HAVERHILL — Haverhill may be going Hollywood.
Best-selling author Andre Dubus III said he has signed a contract to have his memoir "Townie'' about growing up in Haverhill made into a movie.
Dubus said he will write the screen play and expects to have much say over which actors play him and other people featured in the book, which recounts his teenage and young adult life in Haverhill in the 1970s.
He also said he wants much of the movie to be filmed in Haverhill, as well as Newburyport where his family lived when he was a young child before moving to Haverhill.
Dubus told The Eagle-Tribune yesterday that two brothers who are actors and producers on the west coast now have a one-year option on the movie rights because of the agreement he signed on Thursday.
"I really like how they talk about the book and that they want me to do the screenplay," Dubus said. "And the money is right. Sometimes you get the ... passion (from would-be producers) but they can't come up with any money."
He declined to say how much he was paid for the movie rights or identify the brothers, saying they plan their own announcement.
Dubus said he wants the movie to be true to his story and wants filming to take place locally. He also wants locals to be involved.
"I would insist that as many Haverhill people as possible serve as extras, especially some of the people in my book - my friends, and even some of my enemies who want to be in it," Dubus said.
Newburyport and primarily Haverhill serve as the prime backdrops to Dubus' memoir of growing up in the 1970s, a time when formerly bustling factory buildings in towns along the Merrimack River had been abandoned and downtowns struggled to survive and find a new identity in the wake of urban renewal of the 1960s. His family life wasn't an easy one, with a mom who struggled to feed him and his three siblings after she and their father divorced. The book also details an urge that drew him to a dark side - how he became a street fighter to protect family members and other people, and then broke out of that lifestyle to become a writer.
"Townie'' was released in February and was on the New York Times best-seller list for six weeks, rising as high as number four. Dubus spent five weeks touring 35 cities promoting "Townie,'' and since the release of the book he's made 70 promotional appearances. He said that at each event he meets someone who tells him his story resonated with their life.
"So many people identify with the childhood I had," Dubus said. "It could be a blue-collar town in Idaho, or New Jersey or Florida. A lot of people are identifying with the kind of scrappy, single-parent, low-income childhood I had. There are many people in this country who have had similar childhoods and grew up as stronger and more resilient persons.''
Dubus said it's far too early to tell which actor might play him in a movie based on his book, "Townie," or who might play friends and members of his family. But when it's time to choose the actors, he will be intimately involved to make sure they are the right people.
"There are a few actors I can see playing my father, but it's too early," Dubus said. "I'm still trying to get my head around writing this screen play."
His father, Andre Dubus, was a longtime professor at the former Bradford College in Haverhill. The elder Dubus was also a master fiction writer. He died in 1999 at age 62 of an apparent heart attack.
This will be the second of the younger Dubus' books to be made into a movie. His novel "House of Sand and Fog" was turned into an Academy Award nominated film. His novel "The Garden of Last Days" is under contract with actor Gerard Butler's production company, and his first novel, "Bluesman" has been in movie development for years.
Dubus said his film agent helped him narrow down the list of people who were interested in turning "Townie'' into a movie.
The men they chose have a year to put together the financing they'll need to begin production, he said. But before that happens, they plan to visit the area soon to see the places Dubus describes in the book.
"They'll be coming out in a few weeks and we'll spend a few days driving through Newburyport and mostly Haverhill," Dubus said. "I strongly hope they will be shooting in Haverhill."
He said that if they can't get financing together within a year, they have an option to pay him again for another six months for more time.
"Giving the writer an option fee means I can't shop it around to anyone else," he said.
Through the magic of Hollywood, today's establishments that were once Dubus' haunts could be made to look like they did 35 years ago, he said.
On Thursday night, Dubus was guest speaker at the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce's annual dinner at DiBurro's function hall. He entertained the crowd with a humorous talk about where he gets his ideas for stories, and how everyone is born with a great imagination. Then he made a surprise announcement — he had just signed contracts that day to turn "Townie" into a movie.
When it comes time to promote the movie, Dubus said he'll make it his job to talk about Haverhill's transformation into the city it is today — a place with a resurgent downtown where long-vacant shoe factories have become apartments and condominiums with popular restaurants and bars nearby.
"I transformed myself and in many ways the city has, too," he said.
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