News came late last week via local writer Ayelet Waldman that she and husband Michael Chabon had signed a multi-year deal with CBS Television Studios to write a number of proposed TV series and movies for the network — among them a dramatization of the 2016 Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland. The reactions from victims' friends and families were swift and anger-filled.
The general feeling seems to be that it's still too soon for families to want to see the story dramatized on screen — and the pain of the trial of proprietor Derick Almena, who may yet have to be retried for his role in the blaze, is still too raw. Also, there was bitterness that outsiders with no direct connection to the event had no right to profit from others' tragic loss and trauma.
After the Mercury News reported the news of the project, Chabon clarified on Twitter that he and Waldman were planning to serve as producers, not writers, and the movie or series was going to be adapted by writer Elizabeth Weil, based on her own reporting. Waldman also said that her kids knew some of the fire victims, and she wrote that the adaptation would be "an indictment of the power and money that is destroying our communities, but also ... a story about loss."
Just to clarify: The Ghost Ship project will be adapted by journalist Elizabeth Weil, based on her own reporting. @ayeletw and I are producing it, under the terms of an overall agreement with CBS Studios that is not for any one story or project in particular.— Michael Chabon (@michaelchabon) December 11, 2019
48 Hills picked up the story, and by the time the weekend rolled around, Chabon and Waldman had changed their minds about the project, due to the ensuing anger from victims' families and fire survivors.
"I’m a Ghost Ship survivor and I vehemently opposed this project,” wrote Jon Axtell on Twitter. “You have no connection to our community and have no right to tell this story. Profiting off our grief will only bring a firestorm of criticism and opposition from all of us."
Waldman tweeted a statement in a Twitter thread, saying, "we’ve heard from parents of the victims, from friends and survivors, and from conscientious members of the community, appealing to us to reconsider telling the story of the Ghost Ship — because it’s too soon, because the wounds are too deep and too recent and the pain of reliving the experience would be too great. These appeals have been heartbreaking to hear, and they have changed our minds."
In response to Waldman, Axtell wrote, " I hope this starts a new conversation about tragedy media."
The CBS deal also includes a long-awaited film adaptation of Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 2000 novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. The novel will be adapted into a limited series for Showtime with Chabon as showrunner. Also in the works is a series for Showtime called A Really Good Day starring Veep's Anna Chlumsky based on Waldman's book of the same name about LSD micro-dosing.