What Authors Can Learn From the Incredible Story Behind the Movie THE ELEPHANT MAN
Movies, like books, sometimes have humble beginnings.
Remember the movie The Elephant Man? It was a true story about a nineteenth century sideshow freak who was saved by a doctor portrayed in the movie by Anthony Hopkins.
THE ELEPHANT MAN, portrayed by the late John Hurt, continues to be a gold standard for artful cinematic creativity today. The movie is from Academy Award winning film producer Jonathan Sanger.
How did this movie come about? Was it an agent’s pitch? No.
Was it an award winning script? No.
Did experienced screenwriters create this masterpiece? No.
Was it adopted from a book? No.
Recently my firm Westwind Book Marketing arranged a book signing and special big screen showing of The Elephant Man at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood. Jonathan Sanger introduced the movie to several hundred people where he retold the incredible story of how this movie came about based on his new book: MAKING THE ELEPHANT MAN – A PRODUCER’S MEMOIR.
Where did the script come from?
His babysitter handed it to him to read! That’s right, his babysitter. Sanger took the script and said he’d read it and promptly set it aside… for about a year. Then one day he came back from a trip opened his desk drawer and there it was… staring at him like an obligation.
What did he do? He read it – and he loved it!
His book “Making the Elephant Man: A Producer’s Memoir” gives us an insider’s look at the creation of one of the first ever indie films and a box-office smash, as well as a peek into the early careers of movie greats David Lynch, Mel Brooks and Anthony Hopkins.
If you want to make your book into a movie then this book will help you understand the intricacies of the myriad aspects of making a film. Sanger takes his experience as the producer of THE ELEPHANT MAN and opens a powerful discussion on the evolution of cinema, from how he ‘discovered’ the script written by ‘unknowns’ Christopher DeVore and Eric Bergren finding “it was exactly the kind of story I would want to make, a historical biography about a wretched soul who had nonetheless lived an extraordinary life” – the true story of 19th century grossly deformed John Merrick, known as the Elephant Man working in a sideshow in London who was treated by a kind Dr. Treves.
“When I wrote this, I was teaching a course in independent film and using my experience with this film to teach,” says Sanger. “I realized that it would be great to get these stories down and put them in a book.” For every movie he makes, Sanger keeps a notebook about the crew, the schedules, what they ordered for lunch, and other details. He was able to tap into notes from 30 years ago that brought the whole process up fresh in his mind, including the strong emotions that gripped him upon first reading the script..
Brooklyn born Jonathan Sanger is a highly respected producer and director of major films, television series, and theatrical productions, having earned twenty Academy Award nominations, and winning three.
In 1976, Sanger moved to Los Angeles, where he worked for Lorimar Television on network television series The Blue Knight and Eight Is Enough. In 1978 he was Mel Brooks’ Assistant Director on High Anxiety, which led to a long professional association. For Brooks’ wife, Anne Bancroft’s feature directorial debut film Fatso, Sanger served as Associate Producer. During this period Sanger had acquired the rights to the script of The Elephant Man – his first production which led to a successful career in both producing and directing films – films such as Frances, Without Limits, Vanilla Sky, Flight of the Navigator, The Producers, and Code Name: Emerald.
The Bottom Line: Tap into your friends, family, extended network and don’t be bashful about getting your written work delivered to the right person. Make a list of ‘who you know’ and get to it!