Producer Doug Wick and Columbia Pictures wrapped a deal late Thursday night for the movie rights to Susanna Kaysen’s biographical memoir “Girl Interrupted” following intense bidding in Hollywood for the edgy story about the author’s two-year stay at a mental institution.
The book deal, engineered through Wick’s Red Wagon Prods.’ discretionary fund , pays out an estimated $ 100,000 option against $ 300,000 if the project is filmed. Colpix senior veepee of publicity and promotion Mark Gill had no comment on the deal.
Set in 1967-69, “Girl Interrupted” is Kaysen’s recollection of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. — a private mental institution where she lived from age 17 through 19.
Kaysen was admitted for borderline personality disorder after a short session with a psychiatrist ended with him telling her, “You need a rest.” She was released after accepting a marriage proposal from one of numerous beaus.
Named after the Vermeer painting “Girl Interrupted at Her Music,” the work was described by Susan Cheever in the June 20 New York Times Book Review as a “triumphantly funny story” about several young, educated women who are interrupted in their lives and admitted to McLean for being non-conformists, borderline personalities … loonies.
Wick said the power of “Girl Interrupted” is in its study of character, much like Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
The work blurs the lines of sanity and craziness among the actions of the patients, nurses and authorities, and it does so against a 1960s backdrop. In Hollywood, the property also draws comparisons to Walt Disney Studios’ “Dead Poets Society.”
“Once something works this powerfully, our only responsibility is to do a great job capturing it and dramatizing it in a movie,” Wick said. “This is not like the disease-of-the-week (type of picture); She’s captured something much deeper. Essentially, she’s captured a delicate and effective microcosm of the world that dramatize themes of non-conformity and survival in a way that any person can understand…. The book is not about an overt madness.”
Lisa Tornell will be the executive supervising “Girl Interrupted” for Red Wagon.
Wick said he has already received inquiries for “Girl Interrupted” from two A-list actresses and one director — none of whom could be confirmed late Friday.
He said the deal for “Girl Interrupted” calls for Kaysen to be an active consultant and associate producer on the movie project. A screenwriter could be assigned to adapt the property within days.
Columbia Pictures executive veepee of production Amy Pascal partnered with Wick on the “Girl Interrupted” acquisition, while studio senior veepee of legal affairs Darrell Walker negotiated the deal with Wick for Red Wagon.
Brokered by New York-based literary agent Jonathan Matson at the Harold Matson Agency, the sale of “Girl Interrupted” follows a groundswell of public interest in the Turtle Bay Book/Random House title and its author. Kaysen was a recent guest on “Good Morning America.” The book is in its fourth printing.
Kaysen, 44, started writing “Girl Interrupted” five years ago while living in the Faeroe Islands with her husband at the time. She told New York Times writer Nancy Sharkey, “I was thinking a lot about the condition of being foreign, dropped into an alien culture, and it stimulated that brain pattern. I kept thinking about McLean.”
The acquisition is the first book purchased by Columbia Pictures for Red Wagon, which is winding down its three-year deal at the studio. For Colpix, Red Wagon is currently producing director Mike Nichols’ “Wolf,” which stars Michelle Pfeiffer and Jack Nicholson, and has in development a screenplay from “Flatliner” screenwriter Peter Filardi titled “The Craft” and screenwriter Dana Stevens’ thriller “Lost at Sea.”