Sat, Oct 11, 2008 - Page 16 News List

[FILM] Ang Lee’s current project has a backstory of pure serendipity

A chance encounter between the Oscar-winning director and Elliot Tiber resulted in ‘Taking Woodstock,’ which takes stock of the life of a closeted gay man



Taiwan-born Hollywood director Ang Lee (李安), 53, is tackling a new movie project, a comedy this time, about America’s famous Woodstock hippie music festival in 1969. Titled Taking Woodstock, the film’s screenplay was written by longtime Lee collaborator James Schamus, 49, from a book by Elliot Tiber with the same title.

Tiber’s memoir was quietly published with little fanfare in 2007 by a small publisher in New York, but now the book, subtitled A True Story of a Riot, a Concert, and a Life, has become Lee’s entree into the world of film comedy. It’s tentatively set for a premiere in New York on June 26, 2009 — according to several movie Web sites — near the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock festival. The three-day concert took place in the middle of August of that year.

Rudy Shur is the president of Square One Publishers, a book company in New York, which bought the book and released it in 2007 without really knowing if there was a Hollywood movie in it. But 10 months after publication, a movie deal was signed with Focus Features in New York. Focus Features is owned by NBC Universal, with James Schamus serving as the independent studio’s CEO. Tongues are already wagging on blogs and Web sites about what Lee’s take on the Woodstock era will be like. The principal location shooting in upstate New York is set to be completed by the end of this month, according to Variety magazine, a film industry publication.

In am e-mail interview about how the book and movie sale came about, publisher Shur, 62, explained the book’s curious backstory.

“Two friends of mine told me about a man they knew who had a very interesting and unique ‘story’ to tell, and they asked me to call him and see for myself if the memoir project — still unwritten — would make a good book. After talking to Elliot Tiber, now 72, and listening to his story about Woodstock in the ’60s, I told him that it would make a terrific book, but that our book company usually didn’t publish those types of memoirs and that he would be better off with a larger publishing house that had more experience and marketing clout.”

Despite Shur’s advice to take his book project to a bigger publishing company, Tiber kept coming back to him and Shur finally said that he would take on the book, but with the same earlier reservations he had expressed before.

“I decided that maybe it was time to take a chance with this kind of book, and since it was my company, well, I would do as good a job as I could,” Shur added. “So I called Elliot up and said ‘Lets go for it.’”

The book’s genesis was complicated. “The story he wanted to tell was basically all Elliot, but to tell it in a manner that presented a balanced story in the way that I was looking for meant calling in a co-writer, Tom Monte,” Shur said.

“Elliot’s normal writing style was very creative and stream-of-consciousness, but I wanted more of a traditional story narrative. I had worked with Monte before, so I signed him to put Elliot’s material into the style I was looking for.

“Joanne Abrams, my senior editor, worked with Elliot to get his memoir into a more finalized form, and Monte did his magic with the book, too. When it was done, Elliot approved, and we had our book.”

The title of the book, and the movie, also has an interesting backstory. Shur said the title was the brainchild of Square One’s marketing director, Anthony Pomes.

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