Ditmas Park writer Clay McLeod Chapman’s career may be about to change dramatically.
The film is about a lonely boy, 9-year-old Ted Henley, played by newcomer Jared Breeze, who earns his allowance by cleaning up road kill. It stars Rainn Wilson of “The Office” and veteran TV and film character actor David Morse.
Chapman and director Craig Macneill, also from Brooklyn, first adapted “The Boy” as a short film, “Henley,” from a chapter in Chapman’s 2003 novel “Miss Corpus.” The film was an official selection at Sundance and won a top prize at the Carmel Film Festival in 2012, leading to an independent feature-length produced by Spectrevision, a production company founded actor by Elijah Wood.
“We have had two screenings and they’ve both gone very well,” Chapman said. “The second went better than the first, purely for the fact that we were breathing a little easier.”
“We broke the seal from the first screening, and any stress or anxiousness kind of eclipsed the screening itself,” he said. The second screening also sold out.
Chapman said the feature film is a study of what happens to a child’s developing mind when parents aren’t in the picture.
“The pop psychology of it is you’ve got a boy who is around nature and kind of sealed off from the world,” said Chapman. “He doesn’t have much an understanding of the world outside his limited world view; how does he cope with death?”
Chapman added that young Ted Henley’s isolated lifestyle turns him into a sociopath.
“The film is about the arrested development of a child who doesn’t have access to the same things that others do,” he said.
“Most of the audience walking in were expecting a slasher film or straight up horror movie, and what they got was a sociopath,” Chapman added.
Chapman was inspired to write the chapter, “The Henley Road Motel,” in “Miss Corpus” after hearing about the experience of a high school friend whose family ran a roadside motel in Tennessee.
“She told me this story about how a feral cat got stuck in the sign of their motel and caught on fire and the whole hullabaloo of trying to save it,” he said.
Chapman chose to adapt this particular chapter of the novel while promoting the book around lower Manhattan, and Macneill thought the story would do well to be adapted for the screen.
“I owe all the credit to the director; he had been aware of my work just by doing readings around the East Village,” said Chapman. “And when ‘Miss Corpus’ came out, it was the chapter I read the most, a personal favorite.”
The biggest change Chapman made to the feature length story involved expanding on Rainn Wilson’s character, a drifter named William Colby.
“The funny thing is in the novel, William Colby is actually the protagonist,” he said.
“Through the novel you follow him, and the Ted Henley character turns out to be someone you meet through the periphery,” Chapman continued. “Through the movie we kind of reversed it.”
Chapman said that William Colby is a very different character than audiences expect to see from Wilson, who typically plays funny, quirky roles. In contrast, the character of Colby is somber and morose.
“People who come to this movie expecting to see Dwight from ‘The Office,’ it’s going to be a complete 360,” he said. “I haven’t seen Rainn Wilson portray a character like this before.”
In addition to this film, Chapman ultimately wants to follow Ted Henley’s twisted coming-of-age though a trilogy of films. He said that each film will examine Ted Henley at a different point in his adolescence, on his way to becoming a sociopath. Part two will explore Henley as a 13-year-old, and part three will show him as an 18-year-old.
Chapman said that Ted Henley’s character transformation arc would take some time to unfold through the films, but that the films will pay off for viewers willing to invest in the story.
“We’re making a pact with our audience and saying, ‘we’re going to reward you if you bear with us,’” he said.
While the future of Ted Henley’s story being told depends on the reception of “The Boy” at SXSW and beyond, Chapman remains optimistic that the film will soon find a wider audience.
“The good news is that distributors have responded very positively, more so than we were even ready to expect,” he said.
About the author: Justin Joffe is a freelance writer from Miami, Florida. He lives in Bushwick with his violin, guitars, books, and two gerbils. When he isn’t writing, Justin can be found checking out local music and film or eating around town. Justin is also a self-professed technology maven and a critic of modern culture at large.