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CHOKE

Adapting Chuck Palahniuk
"Everything we do is an attempt to fool people into loving us or wanting us, and so my characters are really no different from ordinary people.” -- Chuck Palahniuk

Chuck Palahniuk's fourth novel Choke is an amped-up, relentlessly satirical look at sex, work, identity and bottomless yearning in contemporary America. Much like his earlier novel, Fight Club, which sparked a cult phenomenon and became a critically acclaimed hit movie starring Brad Pitt, Choke is a story that blasts through one taboo after the next. It tackles bad parenting and degenerate sex, consumerism and addiction, Colonial history and holy relics, medical horrors and blatant con games, an adult sense of failure and the freaky transcendent power of love. Like its self-asphyxiating main character, the book was all about people getting stuck . . . and suddenly dislodged from the patterns of their pasts.

Most shied away from its tricky tone and uninhibited themes, but when executive producer Gary Ventimiglia showed filmmaking newcomer and actor Clark Gregg the manuscript for Choke, Gregg was driven to try to adapt the book. Not only that, he had his own daring and unlikely vision for the movie version of CHOKE: as a wicked, Palahniuk-style twist on that age-old heartwarming genre, the romantic comedy.

"I had never read anything so painful and yet also so funny,” Gregg says of the novel. "I know Chuck is usually seen as this dark, nihilistic writer but I saw more than that in CHOKE. I felt the story was actually very hopeful and romantic, in its own perverse, post-modern way.”

He continues: "Palahniuk's got so many clever, brilliant, satirical ideas and his finger on the pulse of what works and what doesn't work in this country. For me, the book hit that chord where I thought ‘I have to make this; nobody's going to let me do this but I've got to find a way.'”

Best known for his work as an actor, theatre director and a founding member of New York's Atlantic Theater Company, Gregg earlier made his screenwriting debut with the horror thriller WHAT LIES BENEATH, starring Harrison Ford. He has appeared in dozens of stage productions, films and, most recently, in the sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine” with Julia Louis- Dreyfus. But Gregg had never directed a feature film before and he knew he might be a little crazy to attempt his first outing with such provocative material.

He began by getting Palahniuk's blessing. "Chuck was very patient because it took me a year and a half, two years maybe, and a couple of drafts before I could really get a handle on taking this surreal, satirical world from the page to the more three-dimensional realm of a movie,” Gregg recalls. "Fortunately, Chuck, like a lot of the smartest novelists I know, is really aware that for a movie adaptation to work, at a certain point, you've got to just put the book away. From the first time I spoke to him he told me ‘Don't be too faithful, don't stick to the book.' I really had to do that because there is just so much brilliant stuff in Victor's voice, I could have just basically made my own book on tape and it would never have worked. Whatever I understood about the book, I had to let it no longer be a book and become a screenplay.”

To accomplish that, Gregg followed the trail of his own emotional reaction to the novel. "My mother is not Ida and I never worked in a Colonial village, but there was something about the story that always felt painfully familiar,” he says. "Along with its themes of sexuality and obsession, I found it to be a really heartbreaking story about the way people recover from emotional trauma in their lives so that they can give and receive love.”

He also hung on to Palahniuk's mix-mastering of contrasting tones. "One of the things that constantly drew me to the material was how it managed to have scenes that I fo

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