From Memoir to Movie: How Author Bill Bryson Took ‘A Walk in the Woods’ to Sundance

Bestselling author Bill Bryson has one more line to add to his already impressive resume: Official Selection of the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

The humorous travel writer, who takes the Long Center stage next Friday to discuss his life, his writing, and his unbelievable career, is currently standing amongst Hollywood greats Robert Redford, Nick Nolte and Emma Thompson in Park City, Utah. A Walk in the Woods, Bryson’s personal account of how he walked the Appalachian Trail with a good friend, makes it premiere on the silver screen on Friday, January 23rd.

Redford and Nolte star in 'A Walk in the Woods'

Redford and Nolte star in ‘A Walk in the Woods’

The jump from author to movie producer seems to be getting smaller these days. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Divergent, Gone Girl, and The Fault in our Stars are just some of the books-turned-movie success stories of 2014. Most recently, Wild, in which author Cheryl Strayed is portrayed by actress Reese Witherspoon (earning her an Academy Award nomination), made a splash with the critics and awards committees. Wild, the story of Strayed’s experiences on the Pacific Crest Trail- coincidentally parallel’s Bryson’s own trek. Perhaps the success of Wild foreshadows A Walk in the Wood’s reception, as well.

Bryson’s silver screen debut was a long time coming. A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail, was published back in 1998. Before it comes to a movie theater near you, however, A Walk in the Woods is making a pit stop of one of the world’s most famous film festivals- Sundance. Which only begs the question- how does a film get to the Sundance Film Festival? We wondered the same thing.

As early as 2005, Hollywood legend Robert Redford announced that he would both produce and star in the film version of Bryson’s memoir. Though little to no new information was heard for nearly seven years, a screenwriter (novelist Richard Russo) was confirmed in 2012, followed by the announcement of Nick Nolte costarring in 2013. So what was the process after the director yelled, “That’s a wrap?” Without producer Robert Redford in the room (unfortunately), the details, of course, are far from exact. But research claims that a look into the entry process is pretty interesting, and surprisingly, a bit predictable.

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The deadline for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival was (for early submission) August 11, 2014 and (for late submission) September 29. Each film must be filtered into a category (these include U.S. Narrative Feature Films, U.S. Documentary Feature Films, International Documentary Feature Films, U.S. Short Films, etc.). Bryson’s film, though based on a true story, is considered a U.S. Narrative Feature Film. One fun fact: A movie does not have to be finished when it is submitted for entry. Though judges like to see the majority of the film, it can include sound glitches, missing scenes, blank screens with a text description of what should be happening, etc. Works-in-progress are more than acceptable.

Sidenote: Almost anybody can enter their film into Sundance. While its reputation is that only big time directors and stars get recognized, in reality the festival showcases films made from everybody to Academy Award winners to independent, never-before-heard-of filmmakers. Also, each participant can submit as many movies for consideration as they want. Every. Single. Entry is watched in its entirety.

Bryson's 1998 memoir is a bestseller

Bryson’s 1998 memoir is a bestseller

Every single U.S. competition slot must be a genuine world premiere. This means it cannot have been screened anywhere else, ever. Meaning that Friday, January 23, it will be the first time anybody outside the immediate cast and crew has seen Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods come to life (hopefully followed by his fans across the world). Participants are, however, free to create short trailers, scenes, and clips available prior to the screening to advertise the film.

From there the process is as you’d expect- the judges pick their favorites, and those are screened at the festival to thousands of industry performers, producers, crew members, and more.

A Walk in the Woods is one of 18 movies in its category, including True Story (Jonah Hill, James Franco, and Academy Award nominee Felicity Jones), The End of the Tour (Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Segel), Sleeping with Other People (Alison Brie, Adam Scott, Jason Sudeikis), and Mississippi Grind (Ryan Reynolds, Sienna Miller).

So, what’s it like for the beloved author to be trading the pen for the camera? To be rubbing arms with Hollywood starlets?

Well, he’ll be at the Long Center next Friday. Feel free to ask him.

Long Center presents bestselling author Bill Bryson, Friday, January 30th at 8:00 PM in Dell Hall. Tickets are available for purchase here.

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