Since his days working in a movie theatre at the age of 16, University of Arizona Assistant Professor Stacey Cochran knew he wanted to tell stories. Another dream was to see one of his stories make it to the big screen.
Now, nearly five years after the publication of his novel Eddie & Sunny, Cochran is seeing his dream materialize, even with the filming delays brought about by COVID-19.
Eddie & Sunny centers around a homeless couple and their young son. After Sunny shoots a drug dealer to protect her son, the pair become fugitives. While on the run, they become separated, with each believing the other has been killed. The novel was acquired by Amazon Publishing and was one of their first 10 Kindle Scout novels. The novel broke into the top 100 on Kindle’s bestseller charts in 2015 and 2016.
In October, the feature film adaptation of Eddie & Sunny finished filming in Guatemala and in Ostia, Italy, at Cinecittà Studios, the largest film studio in Europe. An article in Variety magazine covered the filming.
The movie (IMDB listing) is directed by Desmond Devenish, who co-wrote the screenplay adaptation with Cochran. The film is produced and financed by Iervolino Entertainment and will be distributed by Paradox Studios. Joanna Vanderham, who starred in Warrior, What Masie Knew and The Paradise, plays Sunny. Eddie is played by Gabriel Luna, who was in Terminator: Dark Fate and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Cochran has written in several genres, including mystery, horror, science fiction and poetry. His novels include In Love with Eleanor Rigby, Claws, The Loneliest and The Colorado Sequence. He was a finalist for the 1998 Dell Magazines Award for Fiction, the 2004 St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First PI Novel Award, and the 2011 James Hurst Prize for Fiction.
Cochran teaches writing in the Department of English, housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences. He also serves as coordinator of student success and wellness and is finishing up his Ph.D. in higher education in the College of Education.
Cochran discussed the long road from writing the novel to seeing it made into a movie:
Q. How excited are you that a book you wrote is being turned into a movie?!
It's a dream that I've had since I was 16 years old, working at a movie theater in a little town in North Carolina. I was the guy who tore tickets at the front of the theater – ‘theatre number three is on your right’ – and about six months into that job, I got a promotion to being the projectionist, which was like a dream job. I saw how movies affected audiences and how they affected me at that age.
When I went to college I majored in creative writing because I wanted to be a storyteller. I've recognized this is just how my brain processes the world. Some people are very quantitative. I tend to be driven much more by emotions, and the way that I process complex issues like homelessness is through storytelling.
Q. What inspired you to write Eddie & Sunny?
Eddie & Sunny began in North Carolina before I had moved to Arizona, way back in 2012. I was asked to work on a film project on homelessness for a local TV station. The interviews involve folks who were living in a homeless shelter, and in many cases, they were single women with children. Or they were families who just weren't able to to keep their heads above water or had lost their jobs. It gave me a very different perspective on homelessness. I saw that homelessness is a complicated issue, and it sparked in me a sense of empathy and wanting to learn more.
So I spent three years writing the first draft of the novel, which involved a lot of sociological research and speaking with folks who were homeless. And I found that everyone I spoke to had a story to tell. And those stories were often really complex.
As a writer, what I try to do first and foremost is tell a compelling story. You need to have strong characters, and you need to have a strong narrative drive. And what I think worked well with Eddie & Sunny is I've managed to balance that with social drama. I'm trying to humanize this family that is homeless.
I really struggled with the ending. I worked through at least three different versions of the ending, because It is very much both a love story and a noir story. It's a story of a husband and wife in a really distressed situation. In some ways, I was drawing from Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, where you have the principal love interests separated. And one of the questions that I wanted to address was what are the things that keep a family together.
Ultimately, this is a story about hope and love and the American dream, and not giving up on those things, despite how brutal and ugly the world can be sometimes.
Q. After you published your novel, how did it get made into a movie? Did your agent handle all that, or were you involved?
In 2016, I volunteered at the Arizona International Film Festival. Because of my background with interviewing – I had a TV show for nine years in North Carolina – the organizers of the film festival asked me to moderate panels.
One of the panels I moderated was with director Desmond Devenish, who was debuting his feature-length film Misfortune, which was made here in Tucson. It's essentially a heist movie. When I saw it, I said, ‘Okay, this guy's a genius.’ He has similar sensibilities to me in terms of storytelling, and he is very interested in exploring social drama.
I followed up with him a few weeks later and did another interview. Then I said to myself, ‘Well, if I'm ever going to present a novel to somebody, now would be a good time to do it.’ I put together a package for him with the book, information on the number of units we had sold, and a bar graph with the Goodreads customer reviews. I think the weekend that he got the book, he said, ‘This is a project I want to do.’
It took me about six weeks to adapt the novel to a screenplay. In the initial screenplay, the story was pretty close to the novel. Then I handed it over to Desmond. And some things changed in the story, things that I would not have thought about as a novelist. Like, in the novel, Sunny gives birth to a baby about a third of the way through the story. In filmmaking, it is very difficult to have babies on a movie set. There are all sorts of insurance and protections in place. All of that was a learning curve for me.
Ultimately, it's about building relationships. The relationship between a writer and a director is a bond, a friendship. I refer to Desmond as my brother now, and we supported each other as we were trying to get financing for this project. That was the long winter.
The advice that I give to other writers is to take a much more proactive stance. Volunteering at the film festival was a very intentional action on my part to try and build a network of potential film directors and meet people in the film industry.
I have so much gratitude to the people with the Arizona International Film Festival. I wouldn't be where I'm at now with the film adaptation if Mia Schnaible and Giulio Scalinger hadn’t given me an opportunity to moderate that panel.
Q. Now that the movie is filmed, what comes next?
We’ll probably submit it as an entry to major film festivals, like Cannes, Sundance, Venice International Film Festival, and Toronto International Film Festival, and hopefully have it screened. The timeline on this actually could be very favorable because this was only the second production post-COVID in Italy. And yet these film festivals are still going to exist and there's still a demand – if anything, there's an increased demand – for films.
So, my hope is that the Eddie & Sunny will see some film festival traction next summer and be reviewed well. I'd love to see the people who have worked so hard on this project honored and recognized.