Aspen’s Jones adapts story for Amazon’s ‘The New Yorker Presents’
If You Watch …
What: ‘The New Yorker Presents’
When: On-Demand. Naomi McDougall Jones’ ‘Roy Spivey’ adaptation goes online Tuesday, March 1.
Aspen native Naomi McDougall Jones has written an adaptation of a Miranda July short story for the new Amazon Web series “The New Yorker Presents.”
The anthology series features half-hour anthologies of stories from the magazine, including documentaries, dramas and comedies. Jones adapted July’s 2007 short story “Roy Spivey,” a quirky comedic tale about a woman’s life-changing airplane ride seated next to a movie star.
The adaptation stars Murray Bartlett as Spivey — a Hugh Jackman-like Hollywood charmer — and Allison Price as his star-struck plane-ride friend, Janet.
Jones, an actress, writer and producer now based in New York, was hired last spring to adapt the short story by director Michael Slovis and supervising producer Jack Lechner, who also is producing the Jones-penned indie vampire film “Bite Me.” To get the rights to the story, Jones and the creative team had to pitch July directly on adapting it.
“We had to have this phone call where we had to assure her that we weren’t going to mess it up, which was terrifying,” Jones said. “She’s one of my idols and she’s never let anyone adapt her work before, and it’s such a great story and a pretty famous story. I just didn’t want to be the person who messed it up.”
In addition to writing fiction, July is a filmmaker and artist (her playful sculptures were exhibited on the commons outside the Aspen Art Museum last year). Her evocative style and the strong first-person voice of “Roy Spivey” made it ideal for a screen adaptation.
“She writes so cinematically anyway that from the first time I read it I could see it,” Jones said. “You have to walk a fine line between honoring the original material and being trapped by it.”
Jones changed some of the story’s prose into dialogue and added some small story elements, but the Web-series version is faithful and will please fans of the story.
They shot the short film over the summer in Toronto. Jones, who has worked mainly on small-budget independent films such as 2014’s “Imagine I’m Beautiful,” said she was impressed by the production during her time on set. Amazon filmed on two real airplanes on the set — one sawed in half lengthwise, the other widthwise — and had a separate set for a scene in the airplane bathroom.
“It’s one of those things you never think about — how complicated it’s going to be to shoot in an airplane,” Jones said.
The series premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and is streaming now on Amazon. Jones’ “Roy Spivey” will go online Tuesday.
Like countless talented and independent-spirited writers and filmmakers, Jones is getting a foothold in the expanding world of scripted television on cable and streaming platforms, which is showcasing smart and risky drama in a way mainstream film does less of these days.
“First Netflix, and now Amazon, have blown the roof off the whole industry,” she said. “Traditional TV executives are panicking because they have no idea what’s happening right now.”
Award-winning and popular shows like Amazon’s “Transparent” and Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” Jones noted, have demonstrated there is an audience for stories about people who have long been marginalized from mainstream entertainment. Different formats — like “The New Yorker Presents” anthology approach — also are getting a chance in the shifting paradigm.
“It’s like the Wild West, which is exciting for people like me and writers coming up, because a lot of the conventional ideas about what people want to see are getting shown to be false,” she said.
Jones also has written a TV pilot for a series set in Aspen titled “The Dark Places.” It was recently included on the annual WriteHer List, highlighting unproduced scripts by women, and has drawn attention from multiple networks. Jones describes it as “a dual-timeline, twisty, thriller crime drama. … ‘Breaking Bad’ meets ‘True Detective,’ except the two protagonists are women.” Her film “Bite Me” is slated to film in Canada this fall.
She’s also at work on a virtual-reality miniseries, exploring the possibilities of a brand-new storytelling format.
“It must be what the first days of film are like,” she said of that undertaking. “Even things like how you cut from one shot to the next, how you film, where you put the lights and how you control the narrative when you can’t control where the audience will be looking — that’s a really exciting thing to be cracking.”
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