April 28th, 2010 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Portland Novelist Patrick DeWitt Hits Big Time with First Movie

Patrick DeWitt

WW has learned that Portland writer Patrick DeWitt—whose first novel, Ablutions, was published by Houghton Mifflin last year to glowing reviews—has written a script for a movie slated to include John C. Reilly.

DeWitt's dark teenage screenplay, Terri, is in pre-production to shoot this summer in Los Angeles, with Momma's Man filmmaker Azazel Jacobs directing. Reilly, the Paul Thomas Anderson ensemble actor probably best known for comedy turns in movies like Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, will is in talks to play "a sympathetic vice-principal" at the hero's middle school. Casting for the teenage roles in taking place in L.A., and the movie begins shooting in July.

We spoke to DeWitt earlier today. He confirmed the status of the project, and answered a few questions.

WW: How did you end up working on this project? Was John C. Reilly involved from the start? Was Aza Jacobs always attached?

Patrick DeWitt: Yes, it started with Azazel. He and I are friends from when I was living in Los Angeles. After I moved to Washington we started sharing drafts of whatever we were working on. I sent him a long story, something that never came together for me in the fiction format, but which he reacted to strongly, to the degree that he wanted to make a film of it. He started putting together a team of producers, and once he found us a bit of funding, we went to work on the script.

Through his earlier films he had met John C. Reilly's wife, producer Alison Dickey. Aza had wanted to work with Alison for a long time, and also thought there was a great role for John in Terri. Happily, that all came together.

What's the movie about? I know it's a high-school comedy, but not much more.

It's actually middle school. And though there's no shortage of levity, to me there's too much sadness and weirdness in the story to call Terri a comedy. Aza's father read the script and called it an agony. I think it's probably somewhere between the two. It's about an abnormally large (and large-breasted) fourteen year old boy, Terri, living with his uncle, who due to age and illness is basically disappearing. Terri is friendless, an easy target for bullies, but in spite of all this he's a totally pure person, guileless and devoid of cynicism, unusually present for someone his age. The film follows him as he searches for camaraderie, first in a sympathetic vice-principal, then in two similarly troubled students. In a larger sense, it's about an adolescent's reconciliation of his mind and body, when the mind is graceful, and the body is anything but.

What stage of the production process is Terri in?

They start shooting in two months. Right now they're looking at locations and casting the kids. Aza's been sending me the auditions. I could never work in casting. I find myself rooting for every actor. Life is so sheer for young people. Everything is life or death for them, you know?
 
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