Brad Pitt to turn Australian young adult thriller Illuminae into major Hollywood film
Published: November 22, 2015 – 7:11PM
Two Australian writers have signed a deal with Brad Pitt’s movie production company to turn their best-selling young adult science fiction thriller into a major Hollywood film.
Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, makers of World War Z and Twelve Years a Slave, has teamed up with Warner Bros to bring Illuminae, by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, to the big screen.
The deal caps off an incredible four weeks for the Melbourne authors in which their novel debuted on The New York Times’ Young Adult Hardcover Bestseller list and raced to number three soon after its international release on October 20.
“It’s been a very strange experience, especially as writers we spend all of our time just writing and every now and then you open the door and emerge blinking into the sun,” Kaufman told Fairfax Media. The pair has just returned to Australia from an eight-city US promotional tour.
The book’s unconventional narrative, told via a hacker group’s dossier comprising emails, space ship schematics, instant messages and security reports, has drawn huge praise both in Australia and the US.
Illuminae is set in 2575 and is the story of teenage colonist Kady Grant and her fighter pilot boyfriend who are forced to flee on damaged spaceships after their illegal mining colony on the edge of the universe comes under attack from a corporate rival.
The couple struggle to repair their broken relationship while unearthing a conspiracy surrounding an intergalactic war that has them dealing with a rogue artificial intelligence and a deadly virus.
“Our original pitch was Battlestar Galactica meets Ten Things I hate About You,” says Kaufman. “Illuminae is in the tradition of science fiction that asks big questions that aren’t easy to answer and sometimes leaves those questions open.”
Kaufman and Kristof are already two of Australia’s biggest exports in the field of young adult fiction. Kaufman is the co-author of the Starbound Trilogy, currently in development at MGM Television, and has just sold her own middle grade fantasy-adventure trilogy, due for release in 2018.
Kristoff is the author of the sci-fi Lotus War series. A second series, The Nevernight Chronicles, is to be released next year. Illuminae is first in a planned trilogy.
Both writers quit their full-time jobs – Kristoff as an advertising art director and Kaufman as a financial services mediator – after signing Illuminae to Random House in 2013. Copies of the manuscript were passed around Hollywood.
“It’s important to us that the movie gets the spirit of the book without being slavish to the letter of the book,” said Kaufman.
“We spoke to a lot of producers and the best thing you can do as an author is pick producers you trust, and trust them.”
Asked if the film would be a star vehicle for Brad Pitt, Kaufman said: “A girl can hope.”
The authors met in 2013 after a mutual friend, to whom the book is dedicated, put Kaufman in touch with Kristoff to help her sought out “nightmare tangle of paperwork” to comply with US tax laws. Both are fans of science fiction writers Isaac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke.
The idea for the novel began strangely enough with Kaufman waking from an anxiety dream in which she and Kristoff had collaborated on a novel, only to have forgotten what it was about.
Meeting for brunch at a favourite hang out in Brunswick, “we both laughed and then paused and said, ‘maybe we could and maybe we should’.
Danielle Binks, committee member of #LoveOzYA, a grassroots movement supporting youth literature, says the success of Illuminae is proof of the high quality of homegrown teen fiction.
“Anyone who reads Aussie YA or speculative fiction has probably already been celebrating these two stellar authors of ours,” she says.
“Illuminae is just further proof of what many of us have been applauding for so long.
“Anyone out there’s who’s surprised that this fantastic news is attached to two Aussie authors are probably people who turn their nose up at YA and/or genre-anything and if that’s the case, then they clearly don’t know what they’ve been missing out on.”