‘Jamie Marks Is Dead’ YSU professor’s novel comes alive as a film

By GUY D’ASTOLFO | dastolfo@vindy.com


For a writer, nothing beats the feeling of having your work published and holding the book in your hands.

Except maybe having that book turned into a movie.

That’s the rarified emotion that Christopher Barzak has experienced in recent weeks.

Barzak was in Monticello, N.Y., this month to watch filming of “Jamie Marks Is Dead,” which is adapted from his 2007 novel, “One for Sorrow.”

His comprehension of it all has taken hold in phases for Barzak, who is a professor of writing at Youngstown State University.

“My feelings have changed over time,” said Barzak. “When it was first optioned ... I didn’t have a lot of hope.”

Filmmakers pick up the option on a lot of novels but don’t always turn them into a film, he explained. “One for Sorrow” had been in such a limbo for several years.

“But when they said they were going to make the movie, I was shocked and disbelieving,” Barzak continued. “It was really when I got to the set and saw it being made in front of me that ... my jaw literally dropped. They gave me a headset and pointed me at a monitor [to watch a scene being shot]. And I saw characters that until then had only existed in my head. And when I heard [the characters] say words, that’s when it hit me.”

The film is being directed by Carter Smith, who also wrote the script. Barzak said the adaptation streamlines his novel, but he is very pleased with it.

“[The movie] is a fastball to the core of the story,” he said. “I knew they would not be able to include everything in the book.”

One character — the father of the protagonist — was omitted, he said, to make the movie less complicated, but otherwise, it is basically the same. “One for Sorrow” is about a working-class family that is coming apart, but the movie turns it into a single-parent household. But no key elements of the story were toned down for the film, said Barzak.

“One for Sorrow” is actually set in Trumbull County and Youngstown, but all place names and characters are left intact in the film even though it is being filmed hundreds of miles away.

Smith is shooting the movie in Monticello, which is in the Catskills region, to take advantage of the state’s tax benefits, film industry experience and proximity to New York City.

“The Monticello area has a similar landscape and social classes as the Mahoning Valley,” said Barzak. “There is an old paper mill that is being used as a location. Basically, it’s another rural area that is near a city that went bust.”

The film has a complete and consistent color palette for both the sets and the clothing that is true to the novel. “They look like kids from around here,” he said.

Smith, who could not be reached to comment, invited Barzak to the set because he wanted to make sure he’d be happy with the film. “[Smith] would phone me to ask questions as he wrote the script,” said Barzak. “He invited me as a gesture of good will and to see what I thought.”

When Barzak got there, he could sense the excitement that the film had brought to the town, and that his visit was anticipated. “When I checked in, the hotel clerk said ‘Oh, you’re the writer’,” he recalled.

Students from the local high school drama club are being used as extras.

“One for Sorrow” follows a troubled teenager who runs away from his farming community and makes his way to Youngstown where he holes up in an abandoned building. The story has supernatural elements involving the ghost of a dead classmate.

The film has a mostly young cast that Barzak described as “astonishingly good.” It includes Noah Silver (Showtime’s “The Borgias”) as Jamie Marks; Cameron Monaghan (Showtime’s “Shameless”) as Adam, the main character; Morgan Saylor (Showtime’s “Homeland”) as Gracie Highsmith; Madisen Beaty (“The Master”); and its biggest name, Liv Tyler (“The Incredible Hulk,” “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “That Thing You Do”).

It is slated for an early 2014 release. Barzak estimated the budget at a few million dollars and called it “smartly made and with big set pieces.”

Plans call for first submitting the “Jamie Marks Is Dead” to film festivals in hopes of landing a distributor.

When “One for Sorrow” was published, it won the Crawford Award for best first novel, and was nominated for a Nebula Award and a Great Lakes Awards.

Barzak’s most recent book, “Before and Afterlives,” is a collection of short stories that was published March 19. He will have a book-signing at the Oakland Center for the Arts, 220 W. Boardman St., from 6-8 p.m. April 5, before the theater’s opening night production of “Prelude to a Kiss.”

Barzak is working an another novel, “Wonders of the Invisible World,” which he hopes to finish by May.

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