Friday, September 21, 2018

Know When to Hold ’Em, Know When to Fold ’Em

If a major producer/production company wanted to option or buy your book…but wanted to change it in major ways as often happens in Hollywood, would you still sell it? Explain your reasons and your limitations. But remember, once you sell something to Hollywood, except in extremely rare instances, you lose control over the film property.

by Paul D. Marks

How often have you said or heard someone say, “The book was better than the movie.” Well, there’s a lot of reasons for that. Movies are a different beast than books. They accomplish things in different ways. Plus, the people who make the movies want to put their stamp on the project.

I’ve been on both sides of the issue and neither side is really comfortable. I had a friend, who’s a fairly big writer-director these days, but when he was starting out a major producer wanted to buy his property…and even let him direct, which is just about every aspiring filmmaker’s fantasy. And it came true. But all he ever did was complain about how “they” changed this and changed that. Later on, the same guy had another property that sold and the original script was really good. But once it went through the Hollywood meat grinder it was barely recognizable. More gripes. And I’m sitting there thinking, Jeez, I wish I had your problems.

When you sell the rights to your book to Hollywood (in most cases) they can do virtually anything they want to it. Look at how many movies barely resemble the book. Maybe they’re even better, but they’re not the book. So you have to decide if you want to maintain your integrity or get whatever benefits and glory come your way by having a movie made of your book. It’s my understanding that Sue Grafton, who came from a film background and knew what might happen, wouldn’t sell the rights to her Kinsey Millhone stories because she didn’t’ want to lose control over how Kinsey was portrayed or how the stories might be changed.

Ryan Gosling
 As I’d mentioned previously, I made a well-known producer cry because one of my pieces touched him so much. But when he wanted to change my story by adding extraneous characters, I told my agent to can the deal. Would I do that today? I’m not sure.

And let’s not forget the Golden Turkey Leg, where another producer wanted to bring a character back from the dead and have something I called the Golden Turkey Leg that was sort of a magic wand. It was a nightmare. On that one I actually optioned the property to him and did the work and made the changes, but it fell apart. And maybe I’m even glad for that.

In another instance, I optioned a script to a producer who wanted to change the male lead to female and vice versa. Since it was already optioned I did it. Sometimes you fight and sometimes you compromise. It’s like that old song says, know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

Catalina Sandino Moreno
You can find more on these stories and others in my recent post at: 

Now to answer today’s question: Today I think I’d be a little more bending. A little more flexible. I’m older and maybe just a wee bit wiser. The key is to ask to do the first draft screenplay. That way you’re bound to get a screen credit and that means a lot in terms of royalties. And fight for what you think should be fought for within limits and bend in other places.

But who would I cast in my latest, Broken Windows: Broken Windows is set mostly in Los Angeles in 1994, during the fight over California’s notorious anti-illegal alien Proposition 187—a precursor to the immigration fights going on in the country today. While the storm rages over Prop 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents.

Mark Wahlberg
So, who would I cast in the main parts? Of course this changes as time slips by. My ideal casting for Jack would have been Nick Nolte in his prime. But these days, I’m thinking John Cena or maybe Michael Fassbinder or Christian Bale. And for Duke, Mark Wahlberg or Ryan Gosling. Maybe Jeremy Renner, as Duke’s not a big dude. For Eric, the disbarred lawyer, Amy suggested Robert Downey, Jr., and he would be perfect. Maybe a little older than the character, but those things often change from book to movie. Eric’s girlfriend, Lindsay, AnnaSophia Robb. For the mysterious Miguel, who responds to the lawyer’s ad to do anything for money, maybe Antonio Banderas. Possibly Edward James Olmos or Andy Garcia. And for Marisol, who sets the plot in motion when she asks Duke to investigate the murder of her brother, Catalina Sandino Moreno. For Myra Chandler (guess who that’s an homage to), an LAPD detective that Duke and Jack run into in both Broken Windows and White Heat, and who’s a bit more sympathetic to them than her partner, Haskell, I’m thinking Jennifer Aniston. Why not? It’s my fantasy. And for Susan Karubian, the woman who jumps from the Hollywood sign, I picture Mila Kunis, although I would hate to kill her off so early in the film….

So, what about you?


And now for the usual BSP, and since Broken Windows is hot off the presses here’s some of what Kristin Centorcelli at Criminal Element – and for which I thank them – had to say about it just a couple days ago in a very satisfying review ( ). Here’s some excerpts from it:

“If you enjoy old-school PI tales, you’ll love getting to know L.A. PI (and former Navy SEAL) Duke Rogers.”

“Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show.”

“Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s.”

Available at Amazon 

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Miss Marple we love, with added space aliens.

