Every writer needs to hustle, especially now. One of the most tenacious filmmakers I know is Joe Benedetto. I shared his break-in story before, and wanted to catch up with Joe on what he's banging out on his keyboard now.
As suspected, he has an exciting new project in the works. He's completed the screenplay on a work-for-hire project, adapting the book Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?: The Improbable Saga of the New York Mets' First Year by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Jimmy Breslin
If you're a Mets fan, you're going to love this.
JVB: Inquiring minds want to know. How did you get the adaptation gig?
Joe: I received a phone call out of the blue from producer Brad Wyman, whom I had known for years but hadn’t really spoken to in a while. His first words were, “Joe, I have your dream project… the ’62 Mets. I got the rights to Breslin’s book. You’re the only writer in the world that can do this.”
Brad knew I was a rabid New York Mets fan, although I’d like to think his hyperbolic statement about me “being the only writer in the world that can do this” reflected his confidence in me as a screenwriter and not just me being born as a New York Mets fan. Brad has produced over 30 feature films. He’s worked with the likes of Adam Sandler, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Beckinsale, Reese Witherspoon, Gary Oldman, Patricia Arquette, Kiefer Sutherland, Jon Favreau, and Charlize Theron (in her Academy Award-winning Monster role). He’s a fantastic movie producer.
Brad gave me complete autonomy from the moment I signed on to this project, but would make just enough suggestions — without being intrusive — that were enormously helpful in finishing the screenplay. That screenplay is now entitled AMAZIN’.
JVB: I know you adapted the true story of The Jersey 4, but have you done a book adaptation before? If you could also speak to the challenges of adaptation—limitation of page count, etc. Any tips to help writers adapt?
Joe: I had never adapted a book into a screenplay before this gig. The unique challenge on this project was that I had to balance appeasing a fan base of which I am a part of with writing a screenplay that would also appeal to non-New York Mets fans, non-baseball fans. Without giving away plot, I achieved the latter by deviating from the book and creating a fictional coming-of-age storyline that will make this so much more than just a “baseball movie.”
Although AMAZIN’ is obviously classified as an adaptation, it is very much an original screenplay. I made this thing my own. My late dad loved the New York Mets more than anyone, and he was on my mind constantly throughout the writing and re-writing process. This story was very personal to me.
My #1 tip to any writer adapting a book: outline. Now, some screenplays I outline and some I don’t. But in this case it was a must. Screenwriting is an immensely difficult task — one that often involves a writer pulling hairs from their own head. Adapting a book — in this case a non-fiction book that is very much an anecdotal oral history — involves the writer having to deal with a pre-existing different animal that is the source material. You better have your shit lined up in the form of an outline before typing FADE IN.
JVB: I know Jimmy Breslin has passed, but there's a certain "heavy weight" to working with the words of a Pulitzer winner. Was it inspiring or a bit terrifying?
Joe: As you personally know, there’s an inherent gravitas that comes with a project originating from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author. Jimmy Breslin was a veritable lion of a journalistic icon. He was ingrained in the fabric of New York City for generations. Hell, he has a street named after him in Midtown Manhattan! Having said that, I was not the least bit intimidated. Quite the contrary, I embraced the challenge.
JVB: How do you think the process might have changed if you had been able to talk with Breslin during the adaptation?
Joe: I think if I had the opportunity to speak with Jimmy, it ultimately would’ve been helpful to get some stories that are not in the book and not directly linked to the 1962 Mets, but more atmospheric aspects of New York City in that time period of the early 1960s. Jimmy Breslin is also a character in the screenplay, so it certainly would’ve been interesting to see and hear how he would’ve reacted to those scenes in which he appears.
JVB: Where does the project stand now?
Joe: As we speak, offers are being made to actors. There are several roles written for movie stars. Casey Stengel, the manager of the 1962 Mets, is a legendary character. Joan Payson, a true pioneer as the first female to ever own a major American sports franchise (without inheriting it).
If the world returns to relative normalcy soon, the film is on track to shoot this fall. A message to anyone reading this in the distant future: this interview was conducted while we were in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020.
JVB: Crossing our fingers the pandemic doesn't thwart the schedule! Your multi-hyphenate career includes, writing, directing and acting. How do you use your other skill sets to inform your writing?
Joe: When I’m “just” the writer on a project, I do my best to compartmentalize. But, ultimately, that’s impossible. When I’m writing a screenplay, I’ll sometimes draw on other aspects of my filmmaking skill set. It usually has to do with some of the more visual aspects of a screenplay.
JVB: Since this is a work-for-hire project instead of a spec, can you share some tips for taking notes from producers?
Joe: Pick your battles. If you have an airtight belief in a line of dialogue or a scene, then stand your ground and fight for it. On the other hand, don’t fall in love with your work, and be open-minded enough to know that sometimes others know better than you.
JVB: For writers out there writing on spec, any tips on how to get a writing assignment?
Joe: It’s the combination of networking, hustling, and having written a piece of material that will inspire the confidence of others to give you that gig.
JVB: Now that you've popped the adaptation cherry, would you like to adapt again?
Joe: If I get a call that starts with, “I have your dream job,” I’ll certainly listen.
JVB: To all the screenwriters reading, any general career advice for them?
Joe: Love your work, but don’t fall in love with your work.
Follow Joe on Instagram: @TrajectoryFilms