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Exclusive: Latest Movie Trend -- Suffer for a Year, Get Paid

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | May 19, 2010 |

By Dustin Rowles | Industry | May 19, 2010 |

If you’re a writer living in Maine, as I am, you’d have probably heard of W. Hodding Carter. He’s Maine’s answer to AJ Jacobs, the man who wrote The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. It’s journalistic shtick, but it’s interesting and often enlightening journalistic shtick. Basically, you do something all out for a year, write about it (preferably, on a blog), sign a lucrative book deal, and sell the rights to a movie studio. Boom! All that suffering was worth it, and you win at life. Elizabeth Gilbert did it with Eat, Pray, Love and Julie Powell did it with Julie & Julia. It’s high-concept journalism. Find a compelling gimmick, make a fortune.

W. Hodding Carter — whose dad was the Assistant Secretary of State under Jimmy Carter — has made something of a career out of his peripatetic lifestyle. At 45, he wrote a book about trying to qualify for the Olympics as a mid-life swimmer. He sailed across the Atlantic in a Viking Ship. He canoed Lewis and Clark’s trail on the Mississippi, and he even wrote a book on plumbing (How the Plumber Saved Civilization). But it was his blog for that has merited him the most attention and that now has culminated in a movie deal. Fox is in the early-stages of developing Frugal Family for the screen. Based on that blog, Frugal Family is about a family that was living beyond its means (I believe I heard they were living a $120,000 a year lifestyle while only earning $40,000). So, he and his family in coastal Maine decided to live on a budget. A $550 a month budget. For one year, they accomplished this through farming, through eating out, through buying at liquidation grocery stores, and by using “dozens of other quirky saving measures,” like reusing paper coffee filters and bartering. (They are now living a modified version of that lifestyle).

I think after selling the rights to a movie, Mr. Carter can probably afford to live that $120,00 a year lifestyle again. The question is: Can a movie based on a man and his family trying to save money work in Hollywood? Much less as a studio project? It’s out to writers now (Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher are producing), but my guess is only if it deals with an aspect of Hodding Carter’s lifestyle that many of us in Maine are curious about: Did his family resent the lifestyle choice they were asked to participate in? Every movie needs conflict, after all.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.