It sounds like every writer’s dream: Have a book published, have a Hollywood director pick it up and turn it to film, and even get a role yourself. That’s what’s happening to Hans Ostrom, professor of African American Studies and English at the University of Puget Sound, whose 1991 murder mystery “Three to Get Ready” is about to film as “Napa,” in Napa itself, under the direction of Michael Kerr and featuring Rose McGowan. And Ostrom himself has a role.
“It’s pretty exciting – it’s the first screenplay I’ve had produced,” says Ostrom, who has been writing screenplays since the 1990s.
Though he’s had poetry published since the 1970s, “Three to Get Ready” was Ostrom’s first novel. The Fulbright scholar has since published another, “Honoring Juanita” (2010) and recently co-released a book of short stories with fellow UPS faculty Beverly Conner and Ann Putnam. He’s taught at UPS for 28 years.
So how do you get a book made into a film starring Rose McGowan (“Conan the Barbarian,” “The Pastor’s Wife”)? It helps to know the right people. Ostrom met Kerr, a longtime director whose previous work includes plays, documentaries and television, including the Emmy-nominated “The Men’s Room,” at a writers’ conference in the mid-1990s, and they’ve been friends ever since. “Napa,” co-written by both, is Kerr’s first feature.
“He’d been sifting through scripts, and then he called me to say that mine was at least as good,” recalls Ostrom.
Telling the story of a small-town sheriff who unwillingly follows up a series of brutal murders that embroil even a hard-bitten L.A. journalist, “Three to Get Ready” is a real cliffhanger, and explores the dynamics of small towns with honesty and sympathy. Things change in the film, however: The location moves from a tiny High Sierra town to Napa, and the hero changes to a heroine – Scarlett Harding, who is updated to the 21st century with three tours of Afghanistan under her belt.
“It was Michael’s decision to move it to Napa,” says Ostrom, citing the popularity of the wine country film “Sideways.” “And it’s beautiful country.” The Sierra, where Ostrom grew up, is also “very beautiful, but of a different kind.”
Scarlett Harding’s also much more glamorous than the original hero Keith, says Ostrom, who chose her name to suit. There’s also more sex and violence, Hollywood style. Playing Harding’s journalist love-interest is Sean Astin, who played Sam Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings.”
And there’s Ostrom himself, in a minor role as – probably – a bartender.
So which does Ostrom like writing better – novels or screenplays?
“Screenplays,” he says, in his calm, academic manner. “They’re almost completely different art forms. With film you constantly have to think of imagery and moving people around, think of scenes that tell the story. With a novel you can take more time – in a screenplay you only have 90-100 pages to get the story told. I started as a poet, so in a way it’s harder to write a novel. A screenplay is more like poetry: It’s spare. You have to choose your words carefully.
Ostrom has plans to begin another novel soon, but hasn’t decided what I’ll be about, only that it’s another mystery.
“Maybe it’s time for me to set a mystery in Tacoma,” he says, smiling. “I love the way the streets change names, like from Alder to Pine. You could get caught in the middle.”
“Three to Get Ready” is available from www.amazon.com.