Michael Konyves is a Montreal screenwriter and Concordia grad who is best known for his most recent work as the screenwriter of Barney’s Version; a Canadian film starring Paul Giamatti, Minnie Driver, Rosamund Pike and Dustin Hoffman based on Mordecai Richler’s last novel. Last week, it was announced that Konyves is nominated for a Genie award for best adapted screenplay. The Concordian spoke with him over the phone from Los Angeles.
Concordian: How was your experience working with the cast and crew of Barney’s Version?
Michael Konyves: All of the experience was great. When you’re writing – first in the beginning, you just hope you can pay your rent. Then you hope one day you can get a movie made; then you hope one day you can get a movie made that is actually a good movie. So, when you are working on something where you have this kind of cast it’s pretty much as good as it gets. It is as good as it gets when it comes to making movies. I mean it’s the reason you go into it in the first place.
How did you get to be a part of this project?
I knew of the book from years ago when it came out. And then, a few years back, I guess it’s three years now, I picked it up and started reading it again, and I wondered who had the rights to it. And I found out that it was Robert Lantos, and I knew someone that knew him, so I said “Hey, can you do what you can to maybe get me in the room with him?” They managed to, and I got to meet him for like five minutes. And he was like “What the hell do you want to talk about?” As it turns out, which I didn’t know at the time, which was good, was that Robert and Mordecai were very good friends. …
Robert was working on trying to adapt this for like 12 years, and there had been five writers before me, including Mordecai before he died, and lots of big writers. I certainly was not in the league of writers he was looking at to try to figure out how to adapt the novel, because no one could really figure out how to crack the structure of the book. It is a first person novel told by a guy who is getting Alzheimer’s, and it spans 40 years and it’s just this man’s mind poured out on paper.
After I met with him, I nervously just told him some thoughts, and he let me read the last draft, and on my own, I went off and I wrote a 30 page treatment of the whole movie on spec. So he wasn’t asking me for this and he wasn’t expecting it. That’s what I sent back to him a month later, and he hired me to write a first draft based on that. After that, we worked on it for a year and half until he was ready to go out and approach actors.
What are the advantages of being from Montreal, in terms of studying and starting your career here?
I think it was advantageous in the beginning. When I started working, just being a P.A. (production assistant) on sets, and everything. At that time, it was easier to move around between departments. I got to try a lot of different things. I wasn’t in a union at the time, but I really got to learn a lot just by the fact that I was eager and wanted to learn. […] It’s just a nice environment. I’m English, but Quebec is a real anomaly, almost in the world where it’s a province within a country that has its own completely separate entertainment industry. There’s a really nice vibe with all the film crews in Quebec because they get to work on their own things; they work on stuff that they really like; they’re making for their own market. The movies aren’t that expensive so they can make great dramas or they can make a great comedy or a character piece, that otherwise would be hard to finance. […] It lends a lot to the vibe and the energy of working in Quebec which I think is really great.
How do you feel about being nominated for best adapted screenplay at the Genies?
It’s an amazing honour and genuinely humbling to be nominated. We have a really special and exciting film community in Canada, and it’s wonderful to celebrate the work that goes on in this country that has given all of artists so much opportunity and support. For me, it’s just amazing to be associated with the legacy of Mordecai Richler in any way. To have somehow been so fortunate to have been given the chance to work on Barney’s Version was, and has continued to be, a writer’s, and especially a Canadian writer’s, dream.
Any nomination for any film is great because you hope it will help increase your film’s visibility and maybe get more people out to see it. That’s what they are all about in the end for me. You have hundreds of people working equally as hard on a film, and everything is done to serve the film as a whole. I know we are all excited by the nominations because this is a truly Canadian film, by Canadians, about Canadians, from one of Canada’s greatest authors.