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Author Matt Coleman on Juggling a Movie Deal

The dream of every writer is to one day see their novel on the big screen, or even the little screen. But, how does that magic happen? Anticipating the release of my novel, Sinai Unhinged, I’ve certainly been curious about this topic so I picked the brains of two Pandamoon Publishing authors who are making that dream a reality, Matt Coleman and Todd Tavolazzi.

Next time, you’ll meet Todd Tavolazzi, a great author with a powerful story about the Syrian conflict so stay tuned! For today’s interview, I sat down with author extraordinaire and fellow Pandamooner, Matt Coleman. Matt was gracious enough to spend a good chunk of time answering my questions. Let’s see what he says.

For readers who are not familiar with you, please tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how your interest in becoming a writer evolved?

At the risk of sounding like I’m starting sharing time at a meeting … My name is Matt Coleman, and I write mysteries and comedy. I’ve written three books now. My third, A Rocky Divorce, comes out this fall, the first true combination of those two loves of mine. A detective comedy. My first book, Juggling Kittens, had elements of humor, but it was pretty dark, pretty Southern Noir. My second novel, Graffiti Creek, was pure thriller, a little more urban than the other two. I’ve placed some short fiction in a few places … Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Shotgun Honey, apt, and some others. I also write about books and pop culture for Book Riot and Pure Fandom. I would say that is the biggest way my writing has evolved, learning to write for publication, and what that means. It means more than just writing a book every couple years. I work on short fiction and write book reviews and short humorous pieces that I can find placement for between books.

Recently, Juggling Kittens, was optioned for a movie. This is fantastic news, Matt! Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write this particular story?

Juggling Kittens was and probably will always be the most autobiographical book I’ve ever written. It’s about a first year teacher who goes looking for a missing student. And, while the mystery is purely fictional, all the rest is true. The characters are real. The classroom stories are absolutely verbatim. I have since taken the central character, Ellis Mazer, and let him take on a life of his own, but the motivation was all from my own life. I think I needed to process my first year teaching, so I wrote about it in essay form. There were several essays, maybe ten or twelve. I eventually saw some connective tissue between them and started to play around with a story idea. One of those essays opens the book and gives it the title. About five more of them ended up in the book. The mystery came in around them and brought life to the character of Ellis Mazer, made him something based on me but separate from me.

Given how personal this story is, in what way, and when, did the idea of Juggling Kittens becoming a movie enter into your writing process?

I guess we all think about it all along. But, I did so much more with other things, like my second book, than I did this one. This one was so real that it wasn’t until the mystery plot really started to grab me that I began to think about it as a film. And when I did, if I’m being honest, I’ve always seen it more as a TV show. I can see it as this quirky little "Northern Exposure" type show with a mystery element to it. I’ve always seen it that way.

TV or movie, either would be a nice path. I’m sure many readers are wondering about the logistics of getting their novel into the hands of a producer. How did that occur for you?

I wish there was some secret I could share, but this is one of those things that is so out of the writer’s hands. Not that you can’t do things. I think you work to be ready for the opportunity. You work to network with the right people. But, for me, it just sort of came along. The book ended up in the hands of my cousin-in-law, Shane Taylor. He loved it, and he just so happens to be in the industry (he’s most known for playing the medic in Band of Brothers). It turns out that he has been looking for a project to direct. And he has wanted it to be something he could film in Arkansas. When he read the book, it was perfect for what he wanted to do. It had the blend of humor and darkness that he was looking for, and it’s set in Arkansas. He took it to some people he works with and got them on board. Then things sort of clicked into place. This took months, though, a long process.

What was it like when it finally came to the contract negotiation process?

It was all handled by Pandamoon (my publisher), to be honest. They kept me in the loop every step of the way, and nothing was done without my approval. But, luckily, I didn’t have to do any of the negotiations myself. I say luckily because the idea of a film would have made me a pushover. I would have caved for far less than we landed on. Most of the process is pretty easy, though. There are some industry standards that help move things along. Without getting into any specifics, the negotiations really hinged on one detail. There are aspects of the deal that sort of operate on a spectrum ranging between the author getting the most out of the deal and the producers making sure they will be able to get the movie made regardless of the level of investment they receive. It’s tough, because both sides are so understandable. In my experience, everyone seemed to truly want what was best for the work. We went back and forth via email for a while, then we finally jumped on a conference call. Hearing each other in person helped so much. You could hear it in all of our voices. No one was trying to screw anyone. We all love the book, and we all want to see the movie get made. If I had it to do over again, I think I would suggest we talk in person sooner.

