Jazzed About the Big Screen
It's been nearly seven years since Donald Miller sat down to write the spiritually evocative and personally revealing Blue Like Jazz. Since it was published in 2003, the book's popularity has spread like wildfire, selling more than a million copies.
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Now it's going to be a movie.
Miller has joined forces with Christian music icon-turned-movie director Steve Taylor and co-writer Ben Pearson to create a big-screen version of Blue Like Jazz. The three creatives recently completed the screenplay and will begin a six-week film shoot in mid-May on the campus of Reed College in Portland, Oregon. With Taylor at the helm, the indie film has modest budget—by Hollywood standards.
Taylor, whose last movie project, The Second Chance, starring Michael W. Smith, was a hit with Christian audiences, hopes to release Blue Like Jazz in the first half of 2009.
CT Movies recently caught up with Taylor and Miller in the final pre-production days before shooting begins.
How did this idea come about?
Steve Taylor: A friend gave me the book at Christmas 2004, and then Don came to Nashville for a book reading in early 2005 and we met there. I loved the book. Particularly the confession booth scene was really moving. I thought, "I'm not sure what else this movie's going to be like, but I want to make a movie with that scene in it." I didn't know that you could make a movie about a Christian writer in his early 30s who lives off-campus and audits classes. I thought this needed to be about a 20-something-year-old who lives this experience, and Don was pretty much on board from the very beginning. He's very movie-savvy and didn't have any illusions that the book was an easy adaptation. He knew that it would take some work.
Donald Miller: I'd already been approached by some people about making a film and wasn't interested. I just didn't know how you'd take a book of topical essays and turn it into a story arc, a film. But Steve helped me understand that we would be writing a story using the characters that would have the feel of the book. The essence of the ideas communicated in the book would come through in a narrative form, and that would be our definition of truth. That helped me say, "That's not only doable, but it would be a blast to take these characters and flesh out a fictional version of their lives, dealing with the issues that the book deals with."
So you began the process of collaborating on a screenplay. How did that work?
Taylor: Don would come out to Nashville for a few days, and then we'd go out to Portland. We went back and forth, trying to work out the ideas; I even got Don to take a three-day screenwriting class. It was a blast; we spent so much time laughing. We had a big board and started putting ideas up and started talking about what parts of the book people would be angry about if they weren't in the movie. We came up with a pretty short list, but we may all be totally deluded about that. The thing we all felt was that when you finish the book Blue Like Jazz, it evokes a certain feeling, and we just wanted people to leave the theater with that same feeling.
Miller: I guess it was about a year process from start to finish. We would meet for a week and have very intensive sessions. We'd wake up in the same house and start working, and go to bed very late. I don't think we even typed a single page of dialogue for probably the first six months. It was all, "What happens next" and "what happens next" and "if we go back and change this scene, we get more drama here." That process was a blast. Then we started writing the dialogue, which kind of writes itself once you know what's happening in each scene.