Dustin Lance Black isn’t letting the rough-and-tumble experience he had with his directorial debut “Virginia” deter him from taking charge of any further films — in fact, he’s already got two in the works.
The first is an adaptation of the young adult novel “The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight,” which Black discovered courtesy of his “Milk” producer Bruna Papandrea. “We had a meeting at the Soho House, and she handed it to me,” he told The Playlist. “I was like, ‘Why are you handing me this?’ And she said, ‘Really? If you put it down tonight when you’re reading it, you never have to call me again.'”
Calling her on her bluff, Black started to read the book in bed that night, and was surprised to find himself engrossed in the story of seventeen-year-old Hadley, who meets a British boy named Oliver at JFK while en route to her father’s second wedding in London. While on the flight, they distract each other from their impending destinations and start to fall in love. “I’m going, ‘Oh my God, is he ever going to kiss her?'” Black laughed. “I couldn’t wait to get to the end. It needs a lot of work to come to the screen — and I’m going to do that work — but I think it could be a ‘When Harry Met Sally…‘ for this younger, love-skeptical generation.” Black already has a few actors in mind to play Hadley and Oliver, but he didn’t want to say who just yet, “because I don’t want to ruin it.”
Another film Black plans to direct is an adaptation of the Dark Horse comic, “3 Story: The Secret History of the Giant Man,” for Warner Bros. Since the story is bigger — literally — Black has been seeking advice from other directors so he can handle the special effects and physical elements that will be required to bring to life Craig Pressgang, whose medical condition makes him keep growing, to the despair of the women who love him. “I went and talked to Roland Emmerich about CGI, and Bryan Singer walked me through his process on ‘Jack and the Giant Killer,’ how the stunts were done,” Black said. “It’s been exciting to educate myself.”
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Black’s brought on producer Laurence Mark (“I, Robot,” “Dreamgirls“) to help him handle some of the more whimsical aspects of the story. “I wanted to bring in a producer who’s done a big film like that, successfully,” Black said. “It’s all a learning process for me, so I need the right team to support the idea.”
Both of those films are based on fictional properties, which is out of Black’s usual comfort zone of late, since he tends to adapt true stories. “When I’m working on a film with another director, I love being in that pigeonhole,” he said. The only problem he has with real-life stories is that he gets “buried in the research,” because he’ll go to great lengths to get to know any of the people involved and hear their firsthand accounts. “I want to make it dramatic, but I also want to get it right, as right as possible,” he said. “Clearly, there’s going to be some fiction with the compression, and I’ve taken the truth and bent it far enough so that it fits the film, but at a certain point, you’re like, ‘Did I do it? I don’t know.'”
That’s why he prefers in those scenarios to have someone else direct the film, “a Gus Van Sant, or a Clint Eastwood, or a Ron Howard,” to give it some “balance and objectivity.” “They can come in and be like, ‘Could you bend it a little more here, or would it snap?’ And I can say, ‘That will snap it, but I can bend it here,'” Black said of his screenwriting process. “I need a partner, a great partnership. That’s what I learned most about directing on my own. You’ve got to build a family, a filmmaking family.”
Black’s teamed up with Howard for “Under the Banner of Heaven,” based on Jon Krakauer‘s book about a Mormon fundamentalist double murder. In 1984, brothers Dan and Ron Lafferty — one of whom had a “revelation from God” — killed the wife and infant daughter of one of their other brothers, Allen, because they claimed God required it. (Allen’s wife Brenda had been against the School of Prophets practice of polygamy, and had been urging their wives to resist, causing Don’s wife to seek a divorce.) “That’s our baby,” Black said of the project with Howard. “I’m spending all my time on that right now.”
The script by Black that is set for shooting, however, will be “The Barefoot Bandit,” which David Gordon Green was slated to direct but is now getting a new director. (“I’m not going to say who it is until the deal is done, but it’s someone exciting,” Black teased). The story concerns the real-life case of Colton Harris-Moore, who started stealing at the age of eight, and as a teenager was accused of committing some 100 thefts in Washington, Idaho, and Canada, swiping bikes, cars, speedboats, and small aircraft. In the Pacific Northwest, he became a folk hero of sorts — he even has a fanclub — for stealing from the rich, even though he stole from the not-so-rich as well.
“I didn’t start writing that one until he was caught,” Black said. “I was researching it, and I was interested in it, but I didn’t know him yet. I thought, ‘What if he ends up not being the kid I think he might be? What if he’s actually a sociopath? Or dangerous? How on earth am I going to write this thing then?'”
Harris-Moore’s justification for stealing was that he had an abusive father who walked out on the family, and that his alcoholic mother raised him in the woods in a mobile home, using her disability checks on beer and cigarettes instead of food. So the teenager would steal his food from other people’s homes or stores, and found a way to steal survival gear. He allegedly stole someone’s credit card information to buy night vision goggles and bear mace in one incident. His crimes escalated to stealing transportation to break into homes on nearby islands, and snagging an assault rifle from a deputy’s car, which made police consider him “armed and dangerous.”
Once Harris-Moore was captured, Black had access to him in prison, got to know him, and was satisfied. “When you meet him, you get it,” the screenwriter said. “You understand what he was up against, and that he was just surviving in the extreme, and it just got more extreme because he’s goddamn brilliant. He’s so smart.” Plus, more importantly, “He didn’t hurt anybody,” Black said. “I would have backed out of the project if he had.
Black said the ending of the story, Harris-Moore’s capture and sentencing — true to life — will be “cinematic and moving.” “The judge who sentenced him started out by saying, ‘This is a story of the triumph of the human spirit,'” Black said, “And I agree. I get tearful just talking about him.”
Other than that, Black has one more “big” project for Universal in the works that he can’t reveal just yet, but that’s it for now. “I think that’s enough!” he laughed.
“Virginia” is now playing limited release.