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Charles Baxter

"...if people ask me, 'Are you nervous or upset about what they've done to your book?' I always say, 'Well, the book is the same. It's right over there on the shelf. It's the same book as it always was,'" says University of Minnesota visiting professor Charles Baxter.

A Feast of Love on the big screen

U professor's book adapted to film; hits cinemas September 28.

By Pauline Oo

September 25, 2007; updated October 3, 2007

William Shakespeare and University of Minnesota visiting professor Charles Baxter have something in common. Both have written about the mischief that love-struck characters can stir up--in A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Feast of Love, respectively. On September 28, an adaptation of Baxter's novel opened in movie theatres across the United States.

"It's a reasonably good movie," says Baxter, who attended a special Feast of Love premiere in New York City last Monday. "Many of the performances are quite remarkable, and the photography is quite beautiful. The director Robert Benton [who also directed Places in the Heart and Kramer vs. Kramer] gave everything a particular tone, which I liked. This film has a kind of sweetness to it, even in its darkest moments."

Baxter, the U's Edelstein-Keller Visiting Professor in Creative Writing, wrote The Feast of Love about seven years ago, but he did not write the screenplay nor did he have script approval or involvement in the filming of the movie in Portland, Oregon. Which begs the question: is the movie true to the novel?

"Every author who sells his or her book to the movies has to expect that it won't be the same once it's up on the screen," says Baxter. "There are significant changes in the adaptation. In the book there's a character that's missing, and in the movie that character is dead, for example. And certain major parts of the story are telescoped or just eliminated, but the bones of the narrative are there. You can get some sense of what the book is like from seeing the movie."

Did you know?

There will never be a movie made of J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye because Salinger won't sell the rights. Most authors have literary agents, and most literary agents have associates in Los Angeles for film rights. If a filmmaker is interested in a book, the studio or filmmaker will go to the agent and ask if the rights are available. The author doesn't come in again until the agent has negotiated something.

"Now, you can, as an author, always say, 'No, I won't sell the rights to the movies' or 'Yes, I'll sell it but I have to have script approval,'" says U professor Charles Baxter, whose novel The Feast of Love was adapted to a movie. "I didn't keep script approval because I didn't think I could sell it under those circumstances."

To learn more about the movie, see the Feast of Love official Website.

The film, produced by Lakeshore Entertainment Group, stars a host of big names including Morgan Freeman (Lucky Number Slevin, The Shawshank Redemption) and Greg Kinnear (Little Miss Sunshine, The Matador). Literary author and screenwriter Allison Burnett (Resurrecting the Champ, Autumn in New York) wrote the screenplay.

The novel, a 2000 National Book Award nominee, "is essentially a kind of A Midsummer Night's Dream narrative about several people in a small midwestern city," explains Baxter. "There's no one central plot, instead there are seven major stories, which all come together as the book goes on."

Baxter has received much acclaim for his novel, from The New York Times Book Review ("rich, juicy...completely engrossing"), The Wall Street Journal ("sumptuous"), and The Boston Globe ("a marvel of narrative voices"). Ads for the film, which appear on TV and in local papers, tout it as "a story for anyone with an appetite for love." Kinnear plays a coffee shop owner who finds love in all the wrong places, while Freeman takes on the role of a college professor who witnesses love and attraction whipping up shenanigans among the town's residents.

According to Baxter, book rights were first sold to Miramax but the film giant gave it up ("it's a very hard novel to adapt because there are so many plots"), and Lakeshore, the independent film producer responsible for such hits as Million Dollar Baby and Runaway Bride, ended up acquiring the rights. The company hired Burnett as the screenwriter and Benton to direct after another director had bowed out.

Location: Northwest vs. Midwest

In The Feast of Love novel, the story unfolds in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In the Hollywood version, the setting has been relocated to Oregon. According to the Portland Business Journal, Oregon's production incentives (Oregon Production Investment Fund and Greenlight Oregon Labor Rebate) played a major role in Lakeshore Entertainment's decision to film Feast of Love in the state. Lakeshore was in the Portland area for more than four months, from initial scouting until the end of production, contributing an estimated $19 million to the economy.

"Yes, [having a novel become a film] is a very big thing because of the cultural power of movies," says Baxter, who's been in academe for 30 years and at the University of Minnesota since 2003. "A successful movie will get a much larger audience than most books will. At the same time, if people ask me, 'Are you nervous or upset about what they've done to your book?' I always say, 'Well, the book is the same. It's right over there on the shelf. It's the same book as it always was.' If the movie causes people to buy the book and read it, that's good."

Baxter is the author of three other novels and a host of short stories, poems, and essays on fiction. He has just completed a book on writing called The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot, currently being published, and The Soul Thief, a new novel that will hit bookstores in February.

"I write because I like to tell stories," says Baxter. "And I've always been drawn to stories and to narratives the way a musician is drawn to music or the way a painter just draws. I do it because it's an art and because it's difficult, and I like the challenge and the difficulty of it."


FURTHER READING For more about Charles Baxter, including his favorite books and interests, read his interviews with Barnes & Noble.