Everett De Morier published “Thirty-Three Cecils” in 2015
It’s said that when Hollywood calls, you don’t hang up.
Dover’s Everett De Morier was surprised — and happy — to answer that call several months ago to learn his book, “Thirty-Three Cecils,” had been optioned by a Los Angeles-based film development company.
“Back when the book came out in 2015, I don’t think there was any hint of a movie deal,” De Morier said.
The novel, which won the 2015 London Books Festival prize for fiction, tells the story of two men, one a conman and another an unrepentant alcoholic, who go into business together and then are found murdered.
Told in non-linear fashion, the book is less of a whodunit than a character study; how and why the men died isn’t central to the story.
The novel caught the eye of Kevin Cooper of Hornpin Media, a Laguna Beach, California, film development company. In fact, Cooper formed Hornpin with the singular purpose of purchasing De Morier’s book.
“My daughter was using it in a volunteer program that teaches prison inmates writing skills,” Cooper said. “She brought the book home and I read it in one night.
“It’s an amazing story and is one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
After Cooper bought the rights, he contacted producer Brian Esquivel to develop the book into a film. Esquivel, whose production credits include the HBO series “Entourage” and the 2012 series “The Newsroom” is working with his company, Sunset River Productions, to assemble the financing and find the actors and crew for producing the film.
“He handed me the book, but I kind of put it down for a few days, but when I read it I was definitely onboard,” Esquivel said.
As a screenwriter, Esquivel is working with partner and novelist Robinson McGiffin as well as De Morier himself to turn the book into a filmable screenplay.
De Morier, who writes for his 543magazine.com website and also has created seven Christmas musicals, calls laboring over the screenplay one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
“I thought that with seven plays and a novel under my belt, I thought it would be really easy,” he said. “But it’s completely different.”
De Morier and Esquivel have worked on the screenplay for the past several months, trading drafts back and forth via email. So far there’ve been at least five drafts, and they’re still plugging away, he said.
A major difference between books and films is that in novels, a character’s actions and thoughts have to be spelled out, De Morier said. It’s not the same when preparing a screenplay.
“The trick is that you let the audience see the characters instead of telling them what’s going on,” he said. The screenwriter also must leave enough leeway so the director may allow his or her own vision to come to the fore.
Because “Cecils” jumps back and forth in time as the story unfolds, the script has added narration to help explain what’s taking place.
Other than that, the screenplay will be essentially the same as the novel although some subplots are being eliminated for brevity’s sake.
“We’ve kept the core meanings in there,” De Morier said. “It’s true to the book.”
Because it’s so early, Esquivel hasn’t settled on who might star as the ill-fated Riley Dutcher or his equally doomed conman buddy Walker Roe. He could use relatively unknown actors or possibly more prominent members of the Hollywood set.
“If there is a name star available and we have the budget, then that’s always a possibility,” he said. “It’s more about finding the right person meant to play the role.”
Although the story takes place in Pennsylvania and New York, that doesn’t necessarily exclude using Delaware as filming locales. However, the costs associated with location shooting can drive up a film’s budget, and all of that has to be coordinated with the availability of acting talent and production crews, Esquivel said.
“We’re going to shoot as practically as possible on location whenever possible,” he added. Most interior filming will take place in Los Angeles or Southern California.
De Morier said he might even try to emulate Alfred Hitchcock or Stan Lee in making a cameo appearance in the finished film.
“I’d love to be the guy who walks through a scene carrying a cup of coffee,” he said. “That adds a cool quality to it.”
As for his own compensation, De Morier said he can expect to receive about 1 percent of the film’s $4.5 million budget for having the book rights optioned, and will receive additional payments for writing the screenplay.
But he doesn’t expect to get rich.
“What I anticipate getting out of this is a really nice car.”