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Adapting Michael Chabon


Photograph courtesy of Rawson Marshall Thurber

Michael Chabon fans will be pleased to know that the Berkeley author’s first novel has been adapted into a feature film. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh was originally written as Chabon’s master’s thesis and became an unexpected best-seller when his professor submitted the text to a publisher. Pittsburgh’s route to the silver screen is just as surprising.

The film’s director, Rawson Marshall Thurber, admits the coming-of-age drama seems like an odd follow-up to his goofball comedy Dodgeball: a True Underdog Story, which grossed $160 million in 2004.

“It’s the anti-follow-up,” says Thurber, who grew up in Orinda. “But, I fell in love with the book back in 1995. I knew I wanted to make the movie version before I knew I wanted to make movies.”

Thurber’s meeting to get the film rights was the stuff of screenwriters’ dreams. After Dodgeball’s success, Thurber sent a fan letter to Chabon, who agreed to a breakfast meeting at Rick and Ann’s in Berkeley. Thurber gave Chabon his pitch—and the Pulitzer Prize–winning author gave him the film rights to The Mysteries of Pittsburgh for a handshake.

Michael Chabon; Photograph courtesy of Rawson Marshall ThurberThurber landed a solid cast, including Peter Sarsgaard, Sienna Miller, and Nick Nolte. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January and is slated to hit art house cinemas by this winter. “I’d love to show it at the Orinda Theatre,” says Thurber. Now living in the Hollywood Hills, Thurber hopes to move back to the Bay Area someday. “For now, I’m sort of stuck here, because L.A. is where the work is,” says the 33-year-old filmmaker. “I make sure my mom brings a Zachary’s pizza every time she comes to visit.”

After promoting Pittsburgh, Thurber will be spending the winter on Oahu, shooting the big-screen version of the 1980s television show Magnum, P.I., for a 2010 release.

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