BUSINESS: If a major producer/production company wanted to option or buy your book…but wanted to change it in major ways, as often happens in Hollywood, would you still sell it? Explain your reasons and your limitations. But remember, once you sell something to Hollywood, except in extremely rare instances, you lose control over the film property.

By Catriona

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

And here's why. Options are not uncommon. But getting through development and into pilot production, then getting commissioned and actually made . . . is like managing to hit a unicorn with a hen's tooth while you're struck by lightning. 

In other words, the option payment is real and the possible tone-deaf changes to your work that might make you wonder why the producer wanted it in the first place are theoretical.  

That's only me, mind you. Everyone has a different dream when they start writing. My dream was always to make my living. And option payments don't hurt with that at all.

When I was first deciding whether to sell an option, it was an easy one: the BBC wanted Dandy Gilver and they were clearly going to stick close to the books. I knew that because the producer said they'd never film The Burry Man's Day (Book 2), which had too many outside crowd scenes. 

The setting for The Burry Man's Day
At the other end of the spectrum, there was that time when a Hollywood producer started asking about Quiet Neighbors. His best known work in the past had been Alvin and The Chipmunks. I said yes again because how could you not want to know where that was going?

Sadly, neither project has made it through the funnel all the way to Masterpiece Theatre, but the years of being optioned have meant that I've had plenty time to get my head together about the worst case scenario. I tell myself: "It's like selling a house. If you sell your house, the new people can paint it purple and put garden gnomes out front". Actually that sounds cool. I'll try again . . .  "can paint it beige and put gravel chips over the garden for easy maintenance". 

Of course, it's not really like selling a house, because if the telly thing's successful your publisher will re-issue your books with purple jackets and photos of the gnomes, and then you have to hold them up and smile for pictures. I don't know any writer or dedicated reader who likes those books with photos of the actors off the telly adaptation on. Do you?

But someone must love them, because they sell by the pallet-load. And when your dream is to make your living as a writer, pallets are good.

And as for the pain of seeing your beloved characters mangled and your stories watered down and sweetened up? Simon Brett tells the story of selling one of his 100 (yes, 100; for once it's not a typo) books to the telly people. He hated what they did. Every time the thought of what they'd done crossed his mind he winced. Then Lucy, his wife, would lean over and say "It's a beautiful conservatory, isn't it?"

Simon and Lucy Brett
Maybe that's the answer: always use serious telly money to buy one big gorgeous thing - like a conservatory - that you'd never have been able to afford otherwise. And take any glancing similarity with your book as a bonus. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Giving it all away... by Cathy Ace

BUSINESS: If a major producer/production company wanted to option or buy your book…but wanted to change it in major ways, as often happens in Hollywood, would you still sell it? Explain your reasons and your limitations. But remember, once you sell something to Hollywood, except in extremely rare instances, you lose control over the film property.

Linwood Barclay, cast and production team, at the Toronto premier of "Never Saw It Coming" August 2018

This is an interesting question, and one I believe I would have answered differently a few months ago. This is a topic which has led me to many hours of pondering recently, and I have sought counsel from several authors I know who have already been through the process of having their work produced for the screen, be it of the large or small variety.

With author Ann Cleeves and Brenda Blethyn, who brings Vera Stanhope to life on-screen, at Malice Domestic 2018

What I have discovered is that the right response to having work “taken over” is different for different people, and that a certain amount of soul-searching is required to come up with the right answer for oneself. Do you want to focus on writing books, and let the production pros get on with their version of your books and characters? Was your deepest desire always to become a screen writer so you’ll grab the chance to be 100% on-board and take your novel as just the starting point for an on-screen adventure that you oversee completely? Or are you somewhere in between those two extremes? 

With James Runcie, at CrimeFest UK 2016

Linwood Barclay recently wrote the screenplay for the movie based on his book “Never Saw It Coming”, whereas Peter Robinson was absolutely hands-off the British TV productions of his DCI Banks novels. Ann Cleeves has an excellent, informal relationship with the company bringing Vera to our screens, while Maureen Jennings writes one script per season for the Murdoch Mysteries. James Runcie is an Executive Producer (but chooses to be informed of decisions, rather than giving input to them) for the Grantchester series, whereas MC Beaton is a script editor, often on-set, for the Agatha Raisin series. 

With Maureen Jennings, Bloody Words 2014

I’m thinking that, for me, it would be best to stand back and let the pros get on with what they want to do, but to keep the relationship with the production company lively and interactive. Ultimately, I see myself as a storyteller, not a film maker, so I can continue to tell my stories, while film makers interpret them for the screen. All that being said...any of these scenarios is still a dream for me, so you know...take it all with a handful of salt.

I'd be honoured if you'd consider reading my work - you can find out about it, and me, here: 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Hollywood Calling!

