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Bookseller's Foray Into Hollywood Is A Dickens Of A Tale

Nov 27, 2017

Among the many movies opening for the holidays is one with a new take on an old story. The Man Who Invented Christmas, starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer, is about Charles Dickens and the creation of A Christmas Carol. It's a distinctly literary tale — which isn't surprising, since one of the film's producers is a well known bookseller taking his first dip in the world of film.

Mitch Kaplan has a high profile in the book business as the owner of Books & Books in Miami, and one of the founders of the very popular Miami Book Fair. But when he made the leap from bookselling to moviemaking, his producing partner Paula Mazur says, he was just a tad over-eager.

"I would wake up in the morning when we started working together, and in my inbox there would be: 'Whaddya think of this? This could be good for TV, how about this for a feature, I think this would attract a top director,' Mitch kind of shooting stuff out to me."

Mazur says it didn't take long to see that Kaplan has good instincts for books that could make good movies. And with his connections in publishing, it was easy to get an inside track on new releases. But, Kaplan soon learned, you can't always get what you want.

"Very early on I was given a galley of a book," he says, "and I read it and I fell in love with it on the plane. And I gave it to my — at the time they were 12 years old, twins — and they both fell in love with it. And I started chasing the agent, and Paula did too, and we thought this would make a great film. And of course it was The Hunger Games."

Which of course went on to become both a blockbuster book and film series — way out of Mazur and Kaplan's league. The Man Who Invented Christmas is their first full length feature release, based on a book about a famous author. When the movie opens Charles Dickens is trying to reconcile his newfound fame with a massive case of writer's block. And, says Mazur, he is running up some big debts.

"We see him as a 31-year-old literary rock star. He was just a really big deal by the time he was 30, and when we see him, he's gotten a bigger house. He's taking everything out, and he's putting in marble and brocade and all sorts of things, spending lots of money that he doesn't have."

Desperate to come up with a money-making idea, Dickens pitches a proposal for a Christmas book to his skeptical publishers. Their resistance starts his imagination clicking, and everywhere he goes finds inspiration for the book. His characters begin coming to life, dictating the way the story should go. Robert Mickelson, another producer on the film, says that's the way Dickens actually wrote.

"Dickens would be upstairs in his study, and take on the voices of all the different characters and make these faces in the mirror, and almost become the characters as he's writing," Mickelson says. "We heard that from several people and that became the sort of this jumping-off point to kind of create this magical realism that we have in the movie."

And of course, says Mitch Kaplan, one character stands out above all others. "We immediately knew that we wanted to tell this story through the eyes of Dickens, and also tell Dickens's backstory at the same time. And what better way to do it then to have him being led by another guide, the guide that he created — which was Scrooge."

Kaplan says he is eager to bring more books to life on screen. He's not leaving bookselling behind, but he is enjoying his second career. "I feel like I'm developing a new muscle. I feel like I'm taking what I do as a bookseller — which is basically turning people onto story and then reinterpreting it so they can have a different experience."

As for Kaplan's partner Paula Mazur, she started off thinking a partnerhsip between a bookseller and a film producer might be an odd thing. Now she says, it seems like a great pairing. Their next film, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, is out in April.

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Among the many movies opening for the holidays is one with a new take on an old story. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" starring Dan Stevens and Christopher Plummer is about Charles Dickens and the creation of "A Christmas Carol." It is a distinctly literary tale, which isn't surprising since one of the film's producers is a well-known bookseller. And as NPR's Lynn Neary reports, this is his first foray into film.

LYNN NEARY, BYLINE: Mitch Kaplan has a high profile in the book business as the owner of Books & Books in Miami and one of the founders of the very popular Miami Book Fair. But when he made the leap from bookselling to movie making, his producing partner Paula Mazur says he was just a tad over eager.

PAULA MAZUR: I would wake up in the morning when we started working together, and in my inbox there would be, what do you think of this? This could be good for TV. How about this for a feature? I think this would attract a top director - Mitch kind of shooting stuff out to me.

NEARY: Mazur says it didn't take long to see that Kaplan has good instincts for books that could make good movies. And with his connections in publishing, it was easy to get an inside track on new releases. But Kaplan soon learned you can't always get what you want.

MITCH KAPLAN: Very early on, I was given a galley of a book. And I read it, and I fell in love with it on the plane. And I gave it to - at my time, they were 12 years old - twins and they both fell in love with it. And I started chasing the agent. And Paula did, too. And we thought this would make, you know, a great film. And of course it was "The Hunger Games."

NEARY: Which of course went on to become both a blockbuster book and film series way out of Mazur and Kaplan's league. "The Man Who Invented Christmas" is their first full-length feature release based on a book about a famous author. When the movie opens, Charles Dickens is trying to reconcile his newfound fame with a massive case of writer's block. And, says Mazur, he's running up some big debts.

MAZUR: We see him as a 31-year-old literary rock star. He was just a really big deal by the time he was 30. And when we see him, he's gotten a bigger house. He's taking everything out, and he's putting in marble and brocade and all sorts of things, spending lots of money that he doesn't have.

NEARY: Desperate to come up with a money-making idea, Dickens pitches a proposal for a Christmas book to his skeptical publishers.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS")

IAN MCNEICE: (As Chapman) Why Christmas?

DAN STEVENS: (As Charles Dickens) Well, why not?

MCNEICE: (As Chapman) Does anybody really celebrate it anymore apart from our clerk, who never misses an opportunity to take a day off with pay?

DAVID MCSAVAGE: (As Hall) More or less an opportunity for picking a man's pocket every 25th of December (laughter).

MCNEICE: (As Chapman) What we mean to say, Mr. Dickens, is - not much of market for Christmas books. What?

NEARY: Dickens' imagination starts clicking, and everywhere he goes, he finds inspiration for the book. His characters begin coming to life, dictating the way the story should go. Robert Mickelson, another producer on the film, says that's the way Dickens actually wrote.

ROBERT MICKELSON: Dickens would be upstairs in his study and take on voices of all the different characters and make these faces in the mirror and almost become the characters as he's writing. We heard that from several people, and that became sort of this jumping off point to kind of create this magical realism that we have in the movie.

NEARY: And of course, says Mitch Kaplan, one character stands out above all others.

KAPLAN: We immediately knew that we wanted to tell this story through the eyes of Dickens and also tell Dickens' backstory at the same time. And what better way to do it than to have him being led by another guide, the guide that he created, which was Scrooge?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE MAN WHO INVENTED CHRISTMAS")

CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: (As Scrooge) If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled in his own plum pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart, he should.

STEVENS: (As Charles Dickens) Oh, Mr. Scrooge, you and I are going to do wonderful things together. Oh, but he was a tight-fisted hand at this grindstone, Scrooge.

NEARY: Mitch Kaplan says he's eager to bring more books to life on screen. He's not leaving bookselling behind, but he is enjoying his second career.

KAPLAN: And I feel like I'm developing a new muscle. I feel like I'm taking what I do as a bookseller, which is basically turning people onto story, and then reinterpreting it so they can have a different experience.

NEARY: As for Kaplan's partner Paula Mazur, she started off thinking a partnership between a bookseller and a film producer might be an odd thing. Now she says it seems like a great pairing. Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MYCHAEL DANNA'S "CURTAIN UP") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.