House of the Rising Sun, the first film produced from a screenplay by local crime writer Chuck Hustmyre, hit the direct-to-DVD sales and rental market this week.
Released by Lions Gate, the film stars former wrestler Dave Bautista as an ex-cop who gets framed for a robbery. Amy Smart, Dominic Purcell and Danny Trejo co-star.
Hustmyre adapted the House of the Rising Sun screenplay from his 2004 novel of the same name. Dorchester Publishing issued a new paperback edition of the book this month. The film also is being shown on the big screen Thursday, July 28, at the Manship Theatre.
Bautista’s acting is the best surprise Hustmyre got while watching the film adaptation of his book.
“I was a little nervous about casting a guy known more for wrestling than acting,” the writer said. “He didn’t have much acting experience, unless you count wrestling as acting. But he actually did a good job of playing Ray Shane.”
The author was less pleased that the filmmakers moved the screenplay’s setting from New Orleans to Grand Rapids, Mich., where the movie was shot last December.
“I guess there was just no way to pretend it was New Orleans because you can’t hide the fact that it’s snowing like crazy,” he said. “But I’m a first-time screenwriter, so I got no say in it.”
Hustmyre shares screenwriting credit with the movie’s director, Brian A. Miller.
“After watching the movie, my gut reaction was that 60 or 70 percent of it is mine and the rest of it is significant changes made by Brian Miller.”
Nevertheless, the House of the Rising Sun film resurrected a book that originally sold a mere 100 copies.
Specializing in crime fiction and nonfiction, Hustmyre lives by that classic advice about writing - write what you know. He spent 22 years in law enforcement, including three years as a criminal investigator with the East Baton Rouge District Attorney’s Office and 13 years with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in New Orleans.
“I don’t stray far from my expertise,” he said. “I’m not likely to come up with any romantic comedies anytime soon.”
Knowing the territory as he does, Hustmyre strives for authenticity.
“I try to make everything I write plausible, like it really could happen,” he said. “But I’m having to learn a little bit of exaggeration for screenplays, because film has to be a bigger than life. I still try to stick to real police procedures and what cops would really know at certain points in their investigations. I don’t have lab work come back in 20 minutes.”
Writing since junior high school, Hustmyre decided to pursue it full time following his disability-related retirement from ATFE. He wrote nonfiction stories for The Washington Post, the truTV website, The Advocate, 225 Magazine and Psychology Today.
Hustmyre’s 2005 story in New Orleans Magazine, “Blue on Blue: Murder, Madness, and Betrayal in the NOPD,” appeared in the 2006 edition of HarperCollins’ annual Best American Crime Writing anthology. The Penguin Group published Hustmyre’s nonfiction books An Act of Kindness and Killer with a Badge.
Hustmyre sets most of his work in Louisiana.
“It’s hard to find a better town for a crime thriller than New Orleans,” he explained. “I’m branching out a little, but I always feel at home writing about New Orleans.”
In addition to the July releases of the House of the Rising Sun movie and new edition of the novel, Dorchester is publishing the author’s new book, a serial-killer tale called A Killer Like Me, Aug. 8.
Because fiction writing is going his way of late, Hustmyre plans to stay with it for the foreseeable future. He recently finished a screenplay and he’s working on another. And having taught LSU leisure classes in fiction and nonfiction in past years, he’ll be teaching screenwriting for the first time this year.
“That actually helps me,” he said of teaching. “It helps me organize everything I’ve gathered, everything I’ve learned, and put it in a concise framework.”