‘Jamie Marks is Dead’: Barzak’s debut at Sundance

Chris Barzak with the cast during the red carpet premiere of “Jamie Marks is Dead.” Left to right: Cameron Monaghan, Morgan Saylor, Chris Barzak, Madison Beaty, Noah Silver.
Chris Barzak with the cast during the red carpet premiere of “Jamie Marks is Dead.” Left to right: Cameron Monaghan, Morgan Saylor, Chris Barzak, Madison Beaty, Noah Silver.

This is the mysterious story of Jamie Marks who, after being murdered, comes back into the lives of his classmates to find the love and affection he did not have in life.

This is also the story of author, Youngstown State University professor and Jamie’s creator Christopher Barzak who, after writing “One for Sorrow” eleven years ago, got to see Marks’ journey on the big screen as it debuted this weekend at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

“One for Sorrow” was published in 2007 and started receiving potential movie scripts for an adaptation in 2010.

“Writing a book was such a private endeavor, and then it became such a public object, and then it was adapted to the film,” Barzak said.

But it was director Carter Smith who took the novel and truly captured the message Barzak was hoping for in a film of his story.

Smith stumbled across “One for Sorrow” while in a bookstore and couldn’t get the story out of his mind.

“I read the book and fell in love with it, like, straight away,” Smith said.

He optioned the novel for a few years before he was ready to start the casting and production of the film version “Jamie Marks is Dead,” which includes actors Liv Tyler, Judy Greer, Cameron Monaghan, Madisen Beaty, Noah Silver and Morgan Saylor.

“When I heard Liv Tyler was playing the mother, I thought that was really perfect,” Barzak said.

Barzak has always had a strong connection with the characters of his novel. Marks was a character from a previously written short story, but Barzak said he wanted to give this character a better life and chose to do so with “One for Sorrow.”

“I try to appreciate every moment that I have with [my characters], just like I try to do with my real family and friends,” he said.

This strong connection is illustrated in the relationship between the four teenage characters: Jamie Marks, Adam McCormick, Gracie Highsmith and Frances Wilkinson.

Smith knew that this connection between the characters was what the focus of the film needed to be, even though that meant cutting certain moments out to keep others in.

“The core of this movie is about relationships. I have to give credit to Carter. We actually never read with each other, but I guess he had good enough instincts to know we would all get along,” Monaghan said.

Noah Silver played Jamie Marks on-screen, and gives credit to Smith for how well the characters interact in the film.

“We never had a chemistry test, we just showed up on set and clicked instantly and it was magical, and Carter saw that,” Silver said.

Smith was not the only one who saw the electric connection between the actors. Barzak also took notice of the cast’s talent and the cohesive relationship between them.

“The teen cast was just phenomenal. Cameron Monaghan, he’s so seasoned with his experience on the show ‘Shameless.’ I was so happy to see that the character that is getting the most screen time is somebody who can really take over the screen and knows what he is doing,” Barzak said.

Madisen Beaty played the ghostly character Frances Wilkinson, and looked to Barzak’s novel as a resource while preparing for her role.

“I read the book ‘One for Sorrow’ and I kind of just prepped and tried to push myself to that angered, vulnerable spot, and hopefully it worked,” Beaty said.

Monaghan also looked to Barzak’s novel for inspiration for his character while preparing for the role of Adam McCormick.

“I read the book before we filmed. It helped with my characterization; I was kind of looking for what was motivating Adam and what exactly he was getting from it all,” Monaghan said.

Jamie Marks was played by Noah Silver. A newcomer to the industry, Silver said taking on this role was one of his most prestigious moments yet.

“There are a lot of layers to it,” Silver said. “There are some excruciatingly painful moments to it, and then beautiful, light moments. To be able to play all of these different moments in one movie with one part is a blessing.”

“Jamie Marks is Dead” was filmed in upstate New York in the bitterly cold month of February.

Smith wanted the film to still have its original Youngstown vibe that Barzak wrote about, but also wanted it to look like any-town USA so the setting wouldn’t be a main component that would take away from what the film’s primary theme.

However, the spirit of Youngstown was eerily present in parts of the film. A Mahoning Valley native could easily mistake the broken-down railroad tracks, old industrial steel mills and woodsy landscapes as an authentic Youngstown setting.

As Barzak walked the red carpet at Sundance, his excitement showed while he took pictures with the cast and crew of “Jamie Marks is Dead” before its premiere.

“I do think ‘One for Sorrow’ is ready for a wide audience,” he said. “And I’m certainly ready for a wide audience, if they’re ready for me.”