Which way you goin,’ Billie?
Ex-model ‘n’ movie-extra-turned-novelist Billie Livingston has joined a select group of approximately 20 B.C. authors who have had their fiction turned into a feature film.
March 01st, 2015
“It’s such a mixed bag of feelings, this book-to-film process,” says Livingston.
Based on Billie Livingston’s story, ‘The Trouble with Marlene,” the Canadian-made movie Sitting on the Edge of Marlene had its premiere in October of 2014.
The Vancity Theatre in Vancouver hosted the public debut of the feature in B.C. from February 27 to March 3.
“Ana Valine, the director, has been sympathetic throughout,” says Livingston. “She sent me a quote from John Le Carré that said, ‘Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.’
“On the one hand it’s an enormous compliment that a director could read a story I’ve written and be so sparked by it that she spends the next five years banging on doors, begging, borrowing, and calling in favors all to get that story onto a big screen. It’s stunning and humbling.
“Of course, at the same time it’s hard to see your work changed. I created those characters and to see them on screen saying and doing things that I didn’t imagine is jarring. I think the film’s ending was the toughest part for me.
“Sitting on the Edge of Marlene (that was the story’s original title before the publisher changed it to The Trouble with Marlene) was one of several short pieces that I worked on while mapping out a full-length novel. Marlene was a kind of prequel to what would become One Good Hustle, so ultimately I took those characters in a very different direction than the film did.
“But I knew going in that this was part of the deal. It’s art. I hand over what I create to another artist and that creation goes through the filter of her mind and becomes it’s own thing, a separate creation. That’s exciting! It’s fascinating to see real people acting out your characters.
“And the fact that this film exists…The bare-knuckled guts and tenacity it took for Ana Valine to get it made— especially for a debut! In Canada! — is awe inspiring.
“She just told me that she’d like to do another feature together. This time she’d wants to option, Before I Would Ever Hurt You, the first story in “Greedy Little Eyes.” She’s asked me to write the screen adaption this time. I’ve said yes and I can’t wait to get started.
OTHER BC FICTION MADE INTO MOVIES
Set in the remote Kwakwaka’wakw community of Kingcome Inlet, located about 500 kilometres north of Vancouver, and five kilometres up a shallow fjord, Margaret Craven’s bestseller I Heard The Owl Call My Name (1967) prompted a 1973 movie of the same name starring Tom Courtenay and Dean Jagger, directed by Daryl Duke. As well, feature films have been based on Bertrand Sinclair’s Whiskey Runners (1912), Shotgun Jones (1914), The Cherry Pickets (1914), Big Timber (1917), North of 53 (1917), The Raiders (1921); Alex Philip’s The Crimson West (1925); Guy Morton’s The Black Robe (1927); Lily Adams Beck’s Divine Lady (1929); Hammond Innes’ Campbell’s Kingdom (1952); Rohan O’Grady’s Let’s Kill Uncle (1963); Jane Rule’s Desert of the Heart (1964); Paul St. Pierre’s Breaking Smith’s Quarterhorse (1966); Tom Ardies’ Kosygin is Coming (1974); Anne Cameron’s Dreamspeaker (1979); William Gibson’s The New Rose Hotel (1981), Johnny Mnemonic (1995); W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe (1982); Evelyn Lau’s Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid (1989); Michael Turner’s Hard Core Logo (1993); and Maureen Medved’s The Tracey Fragments (1998).
Fishing With John became the basis for a Hallmark movie, Navigating the Heart (2000), starring one of the former Charlie’s Angels, Jaclyn Smith. (The producers had intended to call the movie Fishing with John from the outset, but they were later prevented from doing because concurrently and coincidentally there was a sport fishing television series in the United States called Fishing with John.) During the making of the made-for-TV movie, Jaclyn Smith, the actor once voted the most beautiful woman in the world, received an autographed copy of Edith Iglauer’s West Coast memoir from the author. “It was interesting to see myself portrayed by someone younger and more beautiful than I am,” Iglauer laughed. “I hope the movie is reasonably honest about fishing… About the only criticism I could make is that the actors weren’t dirty enough. They didn’t have blood all over themselves!”
As well, renowned B.C. journalist Bruce Hutchison published a story called “Park Avenue Logger” that was published in The Saturday Evening Post November, 30, 1935. It became an American move with the same name in 1937, directed by David Howard. It was known as Millionaire Playboy in the U.K. and re-released in North America as Tall Timber.
As with much of Livingston’s fiction, the drama Sitting on the Edge of Marlene presents an intimate and volatile mother-and-daughter tandem; chronic dysfunction and addiction blend with love and loyalty.
Sitting on the Edge of Marlene emanates from the same psychological territory that Livingston explored in her darkly comic first novel, Going Down Swinging, in which a pill-popping, alcohol-dependent mother in the 1970s and her eight-year-old daughter are united by their mutual fear of the Child Protection Agency.
Livingston’s second novel, Cease to Blush, also concerns a daughter’s relationship with her mother. An attractive woman who dabbles in a Vancouver acting career discovers her late mother, renowned as a crusading feminist and lecturer, had an extensive and diverse sexual history in Las Vegas during the Sixties as a stripper, gangster’s moll and singing impressionist named Celia Dare. According to internet sites, Celia Dare is rumoured to have been a bedmate of the Kennedy brothers and Marilyn Monroe.
