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Nick Flynn began writing a memoir in 1997. It took him seven years before it was ready to be published as Another Bulls—t Night in Suck City. Paul Weitz began writing a screenplay adaptation of Nick’s memoir in 2004. It took him seven years before it was ready to be filmed as ‘Being Flynn’. Both Weitz and Nick were compelled to tell Nick’s story, as well as that of another man – Jonathan Flynn, Nick’s father.
Nick’s memoir chronicles his life growing up in suburban Massachusetts in the 1970s and his work at a Boston homeless shelter in the 1980s. He reflects, “I hadn’t grown up with my father; I didn’t know him well. It had been 18 years since I last saw him. Then he ended up a guest, a resident in the shelter where I worked. “Our lives intersected, and we got to know each other a little.” While facing down a painful family history in the form of his long-estranged father, Nick also faced up to his own drug and alcohol addiction.
Weitz read the book upon its 2004 publication, and immediately felt that it should be a movie. Corduroy Films’ Michael Costigan introduced Nick to Weitz, who lobbied the author for a chance to make the movie. Nick was so encouraged by their first meeting that he soon gave his blessing for the feature film adaptation.
Nick reflects, “Paul really had a cogent vision of the material from the beginning. Once we decided to move forward and work together, he wrote a first draft of the script that was quite spectacular.” Paul Weitz’s work as writer and director had consistently gravitated to family dynamics, most often exploring father/son relationships or their equivalents. But Being Flynn would situate him in a new dramatic context, requiring the articulation of a compelling point of view on an emotional real-life narrative.
At the heart of Weitz’s approach to writing the screenplay adaptation was maintaining respect for Nick’s life experiences while also exploring the universal theme of family. The specifics would be of a child reconciling his own path with his parents’ lives, respective flaws and all. Over the course of the 30 drafts Weitz wrote before filming began, elements of the story would be augmented and characters would be written as amalgams of true-life people.
Through each draft, the mordantly amusing and powerful moments that resonated with the book’s readers were retained. Nick notes, “With my years spent on the book, I know from experience how so much of what you write doesn’t end up in the final product. “But there were people at various studios that would give ill-founded advice on a beautiful draft that Paul had written, that would have made it bad.
Take one beat out of it, and you realize – or should have realized – that you can’t do that, because it makes another one happen. One line hinges on another; Paul’s script was like a poem in that way.” Producer Andrew Miano, partnered with brothers Paul and Chris Weitz in ‘Depth of Field’, states that he “still has all the drafts, in case anyone doubts that there were in fact 30.
There was never one with a ‘Hollywood ending,’ though some versions of the script were darker than others. This is a story about real people going through real experiences. It’s Nick’s story, but it’s also Jonathan’s; Paul was able to visualize the back-and-forth, including when it came time to incorporate voiceover.
“We all fell in love with the book, and like many good projects it has been a long road to getting it made. But when we find material that matters to us, we stick with it.” Nick reflects, “We had hit it off right away, but my respect for Paul and his process has only grown over the years of knowing him – and of his struggling to get this movie made.”
“Paul Weitz had reached out to Nick from the very beginning,” comments Nick’s wife, actress Lili Taylor. “I loved watching them work together and do research together. I admire Paul’s tenacity and passion.” The conversations between Nick and Weitz about the movie never stopped, even when the writer/director was otherwise engaged directing three feature films – and getting a fourth released – over the seven years.
The duo’s extensive rounds of research would take them to Boston several times. They met with counselors on duty at the shelter where Nick had worked and where his father had stayed. Nick remembers, “Paul and I were there for dinner. We were there for the showers, for bedtime – which, for most, is 9:00 PM. I still know many people who work there – and there are still people there who were guests when I was working at the shelter.”
There was also a ride-along for Nick and Paul, on the nightly “van scout” encouraging people to come off the streets and into the shelter. Nick reports, “Paul and I were both wearing very thin jackets in 5-degree Boston weather. We had to be lent puffy coats from the van.
We got out around 2:00 AM and walked around, going to this one area where I had remembered things taking place. By the time we came back to the van, it was gone – the call had come in that someone was in trouble. Standing out there waiting – hoping – for the van to come, we had it conveyed to us what that would feel like.
“Paul wanted to absorb it all. Once we were back in the van, we were told about what happened to a man who hadn’t come in from the cold the week before; he had been beaten to death by some young adults. Paul made sure that story made it into the movie; that night, he became starkly aware that the homeless – often seen as a threat – are so vulnerable, whether because of the cold or because of danger from other people.”