DOC and EPITAPH optioned

Last summer, I signed an option with PalmStar Productions for a screen adaptation of Doc and Epitaph. So much time had gone by with no news, I was starting to wonder if they’d dropped the project, but yesterday an announcement appeared in a number of outlets, so I am free to talk about it now.

I’ve learned a lot since 1996, when The Sparrow was first optioned by Antonio Bandera’s production company.

First lesson: don’t get excited. Many are optioned but few are produced. An option is an agreement that for a set period of time (usually one year, with an option to extend the agreement another year), someone has the right to put together the funding to produce an adaptation of material.

This is like renting a property for a while, without being obligated to buy it. Nobody else can rent it for the duration of the lease, but if it doesn’t work out, the renter can walk away. This is what happened when HBO passed on the idea of a series based on Doc, even though it was Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman who brought the project to them.

Second lesson: having a big name producer or major star “attached” to play a lead role is important but not sufficient. For The Sparrow, Antonio Banderas came first, and then Brad Pitt, and for this project, Jeremy Renner is “attached.”

That just means that IF the producer can get funding, and IF they can get an interesting screenplay written, and IF the star’s schedule permits, and IF everybody thinks this is a good enough idea to throw millions of dollars at it two or three years from now, then that actor might be the one to play a role.

I have to admit, I thought Mr. Renner would play Wyatt, but as of yesterday, I’ve learned he is being proposed to play Doc Holliday. I learned from the internet that Mr. Renner plays keyboards, so that’s cool. Maybe Doc will get to knock everybody’s socks off with the Emperor concerto, but that’s only my hope, not a prediction.

Generally casting comes a long time from now, but a star’s name helps get investors and other actors interested.

Third lesson: Nobody is going to ask me to write the screenplay. Hollywood is stuffed with screenwriters who live out in LA and know the business and understand the constraints and schedules and do this kind of thing for a living.

This option does include provisions for me to act as a consultant IF they have something they’d like to consult me about, but usually authors are just a pain in the ass.

“But my character would never do that!”

“But that’s not what really happened!”

“You can’t leave out THAT scene!”

Etc. Big whiny babies. Who needs ’em?

Fourth lesson: reread Lesson One, above. I am cautiously hopeful. That’s all. And before you ask, AMC owns the rights to The Sparrow, and I have no idea if they plan to do anything with the story. Nobody tells me nothin’.







21 thoughts on “DOC and EPITAPH optioned”

  1. Thanks for an entertaining and educational post. I always wondered how this process works (or doesn’t work!) Best wishes to you and your stories for the big screen.

    I LOVED Doc, btw, as a great example of a Western. Your writing always inspires.

  2. Your comments on the possible adaption of Doc and Epitaph crack me up! Good advice, I’m sure. I hope they follow through, but honestly the books are so good, it’s hard to imagine any adaptation coming close.

  3. Hi Mary. I was going to write to you about “Doc” when I saw this. I am truly enjoying the book. I am about half way through and have “Epitaph” patiently waiting its turn. Back when…I wrote to you about how much I enjoyed “The Sparrow”, particularly the philosophical parts. You are a truly enjoyable writer. Please keep doing so. I also really enjoy your Facebook posts as well.

  4. Sure would like to see the movie — be even better if it’s a hit & makes megabucks for you, Mary!

  5. You answered my “Sparrow” question, but with all your caveats I am excited. And Renner as Doc will work just fine…

  6. Good westerns (meaning: accurate) are rare. If the studio folks do justice to Doc and Epitaph, then it could be in that category. Having heard writers lament about what the movie people did to their novels, I agree with you—stay out of it. So I wait for the decision and, I hope, the actual movie.

  7. I can’t wait to see a movie based on Doc. It was such an original novel and such a tender portrayal of a much misunderstood man. Such a novel plotline, too, focusing on his profession as a dentist more than his malign reputation as a drunken gunfighter. I particularly loved your depictions of the horror of tuberculosis, and can only imagine how much he suffered and understand why so many considered him irritable and angry. I’ve visualized so many times how a film would look.It would be interesting seeing Jeremy Renner as Doc. He might be good, I respect the actor a lot.

  8. On a side note, have you considered a trilogy? One last novel to finish it off? I always thought a fictionalization of the comically named “Dodge City War” would be a great application of your storytelling power, bringing back Wyatt and Bat Masterson, and even Doc a little bit. The “war” didn’t amount to much, but having all of those colourful characters back in Dodge for one last hurrah would be a great way to wrap up the series.

  9. What an eye-opener! Love your imaginings of what the industry thinks of authors – so funny and so ironic considering the dearth of good story lines in most movies. Still kudos to you for being considered.

  10. I SO HOPE this happens!!! But I have to agree with a comment above…the movie never does the book justice! Just keep writing…!! 🙂 🙂

  11. I think that a movie of the Sparrow would be very difficult to write and create, and there’s no way it could do justice to the book. I have such Visions in my mind from that book, although it’s been years since I read it, but I have given the book countless times as a gift.
    On my constantly morphing list of top 10 books, it always stays at number one.

  12. I just now read the news release … PalmStar “ … has optioned rights to a pair Mary Doria Russell books on gunslinger Doc Holliday …”

    Uh oh.

Leave a Comment