Movie version of 'Barney's Version' top English-Canada earner in 2011
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Movie version of 'Barney's Version' top English-Canada earner in 2011

TORONTO – Rookie screenwriter Michael Konyves, who wrestled Mordecai Richler’s acclaimed novel “Barney’s Version” into a celebrated screenplay, jokes he can retire early now that he’s won Telefilm Canada’s coveted Golden Box Office Award.

The Montreal scribe claimed a $20,000 cheque at a prize ceremony Thursday, when Telefilm Canada saluted “Barney’s Version” as English Canada’s top box office earner in 2011.

The annual honour, nicknamed the Goldie, also came with a $20,000 cheque for “Barney’s Version” director Richard J. Lewis.

Lewis told a crowd of industry players that audience acclaim is the most a filmmaker can hope for.

“A lot of filmmakers will tell you that as long as they love the film then they’re OK with that, but that’s a load of crap,” Lewis told a group assembled at a Toronto deli known for serving Montreal-style smoked meat.

“Because when we see people watch the film and the box office numbers come in, we know that people have been talking about the movie and that’s really the vindication, that’s really what we want to hear. And this was a gift from the get-go, from the time I read the novel, it was a gift so to get another one is such an overwhelming (thing), such a treat.”

Lewis said his cheque will either fund a trip to Disneyland or private school for his two kids.

Telefilm said “Barney’s Version” grossed more than $3.2 million at the Canadian box office in 2011. A spokesman said the federal agency invested $8.9 million to help make and market the star-packed film.

The romantic dramedy stars Paul Giamatti as a cigar-chomping, hockey-crazed Montrealer whose cantankerous personality costs him the love of his life.

Dustin Hoffman plays Barney’s foul-mouthed father, Minnie Driver is Barney’s high-strung second wife, Rosamund Pike plays Barney’s true love and Scott Speedman portrays Barney’s best friend.

The script was Konyves’ first feature film project to hit the big screen. He says it took him more than a year to come up with the screenplay, which has since opened doors for him to pursue more projects in Hollywood.

“I’m actually working on a bunch of TV and film projects,” said Konyves, noting the prize money buys him time to pursue job prospects.

“You work on as much as you can and you see what happens. It’s a long process to get something made.”

Producer Robert Lantos said “Barney’s Version” earned $22 million worldwide. He said it took 12 years to find the right team to wrestle Richler’s acclaimed novel into a workable film.

“I love this film and I love this book and I spent many years working on it,” said Lantos. “Nice to know I’m not alone.”

Last year’s Goldie award went to the director and writers of the sci-fi thriller “Splice,” while the director and writers of “Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day” earned the previous prize.

The corresponding prize for 2011’s top Canadian francophone money-earner was “Starbuck,” a comedy about a middle-aged man who learns he fathered hundreds of children through sperm donation. Telefilm saluted its writer and director at a ceremony in Montreal last month.

“Starbuck” took in more than $3.5 million at the Canadian box office, according to Telefilm Canada.

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