My fifth novel, Lexicon, is out today in the US & Canada, so I’m going to spend some of today visiting New York bookstores, looking at it, and feeling weird. The early press on this book has been kind of shockingly good, like what you dream about as an author but never actually happens, so I’m daring to think that THIS COULD BE IT, the book that allows me to use the word “bestselling” without abusing its definition. Poor word. It has been so stretched.
But a few days ago I finally watched Syrup and I need to tell you what that was like! I’ve been building this up for about five years and then I did one tweet, so people have been asking HEY WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FILM. But I was traveling and not sleeping and didn’t get the opportunity. Now I’m writing this from a New York hotel room at 3:30am, so I’m making my own opportunity, like Tony Robbins.
I had been holding out to see Syrup in a theater, since that was what I’d always dreamed about. But then I realized I had a problem, because I could only see it in a theater in the US, and my wife, Jen, wouldn’t be there. Jen was a huge part of writing Syrup; she read the first draft one chapter at a time and got all excited about it in a highly motivating and sexy way that made me keep writing. Plus she’s an awesome person to see a movie with. But we could only get a DVD in Australia, not see a theater showing.
So I made an executive decision: The night before I hopped a plane (Melbourne to Sydney to Los Angeles to Houston to Columbus all in one 32-hour Friday), Jen and I dragged the sofa up to the TV and closed the curtains, so it would be like a real theater. We were both nervous and held hands and said things like, “Whatever it’s like, it doesn’t change the book.”
And! Then! We! Played! It!
I have trouble summarizing my reaction because I reacted in pieces. I would see a scene and think, “Oh! I wrote this one!” or “Wait that is different!” and I didn’t process it at all like a normal person watching a movie. It was all about individual scenes. But my first thoughts were:
“Oh no this is too confusing.” The first time I watched it, I was a little shocked at how little setup there was, especially at the start, and thought no-one would understand what was going on. Everything moved so fast. But I’ve since seen it again (in a theater in Columbus with an actual live audience, and ohhh, how amazing to watch it like a proper movie), and I felt this far less. I think my initial reaction was a novelist kind of thing; films can move faster and the audience still picks up the gist of what’s happening.
“This looks really good.” The visuals of the movie are really strong. I knew the filmmakers were very big on this, and had an experienced and highly skilled cinematographer in Julio Macat, but boy does that show. Every shot is beautiful and interesting.
“This scene I wrote is awesome!” My favorite parts, for completely selfish reasons, were scenes that played out just like I’d written them in some screenplay draft or other. And then they were on the screen! Some I loved because they were just like I’d imagined (6 making Scat breakfast, Scat shaking a dummy), and seeing them come to life was thrilling; some were awesome because they took my material in unexpected directions, elevating the scene beyond what I’d expected (the monologues, ZephCo’s corporate goons—which Josh Pais and Christopher Evan Welch play hilariously well).
I thought this must mean that I am an amazing screenwriter, but later the director showed me some deleted scenes, which included lots of stuff that played out just like I’d written and was really horrible, so I realized the truth was they just kept my good parts. The rest, which turned out to suck when filmed, were quietly executed. So that’s lucky for me.
“Amber Heard is amazing.” Holy crap. Amber Heard is amazing. I was always worried about how 6 would turn out, but Amber annihilated that character. In a good way. My favorite part of the whole movie is her monologue about marketing love; I think that’s perfect. I love Shiloh, too, and many many others, but Amber is amazing. You should make a note so that when everyone else catches on you can be all like, “I actually preferred her earlier work in Syrup.”
“How did they do all this?” I’ve thought this before, when I was on set, but I keep re-thinking it. Novels are easy compared to films. Novels, I just sit there and type and things happen. Films require people to painstakingly create every detail that winds up on screen. It’s so practical. They have to wrestle the real world into submission. They have to make decisions based on trade-offs and logistics. And it’s so easy to forget because the end result looks effortless.
“OMG ending.” I’d heard they changed the ending. I’m not going to say how, because, you know, spoilers. But I had written a particular kind of ending in pretty much every screenplay draft, and then the film went and did something completely different. And it’s better! I saw my original ending as a deleted scene and boy did it suck. It sucked a lot. The new one is actually thought-provoking and makes you want to go back and rewrite some screenplays. That may just be me. But I love the ending.
Overall, I think the film is very true to the book, not just in its tone and characters but in how they are both kind of raw and and messy but steam ahead powered by earnest, youthful enthusiasm, never worrying about whether they’re being too ridiculous. The film is an indie and if that was a thing for books, the book would be, too. They are a good match. As an author, that’s what you want your film adaptation to be. Well, also super successful. But most of all, you want it to be true. This film is true.