From paper to film

A Reno writer’s fiction becomes an indie flick in the Big Apple

Writer James Iredell lurks in a Reno alley.

Writer James Iredell lurks in a Reno alley.

Photo By David Robert

Writers are, in a way, very powerful indeed.
They write the script for the reality film.
Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold
a million pairs of Levi’s to both sexes.
—Allen Ginsberg

I’ve wondered what it might be like to write something that some other person read and wanted to make into a movie. Seems like it’d be kind of flattering to have concocted the kind of words that another person, maybe a complete stranger, maybe Spielberg or maybe, say, a film student at Columbia University in New York, would deem interesting and worthy. But then, it’d be kind of scary, too—your literary baby as a bastard child in the hands of another artist, who’d mold it into another shape for a more visual and auditory medium.

After selling the film rights to his short story, “Property of the Church,” Reno poet and author James Iredell, 25, knows how it feels to have your words morphed into images and scenes on the screen.

“It’s kind of like reading the book first, then seeing the movie and saying, ‘Oh, the book is so much better.’ But that sounds kind of vain since I wrote the story,” he says. “Still. Seeing the characters you created and the story you wrote up on the screen—and seeing people watching it—that’s a neat feeling.”

Iredell, a Pushcart Prize nominee who’s seen 26 of his essays, poems and short fiction works published in various national and international journals and anthologies, wrote “Property of the Church” based on some experiences he had as a child growing up near Castroville, Calif.

The story’s adolescent protagonist, Larry, is a middle-class gringo growing up with the children of migrant field workers and trying to fit into the social (gangs) and spiritual (Catholics) milieu of the time.

“We walked the streets and flashed our colors and signs and got into fights, but it wouldn’t become serious for a few years. … For them, it was OK to kick somebody’s ass if they weren’t on church property. Church property was neutral ground. Enemies were safe there.”

On Kerouac

Iredell and I both taught freshman English composition at the University of Nevada, Reno, this semester. In the same room. His class ended 10 minutes before my class began. I’ve seen him use the works of the Beat poets with his classes. That’s not surprising, since he was lured into the writing world by a combination of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and an intro creative writing class he took as an undergraduate political science major.

"[Instructor] Gailmarie Pahmeier told me I was a good writer, and Kerouac was cool,” Iredell says. “I’d been taking English classes to boost my GPA, and I was considering it as a minor. Then I said, ‘I’m having so much fun doing this, I might as well keep doing it.’ So I made English a second major.”

Iredell was hesitant, at first, about selling the film rights for his story, which had been published at an online literary zine, But he and filmmaker Dara Albanese, a screenwriter and post-graduate student at Columbia University, were able to collaborate on many aspects of the film.

“Her other films have a kind of religious theme,” Iredell says. “When she read my story, it was right up her alley. She said she couldn’t get it out of her head.”

He flew to New York during the screenplay adaptation process last fall, and then flew back for some of the shooting.

In April, he flew back again—this time for the premiere of his story-turned-film at the Columbia University Film Festival. The story was changed, but it was still short—less than 15 minutes. The Castroville setting was now New York City. A new opening scene features gringo Larry applying a temporary tattoo. Iredell appreciated the work of Albanese, her attention to details like costuming and dialogue.

“She put in many subtle touches, magical things,” Iredell says.

Leaving Reno

These days, Iredell’s into the transcendental poets and grading many, many freshman English compositions. But not for long. Iredell receives his master’s degree in literature and the environment from UNR’s English Department this month. Plans for the future aren’t certain, but whether he pursues a Ph.D. or M.F.A. in English at another university—or takes a teaching job at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Iredell says he’s committed to his craft. "I just want to have time to write and get some more stuff published."