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Gary Ross has penned and directed some big Hollywood hits like Big, Pleasantville and The Hunger Games. But for the past 15 years, his obsession has been something much more personal: a Dr. Seuss-ian children's book called Bartholomew Biddle and the Very Big Wind.
It started when Ross got a call in 1996 from fellow screenwriter David Koepp. Koepp was up against a tight budget and approaching deadline with his debut directorial effort, The Trigger Effect. Its heroine had to read an as-yet-unwritten bedtime story to her child.
Koepp wanted Ross to write that story. "The only thing is, I don't have any money," he told Ross. "So it has to be for free, and I've got to shoot the day after tomorrow."
"It was just such a fabulous offer," Ross tells NPR's Guy Raz.
Yet the first few lines of that bedtime story consumed Ross. Over the course of the next 15 years, he added to it and refined it. Now illustrated, it's become the epic tale of a 10-year-old boy with a taste for adventure.
In the book, Bartholomew Biddle opens his bedroom window one day. He spreads out his bedsheet, catches a mighty wind and takes to the air. "Bart basically invents the hang glider on his own," Ross says. "He sails to three different adventures. It's a little Gulliver-ish in that way."
In the process, Biddle discovers a lot about himself and takes the first few tentative steps toward adulthood. It's a theme Ross touches on in his many of his films.
"It isn't just growing up," Ross says, "but breaking free enough to be who you are and to sort of find and celebrate the essence of yourself."