It’s Kind of a Funny Story Story
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.”
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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