Last summer, MysteryPeople brought you free screenings of five films based on some of our favorite romans noirs, followed by discussion of the book and film. We screened Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity, his adaptation of James M. Cain’s classic novel,  Purple Noon, René ClémentCarl Franklin’s Devil In A Blue Dress, based on Walter Mosley’s first Easy Rawlins book, and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone, adapted from the Daniel Woodrell novel

Now, we are proud to announce the return of MysteryPeople’s Noir Double Feature Film Series for summer 2015. Starting Sunday, April 26, we will bring you five of our favorite films based on five noir classics. Screenings are free and open to the public and start at 6:30 PM on BookPeople’s third floor. We’ll be profiling each film/book combination closer to each screening, but here’s an overview of each film we’ve chosen for this year’s screenings:

laura picsSUNDAY, APRIL 26 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

OTTO PREMINGER’S 1944 ADAPTATION OF VERA CASPARY’S LAURA

Vera Caspary’s 1942 novel Laura was just one of many complex psychological mysteries by Caspary to be turned into a Hollywood film, but Laura may contain her most emblematic femme fatale of all. Come discuss this lesser known hard-boiled classic before a screening of the rather more well-known yet equally fascinating film. Copies of Laura are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

spy who came in from the cold screeningSUNDAY, MAY 10 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARTIN RITT’S 1965 ADAPTATION OF JOHN LE CARRÉ’S THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD

 John le Carre’s classic spy novel The Spy Who Came In From The Cold celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, and the film and novel, with their prescient plague-on-both-houses story-lines, have only gotten better with time. Join us for Richard Burton and Oscar Werner’s electrifying performances in the film, followed by a discussion. Copies of The Spy Who Came In From The Cold are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening MarloweSUNDAY, MAY 24 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

MARLOWE, PAUL BOGART’S 1969 ADAPTATION OF RAYMOND CHANDLER’S THE LITTLE SISTER

In this neo-noir from 1969, James Garner plays Chandler’s Marlowe in one of the stranger adaptions of a Chandler novel. Come join us May 24 for a discussion of The Little Sister and a screening of Marlowe, the 1969 adaption of the book. Copies of The Little Sister are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening coup de torchonSUNDAY, JUNE 7 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

COUP DE TORCHON, BERTRAND TAVERNIER’S 1981 ADAPTATION OF JIM THOMPSON’S POP. 1280

Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280 gives us one of the most chilling looks into a killer’s mind ever written, and Coup de Torchon beautifully adapts Thompson’s novel, changing the setting from the American South to French Colonial Algeria. We picked a French film in celebration of International Crime Fiction Month, which we plan to celebrate in a variety of ways, including international crime fiction pics for all of our book clubs.  Copies of Pop. 1280 are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. 

pics for screening walk among the tombstonesSUNDAY, JUNE 21 AT 6:30 PM

SCREENING AND DISCUSSION

SCOTT FRANK’S 2014 ADAPTATION OF LAWRENCE BLOCK’S A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

Lawrence Block’s Mathew Scudder series is one of our most beloved in the mystery section, and we are pleased to bring you Scott Frank’s recent addition to the noir canon, his adaptation of A Walk Among The Tombstones. Please join us for a film screening and discussion of the novel. Copies of A Walk Among The Tombstones are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.


Keep an eye out on our blog for more in-depth looks at each of the books and films as we get closer to each screening. A full list of the film series can be found on our website.

Ten Books To Look Forward To in 2015

With great noteworthy novels like Mette Ivie Harrison’s The Bishop’s Wife and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl On The Train already coming out, 2015 could bring a plethora of crime fiction treasure. From new additions to old series, to new editions of old series, and debuts from many promising novelists, here are some books to look out for during this new year.


1. Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Swierczynski always knows how to spin a great yarn. This one, about a college girl forced to be an informant for an ambitious Philly narcotics detective, is one of his finest. A bit more realistic than his previous work, he gives us his humor, pace, and sharply defined characters at a more streetwise level. Canary hits the shelves February 24th. Pre-order now.

