Books &… Movies

Mitchell Kaplan


By  Evan Berkowitz    |   Photography by Johnny Louis
Elizabeth Gilbert and Mitchell Kaplan discusses and signs copies of her book ‘The Signature of all Things’.
Elizabeth Gilbert and Mitchell Kaplan discusses and signs copies of her book ‘The Signature of all Things’.

Mitchell Kaplan, the owner of Books & Books, is known in south Florida as a man who has had a tremendous impact on the local cultural scene. He was an original founder of the Miami Book Fair International, the annual event that put Miami on the literary map. The weeklong celebration of all things literary, now going into its 31st year, brings hundreds of authors to Miami and about 250,000 people come to hear the great authors. Kaplan currently chairs the Fair’s board of directors.

Kaplan is also well known as a leader in the retail book industry. In spite of historic changes that have crippled the publishing industry; Kaplan has managed to have a thriving chain of seven independently owned bookstores. His Books & Books locations have become beloved local institutions and important community gathering places.

However few south Floridians know of Kaplan’s most recent venture: film/TV production and the bringing of great books and novels to life on electronic screens.

It is estimated that between the Book Fair and the many author appearances at Books & Books locations, that Kaplan comes in contact with close to a 1000 authors every year. Recent fairs have featured literary legends such as Dan Brown, author of the mega bestseller The Da Vinci Code, Tom Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates and Terry McMillan.

So with this kind of access to great storytellers and creative talent, it is not difficult to see why he went into this new field. “It’s a natural fit for me as a bookseller. I see books very early and I have a deep interest in narrative of all kinds, including film and television. As a bookseller, one of our advantages is working with authors to make sure the integrity of their storytelling is protected,” he said.

In 2009, Kaplan partnered with veteran Hollywood producer Paula Mazur to create the Mazur-Kaplan Company, which currently has more than a dozen films/TV shows in development. Kaplan met Mazur through his sister Marcy Ross, who is a highly regarded and successful television executive.

Mazur has a wealth of experience developing material from books and plays.* Her credits include the filmed versions of both Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and the Lily Tomlin’s  The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. She has also helped produce films with A-list actors such as Whoopi Goldberg, Ray Liotta, and Jodie Foster. “We try to get a look at literary material as soon as the studios get it and maybe earlier,” she said.

Films for people with mature tastes, which focus on plot, character and dialogue are somewhat out of fashion.

By focusing on novels and books, Kaplan and his team are in some ways going against the trend and conventional thinking of today’s Hollywood. Films for people with mature tastes, which focus on plot, character and dialogue are somewhat out of fashion and not always considered to be the smartest choice in terms of maximizing profits. We currently live in the age of big budget, mass appeal, visual effects driven films. Often, these movies will have little dialogue so that they can be translated into several languages more easily, thus allowing better exploitation of international markets. “This is a very collaborative business and the ability to find funding for our projects is very important. The funding will often depend on whether there is a belief that an audience for the project exists,” said Kaplan.

Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert

The first product from Mazur-Kaplan that most people are likely to see is a made for television film called “One Christmas Eve,” which stars Anne Heche, and which will be shown as a Hallmark Christmastime movie on ABC TV this year. It is based on a short story by author Holly Goldberg Sloan who also wrote the screenplay. In it, Heche portrays a newly divorced mom having some unexpected adventures the night before Christmas.

Mazur-Kaplan is also helping to bring the internationally best-selling science fiction book trilogy Delirium by Lauren Oliver to television. The Fox Television Network produced a pilot episode for it, but ultimately decided not to pick up the series. The books are about a society that treats love amongst young adults as a dangerous disease.

The pilot was shown on the Hulu online service for a month, and Kaplan said it was very well received there. “Of course we felt Fox should have picked it up, but we believe in the book series and we will do all we can to make sure we bring the entire story to screen,” he said.

A non- fiction title about one of the most famous literary figures in history, Charles Dickens, is also being made into a film by Mazur-Kaplan. The Man Who Invented Christmas is about Dickens, the Victorian era celebrity writer, and the crazy, fever-pitched six weeks in the late autumn of 1843 when he penned the classic tale A Christmas Carol.

The iconic characters from his story, such as Scrooge and Tiny Tim, will come alive, literally trailing him through the streets of London. The Man Who Invented Christmas was written in 2008 by another important south Florida literary scene figure, Les Standiford, who is the Director of Florida International University’s highly regarded Creative Writing Program. The actor Jim Broadbent is attached to play Scrooge and the legendary Christopher Plummer is to play Dickens’ father.

In 2011, Kaplan was awarded the National Book Foundation’s lifetime achievement prize, the Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community. Although new to the film business, it is not hard to imagine the humble bookseller in a brief few years walking down the red carpet, perhaps being interviewed by Joan or Melissa Rivers and getting ready to receive an Academy Award, moment which would make many in south Florida feel as though a personal friend of theirs has won the big prize.