Got a treat for you kiddos today. You may have seen that charming It’s Kind of a Funny Story movie trailer they’ve been showing in front of films these day.
Anyway, this film is based on a teen novel by Ned Vizzini. And Mr. Vizzini, believe it or not, once spoke on a Children’s Literary Salon panel in my library a year or so ago. Recently I spoke with him about how his book become a movie, and since there’s a chapter in my upcoming Candlewick book about author cameos in screen adaptations I asked if Mr. Vizzini had one of his own. He shared with me this story, and it’s just so darn good that I had to present it to you here today with his permission. This is pretty cool, folks. From Ned:
“When word got out that my book It’s Kind of a Funny Story was being turned into a film, people asked me, “Will you have a cameo?” This struck everybody as a good idea, but it worried me — ideally, I don’t want anyone to come to my books with a preconceived notion of what I look like. Picture this: a reader familiar with my work drags her/his friends to the opening night of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the film based on my novel. In the middle of the film, my dumbass face appears. The reader recognizes me and grabs her/his friends: “That’s the author!” The friends (who couldn’t care less about me) think: “So this is the doofy white guy responsible for this stuff…” Now, what if these friends are Czech? Chilean? Kiwi? What if they’re 62? 17? 45? I’m a 29-year-old Italian-WASP from Brooklyn; it’s very specific. By staying hidden, I increase my chances of a reader empathizing with my characters without prejudging me. For this reason, I took a pass on the whole film cameo thing. However, when I saw a screening of It’s Kind of a Funny Story, I was pleasantly surprised to see that in place of me, one of my books has a cameo. My second book and first novel Be More Chill (2004) is featured in a scene being read by Craig Gilner, the main character, played by Keir Gilchrist. The directors, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, put this “Easter egg” in the movie without telling me — I love it. Now, in my scenario, the fictional reader grabs her/his friends: “That’s the author’s other book!” And the friends know what to buy.
I did get to participate in It’s Kind of a Funny Story in two ways besides the Be More Chill Easter egg: One of the producers of the film, Ben Browning of Wayfare Entertainment, asked me in the middle of shooting, winter 2009, if I had a T-shirt with a band name on it that I could “clear” for him. He wanted a character in one scene to be wearing a band T-shirt but he didn’t want to bother the Pixies. I was happy to oblige. I had a shirt from a band I love, Drunk Horse, a San Francisco act active in the early 00ze. I had worn this shirt for years but the only person who recognized it was a bartender at The Gate in Brooklyn with a red beard split into two points. I called the bass player from Drunk Horse, Cyrus Comiskey. I asked if I could get “clearance” to have a character in It’s Kind of a Funny Story wear the Drunk Horse shirt. When I called Cyrus, his phone made a funny ring and his voice mail said: “You’re reached Cyrus, maybe I’ll answer you, maybe I won’t — ha ha hahahahahaha!” I left a voice mail reminding Cyrus who I was and asking for permission to use the shirt. Cyrus told me he was in Mexico and he wasn’t sure if we could use a Drunk Horse song in the film. I told him it wasn’t a song I wanted; it was a shirt. Cyrus got legal word up to Eli Eckert, lead singer and guitarist for Drunk Horse; Eli got things squared away with Focus Features. That’s how I got Drunk Horse “cleared” to be on a T-shirt in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. It may not mean a lot to most people — it may only mean a thing to me, Cyrus, Eli, and the other members of Drunk Horse, in fact — but that band’s song “AM/FM Shoes” (from 2001’s Tanning Salon/Biblical Proportions) helped inspire my novel Be More Chill, so it was the least I could do. I’m now the owner of a shirt that has appeared in a movie.
I suggested to Ryan Fleck & Anna Boden that they use the song “Happy Today” by the WoWz in It’s Kind of a Funny Story. “Happy Today” is the opening track from the WoWz’s 2004 EP Long Grain Rights. It’s a song that means a lot to me from a mental health perspective: “And I know that this feeling will soon go away / But I’m feeling happy today.” It’s a reminder that happiness, which many of us are under the false impression should be a continuous state, is a fleeting sensation best appreciated in quanta. Seeing the song featured in a scene in the film was definitely one of my favorite parts of the whole book-to-film process. Now that I’m told there will be a physical soundtrack for It’s Kind of a Funny Story, seeing the WoWz on there might just make my head explode. Sometimes I live in an alternate universe: a universe where after Nirvana got big in the early 90s, Kyuss got really huge, and Drunk Horse was a Top 40 band, and the WoWz played on MTV Unplugged. I tried to use It’s Kind of a Funny Story, the film, to make this world real.”