Film crew in St. Paul shooting adaptation of Chuck Klosterman’s ‘Downtown Owl’
They filmed a scene at St. Paul’s Spot Bar, or at least Chuck thinks they did
ST. PAUL -- Earlier this month, a crew began shooting a film adaptation of Chuck Klosterman’s 2008 novel “Downtown Owl” in and around the Twin Cities.
As is often the case with such productions, details are tough to come by, in large part because crews need to focus on their work rather than deal with nosy members of the general public. But in this case I have an in and it’s Chuck himself.
I’ve known him since we worked together at our first newspaper jobs at The Forum in 1994. He left newspapers for a job at Spin magazine and, since his 2001 debut “Fargo Rock City,” Chuck has published a dozen best-selling books, including nonfiction, essay collections and three works of fiction.
On Wednesday, a Twitter user spotted a film crew at St. Paul’s Spot Bar, so I figured I’d call Chuck to see what’s up. And he seems as surprised as anyone the film is actually getting made.
“I’m pretty amazed by (the directors’) level of commitment to it,” he said. “It is flattering for sure.”
It turns out the interest in “Downtown Owl” was there before the book was even published. It was Chuck’s first novel and he set it in the ’80s in the fictional North Dakota town of Owl, which he based on his own North Dakota hometown of Wyndmere. For the audiobook, his publisher hired three actors to voice the main characters, one of whom was Lily Rabe, who is best known for her work in the FX anthology series “American Horror Story.”
Rabe was so taken by the book, she optioned it for a potential film. The way options work is that a producer pays a set fee for exclusive rights — in Chuck’s case, for a period of 18 months — to adapt a book into a film or other project. If nothing materializes after 18 months, producers can option it again or let the deal lapse.
Hollywood has long shown an interest in Chuck’s work. For example, the Hold Steady’s Craig Finn and a writer from David Letterman’s show optioned Chuck’s first effort, 2001’s “Fargo Rock City.” Chuck said his 2005 book “Killing Yourself to Live” was optioned four or five times. The thing is, the vast majority of options lapse and the projects never come to fruition.
By the time of “Downtown Owl,” Chuck said, “I had gotten used to the idea that when someone options your book, nothing happens. I know it seems weird, but I didn’t pay that much attention to it.”
Indeed, Rabe let the deal lapse and Chuck went on with his life. (He now lives in Portland, Ore., with his wife, Melissa Maerz, whom he met when she was music editor of the late City Pages, and their two children.)
In 2012, Chuck took a call from “Parks and Recreation” star Adam Scott, who was setting up a production company and picked up the option for “Downtown Owl.” That October, Scott announced the news of his new company and its intent to turn the book into a film.
“I never heard from him again,” Chuck said.
Soon after, Rabe picked up the option again and began an almost decade-long conversation with Chuck about the would-be film. At one point, another “Parks and Recreation” vet Aubrey Plaza was set to star. At another point, there was talk of filming in New Mexico. At yet another point, Rabe talked about asking Richard Linklater to direct and Matthew McConaughey to star.
All the while, other projects looked far more likely to happen, but never did. Chuck said a 2018 call from Rabe’s partner Hamish Linklater (no relation to Richard) caught his attention. Linklater was going to fly to North Dakota and visit Wyndmere on a sort of fact-finding mission to get a sense of the feeling of small-town rural life.
“I was shocked,” Chuck said. “He went to my high school, met my cousin and a coach. He said he couldn’t have gotten a warmer reception. Part of me was, like, maybe this really will come out? Nothing’s ever been this close before.”
But plans to shoot in 2019 came and went and the pandemic brought the entire industry to a screeching halt. Chuck then heard they were planning to film in Minnesota and, months later, it actually happened. Rabe is co-directing the film with Linklater and also starring alongside Vanessa Hudgens, Finn Wittrock and Jack Dylan Grazer. Chuck remains in contact with the couple, but is purposefully not getting overly involved with the details.
“I had no idea Ed Harris was going to be in this until I saw it on Twitter,” Chuck said with a laugh.
As such, Chuck only shared scant details about the shoot. He wasn’t even entirely certain that crew at Spot Bar was from the film, although he assumes that’s the case.
“You’ve got to let the creative people be creative,” he said. “There’s a lot of things about this I don’t fully understand. I guess they’re still scouting locations and finding local actors. To me, it doesn’t seem like those things would still be happening. They were, like, ‘Oh well, we don’t have any high school kids cast yet. We’ve heard the Minneapolis actor pool is exceptionally deep.’ ”
The book is set in the fall, but they’re shooting in the spring. Given that the story ends with a massive blizzard, Chuck has no idea how they’re going to pull that off.
“Again, I don’t know how this works, but they don’t seem worried about it.”
While this shouldn’t come as a surprise, Chuck also doesn’t know details about the film’s future, whether it will run in theaters or go directly to a streaming service. But he’s eager to see the end result.
“What’s interesting about writing a novel is that you need to imagine the whole reality inside your mind,” he said. “It will be even more interesting to see if this movie actually replicates the reality I once imagined.”