Hollywood debut awaits local author
August 2, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Storyteller Sarah Gerdes is force behind upcoming films
Sarah Gerdes, author and mother to Conor, Porsche and Mercedes, balances motherhood and Hollywood.
The longtime local author is nearing a milestone in a lifelong effort to tell stories to the masses: films based on the books she spent years to create.
The lineup includes “The Kim Sisters” — a musical about a trio transplanted from Korea and hurtling to success in the United States — and adventures based on “Chambers” — a series about time-traveling teenagers. The initial e-book in the “Chambers” series came out in May.
“I am truly excited to see it come to film — and it’s not because of any financial gain, although that would be nice, not to be a starving author forever,” Gerdes said late last month. “It’s because I can’t wait to see it through somebody else’s eyes. I’ve written this work that has all of these characters. I have a theme and I know where it’s going.”
Lucas Foster — the producer behind “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” and other action-packed films — refers to Gerdes as “the Terminator” for the perseverance and passion she delivers on each project. Foster’s Warp Entertainment is producing “The Kim Sisters” and “Chambers” films.
“The amount of money we spend to make a movie, and then market and distribute a movie, is colossal. So, we have to do some thinking about who our audience is very early on and who we’re trying to reach,” he said. “Are we capable of reaching them with whatever it is we’re building? I think Sarah — she doesn’t have to think that way — but I think she’s inclined to think that way as well.”
The figures in “The Kim Sisters” relocated from war-torn Korea to Rat Pack-era Las Vegas. The classic rags-to-riches tale chronicles the sisters on a meteoric arc from the Las Vegas Strip to “The Ed Sullivan Show” and into the depths of addiction.
“I felt like it was such an important story. I didn’t want to screw it up and I didn’t want to tell him too much before I had it written,” Gerdes said. “He kind of kept hearing that something might be interesting somehow, but I needed to get it baked.”
In the meantime, she submitted a 25-page “Chambers” overview to Foster in September 2010. Intrigued, the producer requested more.
Then, a month later, after Gerdes handed “The Kim Sisters” to Foster, Warp Entertainment optioned the piece for a film.
Foster envisions the planned film about “The Kim Sisters” as a musical similar to “Chicago” or “Evita” — box-office blockbusters in the category. The experience presents a challenge for the action-oriented producer.
“It’s very much like an action movie in the sense that the movie is built around the action sequences, which in this case are musical numbers,” he said. “Weirdly, it has a similar rhythm to something that I’ve done before, even though I haven’t spent a lot of time with musical arranging and all of the sort of tools one uses to fit music into a film format.”
“The Kim Sisters” — billed as “the greatest American story never told” in a promotional reel — builds upon a biography Gerdes completed last year.
“I thought it was a good female empowerment story,” Foster said. “I thought it was universal.”
In February, Gerdes and Foster huddled to discuss “Chambers” and revisions to the planned storyline. The author incorporated the feedback into the burgeoning series about brother-and-sister team Cage and Mia.
Though “Chambers” abounds in colorful locales and eras, Foster said the characters define the storyline.
|What to know
Local author Sarah Gerdes and Hollywood producer Lucas Foster rolled out the “Chambers” e-book at a series of events late last month at electronics retailers across the Eastside.
In a contest for fans, Ian McEntire, a 19-year-old Issaquah resident, clinched a walk-on role in a film under development by Foster’s Warp Entertainment.
“What I really like about it is, they’re very witty, they really have their heads on their shoulders. They have to tap into their knowledge from school, but they also have to tap into sort of street smarts to stay ahead of it,” he said. “I think it sends a positive message.”
Warp Entertainment snapped up a film option for the five-book series in May.
Gerdes dashes off sentences in spare moments at home in rural King County between Issaquah and Maple Valley. In addition to assembling the “Chambers” series, she muses on a feisty blog about food, fitness, motherhood and, of course, the long transition from page to screen.
Gerdes is in constant motion — a holdover from the punishing hours she once kept in the tech field. The author also credits her parents for instilling a muscular work ethic.
“If I just even have a moment, I’m going to go out and weed. Or, I’m going to mow the lawn. Or, I’m going to hop on the treadmill for 10 minutes. Or, I’m going to read a book to my daughter,” she said. “We don’t ever just sit down and watch TV.”
Gerdes and Foster mesh, in part due to similar dispositions. The collaborators — both self-described late-night, early-morning people — often trade emails at 2:30 a.m. and, after a brief respite for shuteye, again at 5 a.m.
“We’re very Type A and committed. It’s been a bonus,” Foster said. “Maybe if one of us went at a different speed, it would be harder. I’m not super patient and Sarah’s the very definition of not patient.”
Gerdes insists she is not interested in joining the process as screenwriters reshape “The Kim Sisters” and “Chambers” for film. The key to a successful collaboration, she said, is to allow Foster to proceed as a moviemaker, unfettered.
“We are at some point going to have disagreements,” she said. “It’s a normal process, but I have a high degree of confidence that we can face anything and deal with it equitably.”
Foster credits Gerdes for listening to input and incorporating feedback. Early in the process, the duo mapped out characters from “Chambers” on index cards to create a more cohesive and compelling tale.
“She’s the Terminator, man. She’s unbelievable. She’s a dynamo for sure,” he said. “I like working with her because it’s a constant dialogue. She’s always trying to improve it, and she’s soliciting other people’s opinions, although she has a strong voice and she will handily reject anything that she doesn’t feel fits the paradigm. But she’s not close-minded, either.”
Gerdes is careful not to define success against the standard set by other up-by-the-bootstraps authors, such as “Twilight” creator Stephanie Meyer and “Harry Potter” scribe J.K. Rowling.
“Anybody who says, ‘Wow, it’s going to be so successful like that,’ is probably smoking crack, but I think that’s a very vain thing to think,” she said.
The shift in the publishing industry from paper to pixels also influenced Gerdes’ decision for “Chambers” to proceed in e-book form.
“Five years ago, that’s all I wanted and I made choices based on that. I decided to not do some things because I was so, ‘Oh, it’s got to be in Barnes & Noble.’ Now, you know what I think about?” Gerdes said. “I just want to make sure that my kids can go to college. I just want retirement. Having kids and age have totally changed my litmus test of success.”
Teamwork is essential to “Chambers” and the other projects Foster transforms from unpolished manuscripts to blockbusters.
“Sure, you can write a book by yourself, and it may even be good, but the collaboration of a few key people can really make a difference in the outcome,” he said.
Foster said “Chambers” is sharp and savvy enough to capture a difficult-to-please audience: teenagers.
“I felt that they were authentic, but I got validation from my kids that it was authentic, that it did feel legit,” he said. “They will totally tell you when something is not good or not for them. They will just totally lay it on you.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.