‘White Noise’ Producer Buys Rights to Don DeLillo’s ‘Americana’

by Manori Ravindran

Source: Variety

Don DeLillo’s debut novel, “Americana,” is set to be adapted 51 years after it was first published.

“White Noise” producer Uri Singer (“Tesla,” “The King of Oil”) has bought the rights to the 1971 novel, continuing his streak of adapting a string of DeLillo works that have been deemed “unadaptable.”

“Americana” tells the story of David Bell, an out-of-touch television executive who sets off on a road trip with his female colleague, Sullivan, to make an avant-garde film. The book explores the intricacies of corporate culture and examines how we create realities, whether they are true or not.

Singer tells Variety: “When you read ‘Americana,’ you understand how Don developed into the literary icon he is today. It’s the story of an ‘American Psycho’-type of protagonist, minus the murder, in the toxic and cut-throat world of television, with all the extraordinary minor characters that mark a DeLillo work. Where ‘American Psycho’ just shows the protagonist as he is, ‘Americana’ shows the questioning of why he is the way he is.”

Singer’s team at Passage Pictures is developing what he promises to be a “unique take” on the novel, which the veteran producer describes as “‘American Psycho’ meets ‘Marriage Story.’” The film is believed to use a switch in perspective to maintain the story’s relevance without sacrificing the essence of DeLillo’s prose.

“Americana” is the latest DeLillo adaptation for Singer, who is in Venice with Noah Baumbach’s adaptation of “White Noise” for Netflix, which is opening the festival. Another adaptation, this time of DeLillo’s “Underworld,” is also in the works at the streaming giant.

The Israel-born Singer, for whom English was not his first language, is a long-time fan of DeLillo’s work and says he has “continuously [returned] to his works despite the challenge of comprehending them.”

“Don’s incredible writing stayed with me and when I started producing, I realized that by attaching the right talent we could make these stories more approachable while keeping the integrity of characters and storylines Don created alive,” said Singer.

Reflecting on “White Noise,” the producer said the film was first set up at HBO, and was then attached to James Brooks (“The Simpsons”), Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black”) and Barry Josephson at Disney. Scott Rudin later optioned the book for Sonnenfield, with a script from Stephen Schiff.

Singer optioned the rights to “White Noise” in 2016, but it took years to set up “because of the challenge in adapting Don’s words.”

The producer eventually took the book to A24, which helped to attach Baumbach, “a DeLillo fan and the auteur of this great adaptation that’s opening Venice and the New York Film Festival,” said Singer. The project was then sold to Netflix.

In the fall of 2021, Netflix also picked up “Underworld,” with Ted Melfi (“Hidden Figures”) set to direct. The book loosely centers on a waste management executive who endeavors to trace the history of a baseball that made history for the New York Giants in 1951.

“Underworld” is considered by many to be DeLillo’s opus but, at more than 800 pages and with a sprawling narrative structure, tricky to adapt. Singer teamed with friend and director Melfi, whom he considers “the only person who could bring this massive work of art to the screen in a way that would allow more people to understand and enjoy it while still honoring the essence of DeLillo’s writing.”

Elsewhere, Singer has also optioned DeLillo novella “The Silence,” which he bills as a “contained story” that will be written by British screenwriter and playwright Jez Butterworth (“The Ferryman,” “Brittannia”).

Looking ahead, the producer plans to continue mining “compelling narratives and interesting characters,” while building out his books-to-screen platform Taleflick, a portal for international authors and writers to submit stories, books and scripts.

“It doesn’t matter to us whether people deem it ‘unadaptable,’ our motto is if nobody can do it, we can,” says Singer. “Our only trick to doing that is to find smart IP we believe in and surround ourselves with smart people who believe in it like we do,” said Singer.

Singer is repped by Carissa Knol at Knol Law PC. DeLillo is repped by Amy Schiffman at Echo Lake and Robin Straus.

(Pictured: Don DeLillo)