The drunk’s name is Chuck. Purporting to be retired from the film industry, Chuck is at the end of the bar, just out of frame, rambling on about how we’re all a bunch of amateurs, with our lights and our cameras and our director, the latter telling everyone where to go and what to do like he’s oh, I don’t know, directing. Every so often, Chuck slaps the scarred wood surface of the bar to make his point, almost knocking over his mug of beer. Other times, he argues with people who aren’t there, a natural hazard for someone who views a 12-pack as part of their minimum daily requirements, emphasis on minimum.
The glam life, this movie making.
Chuck and I are in a bar in southwest Nevada, formerly a brothel, not far from the California state line. A film production crew has set up shop in the area, the location selected because it resembles West Texas, the setting of my latest crime novel The Devil’s Country.
The bar, a tiny place where in 1942 Clark Gable spent several days waiting to hear if Carole Lombard had survived a plane crash, has been rented for the day to shoot interiors. The price has been discounted because the producers are okay with keeping the business open. So the room is full, a dozen or so customers and at least that many cast and crew members. The customers lend a certain authenticity to the scene we are filming, the viewer’s introduction to the hero, an ex-Texas Ranger named Arlo Baines.
For the next couple of hours, I am playing a bartender, a small cameo. I am happy for the activity. Staying out of Chuck’s way and following the director’s instructions keep me from dwelling on the fact that the cast and crew are here because of words I wrote, which, to tell the truth, is a little unsettling.
The movie we are shooting, my first time on a set, is not going to be coming to a theater near you anytime soon. The actors are not household names, though you may recognize a couple of them. The film is part of a new style of digital storytelling, the Kindle-in-Motion, an adjunct to the e-book, meaning you will need to download the electronic version of The Devil’s Country in order to see my star turn as a slinger of drinks in a West Texas tavern.
My publisher is a division of Amazon, the online retailing giant. Never known for embracing the status quo, Amazon (reportedly at the insistence of Jeff Bezos himself) has developed this new format for the Kindle, their ubiquitous e-reader.
Imagine a film within a book. Or a graphic novel where the graphics are moving images. The Kindle-in-Motion is best described as an enhancement to the reading experience. Snippets of film are embedded in the text at the point where they match each other. If the text reads “A guy walks into a bar,” a short looping video will play at the top of the page showing a man entering a bar. There is no sound—too much of a distraction to reading—so there is no dialogue. Also, if you only viewed the film portion, you would be hard pressed to follow the story. The film exists to serve the book, a radical idea, which is just one more reason in my opinion why Amazon is so blisteringly successful at nearly everything it does.
While the director of photography and the camera operator discuss various issues related to lenses and lighting, the prop and makeup people approach me with questions.
Is this shirt okay for the male lead? What do you think about the bad guy’s hair? Would he part it that way? The shoes, do you like her shoes? We searched everywhere for them. What do you think?
My answer is yes to everything, especially the shoes. I vaguely recall writing about them over a year ago, a quick way to describe one particular character. She wore “lime-green Chuck Taylors.” I had forgotten about the shoes until the twenty-something actress who bore more than a passing resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence appeared before me, wearing the very same sneakers I described. I know I should be elated, but I am mortified. Any sneakers would have done, really. I didn’t mean to make it hard.
The Devil’s Country is only the second thriller selected to be part of the Kindle-in-Motion program, the seventh or eighth in the entire Amazon publishing world.
The story felt cinematic, according to my editor, which was why she pushed for the book’s inclusion in the program. The plot is simple: an ex-Texas Ranger, despondent over the death of his family, tries to find two missing children in order to come to terms with the loss of his own. The setting is straight out of Hell or High Water by way of No Country for Old Men. A rugged, unforgiving land, perfectly encapsulated in the Nevada desert.
More Kindle-in-Motion titles are to come, I’m told. Many more. The program’s goal is to attract new, younger readers, to make consuming the written word easier and more fun for the up-and-coming generation, something any writer would be in favor of. Certainly, I am.
My segment wraps about the time that Chuck staggers out of the bar with a six-pack under his arm.
The crew sets up outside for a scene near the end of the book, the showdown between the villain and the local sheriff, himself no paragon of virtue. Tracks for the dolly are laid, light stands arranged, makeup applied. I try to stay out of the way. The movie making world is radically different from that of novel writing. The many versus the one. Truckloads of equipment instead of just a keyboard. Costumers and prop people and camera operators as opposed to what’s in my mind’s eye.
I am happy that the two worlds are coming together in this new and exciting way. I am ecstatic to part of the marriage.
Buy a copy of the Kindle-in-Motion version of The Devil’s Country and see what all the fuzz is about.