Good to know, Matt. Where does your movie project stand at this point, and what are the next steps?

Shane and his partner, Paul Cotter, are working on the screenplay. So we are very early in the process. And, without jinxing it, I feel very confident this film gets made. Like I alluded to, the negotiation process hinged on everyone wanting to make sure we are in a position to see it made. And we got that done. So my next step is to sit back and wait. The next steps are all in the hands of Shane and Paul. They will flesh out script, and then they’ll shop it around. They have contacts who could become attached. Once some talent is attached and the screenplay is complete, they can approach investors to secure a budget. Then they load up and come down here to Arkansas and start shooting.

Speaking of talent, realistically, authors rarely have input into casting, but if you did, who would be among your dream cast?

This has always been so tough for me. Mainly because everyone I once thought of will be too old for the roles by the time it happens. I mean, I started writing this probably ten years ago now. It came out three years ago. That casting keeps changing and changing and changing. I also tend to think in terms of who might be interested. For example, I have always loved the thought of Tyler Labine (Sock from "Reaper") as The Drew. And he could still do it. I could also see him possibly having interest in playing a major role in a little indie film. For the Ellis Mazer role, Dylan O’Brien (from the show "Teen Wolf") has come to mind. He is far too good looking, but he could do a wonderful job. However, he is probably getting too big to be interested after Maze Runner.

Great suggestions—fingers crossed! Will there be a sequel to this novel? What projects are you working on that readers can look forward to in the future?

I have a couple of Ellis Mazer (and The Drew) short stories coming out in magazines later this year. And I am working on a sequel. Also, my next novel, A Rocky Divorce, takes place in the same fictional universe occupied by Ellis. There are crossover characters people should begin to recognize in the stories and the second Ellis Mazer book.

Love the continuity! Based upon your experience, what advice would you suggest to other writers who dream of a movie deal?

I think networking is the best advice I can give. Meet people and don’t be a dick. The more people you’re nice to will give you that many more opportunities for something to work out. You never know which of these people will be the one to help you get a foot in the door. And do things outside your comfort zone. I wrote for three years for a comedy podcast. It was my first experience with sketch comedy and it was scary as hell. But I still stay in touch with all of those people. We go on retreats together every two years. And I just co-wrote a play with the friend who got me into that (longtime best friend), which is being produced in Dallas as we speak. Another member of our group is getting steady work in Hollywood right now. None of that connects to my movie deal, but these are all connections that could help me with something at some point. People who know how to write a screenplay, for example. Or people with contacts in the film industry. Nothing is a guarantee, but it all helps. Just staying active with people you enjoy working with who could help lift you up. Then don’t forget to lift others up when you get the chance.

How can readers find you?

The best way to keep up with me is through Twitter @coleman_matt or at my website:

And, is there anything else you would like to add?

This was fun. I think these conversations are critical to keeping us all going. I made the joke about starting a meeting in the first question, but that’s really it, isn’t it? We share these things not because we need to share or because it helps us in any real way. We share because it lifts other writers up. It spreads hope. If this idiot (me) can do it … maybe I can, too! The best thing about writing is that we are not competitive people (for the most part). There’s room for all the books. And rising tides lift all boats. When I rise, you rise; and when you rise, I rise again. And so on and so on. It’s a wonderful community to be a part of.

Matt, this was great! I agree with your thoughts about lifting each other up. The power of hope cannot be overstated. I’ve learned so much about the importance of connections and relationships and just simply putting yourself, and your work, out there. Thank you so much for your time and I wish you the best of luck! Can’t wait to see Juggling Kittens on the big screen!

Don’t forget to look for my next blog post to see how Todd Tavolazzi’s landed his movie deal for Looking Into the Sun. Two different novels. Two different paths. Two identical outcomes.

Joanna Evans

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