Jules Feiffer’s Characters Get a Shot of Life on the Big Screen

Jules Feiffer
Jules Feiffer. Credit: Courtesy Dan Mirvish

The characters of Pulitzer Prize–winning Southampton cartoonist, playwright, novelist and screenwriter Jules Feiffer are one step closer to coming to life. A Kickstarter campaign created to bring a long-lost screenplay based on Feiffer’s comic-strip characters Bernard and Huey to the silver screen exceeded its $10,000 goal last week.

Bernard and Huey sketch by Jules Feiffer.
Bernard and Huey sketch by Jules Feiffer.

The feeling was “euphoric,” according to Dan Mirvish, the award-wining director, screenwriter, producer and author who started the campaign. “It’s an outpouring of support for Jules and the project.”

There is still another week to go in raising funds that Mirvish called only a “fraction of the budget.” According to the Bernard and Huey Kickstarter page, the optimal budget for an independent movie of this nature is $400,000, “with a bare-bones minimum of $60,000.” Nearly $13,000 has been raised via Kickstarter as of Thursday afternoon.

Mirvish is still looking for big investors to jump in and support the project. The site lays out options for the production based on a range of budgets. With a higher budget, Mirvish can consider more famous actors, a professional crew, high-end HD cameras, original music, and a longer shooting schedule.

The goal is that, in the next month or two, Mirvish and his team can say with straight faces to the big agents that they have a start date to begin filming. “Once you set that start date the train is leaving the station.”

Mirvish and Feiffer are fortunate there’s a train at all. “The whole story is an adventure to find the script,” said Mirvish who recalls stumbling across an article mentioning unproduced screenplays of Feiffer’s.

It was a meandering journey that took years. Mirvish contacted Feiffer to see if he had any of the unproduced screenplays. Feiffer couldn’t find any, but a friend of Mirvish’s remembered reading one in the ’90s in Scenario magazine, a quarterly that reprinted top screenplays and, from time to time, unproduced screenplays.

Of the two libraries in the United States where the magazine was available, one of them happened to be close to Mirvish in Los Angeles: The Academic Library. This is where he finally got to read the screenplay of the man famous for Carnal Knowledge, directed by the late Mike Nichols. The story surpassed Mirvish’s expectations.

But there was a slight hiccup. “Jules told me, ‘That might not be the final version of the screenplay,’” said Mirvish. They needed to find a copy of the final script. They eventually tracked down a producer Feiffer had worked with who was able to find an original hard copy. “We even tracked down an original copy at The Library of Congress,” said Mirvish, where Jules had donated his files in 2000. The copy was filled with Feiffer’s margin notes, doodles and crossed out scenes providing insight into his creative process.

The comedy centers on the two main characters from the comic strip, the nebbish Bernard who is now a successful book editor and his old friend, Huey, a former ladies’ man who is now divorced and struggling to keep a relationship with his 20-something daughter. The two bachelors, as Mirvich wrote in his director’s statement, “are middle-aged men wrestling with relationships, sex, fatherhood and friendship. Hey that’s all my friends and me!”

Mirvish recognizes the challenge of adapting the characters—however timeless their stories may be—into a full-length film. “Any time you create characters in one medium and they just pop up in another medium, it’s going to mess with your expectations and the expectations of the audience.” But he’s not overly concerned. “We’re definitely going to keep [Jules] involved. I’m taking a lot of cues from him.”

Feiffer, who also teaches at the Stony Brook Southampton Writing Arts Department, is not the only one with connections to the Hamptons. Mirvish’s last two films have played at the Hamptons International Film Festival, where Between Us starring Taye Diggs and Julia Styles, had its North American premiere.

Feiffer, 86 has kept busy with a multitude of projects alongside Bernard and Huey, and in March he was honored with a lifetime achievement award by Guild Hall.

Literary Arts Honoree Jules Feiffer
Jules Feiffer honored for literary arts at the 2015 Academy of the Arts Lifetime Achievement Awards & Dinner, hosted by Guild Hall. Photo credit: Barry Gordin

“It’s incredibly inspiring. At his age or at any age to be working on two graphic novels, an art book, a play and a novel all simultaneously is a lesson in inspiration for any artist,” Mirvish said.

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