Wright’s Clara Cal­lan will be TV se­ries

Strat­ford filmmakers Craig Thompson and Rick Whe­lan will pro­duce mul­ti­ple episodes

The Niagara Falls Review - - Local - CH­ERYL CLOCK Ch­eryl.Clock@ni­a­garadailies.com 905-225-1626 | @Stan­dard­_Ch­eryl

Time, pa­tience and a din­ner date with the late St. Catharines nov­el­ist Richard Wright paid off for two Cana­dian film mak­ers.

Strat­ford-based friends, pro­ducer Craig Thompson and play­wright Rick Whe­lan, are in the midst of bring­ing Wright’s award-win­ning novel “Clara Cal­lan” to life on the small screen.

Back in 2001 when Wright’s ninth novel de­buted, Thompson and Whe­lan each read it. The play­wright in Whe­lan im­me­di­ately saw its po­ten­tial, and through con­nec­tions, was ex­cited when Wright agreed to meet for din­ner at a St. Catharines restau­rant.

The au­thor was sold on a screen­play, but se­cur­ing the rights to it was a whole other chal­lenge.

Sim­ply put, it was too ex­pen­sive.

Set in On­tario in the 1930s, the book tells the story of two sis­ters, Clara and Nora. Af­ter the death of their fa­ther, Nora takes off for big-city life in New York to pur­sue a ca­reer as a ra­dio soap opera star. Mean­while, Clara stays be­hind and lives sim­ply as a school teacher, but strug­gles as an in­de­pen­dent woman liv­ing in a con­ser­va­tive ru­ral com­mu­nity.

It deals with dif­fi­cult is­sues in­clud­ing rape and abor­tion, sui­cide, de­pres­sion and the con­se­quences felt by strong, in­de­pen­dent women who dared test con­ven­tional ex­pec­ta­tions.

The book won the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s Award in English fic­tion cat­e­gory, the Sco­tia­bank Giller Prize and the Tril­lium Book Award. Wright died in 2017 at age 79.

“I was so taken with the story,” said Whe­lan. “Wright had a won­der­ful un­der­stand­ing of hu­man be­ings.”

He es­pe­cially en­joyed the strong in­de­pen­dent women char­ac­ters and was in­trigued by the enor­mity of Clara’s trans­for­ma­tion from the be­gin­ning of the novel to the end.

“She rep­re­sents every woman’s bat­tle to be­come the nav­i­ga­tor of her for­tunes,” he said.

“She fights and she suf­fers. She fights and she suf­fers.”

In 2015, they fi­nally ob­tained the rights to turn the book into a screen adap­ta­tion. And then the work be­gan.

“The big­gest job I had is that the book is so full of sto­ry­telling, and I only have 110 pages of screen play to tell the story,” said Whe­lan.

The cre­ative strug­gle be­came what to leave out, which char­ac­ters to fo­cus on and which ones to com­bine.

“I en­joyed it im­mea­sur­ably; it’s such a good source work,” he said.

Af­ter mul­ti­ple drafts and per­mu­ta­tions, they are in the process of se­cur­ing fund­ing for a multi-episode TV se­ries. The ex­pec­ta­tion is to be­gin film­ing in lo­ca­tions across south­ern On­tario in fall 2019 or the fol­low­ing year. The novel is set over four sea­sons. The se­ries will be ready to watch by 2020 or 2021.

Whe­lan had lunch with Wright in Hamil­ton shortly be­fore his death. He was ex­cited to hear the project was mov­ing for­ward. “He was cu­ri­ous,” said Whe­lan.

And while the novel is set in the 1930s, and was pub­lished in 2001, it’s per­haps more rel­e­vant to­day than ever, said Thompson.

“It’s about women hav­ing a voice,” he said.

It’s also about re­al­iz­ing an au­thor’s am­bi­tion to see his novel on a screen, said Thompson.

In his words: “To know the dream Richard had in his life­time is fi­nally com­ing to pass.”

To fol­low the progress, visit Ballinran En­ter­tain­ment’s Face­book page at https://www.face­book.com/BallinranEnt.

SPE­CIAL TO THE ST. CATHARINES STAN­DARD

Strat­ford-based filmmakers Rick Whe­lan and Craig Thompson are adapt­ing the late nov­el­ist Richard Wright’s book, Clara Cal­lan, into a lim­ited TV se­ries.

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