HALIFAX: The film and television rights to the final book from Silver Donald Cameron have been acquired by Pictou Twist Pictures and Ion Inc.
Blood in the Water: A True Story of Revenge in the Maritimes, which chronicled the murder of Phillip Boudreau, is set to be adapted for the screen after Pictou Twist Pictures, the company founded by Trailer Park Boys co-creator Barrie Dunn, optioned the rights just before the holidays.
Dunn told The Reporter said this is “first step” towards getting the book into production.
“We were told by the agents that a lot of people across the country were trying to get the rights to this book,” Dunn explained. “It’s very important for TV producers – especially when the book has come out on the subject, even if it’s a true story, and there’s material in the public domain – to get as close to the story as you can, and one way to do that is acquire the rights to a book that’s been written.”
Dunn’s partner in the project, Patrick Graham, said he was initially attracted to the book, which led them to meet Cameron’s partner Marjorie Simmins in the fall.
“It was Silver Donald’s portrait of the Acadian world that was attractive to us,” Graham stated. “He really captures, in what’s kind of a memoir or a love letter to a place that meant a lot to him. That’s one of the reasons that we liked it, that we thought was a really powerful portrait of that world.”
Because they were successful in what he described as a “very competitive bidding process,” Dunn said the producers have exclusive rights over the next couple of years to use the book to develop a script for a production, as either a TV show or a film.
“It doesn’t mean that we have a broadcast deal, it means that we have the right to talk to broadcasters,” Dunn noted.
Currently Dunn and Graham are starting a script which they can then shop around.
“We have to get our nails dirty, dig into the story more and find out what the best way to tell this story is,” Dunn said. “In the next couple of months, that’s going to be our task; start writing the script and figure out from there what broadcaster or streamers we’re going to approach.”
Dunn noted that what fascinates him is how the people depicted in the book are “not black and white,” but are very real people with “profound emotions.”
“I think the key thing we have to do as writers is to make it real. If by making it real, it sounds comic, or unbelievable, then that’s the way it goes,” he said. “If there’s something funny, it’s not because we’re trying to be funny, it’s not because we’re trying to make light of something, it’s because an event happened that’s so bizarre, or so humanly real, or so poignantly funny. That’s the key for us as writers; to make these characters real, no matter what they did, or what they believe in.”
Blood in the Water tells the story of the 2013 murder of Philip Boudreau, a notorious outlaw – equally loved and hated – who was killed while vandalizing the lobster traps of three Cape Breton fishermen.
The book was billed as a “must-read” by Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The acquisition deal for Blood in the Water was brokered by Hotchkiss Daily and Associates on behalf of the Bukowski Agency and by Sean Barclay of the Gersh Agency on behalf of Pictou Twist Pictures.
“We are delighted to have negotiated a deal with Barrie Dunn and Patrick Graham for the film and TV rights to Blood In The Water,” said Denise Bukowski, Cameron’s literary agent. “It is not merely a story of murder for lobster as was portrayed in the media. It’s much more complex than that. Philip Boudreau’s murder was gut-wrenching and you feel incredible sympathy for him. Yet it’s also hard not to empathize with the lobster fishers who killed him.”
Dunn is the co-creator, writer and producer of Canadian mockumentary series The Trailer Park Boys, which ran for over 100 episodes and spawned a number of feature films.
“It is a dark, compelling story, but not without its humour,” noted Dunn. “Philip Boudreau was a rogue and a rascal, a character not unlike the type we often met and saw portrayed sympathetically in Trailer Park Boys.”
Dunn said he first met Cameron back in 1978 when he was with what was then known as Mulgrave Road Co-op Theatre. At the time, Dunn said the group was doing a play about the Nova Scotia Fishermen’s Strike of 1970-71 and much of the historical material and stories about the people involved in the strike came from Cameron’s book, The Education of Everett Richardson.
Dunn recalled how Cameron introduced the troupe to Everett Richardson, his wife Jean and many others involved in the strike.
Over the years, Dunn said he would frequently run into Cameron, and they would also meet to discuss story ideas for television.
“Like most Nova Scotians, I was aware of the Philip Boudreau case and followed it in the media, but it was Patrick who brought (Cameron’s) book to my attention and it was his idea to develop it for television. It didn’t take much to convince me but all credit goes to him.”
Graham said he first heard of the book during a CBC Radio interview with Marjorie Simmins.
“I bought the book right away, and I was really just blown away by it,” he recalled. “I had known the area, but I hadn’t known it in that way. It was eye-opening.”
Dunn founded Pictou Twist Pictures with Graham to focus on political dramas and thrillers, stories of individual and collective struggle, as well as irreverent comedies. The pair had previously worked together on feature film Afghan Luke starring Nick Stahl.
“The story is timeless, almost mythical,” said Graham. “Like Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, Blood In The Water is really about how a tight knit community deals with an outlaw when the authorities are unwilling or unable to do so.”
Graham said first visited the area in the 1980s as a student when he arrived in a snowstorm at night. He was lost and looking for Farley Mowat’s house in River Bourgeois, where he was planning to housesit for the winter. He said he has returned often and has many good friends in the area.
“He captures how tolerant Acadian communities are of characters,” Graham said of Cameron’s work. “It’s so open, it’s an open part of the world; people are curious, they like people, people are accepted on their own terms,” Graham said of the area.
Graham went on to work as a journalist and write for American, British and Canadian magazines and newspapers on conflicts in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia, including Afghanistan before and after 9/11.
During the U.S. invasion of Iraq, where he lived for two years, Graham was the London Observer correspondent and wrote about the war for The New York Times Magazine, Outside, The Guardian, The National Post, The Walrus Magazine, and The Globe and Mail.
His June 2004 cover story for Harper’s Magazine ‘Beyond Fallujah: A year with the Iraqi resistance,’ a ground breaking article about the tribal insurgency in Anbar Province, won an Overseas Press Club of America award for foreign magazine reporting.
Graham has written for Harper’s about Colombia and the Arab Awakening, and published an eBook with Doubleday about the war in Libya.
He co-wrote the feature film, Afghan Luke. Loosely based on his reporting in Afghanistan, the film starred Nick Stahl and Lewis Black.
Graham won the Kurt Schork Award for freelance journalism from Columbia University and has an M.A in Classics from Dalhousie University. He received an honourary doctorate from the University of King’s College in 2016 and lives on the South Shore.
Once the pair secure a development or broadcast deal, then they must raise money for the production. After that, they’ll look for directors and to fill out the cast.
“It’s way too early at this point to say when we might go into production,” Dunn added. “We would love to do it sooner than later, maybe in the summer of 2021 is something to aim for.”