A Newfoundland writer’s debut has been turned into a major motion picture starring Jason Priestley
Chad Pelley’s 2009 novel Away From Everywhere tells the story of two brothers brought together by mental illness and split apart by betrayal. The novel opens with a car crash that exposes a love affair and gallops from there.
“As I was reading I was thinking, this would make a terrific film,” Mark Hoffe says. As president of the Newfoundland-based film company Mad Mummer Media, he was in a position to make that happen.
A couple of years ago he invited Pelley for dinner and told him he wanted to option the movie rights to his novel.
“I thought it was a really strange novel to adapt, because the time line is cut up to keep an element of suspense in the book,” Pelley admits. “A lot of it is really in people’s head, to the point where a third of the novel is actually a woman’s diary entries, because she dies on the first page. I didn’t know how they were going to filter all that and turn it into a linear movie.”
The idea of other creative people reinterpreting his work through their own medium intrigued him and he signed up. “Mark talked about how cinematic it was, and how it tackles a lot of the darker aspects of humanity that people don’t want to talk about,” Pelley says. “The troubles that every relationship has. The things we go through in childhood and how they mark us.”
And for two years, that’s where things sat. “I was really excited at first, but after a year or two it just became something I hoped would happen,” Pelley says.
Then Jason Priestley signed on to play older brother Alex, Shawn Doyle agreed to play Owen and Joanne Kelly came in as Hannah, and things kicked into gear.
Hoffe is also the screenwriter for Mad Mummer Media and worked to turn the novel into a workable film. “If you turn the book into a movie, it’s going to be six hours long and cost upwards of $50 million,” he says. A novel, unlike a film, has no special effects budget, no logistical considerations. If you want children in a novel, they’ll be as good as your writing is. In a movie, you need to find talented child actors and work around the many regulations governing their work.
Much of the brothers’ childhood is spelled out in the novel, but will be mostly talked about as backstory in the film. Hoffe focused on two main story arcs: the brothers’ reuniting when Owen moves in with Alex and Hannah, and then chronologically after that when Owen isolates himself in his father’s cabin.
Hoffe also made the story more linear. “The book works excellent as a book. That’s what really hauled me in – that opening accident scene. But for a movie, you’re kind of giving away the climax,” he explains. “We wanted the film to be a mystery. You just get bits and pieces as you’re moving along. We thought of it as a puzzle.”
It was a mystery to Pelley. As is usual, he wasn’t involved in turning his novel into a movie. In fact, he’s not even sure if it ends the same way. He was supposed to have a day on set to film a cameo, but got fogged out of Newfoundland that day as he flew home from Europe. And while he didn’t get to meet Priestley, Pelley was thrilled that he believed in the story enough to take the job. “It was so strange for me that this guy I grew up watching, later in life our professional lives would intersect.”
Pelley meanwhile released a second novel, Every Little Thing in 2013 and has a short story collection called Four Letter Words coming out in 2016. He’s hard at work on his next novel, Cold Wind Blowing.
The film version of Away From Everywhere shot in the spring of 2015 and is now in post-production over the summer. Hoffe plans to take it to film festivals as he seeks a distributor. The movie should be available to the public in the spring of 2016.