Monday, December 15, 2014

Nicholas Meyer's mind in chains

This interview with Houdini miniseries screenwriter Nicholas Meyer appeared on Collider back in October. The website was one of several invited to a special Houdini Seance press event with the screenwriter at The Magic Castle. It gives insight into why Meyer took the job (which had everything to do with his father's book, Houdini: A Mind in Chains), and also why he never became involved in any of the Ray Stark Houdini projects. Below is an excerpt:

COLLIDER: With this project you were adapting your father’s biography on Houdini. So, I have to ask, how was that experience?

MEYER: First of all it was a thrill, also somewhat daunting to adapt, or at least translate in some way, my dad’s book. The saddest part of this for everyone in his family is that he died in 1988, and the book – for which he had high hopes – was not a commercial success. And I think it’s a very good book and a penetrating study. The whole subject of biography has changed in the twentieth century. Up til then, Herodotus or Plutarch something could make a laundry list of what someone did. But post-Freud we want to know why he or she did it. So that opens up a whole new avenue of inquiry, and as my dad’s book said there are many book that will tell you about Harry Houdini, there are many books that will tell you what he did, and some will tell you how he did it, but I think that my dad’s book was the only one that got interested in the subject of why.

COLLIDER: So did they approach you with your dad’s book to get you interested in doing this project? 
MEYER: No my partner and close friend Gerry Abrams, who produced this movie, sold this to the history channel and when they asked who should write it, he said my name not knowing. When we spoke I said “This is a real coincidence because my dad wrote a book about the life of Houdini, you option the book and I’ll do the movie.” They’ve been trying to make a Houdini movie for years. Ray Stark tried for years to get one made and I used to have these conversations with him. I’d say “Option my dad’s book, and we’ll be in business.” For whatever the fifteen hundred bucks or whatever, but he couldn’t be bothered.

COLLIDER: Did you start on this when it was possibly a movie? 
MEYER: I only came to grips with it when they said a two night event. And in my mind and in the script it was called “Becoming Houdini” and “Being Houdini” but they didn’t use the two titles. Though the division is the same.

COLLIDER: In adapting your father’s material, did you feel closer to him? How much did you re-read the book? 
MEYER: I certainly re-read the book, I hadn’t read it in years. It was a bittersweet experience knowing that this was happening and he wasn’t there to see it. I’ve had a lot of conversations about it with my mother and my sisters. It’s strange, to be honest.

While this is the best Meyer interview I've read, it still doesn't answer the question of how The Secert Life of Houdini by William Kalush and Larry Slomon factored into his creation of his screenplay. The Houdini miniseries is clearly adapted from that book, much more so than Houdini A Mind in Chains. Still a mystery.

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