• Markus Innocenti

How 'Isolation' Became 'Mojave Green'

One thing I learned, after years of trying to survive as a screenwriter in Hollywood, was to hold onto the story rights. A decade ago, I was asked to write a screenplay for an independent producer. This could have been a 'work for hire' — which would have meant that I'd give up the rights in perpetuity — but I avoided that and made a contract which guaranteed that the rights would revert to me if the film failed to get into production, and — if it did get produced — that I would have the novelization rights no matter what. I was given a title ('Isolation') because, like many things in Hollywood, the cart went before the horse and the producer had already made commitments based on that title. I was told to get busy because funding was already in place, a 'hot' emerging director had been engaged, and an internationally known actor was "almost" attached. Things went swimmingly. As soon as I had the first draft complete the production company began casting. Locations were scouted and a crew began to be assembled. The 'name' actor came onboard and his scenes were rewritten and adjusted to suit. Another 'international star' expressed interest, and a cameo was added for him. The leading female roles (Skye and Rose) did photo shoots for preliminary publicity and started costume and make-up tests. Pre-production meetings with key department heads intensified. Schedules were finalized. Rewrites were requested and delivered as elements were added, dropped or changed. And then, disaster. One week before filming was due to begin — it was over. The reason remains obscure — which, in itself, is normal for Hollywood. Everyone packed up and went home. The script languished in the deep recesses of one of my hard drives. Until 'Isolation' hit. Self-isolation, that is — Covid-19 style. Now, for a writer, 'stay-at-home' strictures are business as usual. We're supposed to sit in the chair, alone in our rooms, and keep at it until 'it' is done. But the truth is that many writers try to avoid writing as much as possible — and that's true for me. However, with 'self-isolation' a hard reality, I figured I might as well organize my life. After the filing cabinets and the old photo albums had been duly cleaned out and properly archived, I went through the ancient hard drives and found a number of my screenplays that had never been produced. 'Isolation' seemed intriguing. I'd always wanted to write a novel set in the California desert and so the script became a template. The title , 'Isolation', had barely worked for the original script so that was the first thing to go. But the title hadn't been the only thing forced on me. (I say "forced", but that's because I'm a writer and naturally resent any ideas and situations that are requested by producers who believe they are being pragmatic, or think they are enhancing the marketability of the project). At the time 'Isolation' was written, the Coen Brothers 'No Country For Old Men' was still very present in the minds of Hollywood producers. Thus, by request, 'Isolation' had a character called 'Abraham' who bore a strong similarity to 'Chigurh' — the role played by Javier Bardem in that movie. 'The 'Abraham' of 'Isolation' became 'Esmeraldo' in Mojave Green — and turned into a much more interesting and dimensional character in the process.

Mojave Green is the first novel I've adapted from a screenplay. It was interesting to see how the 'Acts' developed in the original script flowed into the chapters of a novel. At first, it was a little worrying that the 'point-of-view' kept changing. This is very common in screenplays — we 'cut' from scene to scene and enter the world of a different set of characters. Sometimes just for a few seconds. In a novel, those 'cuts' — and the subsequent introduction of characters that perhaps haven't been mentioned for a while — can cause confusion for the reader, especially if they occur within the same chapter. In fact, if you go to a writer's conference, this POV aspect is hotly debated. Some writers insist that point-of-view cannot be changed. Personally, I think this is nonsense. If an audience in a movie theater can understand that one minute they are looking at Joe in the deli, and the next they're looking at Jill in the doctor's office — I think a reader of fiction can follow similar shifts in a novel, even if those shifts occur within the same chapter.

Now that I've completed an adaptation, I suspect I'll dig out more old scripts and see what can be made of them.

A final word. I think an author should like their own books — and I do like Mojave Green and have enjoyed the company of the characters. One character in particular. I have really had fun with 'Ximena'. She didn't exist in the original script. I've got a feeling I'd like to find out what happens to her in the future — so there well may be a follow-up to explore that. If you have thoughts on Mojave Green, or think a book to follow 'Ximena' in a new adventure would be cool... please let me know.


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