Becoming known as a Spiritual Film Writer has a way of following you around. Adapting a New York Times bestselling title is an honor. It does, however, come with a huge responsibility. The reason I say that is because the job is much like the job of being a ghostwriter for a book client. When I was first approached to adapt Conversations With God from Simon & Schuster, I felt a rush of excitement because I had heard of the book from many friends. I immediately went out and read it, cover to cover. Afterwards, I knew the job would be a daunting task. If you aren’t familiar with the text, it is simply a dialogue between it’s author Neale Donald Walsch and the voice in his head, which he referred to as God.
How do you create a narrative story out of a conversation? Simple answer is, very carefully. Altering signing the contract, I approached the job like every job I am hired to execute…trust the universe knows what it is doing. It always does.
I sat in Neale’s living room and listened to story after story about how he came to hear the voice of God. Judgements aside, I listened for an entire week. I took notes, shot video of our meetings for research on the man himself, his mannerisms, and speech patterns, and then I flew home. What followed was intimidating, because I had no idea on how to proceed.
I heard nothing in the weeks that followed. I heard nothing that would translate into a compelling, thought provoking narrative story. What I did hear, however, was an idea for a bio picture, which is something the film director did not want. So, there I sat. Trying to hear the story from my place as the screenwriter.
Then, I remembered meeting the great screenwriter, Jeff Nathanson. Jeff has written films like Catch Me If You Can, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King, and many other studio films like Rush Hour and Indiana Jones; The Crystal Skull. The day I met him, he was adapting The 39 Clues for Dreamworks and to be directed by the man himself, Stephen Spielberg. Watching out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jeff sit still for over two hours. Not writing. Not reading. Jeff was just sitting there. Waiting. Then, slowly…his hands reached up to the keyboard. What followed is something I use whenever I am not sure what to write or how to begin. For the next 2 hours, Jeff didn’t stop writing.
Back in my office, I sat for three days in silence. I wasn’t writing. I wasn’t thinking. Just listening for that voice, that I wasn’t sure if it was going to come or not. That’s the part of writing that drains the blood out of anyone attempting to be a professional writer. But then, it arrived. The voice and plot device I would use to tell the story. I wrote day in and day out. The result garnered me a full Written By credit from the Writer’s Guild of America. If you aren’t familiar with crediting in the movie business, the credit for a writer hired to adapt a book is Screenplay by. Because the story I created wasn’t inside the book itself, the WGA awarded me the Written By credit in full.
Based on the script I wrote, we secured worldwide distribution with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and Samuel Goldwyn Films for Theatrical. The film was later acquired by Gaia TV, formerly known as Gaiam TV. In the end, it was one project that I wished I could’ve directed, because I would have made different choices in casting, final edit and music, but hey…that’s the film business…a work of collaboration. I did my part and proud of the script to this day.