By Valerie Kalfrin
Final Draft, July 25, 2016
Isaac Adamson felt he had a toehold in the film industry when his first novel, Tokyo Suckerpunch,was optioned in 2000—but his spec script Bubbles launched him to a whole new level. Here’s his story.
Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado, Adamson studied film at the University of Colorado at Boulder but soon learned he preferred writing fiction. “I was an awful cinematographer—nothing I shot ever looked the way I wanted—and I learned pretty quickly that while re-shooting a terrible scene cost a pretty penny, rewriting a terrible sentence is free,” he said.
The optioning of Tokyo Suckerpunch—a detective story blending martial arts, gangsters, geishas, and Japanese pop culture—demystified the screenwriting process as Adamson saw the scripts generated during development. After crafting the time-bending thriller, Complication, published in 2012, he wrote his first script, a caper about bumbling criminals accidentally killing Chicago’s mayor. It’s still in the “metaphorical drawer,” but writing it forced him to learn screenwriting, and gave him confidence.
“I’ve been concentrating on screenwriting for about the last three years—and only making a full-time living at it for about the last year or so—so it still feels a little funny calling myself a screenwriter,” he said.
He first thought of Bubbles, a biopic of Michael Jackson by way of his beloved chimpanzee, after running across two items: a news story about Bubbles living in a Florida ape sanctuary after Jackson’s death, and Me Cheetah: My Life in Hollywood, a 2009 pseudo-memoir about the chimp who played Tarzan’s simian pal. The idea of seeing Jackson through Bubbles’s eyes intrigued Adamson, but the story didn’t fully gel until he saw 2014’s Dawn of the Planet of the Apes portray the conflict and hierarchy within the primate social structure.
“A lightbulb just went off: What if Bubbles spoke with a pseudo-Shakespearean voice and believed himself to be the heir of The King of Pop?” Adamson said.
The challenge became not letting Jackson overwhelm the story. “It’s similar in ways to Amadeus in that the story isn’t really about Mozart; it’s about Salieri. Yes, it does function as a Michael Jackson biopic, but he’s not really the protagonist.”
Bubbles topped 2015’s Black List. Soon afterward, Adamson was tapped to adapt Alcon Entertainment’s psychological thriller The Ice Twins, based on S.K. Tremayne’s book about a family turned upside-down after an accident kills one of their twin daughters.
Then producer Andrew Kortschak of End Cue, along with Dan Harmon and his Starburns Industries production company, acquired Bubbles to become a stop-motion animated feature. Harmon was an executive producer of Anomalisa, nominated for a 2016 Best Animated Film Oscar.
“Bubbles wasn’t conceived as animation, and I think that’s part of what Starburns found appealing, given their aesthetic,” Adamson said. “The brand of hyper-realistic stop-motion animation they pioneered in Anomalisa, besides looking amazing, solves a lot of the practical puzzles in turning this script into an actual film, like how do we find an actor who looks like Michael Jackson, how do we train a chimpanzee to do the moonwalk, how can we recreate Neverland without spending a bajillion dollars.”
Adamson enjoys writing and watching most genres except fantasy. His favorite film is 1950’s Sunset Boulevard. “I watch it at least once a year.”
He encourages other writers to read as many scripts as they can, write what interests them, and not get too fixated on a single idea. “Write every day, even if just for an hour,” he said.
He composes ideas in Gmail (easy access anywhere and less intimidating), but once he’s ready to write, he uses Final Draft.