The title arises from a quote from one of the female characters in the writing of the Marquis de Sade that the protagonist’s mother once used to introduce her first formal university lecture: “Women without principles are never more dangerous than at the age when they have ceased to blush.” In Cease to Blush, Livingston, according to her publisher, “drives the bumpy road from the burlesque stages of Rat Pack Vegas to the bedroom internet porn scenes of today, exploring just how far women have really come.”
Much of the appeal of Livingston’s writing is derived from her lively dialogue, so director Ana Valine was making a smart choice when she chose to write the screenplay based on Livingston’s fiction for her first feature. The film was nominated for seven Leo Awards. Valine won a BC Emerging filmmaker award sponsored by UBCP/ACTRA.
Here is the promotional summary for the film:
“While waiting for her father to get out of prison, clean-living (but experienced) 14-year-old Sammie (Paloma Kwiatkowski) helps make ends meet by joining her pill-popping mother, Marlene (Suzanne Clément), in the family con business. Callum Keith Rennie is featured as Fast Freddy, Marlene’s cohort in pulling off lucrative grifts. As the story progresses over two years, Sammie takes much more control of her life and her relationship with her mother, whose emotional maturity is stymied by her substance abuse. Sammie has little choice but to grow into the role of responsible adult but her morbid obsession with death, particularly her own, casts a dark shadow over her self-discovery.”
After having just won the Danuta Gleed Award for best first collection of Canadian short fiction with Greedy Little Eyes, Livingston profiled the struggle of 16-year-old Sammie Bell not to replicate the scams of two con-artists parents in One Good Hustle (Random House 2012). Horrified to realize she occasionally wishes her alcoholic mother was dead, Sammie takes a summer-long with a ‘normal’ family who provide the “weird, spearmint-fresh feeling” of life in the straight world. While longing for the approval of her con-man Dad, Sammie worries she could be genetically prone to shysterism.
Livingston’s poetry collection The Chick at the Back of the Church was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award.
Born in Hamilton, Ontario on November, 23, 1965, Billie Livingston grew up in Toronto and Vancouver, where she arrived in 1965. She has since lived in Tokyo, Hamburg, Munich and London, England. Billie Livingston’s first employment was filling the dairy coolers in a Macs Milk. She went on to work varying lengths of time as a file clerk, receptionist, cocktail waitress, model, actor, chocolate sampler, and boothhost at a plumber’s convention. She has sold diamonds for a jeweler, done PR work for a beer company, dressed up as “Garfield” for a kitty litter company and as “Bingo the Banana Split” for a Teletoons promotion. She now lives in Vancouver, working on film sets when she’s not writing.
“I grew up here and there between Toronto and Vancouver. Went to more than a dozen schools — counted sixteen once. Always moving. An aunt of mine remarked once that my mother, my sisters and I were all terribly dramatic. It was a relief to know that I came by it naturally. I guess I’d say that natural over-the-topped-ness coupled with being raised on perpetual movement have most likely contributed to my flibberty-gibbet lifestyle. I am ‘Queen of the Moonlighters.’ For most of my adult life, I’ve kept at least three jobs at a time.
“When I graduated high school, I was scouted by a stripper who thought I should be a fashion model. My mother, as part of her AA program, was ‘twelve stepping’ this stripper who wanted to get sobriety. She saw my picture on our mantle, took it to an agent she knew and two months later I had a contract to model in Tokyo. I hated high school and was loathe to continue on to university so I decided to give modelling a shot. Turned out the agent was a sleazy little tyrant who told me on my arrival in Tokyo that I was thousands of dollars in debt and not to even think about leaving or I’d be sued. I stayed for three months. I got through by writing a lot of bad poetry and angry, homesick letters. Writing incessantly kept me sane.
“When I came home to Vancouver, I turned eighteen, got some fake ID and started as a cocktail waitress in a pub downtown. Once in a while, during the day, I modelled for The Bay, Fields, Woolworth and glamorous places like that, but mostly I was an office temp. As an office temp I was fired a couple times — once because my mind kept wandering, causing me to destroy their filing system, the other time because my skirt was too short and I’d been sighted using office stationary to write on during my lunch break.”
Long-listed for 2012 Giller Prize (One Good Hustle)
Winner, Danuta Gleed Award for short fiction, 2011 [for Greedy Little Eyes]
Shortlisted for Pat Lowther 2002, shortlisted for Journey Prize 2001, 1st place This Magazine, Short Fiction, 2000, 1st place Other Voices Short Fiction 1998, 1st place sub-Terrain Short Fiction, 1996.
SEE PRISM INTERVIEW: http://prismmagazine.ca/2013/05/09/an-interview-with-billie-livingston/
Going Down Swinging (Random House 2000). Novel. 0-679-31000-2
The Chick At the Back of the Church (Nightwood Editions, 2001). Poetry.
Cease to Blush (Random House, 2006). Novel. $34.95 0-679-31322-2
Greedy Little Eyes (Random House, 2010). Short stories.
One Good Hustle (Random House 2012)
Sitting on the Edge of Marlene
(Canada, 2014, 90 mins, DCP)
CAST Suzanne Clément, Paloma Kwiatkowski, Callum Keith Rennie
EXEC Rob Merilees, Ana Valine
PROD Amber Ripley
SCR Ana Valine
CAM Steve Cosens
ED Lara Mazur, Fredrik Thorsen
PROD DES Grant Pearse
PROD CO Rodeo Queen Pictures Inc. / Foundation Features Inc.
Related links: Director’s Website