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Exclusive: Ernest Dickerson Shopping Adaptation Of Octavia Butler's 'Clay's Ark' (Script Is Done)

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 23, 2013 at 2:19PM

It's been almost 7 years since Hugo and Nebula award winner, Octavia Butler, died from a stroke at just 58 years old (she died February 24th, 2006). And just about every discussion we've had on this site about black authors whose novels are begging to be adapted to film, Ms Butler's name is frequently at the top of many of your lists.
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Ernest Dickerson
Ernest Dickerson

It's been almost 7 years since Hugo and Nebula award winner, Octavia Butler, died from a stroke at just 58 years old (she died February 24th2006). And just about every discussion we've had on this site about black authors whose novels are begging to be adapted to film, Ms Butler's name is frequently at the top of many of your lists.

It is quite baffling that one of the most celebrated sci-fi authors of our time (and not just black authors - of all sci-fi authors), has yet to see a single one of her novels adapted to film, given how adaptation-happy Hollywood is, especially in recent years.

There certainly have been a number of attempts by producers who are fans of her work, but, in each case that we've been aware of, the lack of financing has always been an impossible hurdle to get over.

I recall an interview in which she stated that her debut novel, Kindred, had been optioned several times, but, unfortunately, the producers in each instance, were unable to raise the necessary funds to go into production. I think Kindred is probably her most accessible, most commercial work. And if that novel can't attract financing, then, none of her more challenging, esoteric titles will.

But, director Ernest Dickerson is hoping his Octavia Butler project won't go the way previous Butler film adapation projects have.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr Dickerson yesterday afternoon; it was a lengthy conversation (about an hour), and I'll be posting the full interview in about a week, but I thought I'd tease a little bit of it, with this revelation that I'm sure many of you will be excited by.

Clay's Ark

In our conversation, when I asked him to share details on any feature film projects he's anxious to make, Dickerson replied, stating that, amongst other projects (which I'll share in the full interview later), he's been shopping around an adaptation of Octavia Butler's 1984 novel Clay's Ark.

He said the script is done, and he feels it's a pretty good one; but, of course, attracting funding for it is a challenge - one that he hopes he can overcome sooner than later.

Clay's Ark is part of Butler's Patternmaster series of novels, which also includes Wild Seed, Mind Of My Mind, and Patternmaster - a series that detail a secret history continuing from Ancient Egypt to the far future, involving telepathic mind control, and an extraterrestrial plague.

Clay's Ark specifically is described as follows:

In a violent near-future, Asa Elias Doyle and her companions encounter an alien life form so heinous and destructive, they exile themselves in the desert so as not to contaminate other humans. To resist the compulsion to infect others is mental agony, but to succumb is to relinquish humanity and free will. Desperate, they kidnap a doctor and his two daughters as they cross the wasteland--and endanger the world.

It's just one of a handful of sci-fi and horror projects that Dickerson has ready to go, but just needs to get financial backing, whether in Hollywood or outside of studio gates.

And, as I said to him during our conversation, I hope that the success of The Walking Dead, which he's directed several episodes of - some of the most memorable episodes - will help boost his bankability somewhat. He did say the success of that series has certainly had an impact on his immediate career, as he's taking more meetings, and there's apparently more of an awareness of him as a more than capable director, even though he's been at this for some 30 years, starting out as a DP before transitioning to director (although, as he told me, he always wanted to direct, and it wasn't a case of him choosing to be a DP first, with plans to direct later; but more on that when I post the full interview).

As we've already reported, AMC tapped him to helm the pilot episode of its upcoming new series Low Winter Sun, which he says is quite a dark crime drama, with the option to direct more episodes.

So, let's see were all this leads for Mr Dickerson, and if it, in any way, positively influences the making of Clay's Ark down the road. 

But really, someone give this man the money to get this project off the ground, please. Calling Tyler Perry? Oprah? Bob Johnson? Will Smith? Denzel Washington? A collective effort? Who knows, maybe the money is waiting for him in Nigeria.

This article is related to: Ernest Dickerson


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