Novelist Kim Wozencraft (“Rush”) first met writer-producer Richard Stratton (“Slam”) at a February 1991 reading of the PEN prison-writing award winners that was hosted by Fielding Dawson. “I was a former marijuana smuggler and Kim was a former undercover narcotics agent. It was a match made in federal court,” quips Stratton.
After a whirlwind courtship, Wozencraft and Stratton married eight months later at the Friends Meeting House in lower Manhattan. The couple moved to upstate New York, where they have spent the past seven years raising two sons — Maxwell, 6, and Dashiell, 4 — and supporting each other’s efforts to use their experiences with drugs and prison as the inspiration for books, screenplays and films.
The message underlying their cottage industry is that the only way to solve drug addiction in America is through treatment, not through incarceration. But rather than preach, both Wozencraft and Stratton tell stories to get their point across.
Wozencraft and Stratton’s first joint effort was Prison Life magazine, which they published from 1993 to 1996 with money from private investors and Wozencraft’s profits from “Rush.”
Stratton describes the magazine as the “voice of the convict. We were trying to give an insider’s view of the incarceration boom of the 1980s.”
Before Prison Life folded following disagreements with its investors, the magazine caught the notice of HBO senior vice president Sheila Nevins, who commissioned a series of prison documentaries on which Stratton served as creative consultant.
Stratton describes Nevins as a mentor and credits her for getting him hired as a technical adviser on “Oz,” HBO’s TV series about life behind bars, and as a creative consultant on “The Execution Machine: Texas Death Row” and the upcoming “Thug Life: Locked Down in D.C.”
When she first met Stratton, Wozencraft was already a successful author. Published in 1990, her first book “Rush” became an international bestseller. Based on Wozencraft’s real-life story, “Rush” followed the life of an undercover narcotics officer who becomes addicted to cocaine and is arrested. Jennifer Jason Leigh starred in Lili Fini Zanuck’s screen adaptation of “Rush,” which was scripted by Pete Dexter.
Shortly after they began dating, Wozencraft and Stratton went to see an underground film called “Blowback,” directed by Mark Levin. They met Levin by chance a few months later following a panel discussion at Gotham’s Town Hall that featured all Oliver Stone, Norman Mailer and others.
The meeting would prove to be fateful. Stratton and Levin would go on to collaborate on several documentaries about prisons, capital punishment and drugs before joining forces on the feature “Slam,” which Trimark opened on Oct. 9 in New York.
Directed by Levin, “Slam” tells the story of a small-time drug dealer (Saul Williams) who find his voice as a street poet after being sent to jail, where he meets a teacher (Sonja Sohn).
“Slam” has won a slew of awards on the festival circuit, including the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Camera d’Or for best first film in Cannes. Williams and Sohn also brought home the Perry Ellis Breakthrough Award at the Independent Feature Project’s Gotham Awards in September.
For her latest book, “The Catch,” Wozencraft, who has a master’s degree in fine arts from Columbia, says she took her present-day family and imagined what life would be like if Stratton were still smuggling drugs. The result, according to the cover notes, is the story of “a woman desperate to keep her family together and of the man she loves, whose addiction to danger threatens their very existence.”
At Offline, where Wozencraft and Stratton are both senior vice presidents of creative affairs, the couple is jointly developing a project about girls’ double-Dutch jump roping called “Jump.”
Before creating characters and writing a script, Wozencraft and Stratton immerse themselves in the world in which their film will be set. “We come out of documentaries so we develop films that way. We do research like journalists before outlining scenes and writing a script,” Stratton says.
To prepare for “Jump,” Wozencraft has been hanging around with a group of Brooklyn girls known as “Jumpers in Command.” Members of the team, which has performed at Madison Square Garden, have helped teach Wozencraft how to turn one of two ropes used in double-Dutch. “I still want to learn how to jump,” she says. Another team effort by Wozencraft and Stratton is a companion book to “Slam.” Published by Grove Atlantic, the book consists of the film’s screenplay, as well as the filmmaker’s journals while they were working on the project.