Last year, University of Iowa Associate Professor Harry Stecopoulos led undergraduate students in an art rarely touched on in the classroom: fanfiction. In Stecopoulos’s honors fiction seminar, The Great Gatsby 2.0, the 19-student class met over Zoom to co-author their own version of the classic. The seminar resulted in Gilded in Ash, a collaboratively written Gatsby adaptation centering around a Black lesbian art forger during the 1929 stock market crash. Now, the class has collaborated on a new project: signing a film option with Independent Pictures and Fugitive Films. KayLee Kuehl and Haley Triem, both Gatsby 2.0 students, have signed on to write the initial screenplay.
The deal came about by happy coincidence: when producers Mikaela Beardsley (Half the Sky) and Jamie Gordon (Swimfan) and Executive Producer Cary Woods (Kids, Swingers, Scream) came across a write-up of the class on the University of Iowa website, they were intrigued by the premise and contacted Stecopoulos, who sent over the manuscript. In only two days, the producers signed on. “The final product more than delivered on its promise,” Beardsley told the University of Iowa. “Harry’s students have made fabulously interesting choices.”
For the Gatsby 2.0 students, working on optioning the book was just as much a group project as writing the book itself. The first step was forming an LLC: Gatsby 2.0 student Jack Donley, whose parents are lawyers, led the creation of the aptly named Old Sport LLC. Then, the students met several times with Iowa Writers’ Workshop alum Tony Etz, now an agent at CAA, who helped explain the process of optioning the work and offered advice regarding their contract. Said Gatsby 2.0 student Katelyn Peters, lead negotiator for the class, to the University of Iowa, “As someone who hopes to write and publish novels someday, getting hands-on experience negotiating contracts and seeing the behind-the-scenes of movie production has been invaluable. Leading a negotiating meeting wasn’t something I ever imagined myself doing.”
Though a film option doesn’t guarantee a film, the Gatsby 2.0 students are already grateful for the experience. “Even if the film is never produced—and I’m cautiously optimistic that it will be—this is still much bigger than I expected it to get,” said Donley. “Professor Stecopoulos joked about the project going up in flames in the very first class. To have the novel actually come together, then to have this interest from producers, is astounding.”