The Vineyard may yet be the scene of another big fish film under the eye of Steven Spielberg: the Jaws director’s studio, DreamWorks, has just bought the film rights for a soon to be released book about the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby.
The book, The Big One: An Island, an Obsession and the Furious Pursuit of a Great Fish, by David Kinney, published by Atlantic Monthly, will be released on April 8.
Sure, it’s early; Hollywood routinely buys rights that never become scripts. Mr. Kinney, who lives in Haddonfield, N.J., acknowledged as much yesterday when he confirmed the agreement was concluded a week and a half ago over the phone. “[But] hopefully it will get done,” he said. Mr. Kinney would not disclose the selling price for the rights, but a Philadelphia newspaper Web site put the figure at “mid-six figures.” If the film goes into production, he could make a lot more.
Mr. Kinney said yesterday: “They have two producers, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci.” The pair has been described in the New York Times as “the go-to screenwriters for mega-budget fare like Mission: Impossible III and The Island, as well as [the] film adaptation of Transformers.”
Mr. Kinney said he did not expect to be involved in writing the script.
The Big One is a 272-page narrative about the 62nd annual Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby contest in 2007.
Throughout the September and October contest, Mr. Kinney, a Pulitzer prize-winning Philadelphia journalist, traveled on the shore and the water documenting the drama of the derby, where nearly a quarter-million dollars in prizes was awarded. The book is full of stories, many of them funny, about the fishermen, their spirit, their pursuit, their adventures and misadventures. There is Vineyard and derby history. There is also a strong environmental component, with a look at the state of fish stocks in Vineyard waters. While it was a one-month derby, the book was a two-year project.
Lev Wlodyka, of Chilmark, is one of the key figures in the nonfiction tale. The 28-year-old frequent derby winner took a second place in the contest with a 55.88-pound striped bass he caught from a boat. The fish might have been a first prize winner but for the drama that ensued when his fish was cut open at the weigh-in station, as many fishermen will recall.
It was then that derby officials discovered the fish had ingested ten weights totalling 1.68 pounds of lead before Mr. Wlodyka pulled it up.
While it was clear Mr. Wlodyka hadn’t done anything wrong, the lead weights opened up a controversial can of worms. The debates went way beyond what was the true weight of the fish at the scale — they ranged from lead in the environment and health issues, to the practice of yo-yoing, an unsportsman-like fishing technique used by commercial fishermen that involves putting lead weights into small bait, to make them more attractive to the biggest of fish.
What would Hollywood make of it all? Mr. Wlodyka of Chilmark shrugged, “My older sister, Sascha, thinks I should be played by Matthew McConaughey.
“I am not too particular [about who plays him in a movie]. Hopefully they will hire me to do consulting. I need a house. I don’t need a movie, I need a house,” he said.
This winter Mr. Wlodyka, an Island native, went commercial bay scalloping up into the holidays, then shifted to swinging a hammer as a carpenter. He’ll resume commercial fishing later in the spring.
Advance review copies of Mr. Kinney’s book floated around the Island this winter. Ed Jerome, president of the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, who read the book, said: “The derby committee wishes David all the best luck. He put a lot of energy into that book, trying to describe the way the derby works and how it functions, the whole process. He happened to catch a year when there was a lot going on. He got a first-hand look. He got a good cross section of one of the derby’s years. He is a very good writer, we always helped him.
“If it gets to be a movie, obviously Martha’s Vineyard and all of its residents will want to help,” Mr. Jerome said. “I suspect the residents will be willing to help the movie any way they can.”
There are two likely reasons why Mr. Kinney’s book got the eye of DreamWorks. Steven Spielberg, who runs the studio, did two previous movies, Jaws and Jaws II, on the Vineyard. Add another fact: Holly Bario is a top executive with DreamWorks and comes from the Vineyard.
Mr. Kinney said he fished during last fall’s derby, but he is not sure what lies ahead if the book goes to film. “I would like to write another book. I am happy I finished this one and I am happy it got a little bit of attention,” he said.