Writing is a faceless job. Sure your picture and bio can be placed on the inside of the book jacket but that’s the limit of an author’s spotlight. You’re not going to be joining Brangelina in the tabloids or on Jimmy Fallon’s couch. Your audience isn’t interested in you, rather the worlds to which you take them, and despite the fact that most of us crave recognition we can probably all agree that’s a good thing. In the end we care more about our stories than ourselves anyway.
In fact we care for them much like a parent cares for a child and with the same inherent paradox. We want them to mature but they will always be our babies. We want others to get to know them, to relate to them in their own way, but, like a father meeting his daughter’s first boyfriend, we find ourselves thinking murderous thoughts when that way is fundamentally different from our own. Readers have proprietary feelings towards their favorite books as well. Like the author they have a unique bond to the story that is formed by their own experience. As such the tale becomes a shrine of reaffirmation at which they worship. Woe betide anyone who sullies that shrine.
These conflicted feelings especially come into play when a writer is approached about adapting his work to film or when the reader discovers the rights to their favorite epic have been bought by a studio. The heart leaps at the thought of how the words will transform to the silver screen, which actors will take on the key roles, and of course who will direct. As rumors filled with all the wrong names filter out apprehension sets in. Then comes the $64 million question. Will the film remain true to the story or has your precious jewel become just another moneymaker for the studio machine?
Money is the bottom line in Hollywood. We can relate; we’re trying to make a living too. What worries us is the famously bad judgment of many studio executives as to just what will sell. They are their own worst enemies. The alarm over Johnny Depp’s wildly eccentric portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow that nearly scuttled Pirates of the Caribbean before the initial film’s release is legendary. Had there not been someone there to talk the Disney execs out of pulling the plug a franchise that grossed $3.7 billion at the box office alone would never have come to be.
Worse, the proven Hollywood formula is even more frightening than the industry’s reluctance to try new things. Action + Sex = Profit. Things like introspection and explained science are complicated subtraction. The knee jerk reaction is to dumb it down for the lowest common audience. That is why the Sharknado franchise is so successful. Still, to give studio execs their due, they’re not complete idiots. I’m fairly certain the pitch for the original movie sounded so moronic it was met with dead stares.
“So what are two of the most deadly things nature can throw at mankind? TORNADOES and SHARKS! Right? Think about it. Both of them are deadly. The problem is bringing them together, because we all know the bigger the boom the better! But one is associated with wheat fields and the other with the ocean. They’re separated by thousands of miles, I know, but what if tornadoes FROM A HURRICANE sucked up sharks and dropped them on a major metropolitan city? Everyone knows there are tornadoes inside hurricanes. It could happen, and if it happened in LA…”
Dead stares. Until one executive remembers the scene in Twister with the cow mooing as it spins around a hundred feet in the air and says, “Maybe you have something there. What type of budget are we talking?”
All of that is why many authors seek creative control when they sell film rights. It’s also why many interesting projects never make it to the screen. If the author isn’t willing to compromise on his or her artistic vision and the studio hasn’t the faith to tread new ground it’s a Mexican standoff, at which point the studio, which is the gatekeeper to a broader audience, simply loses interest.
If you really want to see your book made into a major motion picture while maintaining its original theme and plot the one remaining option is to direct and produce it yourself. If you have the influence or the power of persuasion it’s not a stretch. Sylvester Stallone did it and won an Oscar no less. Surely that means anyone can.
After all aren’t directors merely storytellers like us? They’re usually faceless, too, ceding most of the credit to the actors. Did you see the new Brad Pitt movie? Or that Tom Cruise flick with Morgan Freeman? There’s the occasional Scorsese or Spielberg thrown in there, but not until they’ve had a few hits under their belts. For the most part even the best ones are anonymous. So yeah we could be directors. We’ve already got the gift for storytelling and a script. All that’s left is a camera eye, the time and energy to scout myriad locations, the political savvy to secure filming permits, the industry connections to recruit casting agents, costume designers, and cinematographers, the patience to assuage the ridiculously swollen egos of your actors, the organizational and creative talent to edit, the ear for just the right soundtrack, and the rainmaking magic to find new money when the project inevitably goes over budget.
Yeah… Easy peasy…
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to compromise just a little.