2. Hush, Hush by Laura Lippman

Tess Monaghan returns. After three years, and now a mother with a new partner (Sandy Sanchez, the protagonist of Lippman’s excellent 2014 book, After I’m Gone), the Baltimore PI is thrown into a case dealing with parenthood, the insanity defense, and reality TV. Lippman’s work has proved she is one of the best writers in the field and it will be great to have a fully formed PI heroine like Tess back. Hush, Hush hits the shelves February 24th. Pre-order now.

3. Where All The Light Tends To Go by David Joy

Already the front runner for best debut of 2015. A young North Carolina man is caught between his love for a girl and his quest to get out of their small town and the dark shadow of his father’s criminal business. Poetic and poignant with sudden bursts of cold violence, Joy uses voice and character to speak directly and emotionally to his readers. Where All The Light Tends To Go hits the shelves March 3rd. Pre-order now.

4. GHB by Ted Lewis

Syndicate Books will be reprinting this hard-to-find British crime novel about a smut kingpin rooting out those responsible for bringing down his empire. Syndicate’s reissues of Lewis’ tough and terse Jack Carter trilogy have me primed for GBH, his final and often considered finest work. GBH hits the shelves March 3rd. Pre-order now.

5.Lady From Zagreb by Phillip Kerr

Kerr brings back Bernie Gunther. This time the German wartime private eye is forced to do a favor for Joseph Goebbels that deals with the Nazi film industry and Croatia. Few weave plot, period, character, and thematics together as well as Kerr. Lady From Zagreb hits the shelves April 7th. Pre-order now.

6. A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge by Terry Shames

The latest Samuel Craddock mystery has the widowed small town chief of police trying to help his neighbor, Jenny Sandstone when she is threatened. In order to help, he must delve into a past she wants kept private. Shames has hinted at the possibility of these to developing a deeper relationship, so this could be a game changer in one hell of a well written series. A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge hits the shelves April 15th. Pre-order now.

7. Robert B. Parker’s Kickback by Ace Atkins

Spenser and Hawk are hired to look into a questionable reform camp it’s connection to a questionable judge. Atkins has taken on the Spenser character without missing a beat; bringing him back to full glory. Robert B. Parker’s Kickback hits the shelves May 19th. Pre-order now.

6. The Reluctant Matador by Mark Pryor

Hugo Marston leaves Paris for Spain, with CIA buddy Tom Green, to track down a friend’s missing daughter. I’m sure this book will turn into something else with plenty of surprise, action, and banter between Marston and Green. Kickback hits the shelves June 2nd. Pre-order now.

9. Shaker by Scott Frank

The premise of Shaker immediately intrigued me. A hitman’s life is thrown into violent chaos when he’s mistaken for a hero. What really has me anticipating it, is that it will be the debut novel of Scott Frank, the screenwriter who adapted Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and A Walk Among The Tombstones and whose directing debut The Lookout was one of the best crime movies in the last ten years. This could be the debut of a great new author in the genre. August. Shaker hits the shelves in August 2015. Pre-order now.

10. Where It Hurts by Reed Farrel Coleman

Last year, Reed Farrel Coleman wrapped up one of the best mystery series with his Moe Prager character. This fall he will introduce us to his new creation, Gus Murphy, a retired Suffolk County cop turned private detective. Coleman always delivers, with an engaging plot and character as well as a poetic look at human emotion. Where It Hurts hits the shelves in autumn. We’ll bring you more details as it gets closer to the date.


BOOK TO SCREEN: A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES

a walk among the tombstones
A Walk Among The Tombstones is a movie many crime fiction fans have been waiting for. It is one of the more admired books from Lawrence Block’s Matthew Scudder series, and one of the touchstones of modern private eye writing. The adaptation was placed into the hands of writer-director Scott Frank, who is responsible for two of the best Elmore Leonard adaptations out there (Get Shorty and Out Of Sight), while his directorial debut, The Lookout, is one of the best crime films of this century so far. On paper, it was a tantalizing match, but there were also some reasons for trepidation. The book is the seventh in the series with Scudder in mid-transition, making it an odd choice to adapt to film. It is also close to 400 pages with an important sub-plot involving Matt’s girlfriend, Elaine, that contributes to that arc. On top of that, you have a lead character who is incredibly internal. After viewing the film and especially thinking about it after, one realizes that Scudder was in the right hands.

