Author Chuck Palahniuk, the man who inspired a generation of suburban males to punch each other in the face, is turning to his fanbase on Kickstarter to help finance his next project: a screenplay adaptation of his 2002 novel, Lullaby. With a $250,000 Kickstarter goal, it’s a modest budget for a movie by one of this generation’s biggest writers.
When it was released in 2002, Lullaby was praised for its darkly entertaining attack on the Information Age. The novel’s protagonist and narrator, Carl Streator, is a reporter assigned to cover a string of SIDS cases (his own child being one of the victims). His investigation uncovers the culprit, an African “culling song” that contains the power to kill anyone it’s spoken to. The revelation sparks a cross- country road trip as an unlikely quartet embarks on a quest to find and destroy every known copy of the song.
The Origins of an Adaptation
The film adaptation actually sprung from the friendship of two veteran Portland-area filmmakers, producer Josh Leake and co-writer/director Andy Mingo, the last director to work one on one with Palahniuk:
“I met Andy, even though we’re both Portland locals, at a film festival in London called Raindance,” Leake told Inverse in a phone interview. “We were introduced to each other by the Mexican ambassador to the UN.”
Palahniuk himself has signed on to co-write the script, a first for the historically reclusive author, who has seen some of his best work adapted for the screen since the monumental success of David Fincher’s Fight Club in 1999. It’s a pretty big vote of confidence from the prolific author, something that’s not lost on Leake.
“It’s a story that means a lot to Chuck, something that he’s not going to let go to any producer or director. There’s a personal connection to this story that you won’t find in a lot of other books from him,” says the producer, alluding to the real-life inspiration for the novel. Palahniuk concocted Lullaby during the murder trail of his father’s killer. At one point, the district attorney approached Palahniuk to help advocate for the death penalty. The significance of this request — and the corresponding power of words to have such a direct impact on life and death — spawned Lullaby’s culling song.
At its core, though, Leake explains, Lullaby is a “character-driven story,” one that is portrayed in intimate terms throughout the narrative. “In part, we chose this book because there’s not, you know, crashing planes like [Palahniuk’s 1999 novel, Survivor]. It was a movie that both Andy and I believed could be made well, but the story itself is also universally relatable. Losing a family member is horrible, and I think a lot of people can connect to that.”
‘Lullaby’ Is Only Possible Thanks to Crowdfunding
Of course, that doesn’t mean that Lullaby was made for the masses. The Kickstarter page proclaims early on that “Lullaby deploys necrophilia, gender-bending, and no-way-would-this-make-it-to-comfortable-TV satire. We want to make a movie that makes people feel uncomfortable enough to think original thoughts again, just like Chuck’s novels do.” In Leake’s eyes, without an outlet like Kickstarter, such a challenging plot may never have made it to a mainstream audience. “Its not a movie that’s going to be regularly green-lit in Hollywood,” he says.
“That’s the amazing thing that Kickstarter can do,” he continues. “You can crowd fund things that you really want to see. We don’t have to take what Hollywood gives us anymore. To some extent, I think that’s why Chuck is participating so heavily in our project and co-writing it.”
On the Kickstarter page, Leake is surely hoping that he’ll get far more than he asked for, and he’s made no secret of his desire to get up to $15 million for a Hollywood-level production. At a mere quarter of a million, the shoot would have to draft friends and family to play roles int the film. Of course, that’s not as daunting as you might think for Leake, an old hand when it comes to getting films made on a shoestring budget.
He’s even employed some new techniques in his drive for funds. Take, for instance, the “Virtual Producer” reward, which will allow funders to actually weigh in on decisions throughout production.
“Our production designers will come to us with three options for something specific, like a car in the background, or the choice of an extra, or what clothing the actors will wear,” the campaign page explains. “If you’re a Virtual Producer, you’ll be able to vote on things and put your three cents in. That’s never been done before.”
“I think a lot of what makes a good movie is having a good cast, as well as a good story to tell,” Leake said. “And I think that we have an amazing story and we’re talking to some amazing cast members … I think it comes down to having an authentic and original story that people will connect with.”
A Broader Universe
Giving the book a film treatment may perhaps call to mind some of the broader implications raised — but perhaps not fully explored — by the novel. When it came out in 2002, The Guardian’s review of Lullaby advocated for a slightly grander approach. After pointing to a passage that imagines the lullaby as an Information Age plague, the reviewer quipped, “Carl’s imagined sequence reads like a pitch for a more epic novel - or, better yet, a movie. Even the language is that of the gravelly voiceover to a film trailer: ‘In a world where vows are worthless…’”
Of course, the possibilities for exploring the Universe of Lullaby’s open-ended story aren’t lost on Leake. Nor are they lost on potential financiers who are always hungry for new content.
“I think that’s one of the cool things about Lullaby is that it has legs,” he says. “It builds this universe that can go a lot farther than the book goes, which is why a lot of companies like Netflix have approached us about the possibility of adapting it into a series. But, we feel it’s important that before we begin to think about those ancillary projects that we explore the narrative in a feature film.”
“I’m excited,” he added. “I’ve read the script and it’s amazing. Chuck is such a force with words and I think everyone is going to be excited to see his first screenplay.” Leake may have a good reason to be excited, too. With not even a full 24 hours elapsed and thirty more days to go, the Lullaby Kickstarter has earned over $15,000 toward its minimum budget.