I’m always surprised when people ask if I’ve thought of making a movie of Ishmael. This is rather like asking a scientist if he or she has thought of winning the Nobel Prize. Well, yes, the idea did cross my mind. Unfortunately, like winning the Nobel Prize, making a movie isn’t something you can just decide to do, like buying a new car.
In the case of Ishmael, however, no amount of inclination would have been enough anyway. As you may know, Ishmael was the winner of the Turner Tomorrow award in 1991. All the entrants to the competition for the award signed a book contract in advance, which said, in effect, that if your book wins, the film rights belong to Ted Turner (because that’s what Turner wanted to do with the winning book—make a feature film of it). So the film rights didn’t belong to me, which means I couldn’t make a movie of it no matter how much I wanted to.
Turner didn’t make a movie of Ishmael because, basically, the book doesn’t lend itself to treatment as a feature film (a feature film being at the very most 150 minutes long). You could make a six-hour television miniseries out of it, but not a feature film.
Turner eventually sold a number of properties to Time-Warner, including Turner Publishing, which held the film and performance rights to Ishmael. So: those rights now belong to Time-Warner.
Touchstone Pictures wanted to be able to say that a film they were producing (called Instinct) was “suggested by” or “inspired by” Ishmael, and Time-Warner granted them the right to do this. Instinct, which bore no resemblance to the book, starred Anthony Hopkins and Cuba Gooding, Jr., was released in June 1999, and bombed, pleasing neither critics nor movie-goers.
After that time Time-Warner has responded to NO inquiries about the film or performance rights to Ishmael. A great many people have made these inquiries, in many different ways, and NONE have evoked a response. If it’s your desire to make a film of Ishmael, you’re welcome to try, of course, but those are the facts.
posted: 10 Sep 2000
updated: 30 Jan 2013