The Backstory

Exploring the wonderfully weird

Iain Reid stands in a button-down, short-sleeve shirt with his hands in his jeans pockets, looking at the camera.

Photography by Johnny C. Y. Lam

Author Iain Reid, Artsci’04, is now three for three when it comes to having his novels turned into movies.

His book I’m Thinking of Ending Things was adapted by Academy Award–winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and debuted on Netflix in 2020. Next up was Foe, starring four-time Academy Award-nominated actress Saoirse Ronan (Little Women, Atonement, Lady Bird). It wrapped up filming this year and is scheduled to arrive in theatres before streaming on Amazon Prime in 2023.

Mr. Reid’s latest novel, We Spread, which was released in September, is being adapted into a screenplay by Mr. Reid and director Minhal Baig.

Despite the impressive book-to-movie streak, Mr. Reid doesn’t expect to become like Stephen King or Philip K. Dick – authors who have many of their books turned into films.

“I think it’s just worked out this way for my first three [pieces of literary fiction],” says Mr. Reid, who is based in Kingston. “I want to try new things. Who knows, maybe the next thing is some small community play.”

Screenwriting is definitely new. He didn’t take any screenwriting courses or workshops before jumping in to co-write the screenplay for Foe with director Garth Davis (whose film Lion was nominated for six Oscars, including for best picture).

Mr. Reid had a bit of filmmaking experience after serving as a consultant and executive producer on the I’m Thinking of Ending Things movie. He loves the collaborative nature of movie making, where many great artists – actors, directors, musicians, set designers – work together and inspire each other. It’s a stark contrast to the solitary world of writing a novel.

“Novels and screenplays are so different, and you can revisit the same story in a new way,” Mr. Reid says. “In a novel, there are things you can try that you can’t in a screenplay, which is restricted by length and budget. In a novel, the only constraint is your imagination. So, it’s fun to revisit [these stories] in a new way and try different things.”

His latest novel, We Spread, is a surreal story about Penny, an aging artist who moves into a long-term care home. Soon strange incidents start to make her feel uneasy, and she wonders if it is the effects of her age or something more sinister.

Mr. Reid’s novels share a feeling of things not being what they appear to be. Entertainment Weekly magazine wrote in a profile, “the Canadian author is cornering the market on wonderfully weird plotlines.”

He loves to explore themes and characters and is less focused on plot. His books are surreal, with endings that intentionally leave questions unanswered. He likes to leave his works open to interpretation, and We Spread is no different.

“If people are looking for a straight-up thriller, they will probably be disappointed [with We Spread],” Mr. Reid says. “Thrillers usually have a mystery or a predicament that, through various misdirections, is solved. [We Spread] will not have a clear ending for some people. I have my own version of what it means, and I like to hear what other people think.”

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