The film starts with a well executed and defining gunfight for Scudder. Then, after one of the most disturbing opening credit sequences you’ll see, the plot begins much like the book. Scudder, an unlicensed P.I. and recovered alcoholic (one of the main differences in the movie is he quits the day after that shoot-out) is approached by a fellow AA member to work for his brother. The brother, a drug trafficker, paid a ransom for his kidnapped wife, only to have her returned in pieces, wrapped like butcher meat. He wants Scudder to find the men responsible and bring them to him. Matt turns him down first, but takes the job, realizing the perpetrators are psychopaths, in it for the hunt and torture, and that they will do it again.

Most of the changes from page to screen come from Scott Frank’s compression of the tale to reach a manageable running time. A sharp bit of craftsmanship comes in reshaping a part of the book where a witness mistakenly believes there was a third suspect during the abduction of an earlier victim. Instead of this, Scott creates an unsettling yet utterly human character who gives Scudder three leads in one scene, though it took Scudder close to hundred pages to gather these in the book. Frank also had to jettison two supporting characters, a hooker who survived the psychos and the lawyer who represents her. Both alone are worth picking up the novel for.

Another character missing is Elaine, the call girl Scudder is at the start of the relationship with. She helps Matt in the investigation and his involvement with her marks a particular turning point in the series. It is in this book where Scudder makes the choice to truly connect with someone again or not.

Here, Scott Frank does something interesting. Instead of using the arc from the book, he tackles a small step in Scudder’s stumbling soul search. This is dealt with in his relationship with T.J., a street kid who acts as Matt’s Baker Street Irregular, portrayed without sentimentality by Brian “Astro” Bradley. He also uses a device employed by Block, where the shoot outside the bar becomes clearer as Scudder tells it in a more honest way. We’re seeing a man as he begins to realize his position in the dark world he has chosen for himself.

Fans will truly appreciate Liam Neeson’s performance. The actor allows his presence and natural gravitas do much of the work for him as he underplays with a worn and weary edge. He and Frank take a cue from the author, realizing the hero’s complexity’s and subtle contradictions, they simply let the character run and let the audience, like the reader, bring themselves to him. Early on we get to witness Scudder’s detached realism when he is asked if the corruption on NYPD made him quit the force and Neeson delivers the line. “No, I couldn’t have supported my family without it,” with perfect tone. At that point, we know we have our Scudder.

A Walk Among The Tombstones is a harsh film. I flinched at things I knew were coming from having read the book. With little gore and violence, we get the the the full impact of the very mean streets this private eye walks down. Much like Lawerence Block’s series, it pulls no punches, telling a very adult story and treating its audience as such. That alone makes it a film worth supporting.

3 Picks for August

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MysteryPeople’s 3 Picks for August

As the summer winds down, we often end up wondering where the time went. To keep us from wistfully looking back at what could have been, we’ve assembled three picks to look forward to this month…

 

after i'm goneAFTER I’M GONE by Laura Lippman

One of the best books of this past year is soon to be in paperback. Laura Lippman uses a cold murder case tried to an even older missing person’s  one to look at family, feminism, and class over fifty years. One of the smartest and unique books I’ve read in recent memory.
Paperback to be released 8/12

 

 

a walk among the tombstonesA WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES by Lawrence Block

This title is finally due to be back in print before the September release of the film version. One of the best of the Matthew Scudder series, with the unlicensed PI facing some of the darkest of human  behavior when he takes on a kidnapping case. Scudder set the template for the likes of Dennis Lehane and Reed Farrel Coleman.
New edition to be released 8/26

 

THE GOOD LIFE by Frank Wheeler Jr.

NewPulp gives us another great debut to be released this month. This tale of a young man taking his fathers job as sheriff of a corrupt Midwest town is violent, poetic, and utterly human. Fans of Frank Bill and Jim Thompson will love it.
Release date to be announced