DETROIT (WWJ) – “Get Shorty,” and “Jackie Brown” are two Elmore Leonard novels that already have been turned into successful feature films. And this weekend, writer/director Daniel Schechter brings another of Leonard’s novels to the big screen. It’s “Life of Crime,” based on Leonard’s novel “The Switch.”
“I did kind of a reckless thing, which was I took a book from my favorite writer ever – Elmore Leonard – off my bookshelf and decided I was just going to adapt it, not knowing who owned it and not knowing if anything would come of it,” Schechter said. “Worse comes to worse, it would be maybe an exercise or sample, and best case scenario, this would happen. My dream was that I get to make this with big stars and have it come out.”
Well, dreams can – and do – come true. And Schechter’s certainly did. Eight days after writing a draft, he sent it to Leonard’s representative. The three hit it off and, according to Schechter, “They said okay, kid, we’ll give you a year to put it together.”
In the process of Schechter putting it together, something else amazing happened.
“Somebody suggested Jennifer Aniston to me, and I had never even thought to dream that big, but I think she — and I know this now for a fact — she really wanted to start doing different things,” Schechter said. “I think you’ll see in the next two years she’s got about five movies coming out where’s she’s almost unrecognizable; it’s very different kind of stuff from what she’s done before.”
Before landing Aniston, Schechter, who’s also the screenwriter behind “Life of Crime,” managed to get Mos Def (now known as yasiin bey) and John Hawkes signed to the project. The two star as small-time crooks hoping to strike it big by extorting $1 million from a corrupt real estate developer played by Tim Robbins. Jennifer Aniston stars as his wife.
While watching Aniston in the role of Mickey Dawson, following up on Schechter’s comment above, I couldn’t help but notice how different this role was from any other role that she’s played before (at least any that I’m aware of). This role definitely stretched Aniston as an actress and gave her a wonderful opportunity to showcase more of her acting skills. Robbins was also a pleasure to watch as he alternated between (pretending to be) a faithful husband, a shrewd businessman and a sugar daddy with less backbone than someone his stature should have.
But after watching the movie, I couldn’t help but wonder why it wasn’t filmed in Michigan – especially since Leonard made his home in suburban Detroit – so I asked.
“To be perfectly honest, Connecticut offered us more money, and the movie was so tightly budgeted that literally every penny I could put on screen was crucial to creating the illusion of doing a 1970’s Elmore Leonard film,” Schechter answered. “It was airtight. And we just came to Michigan at a time when they just stopped giving a really juicy tax rebate, and it made it impossible.”
Hummm, are you taking note, Michigan Film Office? Because I’m sure it’s safe to say that the local film community – and Schechter – certainly hope so. In fact, Schechter told me that he’s looking forward to a future opportunity to film in the Detroit area.
“Nothing would please me more,” he said. “It truly broke my heart not to do it this time. It was a bummer. I wanted to, but I had to do the more responsible thing for my movie and for Elmore Leonard’s work to do a good adaptation of it. But, Michigan’s been really good to me. You know, they play my films at their festivals, they pay to go see them when they come out … and even though I don’t come from there, I feel a kinship there … so all the more reason I’d love to return and do something there, for sure.”
Sounds good. So, on behalf of all the local cast and crew, we’re looking forward to it.
But, make no mistake about it, filmed here or not, “Life of Crime” certainly gets the thumbs up from me. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and I’m sure you will, too. It’s yet another testament to the genius of Elmore Leonard, and as far as the man who adapted the book into a screenplay, you done good.
See you at the movies!
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