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Transforming a novel into a movie: A Q&A with the UA's Stacey Cochran

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Stacey Cochran, assistant professor of English at the University of Arizona, is developing his novel into a movie. Courtesy Stacey Cochran. 

Stacey Cochran is an assistant professor of English at the University of Arizona. He is also a coordinator of student success and wellness for the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He is transforming his book, "Eddie and Sunny," into a movie. 

Eddie and Sunny are a couple who have lived in their car with their son for months. Through hardship and stress, Sunny finds a desire to leave her family and life behind in North Carolina. After the family is pulled over at an abandoned service station, they are dealt with a predicament that leaves them as fugitives.

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Daily Wildcat: What inspired you to write your novel "Eddie and Sunny?"

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Stacey Cochran: I was inspired to write "Eddie and Sunny" by a film project I worked on as a camera operator in North Carolina. The project involved recording a public service announcement for a local homeless shelter in Raleigh, North Carolina. And the public service announcement was going to be broadcast locally on WRAL-TV. 

A friend of mine, Scott McVeigh, had asked me to work on the project. And so I really owe a huge debt of gratitude to [McVeigh] for initially inviting me to work on the public service announcement on homelessness. And the work that the good folks at the homeless shelter had done in North Carolina. What I saw while working on the project on homelessness was a very different face of homelessness than anything I had ever encountered before.

I also saw homelessness in North Carolina was a drastic difference from any homelessness I have seen before. We interviewed the CEO of Progress Energy, one of the largest energy companies in North Carolina. This guy was the head of the company and he talked about how his family had been homeless when he was a teenager. We talked with recovering substance abuse users.

DW: When you were younger, what types of novels did you like to read?

SC: I would say novels by [John] Steinbeck made the biggest influence on me as a kid. Specifically, "The Pearl" and "Of Mice and Men" made the largest impact. "Of Mice and Men" has had a profound influence on my writing. 

As for which writers made the most impact when I was writing "Eddie and Sunny", I would say Daniel Woodrell, Cormac McCarthy, Ron Rash, Larry Brown, William Gay and Charles Frazier all influenced "Eddie and Sunny".

DW: Does "Eddie and Sunny" have your favorite story plot from all the ones you have imagined?

SC: I was deeply influenced in terms of the plot of "Eddie and Sunny" by Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain". They are different types of novels as "Cold Mountain" is set during the American Civil War and "Eddie and Sunny" is a contemporary novel set in the present day. But the structure of "Cold Mountain" was one that made a huge impact on me at the time that I was writing "Eddie and Sunny". 

Alternating between Eddie's point of view and Sunny's point of view as both characters come to believe midway through the novel that the other has died. Which they haven't and the reader knows that. In terms of the plot, that is a huge element that engages the reader as the reader is aware of something that the characters are not and readers want to see how it will be resolved by the end of the story.

DW: What was your reaction when you realized that "Eddie and Sunny" would come to life through a film?

SC: I think I probably cried … when I finally saw production underway on "Eddie and Sunny" in September of 2020. This had been a goal that I had worked towards for a long time.

When I was a teenager living in North Carolina, I worked at a movie theater. My job was as a projectionist. And so I watched movie after movie for two years straight. Sometimes even bringing an electric typewriter. 

To dream that I could work in film and television in some way seemed so far away from where I was. After 10 to 15 years of working in the industry, and not seeing a whole lot of success, I questioned why I chose to do this.

After 30 years of the start of my dream, it was a bit surreal to see what I worked so hard for come to life. It certainly is transformational. 

DW: Approximately, when will "Eddie and Sunny" be finalized as a movie?

SC: Based on the production process and timeline, everything should be finalized between mid-fall or even early winter of 2021 or 2022. As a positive note, the principal photography is complete. And we'd like to see it place first in several major film festivals. 

There are five big film festivals. These include the Venice International Film Festival, the Cannes Film Festival in France, the Toronto International Film Festival. And the dates of those film festivals align really well because they tend to be near next summer or fall.

DW: Why did you want to turn your novel into a movie?

SC: A contributing factor for me was that more people watch movies and television than read books. As a writer, one of my greatest purposes is shaping discourse and bringing vibrant conversation around culture. 

Certainly, another big purpose is to entertain people, some of us just want to immerse ourselves in a movie or a television series or a novel purely for entertainment value, but that entertainment value also comes with culture-shaping values, too. 

Films, historically have shaped attitudes and beliefs. Those are components of culture, and so I would love to see our film seen by as many people as possible because I believe the issue is one that's important and relevant. Homelessness has increased in not only population size in the United States but in relevance.  

DW: Do you find more joy in writing or in teaching? 

SC: I find more intrinsic joy in writing. Teaching for me is much more extrinsically motivated. And teaching is much more social of an activity than writing. Writing is a solitary process. 

Both teaching and writing have helped me comprehend the purpose of my time on earth. Teaching granted me the privilege to learn from students. Teaching is not simply a one-way learning process: I learn from my students and they learn from me. Each individual has their own lessons to educate others with.

In terms of the purest joy, I think writing would take that title. Yet, teaching may provide more of a deeper joy, a more social engagement-related joy.

DW: What has been your proudest achievement throughout your English career?

SC: I'm proud of the daily work of teaching and research. I'd like to believe that it has influenced some people, including my former students, in a positive direction. I'd like to believe that I’ve made a difference in some people's lives.

More recently, I’ve focused my research interests in the English department, in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, towards developing curricula that support students socially and emotionally using writing in almost therapeutic ways to improve our social and emotional well-being.

That culminated with an inaugural conference that I founded and chaired this past January 2020. The title was the Conference on Writing and Well-Being. That was a prodigious moment as well.


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