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‘Modern Family’ producer buys film rights to local author’s book, ‘Real Santa’

On the cover of author William Hazelgrove’s latest novel, “Real Santa,” a starred review by Booklist states, “If somebody doesn’t make a movie out of this book, there’s something wrong with the world.”

Well, someone has decided to do just that.

“Modern Family” producer Vicki Rocco recently bought the film rights to “Real Santa” for her production company – Small But Mighty Productions – with an eye for a feature or made-for-television movie. This news comes on the back of Hazelgrove’s summer announcement that he sold the rights to his fifth book, “The Pitcher,” to producer Ed Bates, who currently is adapting the screenplay.

Kane County Chronicle Features Editor Kara Silva got to chat with the Campton Hills resident about his recent successes and living the literary dream.

Kara Silva: Can you briefly explain what “Real Santa” is all about?
William Hazelgrove:
It all started when my daughter started to doubt Santa Claus. We live in this sort of Victorian farmhouse. [It has] three chimneys … and kind of a flat roof. I [was] looking out the window, thinking about Santa, and then I’m like, “You know, you could land reindeer on the roof, and going down the chimney wouldn’t be that hard.” What if there was this crazy mechanical engineer, and he decides to do it; to do the physics of it – to be the real Santa. How would you do it?

So, I started researching and trying to figure out how to put reindeer on the roof; how to actually create the illusion of flying, and from there it just snowballed, so to speak. It’s all [about] what would you do for your kid? How far would you go?

Silva: How long did it take to write?
First draft was less than six months.

Silva: How much of yourself do you put in your characters?
You really do have to have yourself in there. And you have to have something to lose. If [readers] don’t care about the characters, they’re not going to care about the book. You have to write like that’s you. In “The Pitcher,” “Real Santa” [and] “Jack Pine,” there are pieces of me.

Silva: You’ve had a pretty good year. The last two books you’ve written, “Real Santa” and “The Pitcher,” you sold the movie rights to, and now they are going to be made into films.
[Bates] is still writing the script for “The Pitcher.” He’s going to give that right to Kevin Costner. He thinks it’ll be ready in January.

I think [“The Pitcher”] is a really cinematic book, and if the right person reads [it], I think it’s going to be great. So, I think also that’s why he’s taking so long – to get the screenplay right.

“Real Santa” is a little more amped up. It’s a very high-concept kind of Christmas movie. [It could be] in the Hollywood genre, but it could easily be turned into a made-for-TV movie, because [Rocco] had talked about using the same crew that shoots “Modern Family” to make the movie.

So, it’s hard to say which way it’ll go – feature or [television movie].

The rule is television movies get made a lot faster. Features, you have to get all of the big people interested. So, I think it’s a little more involved.

Silva: Do you have a preference?
I really don’t.

Silva: Are there any nerves about your work being turned into a movie and then it not being good?
It’s great when something is made into a movie because it gets that big audience. Even a [bad] movie, people will hear about it more. That’s such a different medium. I will say this, most movies fail because they have [bad] stories at their core. They’re flimsy. It’s not thought out. My novels are good stories at their core.

“Real Santa,” if it does come out as a made-for-TV movie, there is a chance that it could be kind of goofy – it could be this goofy movie. And you could miss all of the dimension of it.

Silva: Do you think you’ll be on set for either film or go to the premieres when they come out?
I’d love to be on set.

Silva: That would be amazing. Sit in a little movie director’s chair and hang out.
Hang around the food truck (laughs). It’ll probably be done in Hollywood. I would love to go. But, I am the low man on the totem pole.

Silva: What about the premiere?
I would love to go to the premiere. But my thinking is probably not. Because I’m just the writer, ya know. Hollywood is such a weird place.

Silva: Is this the dream for you or is there more to be done?
Probably get on a bestseller list and stay there. Obviously, see the movies produced – seeing both movies out would be great.

I try not to get too far ahead of myself because it’s a brick-by-brick career.

[Right now,] I have books waiting to be written that I’ve already signed for, and that’s great because it allows you to have focus as a writer. For [a] long time, I’d write books and think, “I don’t know if this will ever get published.”

Silva: I feel like I would do this, but do you ever go to Barnes and Noble for an ego boost? To see your own book on display there.
Good question. Here’s what I do. At Barnes and Noble, the books are all on tables, so what people don’t know is that publishers pay to get their bestsellers on those tables. The rest of the authors have to fight for shelf space.

So, my book, “Real Santa,” is [organized] really neat. [Barnes and Noble] put it face out instead of spine out. But it’s not on the tables.

So, I [find] my book; I pick it up. I walk over to the table, shove a few [books] over and then plop – I put it on the holiday table.

When people walk in Barnes and Noble, they look at the tables. I probably have been to 20 Barnes and Nobles in the Chicago area.

Silva: Ever think about moving to Hollywood and becoming a screenplay writer?
Never say never. The only way that would happen is if I continue to publish pretty high-concept books in the future. And they continue to get bought and made [into movies].

Silva: So, what’s next for you? Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yeah, there’s a book coming out in the spring called “Jack Pine.” It’s a big Northwoods epoch about loggers and environmentalists. It’s sweeping, and it’s in a location that I think is pretty interesting to people.

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