Before The Punch Escrow, Tal M. Klein’s debut science fiction novel, was even published, it had a movie deal with Lionsgate. It’s not hard to see why. The teleportation origin story reads like the best kind of Hollywood blockbuster: fast-paced, snarky, and filled with fascinating ideas about what our near-future will look like.
James Bobin — the man behind the camera for Alice Through the Looking Glassand Disney’s The Muppets, as well as one of the creators of Flight of the Conchords — has signed on to direct and adapt with Beauty & the Beast‘s David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman shepherding the project along as producers.
Den of Geek caught up with Klein at San Diego Comic Con, just after the announcement of Bobin’s involvement. Here’s how he feels about the direction his book’s film adaptation is taking…
“It’s scary because, when you sign off your thing, you have zero control,” said Klein. “It’s my baby, it is now yours, please treat it with care.”
Klein counts himself lucky, however. Unlike some book authors, Klein had a lot of power in the film rights process. The bidding process was heated, with multiple studios throwing their hat in the ring. “I was fortunate that I had a choice,” said Klein. “The auction process was so heated that part of the decision criteria was not just money, but who got the story.”
Ultimately, it was Lionsgate’s enthusiasm for the source material that won them the rights.
The guys from Lionsgate, they were shooting another movie in Budapest and this guy James Myers called me and he [had] read the book three times, really got it, [and] had this really smart conversation with me about footnotes and asked why did you do this. [He] obviously demonstrated that he really read the book and had a good idea of how to do it.
As for the directorial announcement, Klein couldn’t be more pleased, calling Bobin one of his favorite directors.
You read the synopsis for Flight of the Conchords, it’s actually a very depressing show. It’s about two guys from New Zealand who are not making it in New York, right? It’s a band. They go to New York to make it. Everything they do, fails. But despite all that, they remain so optimistic and they live in this dream world that allows them to see everything in a positive light.
These comments are particularly enlightening in the context of Klein’s comments about what kind of tone he wanted to set for the near-future of The Punch Escrow.
“It starts with me hating dystopian scifi,” Klein said of his book’s inception, “especially these days when we need something positive to look forward to.”
I wanted to write a story that showed … that life as we know it continues to exist on its current trajectory, even in an age that’s automated and artificially-intelligent and where all the jobs as we know them go away. But people still find work and they’re still gainfully employed and they’re still able to play games and have fun and have relationships and have love.
Klein sees some specific parallels between the protagonists of Flight of the Conchords and Joel, the protagonist of The Punch Escrow.
“With Flight of the Conchords, you have these protagonists who are really not trying that hard, but you want to root for them because everything they do, once they do commit to something, they give 110 percent,” said Klein.
You think about Joel, as a character he reminds me of that… He’s stuck in this situation where all the cards are against him and his natural disposition towards being a smart ass and, sometimes, not particularly likable, gets him out of these situations because he’s very good at playing dumb. He understands that everything’s a game.
Bobin isn’t only directing The Punch Escrow, he’s also adapting the book into a screenplay, a fact that especially reassures Klein that his story is in the right hands.
That was my biggest concern. One of the things that makes this book so special is the voice, and I was very protective of it throughout the editorial process. I know that he’s gonna get that, so that was really cool about that.
“I’m stoked, is the answer,” Klein says with a laugh.