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Deal Spotlight: Emily Schultz’s 2012 novel gets a film treatment

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Photo by Sara Maria Salamone

Given the popularity of psychological thrillers turned feature films – several of them containing the word “girl” in their title – an on-screen adaptation of Emily Schultz’s 2012 novel The Blondes (Doubleday Canada) is well-timed.

Schultz’s story centres on Hazel Hayes, a young Canadian in the Big Apple who simultaneously is handling an unplanned pregnancy (following an affair with her married thesis adviser) and the outbreak of a horrifying new pandemic that turns its victims into killers. The twist? The disease seems to exclusively afflict blonde women, and it’s uncertain whether near-blonde redheads like Hazel are safe from infection.

Los Angeles–based Branded Pictures Entertainment optioned film rights to Schultz’s book in September, but is still deciding whether the project will take the form of a feature film or a television series. Schultz, an Ontario native currently living in New York, says producer J. Todd Harris and vice-president of development Marc Marcum have stayed true to the novel’s vision. “They have such astute notes and an understanding of what the hair virus is about and how it affects the characters. The texture of the novel is definitely there,” she says. “It will be very true to the book for the first half, and then there will be some surprises. … Hazel’s going to become more heroic, and I’m excited about that. It’s a time where women need heroes, so she’s a little less reluctant on-screen.”

The project began as a treatment at the prompting of Macmillan, the title’s U.S publisher. Schultz began co-writing a script with her husband, writer and media artist Brian Joseph Davis, for Macmillan’s film and television division. Macmillan Entertainment producer Andrew Gershon remained on board after Branded expressed interest.

Schultz, who has written for the screen before, found adapting her own novel challenging, but not without some exhilarating advantages. “A novel has space to stretch out and get into material that’s difficult to represent visually. [Screenwriting and novel writing] are two completely different things, and that’s why I’m happy to have Brian on the project. It takes a fresh vision, and sometimes I need to be persuaded to be open to change,” Schultz says. “As it grows into a script, I’m looking at it and playing with the information that’s there, trying to make the scenes very immediate. And having fun with the attacks, for sure.”

Early production for the film is due to commence in December.