Backwoods Home Magazine’s Senior Editor John Silveira signed a movie contract yesterday to allow a classified advertisement he created for BHM in 1997 to be featured in an upcoming movie to be titled, “Safety Not Guaranteed.” The advertisement, on page 92 of Issue No. 47, is about time-travel and it has become a minor internet sensation in the past 14 years with several “pretenders” claiming authorship of the ad and many thousands of fans wondering if the ad’s creator really did go back in time.
The idea for the movie has been in the works for several years, and the screen writer, Derek Connolly, and director, Colin Trevorrow, had been searching for the “real” author of the ad so they could get permission to use it. John was aware of the internet chatter surrounding the ad, although he had not realized just how big and extensive the chatter had become, and he did not know someone was creating a movie around it.
Since at least 2003, I had been after him to write an article about all the letters he was getting in response to the ad, but he resisted, saying he wanted to continue the mystery. I had a lot of other important stuff for him to do, such as creating “The Coming American Dictatorship” series, so we let the ad lay in the dust while the internet buzz got louder and louder.
Finally, in 2010, while preparing Issue No. 125, John gave in to my badgering and we agreed to start a new series called, “Do you remember when…,” which would begin by revealing the facts behind the time-travel ad. By then, several other people had taken credit for writing the ad, so I think he wanted to set the record straight. The first article in the series was titled, “The time-travel ad.” In it, John not only revealed himself as the author and gave incontestable proof of that fact, but he disclosed that the ad’s creation had actually taken place nearly 10 years before its 1997 inclusion in BHM; it had been part of an unfinished novel he had written with the working title of “Time Travel.”
The Issue 125 article became part of the internet lore. Colin Trevorrow read it almost immediately, called John and said, “I’ve been looking for you for a long time.”
Over the past several months they worked out an agreement for use of the ad in the movie. John asked for nothing (they’re paying him anyway) except for the opportunity to have some of his novels read by a big-time agent. He’s always wanted to be a novelist; his job as a BHM editor these past 20-plus years has just been a temporary job while he pursues his novels. (His latest are called “Danielle,” the first of a trilogy, and “The Devil You Know.” He’s never published any of them and he’s rebuffed my offers to do so, saying BHM doesn’t have the ability to distribute a novel. So I hope the movie catches the eye of a big-time agent.
Coincident with the signing of the movie contract yesterday, I also signed an agreement relinquishing BHM’s interest in the ad. Technically, BHM held the copyright to the ad since we copyrighted the issue in which it appeared. In exchange for my signature, the movie makers promised not to hold the magazine up to ridicule in the movie. That’s a reasonable request, I thought, since BHM has suffered through a number of unfair journalistic attacks over the past 20 years by reporters who thought the magazine’s politics were too far right.
Although neither I nor the magazine will benefit monetarily from the movie, it was agreed that both John and BHM will be allowed to “ride the coattails” of any success the movie experiences by bragging about where the ad first appeared. John will also be allowed to publish — simultaneously with the release of the movie — (sometime in 2012), a book containing some of the more than a thousand letters he has received in response to the ad. We’ll help him do the book.
Stars in the move, so far, are Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake M. Johnson. For more details, you can go here. For even more entertaining, and often downright ridiculous, information surrounding the time-travel ad, just google “time travel ad” or a similar combination of words. You’ll even encounter a few sites claiming authorship of the ad. But John Silveira is the real author, and now he’s going to be in the movies.