As you may know from an earlier post, I’ve written a screen adaptation of The Sparrow in partnership with Karen Hall. Director Scott Derrickson has been a fan of the novel for many years, but it wasn’t until the screen rights reverted to me this year that Karen and I were able to show him our screenplay. In his opinion:
“The screenplay is an outstanding adaptation of an exceptional book. Really. I was blown away. I’ve told you both that the book is one of my favorites in any genre, but what I secretly doubted was that the deep beauty and spiritual devastation of the novel could be fully captured in a film. I was wrong — the script is just fantastic. ”
That is the response we dreamed of, and Scott has begun to show the Russell-Hall screenplay to others. The early reaction has been strong and the word “brilliant” has come up with gratifying frequency. That’s the good news.
The bad news is exactly what you’d expect. “Jesuits in Space” is never an easy sell.
That’s why 31 literary agents turned the manuscript down back in the mid-1990s. Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog Science Fiction and Fact, warned me back in 1994, “It’s going to take a gutsy agency with great contacts to get a publisher for this story. But if you find one? The Sparrow is going to win a lot of awards.” Miriam Goderich and Jane Dystel were the right agents, Random House was the right publisher, and The Sparrow did indeed win a lot of awards.
At each stage in The Sparrow’s history, someone has fallen in love with it and taken it to the next level. So. Now we’ve got a director who’s in love, but Scott is only one piece of a big, expensive, risky puzzle. In the current Hollywood climate, an SF drama (as opposed to a SF action-adventure spectacle) is a hard sell. An SF drama about Jesuits in space will be an even harder sell.
It’s going to take a gutsy producer, a great studio, and a brave star. We’ve had that combination before, but at the cost of what Scott called the novel’s “deep beauty.” The trick will be assembling a team that shares Scott’s drive to bring this story to the screen without losing The Sparrow’s heart and soul.
That will be very difficult, but if he can do it, I’ll make Stanley Schmidt’s prediction: The Sparrow is going to win a lot of awards.