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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Book to Movie (Plus Author Interview): The Big Year by Mark Obmascik

I was very happy to get a chance to take a look at The Big Year (out on Blu-Ray/DVD on January 31, 2012) compliments of Think Jam (this did not affect my review). The Big Year was originally a book by author Mark Obmascik. It was adapted for the big screen and stars Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black.


From "Every January 1, a quirky crowd storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year—a grand, expensive, and occasionally vicious 365-day marathon of birdwatching. For three men in particular, 1998 would become a grueling battle for a new North American birding record. Bouncing from coast to coast on frenetic pilgrimages for once-in-a-lifetime rarities, they brave broiling deserts, bug-infested swamps, and some of the lumpiest motel mattresses known to man. This unprecedented year of beat-the-clock adventures ultimately leads one man to a record so gigantic that it is unlikely ever to be bested. Here, prizewinning journalist Mark Obmascik creates a dazzling, fun narrative of the 275,000-mile odyssey of these three obsessives as they fight to win the greatest— or maybe worst—birding contest of all time."

My Two Cents: 

A Big Year is something that every birdwatcher dreams of. And some are willing to go to any lengths in order to beat the records of the birds that previous watchers have seen. Enter three men: Brad (played by Black) who is ready to do something with his life even if his father is not convinced that The Big Year is really doing something with your life. There's Stu (played by Martin), the affable, over-worked businessman who is finally ready for his Big Year. Finally there's Kenny (played by Wilson) who is willing to do just about anything to make sure that no one beats his record.

I loved Brad and Stu! They are both nice, really well meaning guys. They really in the Big Year for the fun of it (although the glory is an added bonus as well). Kenny on the other hand is less than a nice guy. This is really the first movie that I've seen Owen Wilson in where I haven't really liked him. He's usually a pretty nice guy and funny. In The Big Year, he's less nice and very arrogant. It was definitely believable but I like Wilson as a kinder, gentler character.

The supporting cast is awesome too. Brian Dennehy is great as Brad's father. Anjelica Huston is hilarious as a crazy boat driver. John Cleese plays a narrator (I love his voice). It was such a nice surprise to see all these people in this movie.

This movie is funny. My husband and I both sat down to watch it last night. We both really liked it. It's good for a laugh and is a little bit off the beaten path. Comedy lovers will enjoy this movie.

Author Interview:

I'm pleased to have an author interview with Mark Obmascik on A Bookish Affair today.

1. How does it feel to have your book adapted into a movie?

I feel like I've been struck by lightning three times. The first was when Simon and Schuster took on my book about competitive birdwatching. The second lightning strike was when the movie rights were optioned. Actually making a movie of it was the third lightning strike. This explains my current hairline.

2. What sort of input did you have the writing of the screenplay? Did you
wish you could have had more input of any kind?

I had very little input. I never talked with the man who wrote the screenplay, and I never saw the screenplay that was put into production. I did have a nice phone talk with the director about characters, themes, and locations. Because my book is a non-fiction account of three living guys, I asked the director to change all names for his fictional movie, but I think he was going to do that anyway. A pet peeve of birders is the way Hollywood does stuff that would never occur in nature -- say, having the call of a red-tailed hawk come from the beak of a robin -- so I asked the director to hire a birding consultant to clean up the script. The director, David Frankel, hired one of the birders I wrote about, Greg Miller, to work on the set, and I think they all enjoyed it. I always figured that the book was my thing, and the movie was the director's thing.

3. Is it easier to tell a story through a book or a movie? Why?

I wrote the book myself, and it was edited by one great woman, Leslie Meredith, at The Free Press of Simon and Schuster in New York. By contrast, the movie was made by more than 200 producers, actors, photographers, editors, carpenters, electricians, make up artists, truck drivers, publicists, caterers, location scouts, etc. At one point, when our family was visiting the movie set in Vancouver, the director was planning to send the whole production up to the Yukon via a three-day caravan of semi-trailers on the Alaskan Highway. To me, the logistics of the movie business are staggering. To do my stories, I need only a cell phone, laptop, access to an airport, and caffeine.

4. Who is your favorite character in The Big Year? What was it like seeing
them on the big screen? (and now small screen with the  upcoming DVD/Blu-ray

As a longtime newspaper reporter who made a career out of reporting on murderers, rapists, and politicians, I was grateful to get a chance to write about people I liked. As a writer, I really enjoyed how the three guys seemed to bring out the best -- and sometimes the worst -- in each other. In different ways, Sandy Komito, Al Levantin, and Greg Miller each decided that having honesty and integrity was just as important as winning. I wish I could have covered a U.S. Senate campaign like that! As for what it's like to see it on the big screen, I'll put it this way: When the studio announced this movie would star Steve Martin, Jack Black, and Owen Wilson, my three young sons looked at me for a fleeting millisecond as if I were actually cool.

5. If you could bring 3 fictional characters with you on a deserted  island,
who would you bring with you.

I think that Raskolnikov, Peeta Mellark, and Hannibal Lecter would make for a fun picnic.

More Info:


  1. That was an interesting read!

    But I must admit I snorted at the idea of fun picnic with Raskolnikov, Peeta Mellark, and Hannibal Lecter. ;)

    1. That was my favorite part of the interview :)


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As of 6/6/2011, this book is now an awards free zone. While I appreciate the awards, I would rather stick to reviewing more great books for you than trying to fill the requirements.

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