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The book: 'An Ordinary Spy', by Joseph Weisberg -- The buyer: Paul Haggis and Michael Nozik

February 21, 2008|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

The deal

Paul Haggis and Michael Nozik with Hwy61 Films, based at Paramount, option Joseph Weisberg's "An Ordinary Spy," a novel about the realities of day-to-day work in the CIA, and the emotional damage participants can wreak on each other.

The players

Haggis ("Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby") and Nozik ("Syriana" and "Love in the Time of Cholera") producing; Stephen Nathan to write the screenplay. Weisberg, a former CIA agent, is represented on literary rights by David McCormick with the McCormick & Williams literary agency and on film rights by Creative Artists Agency. The book is published by Bloomsbury USA.

The back story

Your book-to-film mission, should you choose to accept it: a modern spy novel that doesn't tell the reader who the characters are, where the story takes place or even the kind of food they eat. All of these details are heavily redacted, marked by extensive blacked-out sections of type in the book, which switches back and forth in time. Some might put this one back on the shelf, but Haggis and Nozik jumped at the chance to turn Weisberg's highly praised yarn into a thinking person's spy film.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday, February 22, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
'An Ordinary Spy': The Book It column in Thursday's Calendar section, about the optioning of the novel "An Ordinary Spy," said Hwy61 Films is based at Paramount. It is based at United Artists.

The author didn't delete all these facts as a writer's trick. As a former CIA officer, Weisberg would have been required to submit his novel to the agency, and he solved this literary dilemma by creatively censoring his own material. But that didn't make it any easier for the filmmakers. "We still haven't decided how to incorporate this aspect in the story, and obviously a picture tells a thousand words, so you're going to know where you are," Nozik said. "We're still plotting it out, but we think we've come up with an elegant solution to all these questions."

Haggis and Nozik are determined, moreover, to preserve the novel's distinct qualities. Weisberg, a devoted John le Carre fan, noted that his book -- unlike the master spy novelist's work -- is a down-to-earth look at daily life in the CIA. And Nozik makes a distinction too with the Bourne trilogy. "I love the Bourne films, but this is not a running and chasing story," he said. "The violence comes not from guns but from betrayal." Although Nathan's final screenplay is still a long way off, Weisberg is encouraged: "When you put your baby into someone else's hands, it's good to know you're on the same page."


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