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Jess Walter's 'The Zero' looks to make the math work

May 27, 2010 |  1:22 pm

EXCLUSIVE: It's never easy to turn an elliptical novel, no matter how funny, popular or well done, into watchable cinema (or a movie at all -- just ask the many who've tried to make "A Confederacy of Dunces").

ZerBut there's new traction for "The Zero," the surrealist post-9/11 satire from the cult novelist Jess Walter.

The start-up financier-producer LLeju Productions, which was behind the recently released Liam Neeson supernatural thriller "After.Life," has picked up "The Zero" in turnaround from Warner Bros., and the company is serious about making the movie. Principal Bill Perkins told us in Cannes that he was set to get the new draft from writer Brandon Boyce (who also wrote the war-criminal melodrama "Apt Pupil" for Bryan Singer), and if all looked good on the script, LLeju was to put the movie into production later this year. Derrick Borte, who's coming off another contemporary satire in "The Joneses," is set to direct. (Speaking of Cannes, apologies for the light posting over the last few days as we made our way back from said festival.)

"The Zero" is about a policeman named Brian Remy who, suffering from head trauma in the wake of 9/11, leads tours of ground zero while also beginning a Kafkaesque search for a mysterious character named March Selios. Sept. 11 is never mentioned specifically, but it's clear what Walter is referencing, and in addition to a general tone of subversive and oddball wit, Walter's book weighs in with some sly commentary about the marketing of tragedy.

It's not just Walter's online fan base that took to the novel, either -- the National Book Awards nominated it for its fiction prize back in 2006.

Of course, since so much of the novel's strength depends on tone, and the story is interior and intentionally disorienting, "The Zero" isn't the easiest script to crack. Boyce juggled some dark elements nicely in "Apt Pupil," but when a story and comedy are conceptual, not situational, it's not easy for any writer to pull off, at least any writer not named Charlie Kaufman.

Perkins, who made his fortune as an energy trader, has the financing to get this going right away. He gives the sense of someone who just wants to get some movies made without worrying too much about where every dollar is going. His basic goal was to break even, he said -- he'd already made his millions, so he' wasn't looking to make more in the movie business. That attitude could be a big help when deciding whether to put down the coin for a film based on a Jess Walter novel. Now it's just a matter of making a good movie.

-- Steven Zeitchik

twitter.com/ZeitchikLAT


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That's great news for Mr. Walter and fans of his writing. I think the style of "The Zero" will make a great movie; it's unique voice is very adaptable to the screen (with the right writer). The analogy to Charlie Kaufman is fitting. His most recent book, "The Financial Lives of the Poets" http://jeffbunch.com/2009/09/18/new-york-times-inlander-profile-jess-walter-and-his-new-book-the-financial-lives-of-the-poets/ would also make a great movie. Let's hope Mr. Walter's "Citizen Vince" also gets produced.


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