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Faulkner stories optioned with HBO

December 1, 2011

- Reprinted from The Oxford Eagle

Oxford literary great William Faulkner’s work may no longer lay dying on the shelves.

Select Faulkner novels and short stories are just a couple years away from making it to the big screen, as a new, first-look option with producer David Milch was announced Wednesday. 

The result of two years of discussion after the Faulkner Conference in 2010 led to the partnership with Milch and the Faulkner Literary Estate.

At the Conference, Lee Caplin, executor of the William Faulkner Literary Estate and CEO of Picture Entertainment Corp., spoke about developing Faulkner films and thereby met Olivia Milch, the daughter of David. 

“It developed right there in Oxford in a fortuitous meeting of Livvy and Mr. Caplin,” David Milch said by phone on Wednesday. 

Both daughter and father were fans of Faulkner, with David Milch teaching at Yale alongside Faulkner scholars and Olivia doing an adaptation of “Light in August” as her bachelor and master’s thesis at Yale. 

“I think I’m probably preaching to the choir, but he is the decisive voice in American Literature in the 20th century and I’ve always felt that if I got lucky enough that I’d like to take a swing at adapting several of his works,” David Milch said. 

Caplin said he is happy to see the work move forward, not only because he has been trying to get the movies made, but the renewed interest will also tie back into book sales and attract others to Faulkner.

“Obviously this is something I have been trying to do for many years,” Caplin said. “I wish Mr. Faulkner was alive to see this happen.”

Caplin grew up next door to Faulkner when he moved to Virginia and Caplin became executor of the estate after Faulkner’s daughter, Jill, passed away. Caplin has visited Oxford numerous times including the film festival, Faulkner Conference and location scouting visits for potential Faulkner films.

Filming in Mississippi is a serious possibility and production could begin as early as next year, with a completed film within two years. 

“These books are written for Mississippi and it is our intention whenever possible to film in Mississippi,” Caplin said. “For financial reasons we may do some of the movies elsewhere, but I have a commitment to the people in Mississippi and I would like to see these works made there.” 

Local film commissioner Mary Kathryn Herrington said that the news is exciting for Mississippi. 

“Any time people are exposed to William Faulkner in some way it highlights Oxford,” Herrington said. “If they were looking at Mississippi as a film location, the Oxford CVB is prepared to help them in any way we can.”   

While David Milch has not yet been to Oxford, he calls it the country of his imagination and looks forward to visiting early in 2012. 

Oxford resident Olivia Milch said she is honored to be part of an opportunity to help bring Faulkner’s work to the screen. 

“I am honored to have the opportunity to be of service to Faulkner’s work.  I am so thankful for the support of the Oxford community and grateful to call Oxford my home,” Olivia Milch said. 

David Milch’s Redboard Productions entered into a new multi-year exclusive television deal with HBO, which will cover his upcoming series “Luck,” starring Dustin Hoffman and future Faulkner works. 

The Faulkner deal covers 19 novels and 125 short stories, as well as other works with the exception of those contracted with other parties.

Currently only “As I Lay Dying” is optioned by James Franco. The film was set to begin filming in 2011 or 2012 in Lafayette County, but is currently still in pre-production and may not be developed anytime soon. 

“James and I have been working for over six years and we talked to David (Milch) about having that be one of the things we do,” Caplin said. “It is not left behind at all.”

Both David Milch and Caplin will act as executive producers of the projects, with Milch serving as the executive writer in charge of adapting the works. The agreement gives HBO an exclusive first opportunity to finance, produce and distribute the projects as movies, mini-series and series. Olivia Milch will serve as coordinating producer on the projects.

As to which production may move forward, both David Milch and Caplin said it is too early to tell but that they want to start soon. 

“We are probably a year out before beginning production,” Milch said. “The wheels could be turning though and it is not unrealistic to hope within two years we could have a film made.”

Milch has a long standing history in the television world, first writing shows such as “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue” before creating the HBO award-winning series “Deadwood.” He is currently developing a feature film, “Heavy Rain” for Warner Brothers. 

“We are especially pleased to continue our long-standing relationship with one of the industry’s most talented contemporary writers,” Michael Lombardo, president, HBO Programming, said in a press release. “We know that whatever David brings to the HBO table will be exciting and innovative.”

Caplin said the enormous opportunity to work with HBO means that Faulkner will be in the right hands.

“HBO has taken the lead internationally in terms of doing TV the way people envisioned,” Caplin said. “They have the choice as doing something as a movie or doing something like Mildred Pierce, which with works like “Light in August” is something we are going to do. It cannot be a single movie.” 

But not everything may eventually be produced. 

“Mr. Faulkner told me when I was a little boy that not everything I write is a movie,” Caplin said. “Some things are movie-like and others are much more challenging.” 

Caplin said among those in consideration for the near future are “Intruder in the Dust” and “Wild Palms,” as well as “Light in August.” 

Caplin said the people at HBO are extremely literate, and while it is hard to find commercial venues interested in more challenging works, that HBO is the venue for such a thing. 

As for which project Milch may most look forward to, his favorite book is “Absalom, Absalom,” which he calls an “embarrassment of riches.”

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