‘This can be a strong film’

MARSHALL – Anthony Neil Smith’s rogue ex-cop character Billy Lafitte is going to soon hit the movie screen.

Smith, chairman of the English department at Southwest Minnesota State University, recently signed a deal with Minnesota production companies Killing Joke Films and Pounding Heart Multimedia to make his novel “Hogdoggin'” into a film.

The movie, which is slated to be released in early 2015, is being directed by Paul von Stoetzel of Killing Joke Films. He won several awards for his documentary, “Snuff: A Documentary About Killing on Camera.”

“He’s really gritty, and he likes the underground crime writers,” Smith said about von Stoetzel.

von Stoetzel said he came across Smith’s work when he was introduced to the crime authors community a few years ago by author Dennis Tafoya.

“He brought me in and showed me a bit of the landscape and the vast amount of incredibly talented writers who were working in the crime genre,” von Stoetzel said. “The point is that I have a knack and aptitude for adapting works from literature, even if it’s for film or theater, and I had been looking for works to adapt or scripts to take on whether they were originals, adaptations or already existing works I could adapt with the original author or with someone else.”

“That’s how he found out about me,” Smith said.

von Stoetzel said Tafoya introduced him to a group of authors whose work that has blown him away and continues to do so.

“And it’s not just the stories they write or the detailed characters or how dark some of them take their work, but how they usually write very cinematically,” von Stoetzel said. “It sounds hokey, but quite often I see the setup and what kind of framing the scene would be when I read a lot of these stories, novels and novellas, and that is exciting as hell. So among these various folks who work in this genre and cross over to others as well, I found Neil’s work and read ‘Yellow Medicine’ and eventually ‘Hogdoggin” which I really enjoy.”

When he learned that Killing Joke Productions and Pounding Heart Media was interested in adapting one of his novels, Smith said his response was “I don’t believe anything movie people tell me until it actually happens.”

Smith recently met von Stoetzel and Bridget Cronin Sutton of Pounding Heart Multimedia for the first time at an event in Minneapolis.

“I was just really nervous,” Smith said about the possibility of one of his books being made into a movie. “I’ve seen a couple of close calls with movie scripts I’ve written.” He said he’s also had writer friends who have had movie deals on their books and lived vicariously through their troubles.

von Stoetzel said he’d never read a story quite like “Hogdoggin.'” It evades definition, which is really cool for an outsider looking at a story, he said.

“Billy Lafitte isn’t a hero by any means, but he’s a protagonist,” von Stoetzel said. “Rome is our antagonist, but he’s no villain. These things immediately pique my interest when it comes to an adaptation because I can dig my teeth in as a director with characters like that and have some serious fun. It’s characters like that that help make a story.

“It’s also essentially a travelogue of pain and misery for everyone involved as we follow Lafitte and even the story of being ‘on the road’ is very cinematic and interesting from a visual standpoint. But to be honest, I believe this can be a strong film because it has well fleshed out characters placed within a strong story.”

Smith had asked von Stoetzel if he was interested in doing a trailer for the third book in the Billy Lafitte series, “The Baddest Ass.” A scene was turned into a script, and the trailer was live action. Smith said von Stoetzel turned out a professional, excellent trailer, using local music and local actors.

After talking with von Stoetzel and Cronin Sutton, Smith said he had a couple of requests.

“I told them what I needed to feel comfortable, and I wanted the truth all the time,” Smith said. Smith said von Stoetzel’s and Cronin Sutton’s excitement about doing the movie project swept him up as well.

“It’s a Minnesota story, and these guys being Minnesotans will make it a good state movie,” Smith added.

It’s a small movie, and Smith said he’s excited about the duo doing the movie in Minnesota rather than in Hollywood.

Smith said von Stoetzel already has a timeline in place, and he was even asked what kind of music he wants on the soundtrack.

“They’re going to work quickly,” Smith said.

von Stoetzel said he’s been going through the novel and finding what can be cut down, what is essential and what is in between.

“Basically I’ve been going through the broad strokes before actually writing the adaptation,” he said. “I’ve also just been going through the logistics of finding a writing partner, which I have, and making sure that the two of us click for this project.” von Stoetzel said the team has begun looking at basic areas where it would like to film around the Midwest or “at least what kind of looks we find fitting.”

von Stoetzel said he’s really looking forward to creating a different atmosphere for the various locations and scenes.

“For a director that can be a very fun process,” he said. “For example, Lafitte is captured and tortured in the basement of a very rundown hick bar, so for that, I will want to go very grimy and dirty on every level. The kind of basement you can taste in the back of your mouth. But then I’ll have the exact opposite in Rome’s home, where he and his wife live in what would seem like an almost sterilized existence.

“Also, and this is part of my history, I want all of the violence to be very visceral. Violence that goes unfelt by the audience is a failure in my humble opinion.”

Smith said the “Hogdoggin'” film project is huge for von Stoetzel.

“It’ll be the biggest budget Paul’s worked with,” Smith said. Smith said he hopes that von Stoetzel’s career will “blow up” with this project.

“I just want to see what they come up with,” Smith said.

In a perfect world, if “Hogdoggin'” is received well, and they has another opportunity like this, von Stoetzel said he would like to approach Smith about making it a part of the Billy Lafitte series and see if they could work together on making a film on the third book.

“But the first focus is making ‘Hogdoggin” into the strongest film I can crank out and do justice to some very well done subject matter that I am honored to adapt,” he said.