Thursday, June 2, 2011

Paris to Die For (2011)

I am a screenwriter with a love of obscure movies, hence this blog. In fact, the more obscure the movie, the more inclined I am to write about it. Stanley Donen’s Charade (1964) is a famous romantic thriller. How many know or remember such similar one-name romantic thrillers from the mid-sixties as Stanley Donen’s Arabesque (Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren), Philip Dunne’s Blindfold (Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale, and a clever plot device that was later recycled by another Universal motion picture, Sneakers), Ronald Neame’s Gambit (Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine) and Jack Smight’s Kaleidoscope (Warren Beatty and the incomparable Susannah York)? Gambit is currently being remade with Colin Firth in the Michael Caine role.

Several years ago, I came across a letter written by Jackie Kennedy, when she was Jacqueline Lee Bouvier, in which she wrote about the possibility of going to work for the CIA. This was in May, 1951 when she was a recent college graduate. Being a writer, my imagination was piqued and I immediately envisioned Jackie as the star of her own mid-sixties romantic thriller. I saw her as a neophyte CIA agent in Paris—her favorite city—getting in and out of trouble with the aid of a handsome young Frenchman, who was a company stringer. The story would take place in 1951 with Jackie and her Frenchman racing around the City of Light from the Opera House to the Gare de Lyon, the Windsor Estate, the House of Dior, the Jeu de Paume Museum and, finally, Notre Dame cathedral in search of a mysterious document left behind by a dead Russian defector. The whole idea coalesced in my head in less than fifteen minutes.

Then came the difficult part—taking my idea and transforming it into a fully fleshed-out story. For some reason, I never thought seriously about writing it as a screenplay. Instead, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. The thing came out in a burst and in no time I had written the first six chapters (approximately 15,000 words) and a detailed thirteen-page outline of the whole story.

But as I read it over, there was something I found unsatisfying. Something was missing—a woman’s touch to help bring the main character fully to life. And so I approached several professional writers I knew with an eye toward a possible collaboration. When they all fell by the wayside, I decided to turn to craigslist. I thought to myself, after all, people place ads here to sell furniture or find love. Why not place an ad asking for a published female author to collaborate with me?

As you can expect, I received many responses. Most of them were from the usual craigslist crackpots. But several were from professional writers. Of them, I chose to work with a woman living in Florida, who was the author of one novel and several works of non-fiction. She liked what I had written and, to her credit, rolled up her sleeves and got right to work with me on the book.

Six months later, the book was finished. One month after that, our agent sold the manuscript. In fact, we were offered a two-book contract for this book and its sequel. And now, at long last, that first book, PARIS TO DIE FOR, is about to be published (under the pen name Maxine Kenneth). And with an idea that took flight based on my original homage to those obscure movies of the mid-sixties. The finished book hews very closely to those original six chapters and 13-page outline. I like to flatter myself by thinking that the late Peter Stone, screenwriter of Charade, would appreciate this project.