Any frequenter of Books & Books knows the local chain’s owner, Mitchell Kaplan. The Miami-based bookseller has 35 years of experience expanding his business throughout South Florida while national chains such as Waldenbooks and Borders failed. Few, however, know that Kaplan is one-half of the TV and film production firm the Mazur/Kaplan Company, which has now released its first theatrical movie.
Kaplan is a soft-spoken yet energetic man. He can hardly be contained sitting with his back against the wall of his Coral Gables flagship, behind him photos of famous authors who have made appearances at his shop. The man with the lush, curly salt-and-pepper hair gestures with his arms as he talks about the eight or nine years it took to make The Man Who Invented Christmas, a movie based on a book of the same name about Charles Dickens’ process while writing A Christmas Carol.
“For ten years now, we have been developing books,” he says about the company he runs with California-based Paula Mazur, “and now they’re all beginning to come to fruition.”
An avid reader, Kaplan has long been interested in film adaptations of books. It was his sister, Marcy Ross, the president of Skydance TV, who introduced him to Mazur about 12 years ago. Mazur already had experience adapting books into movies. She recalls that Kaplan told her: “'I read books that I think would make good movies, and I don’t have anyone to talk to about it.'
“I was like, well, send me one because that’s kinda what I do,” she says, speaking from their company’s Beverly Hills office. He sent her The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a 2008 historical novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, and it made an impression. Six months later, they partnered to have it produced as a movie. “I thought he had a good hunch. He has very good instincts because it was great fodder for a movie.” That movie is set to premiere next spring.
After producing a pilot for Hulu (what would have been a series based on Delirium, Lauren Oliver’s dystopian young-adult novel) and a movie for the Hallmark channel called One Christmas Eve in 2014, Kaplan and Mazur now feel excited to see their first theatrical movie production open in time for the holidays.
“I love Christmas movies,” Kaplan says. “It’s a Wonderful Life is really one of my favorite movies. I wanted to turn this into something really joyous,” he says of The Man Who Invented Christmas. “You’ll walk out feeling good. It’s not a cynical approach to anything.”
The book, published in 2008 by Crown, was written by Les Standiford, the director of Florida International University’s Creative Writing Program. Speaking via phone from New York City, a day before the film’s premiere there, Standiford laughs when asked if he ever imagined that his nonfiction book about Dickens’ struggle to write and self-publish A Christmas Carol would become a movie. “First of all, it’s hard enough to get a book published about a guy writing a book,” he says.
Though Standiford and Kaplan are longtime friends, the writer says it was Mazur’s husband, Robert Mickelson, who has his own production company, who convinced him that his book would make a good movie. “Little by little, I began to believe,” Standiford says.
“Nonfiction has always been a place that’s very good because you’re not just replicating a book," Kaplan notes. "You’re replicating that experience and spinning it, and with a really great screenwriter you can come up with something really special.”
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Standiford, who graduated from the American Film Institute, says it would have been impossible for him to have based a screenplay on his novel, which goes into minutiae about the publishing world and finances in the early 1800s. He thinks authors are terrible at adapting their own work because they want to include every detail. “I was happy with what [screenwriter] Susan Coyne did,” he says. “I think that was the correct thing to emphasize here: how it got done along with how it almost didn’t get done.”
The movie’s London-based director, Bharat Nalluri, says there's an inherent challenge in presenting the creative process of a writer onscreen. “As a director, you are always looking for a visual metaphor to externalize what is on the whole an artist’s internal process,” he says. “In our film, we did this by having the characters that Dickens created magically appearing and confronting him in the real world. In this way, I could make his authorial stumbling blocks much more dramatic, revealing, and, ultimately, more visual.”
Kaplan’s collaborators attest to the fact that making movies is a collaborative process, and Kaplan remains humble about his role as executive producer even though Mazur refers to him as “the well-connected Mitch.” After visiting the set in England earlier this year and watching the director, composer, and sound mixers work in a studio, Kaplan muses on the importance of team effort in making a movie. “It’s about finding consensus that moves the film to a better place,” he says. “I think if you can trust the people you work with, you can always move the film to a better place.”
The Man Who Invented Christmas. Starring Dan Stevens, Christopher Plummer, and Jonathan Pryce. Directed by Bharat Nalluri. Written by Susan Coyne; based on the book by Les Standiford. 104 minutes. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Sunset Place 24, AMC Aventura 24, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and Regal Shadowood 16.