Lee Chambers is a screenwriter, director, producer, and author. He’s also a professor for Confederation College’s Film Production program. Lee has directed several short films in the past, but is now moving into directing feature films; his first, The Pineville Heist, is scheduled to be released this fall. The novel he wrote based on The Pineville Heist’s screenplay was at the top of the Amazon.com thriller charts for four consecutive months in 2012. You can find him online at www.pinevilleheist.com.
Shauna Kosoris: Before becoming a novel, The Pineville Heist was originally a screenplay. What inspired you to novelize it?
Lee Chambers: The novel version of The Pineville Heist happened by accident actually. Because this was a story I was going to direct, I wrote up a few pages of the history of the fictitious little town of Pineville. I enjoyed the process of expanding from the strict rules of screenplay writing. It allowed me to add colour and flavor before I even stepped onto the set. So I just dove into expanding out more scenes until I reached the last page of the screenplay.
SK: So thanks to the novel, you have a really great handle on this story. What attracted you to the small town setting?
LC: The basis of the story came from a real incident playing hide and seek when I was 12. Being from Northern Ontario, the development of the expanded story seemed to suit the small town as opposed to a big city. I’ve lived in big cities like London and LA but Pineville was always… small town.
SK: What happened during that hide and seek incident?
LC: As a 12 year old I hid under a canoe. I remained quiet and still. I could see the feet of the kid looking for me but he failed to look under the canoe. Whew. I wrote a short story about it and stored it away for years. I revisited it as an adult and the inspiration for the larger story came to me. Bing! Once I drafted the treatment the screenplay with Todd Gordon came fast – in under 2 weeks. Obviously many redrafts were needed to refine and craft the story to make it just right.
SK: It’s always great when a story grabs you like that! Out of curiosity, do you visualize your stories as movies?
LC: They’re very visual for me but that also includes the sounds. Movies are half pictures and half sounds, so the dialogue rolls around in my mind at the same time as the visuals. We see in one octave but we hear in ten. The hard part is getting the essence of audio into the novel so the reader can feel the soundtrack, too.
SK: How do you go about making that happen?
LC: Not sure how to answer that. With a book, each reader builds the world in their own way. Obviously as a film director I have added my vision to the book with an eye on the movie version. But for the movie, I work with a composer and sound designer to build a soundscape that compliments the pictures and sucks the audience into the moment. I am not musically inclined but have lots of ideas for how to get there. Movie making is all about collaboration.
SK: Speaking of collaborations, how did you meet Todd Gordon, the co writer who worked on the movie’s script with you?
LC: Todd and I are both from Sault Ste. Marie and went to the same schools. He’s a few years older so I didn’t know him when I was growing up. Just as I was settling into turning the treatment into the script, Todd fired over an email looking for creative partners. He’s an amazing writer and we gelled instantly. Eighteen days later we had a first draft. Then we spent two more years… refining it.
SK: It’s very exciting to find a partner like that. What did Todd bring to the mix?
LC: I came up with the characters and basic story on my own then Todd came on-board and helped really refine it and bring it to life. It’s truly a collaboration of two creative minds.
SK: Both The Pineville Heist and your second book, The Sum of Random Chance, started out as screenplays. What did you gain and lose going from a screenplay to a novel?
LC: Because I invest so much time in drafting the screenplay, my books contain pretty much the same stuff as I imagine for the movie. Most authors pen 400+ page novels and then a screenwriter has to cut it back to a 90-page blueprint. My books are already trimmed back to consider the big screen treatment.
SK: That must make things easier overall. Did anything from the script change during the actual filming of The Pineville Heist?
LC: The script changed a little prior to shooting and lack of funding causes chaos but overall, it’s pretty close to how I imagined it. Usually lack of money means compromise but for the big issues, I loved my cast and crew and that is what will show up on screen.
SK: You finished filming The Pineville Heist over the summer, and it’s due out this fall. I can’t wait to see it! But what’s next for you after it’s released?
LC: Well, there’s lots of work to do to get the movie completed and released first. My goal is more with directing than writing books. Need to prove myself with this one first, then push to direct another one… with an actual budget. So… I have more screenplays in the works and can see more books from them, too.
SK: To wrap this up, I’d like to ask you a few questions about what inspires you as an artist. What book, screenplay or author inspired you to write?
LC: I don’t think it’s any one thing. More of my inspiration comes from observing real life. I like people watching and then imagining how a character can develop and a story born. I like getting back to being ‘child-like’ and imaging how events can splinter off and be dramatic.
So, while I am more of a film director than an author… I am all storyteller.
SK: Is there a book, author, or movie that you think everyone should read or watch?
LC: Huge question and sadly I am not going to satisfy you with a specific answer. To each his or her own I say. Not about to tell anyone what to watch or read. Seek out your genre and be open to new ideas and experiences. Go to the movies and/or head into a library and enjoy the journey of learning what excites and inspires you. There’s always a battle between book lovers and movie watchers. Best not to compare. Like apples and oranges. Just be open to being surprised.
SK: That’s very true. Finally, what book are you currently reading? And are there any movies you’re looking forward to seeing?
LC: I am so busy getting Pineville moving forward, teaching filmmaking and writing new screenplays that I find it hard to settle into reading books. Time is always against me. Saying that, I just took in David Fincher’s ‘Gone Girl’ and while he’s not the writer… he’s one helluva director. A creator. A storyteller.