From Book to Board Game to Box Office: An Interview With ‘The Game’ Writer Neil Strauss

You know what Dune, Starship Troopers, and Harry Potter have in common? They were all books that became games before they were movies. It happens more often than we realize, and it happens almost exclusively to sci-fi and fantasy.

That’s why Neil Strauss’ undercover pick-up artist memoir “The Game” just might be the first of it’s kind. Not long ago, fearless board game designer Adam Kornblum presented the best-selling author with a prototype for a party game based off of his book, the end result being “Who’s Got Game.”

As something originally designed as a tool to meet other people, the game tied perfectly into the book’s original themes. And while it’s not unusual for a self-help book to transfer over into the board game genre, what’s odd is that since this book is also soon to become a film starring James Franco – it just might be the first self-help book to become a game before a film.

It’s not exactly a Hollywood milestone, of course. While there are exceptions, movies based on board games and self-help books aren’t usually regarded as being successful. The reason for this is most likely the initial lack of source material. After all, when all you need to do to keep true to the original work is have a character point out numbers and letters on a grid, you know that you’re arm-deep in bullshit.

That said, having read The Game – I know that the source material is there, and quite good as well. It’s far from some kind of card-counting type of instruction manual for getting easy sex but is rather a full narrative, a tale that stresses the importance of finding and building healthy relationships while overcoming the insecurities of facing the opposite sex. For a book covered in more sexy silhouettes than a truck stop mud flap display, it’s a rather moral story.

Is the fourth one from the left golfing?

For Neil Strauss, these are exciting times. Along with “The Game,” his Motley Crue biography “The Dirt” as well as his modern survival guide “Emergency” are both being adapted into films, the latter of the two supposedly starring Robert Downey Jr.

Getting a hold of Strauss, I promised to keep my wits about me, for as Russell Brand warned Kara Warner at the MTV Movies Blog, “He could trick you.” Of course she’s probably much prettier than I am… and female, but I wanted to keep cool nonetheless. Turns out that it’s hard to be intrepid when asking questions to a guy who interviews superstars like he’s ordering a pizza – luckily for me, the man wasn’t tricky at all but rather polite, patient, and honest.

Brain Kopplemen and David Levein are working on a draft of The Game, right?

Absolutely, [they] finished a draft – it’s really good. D.B. Weiss, who does Game of Thrones, did the original draft. There have been many drafts and many writers; I guess that’s how Hollywood works.

Did they consult you at all about it?

The basic thing is that I definitely didn’t want to write it because I feel like if you already wrote the book and did your best version possible, why do another version under the direction of other people who weren’t there? Basically I’ve seen every single draft and given feedback, which is – you know they don’t have to listen to my feedback but they did, which was very cool of them.

I was wondering what it’s like to pass on your work to another writer like that – you sound like you don’t mind it at all.

I understand that a good screenplay is different than a good book. And I already put out my best version of it, so even if the movie sucks there’s still the book to say that was my original vision, they can’t change a word in the book no matter what the movie does. So I always feel like whatever my vision is is there and they should go take what I wrote and use their vision to make what they think is great, so I don’t have any attachment to it.

And while I give feedback it’s usually as objective as possible – the feedback is never like “well that was different in the book.” I remember at one point with “The Game,” Mystery was really buffoonish, and I said, you can’t make Mystery buffoonish, because then if your main character’s following him he becomes buffoonish and your audience just thinks the whole time, ‘why is this idiot following another idiot’ like – Mystery has to be seductive even to the audience, so they want to be on that ride along with the main character. Many things like that I would say about any screenplay and not just because it’s my book.

What do you think about James Franco playing the role of Mystery?

Uh, slightly jealous. (Laughs) If only I could be the really good looking guy in the movie. But I think he is the perfect Mystery cause we’re thinking a lot about who in discussion – and again it was really cool that they consulted me on their acting choices and everything, they really were respectful of my opinions but I thought James Franco was a great choice and they really worked hard to get him involved.

Josh Gad is playing you right?

Yeah you know, I’ve seen “Book of Mormon” but I never saw Josh Gad when he was in it – I think he might be a good choice… …I’ve seen a couple good screen tests… I can definitely see that being a good buddy movie, like Josh Gad and James Franco.

So about the board game – how did you get involved with Adam Kornblum and start developing the board game anyway?

I was the kind of the guy that used to write people letters when I read a book I liked or it was music that I liked and it meant so much when I got a response… so I have a whole system here where like every letter that comes in, and there are like hundreds a day, someone writes a response to them. I’ve written like a couple stock responses to give to people.

So everyone kind of has something interesting to pull out and show to me, and Adam… for him to have designed a game, for him to have designed a game for Hasbro before, he had some credentials. What stuck out about his letter is that – I get like ten emails a day that say “Hey want to make a lot of money call me back” – And what he had done is, he had actually already turned “The Game” into a game, that he was playing in bars and clubs and cafes to meet women.

So I thought – what I like about this is this guy already did it, and he’s field-tested it, and as you know from “The Game” itself you gotta field test something to find out if it works. So it made me curious, I felt like he was doing it because he loved games and that was his passion, not because he wanted to like, try and make some money.

Is it weird that you’re kind of the icon on the game? You’re like the Monopoly Man on it.

David is a video editor, writer, and movie fanatic. After graduating from Full Sail University he now spends his days in Western Massachusetts working as a freelance article and sketch writer, as well as a comedy workshop moderator for Cracked.com. (Click Here to View David's work on Cracked.com) He enjoys over-analyzing movies, punk rock, and referring to himself in the third person.

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