Terry Shames here. This week we are answering the question: If a major producer/production company wanted to option or buy your book…but wanted to change it in major ways, as often happens in Hollywood, would you still sell it? Explain your reasons and your limitations. But remember, once you sell something to Hollywood, except in extremely rare instances, you lose control over the film property.

Which one is the real Samuel Craddock? In my books he's an older chief of police who is back on the job after many years of being in the old business. 

How much would Hollywood change him? Samuel Craddock could be a woman, I suppose. A twenty-something year old woman, living in New York. No cows. She could be a reporter instead of a police chief. Wait. I’m describing James Ziskin’s character, Ellie Stone.

That’s a little extreme with regard to changes, but it’s well-known that producers on the small or large screen take great liberties with the books and characters they buy.

Still, if Hollywood wants to pay me big bucks to make that happen, move over Ellie!

I once took a class in screen-writing. The culmination of the class was that we got to critique a movie that had not yet been released. It was a pretty good movie, and ended up being mildly successful. But the end made no sense. When we were asked to critique, I made a comment about how I thought the end of the movie could have been improved. The teacher asked how many agreed with that. Most did. He said, “Right. Well, that’s the way the screenplay was actually written. The producer decided to change it, and it’s lame.”

Since then I’ve seen plenty of movies that were “based on” books that had only a glancing relationship with the original. I’ve seen horrible miscasting in movies. One of the worst examples is a TV series version of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series. I watched the first episode and was truly puzzled. Anyone who has read any of the books and not seen the TV version will be surprised to learn that Barbara Havers has become a hot babe. No!

George should have been so lucky as to have the production company that turned Craig Johnson’s books into a passable series, even if the series didn’t bear particular relation to the books. Then of course there is Harry Bosch. In the TV series,  which is terrific, Titus Welliver bears little resemblance to Michael Connolly’s description of Bosch, but the core of the character is there—his angst, his code, his relationships. Lianne Moriarity is one of my favorite authors. Her Big Little Lies was made into a mini-series that worked really well. So well, in fact, that the end was clearer in the TV version than it was in the book version.

My point is that some productions may not be true to the book, or the original screeplay, but can still be excellent. That’s what I would hope for if my Samuel Craddock series was ever picked up by a production company. And I suppose that is what my fans would hope for—those fans who seem endlessly fascinated by who should play the role of Samuel.

I’m interested in which authors’ books grab the brass ring, and which ones have never been made into movies or TV shows. Why Downton Abbey and not Rhys Bowen’s delightful Lady Georgie series? Why Craig Johnson and not C.J. Box?  (no aspersions intended to those chosen; just wondering why one and not the other). I mentioned James Ziskin’s books, and I can imagine Ellie Stone being a great character for a series. I wonder what kind of trade-offs Jim would be willing to agree to (since this isn’t his week to post, I get to ask for his comment!). Others: Rachel Howzell Hall, whose African American protagonist would fit right into current demands for diversity. When will Adrian McKinty’s highly visual series about a cop during the Irish “troubles” be made into a series? Other authors whose works are  visual: Mark Pryor, Timothy Hallinan, Catriona McPherson, to name a few.

Probably everyone has read that Sue Grafton was determined never to see Kinsey Milhone on the large or small screen. She thought the price of the control she would have to give up would be too high. And she may have been right. Milhone is a much-loved character and I can’t help wondering who would have been cast in the role that would have satisfied Grafton’s readers. Much the same way diminutive Tom Cruise was a startling choice to play the giant Jack Reacher.

So, Hollywood, you can come calling anytime now, but if you do, please tell me you’ll keep the core of Samuel’s character. I don’t care what he looks like, as long as he gets to keep his ratty hat.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Casting Calls In My Dreams

Q: If a major producer/production company wanted to option or buy your book…but wanted to change it in major ways, as often happens in Hollywood, would you still sell it? 

- from Susan

A: Hahahaha. I remember Lee Childexplaining in his low key way, with a slight shrug of the shoulder, that he objected all the way to the bank when Tom Cruise paid for the Jack Reacher movie rights. The other approach I admire is Ann Cleeves. She sold her Vera books and character but has been able to carve out a role in the long-running TV series that keeps the character aligned closely with the stories. And she and the actress who plays Vera so well, Brenda Blethyn have bonded and that keeps Cleeves’ book-to-TV enterprise faithful.

Both my first and second series got nibbles from Hollywood, but my agents warned me that it was such a long shot that I shouldn’t start thinking about negotiating points. A friend just told me her series has had a nibble that has progressed to a small bite that has yet to become a sandwich. But it can happen.

Like a lot of writers, I have done some dream casting. Katherine and Michael Goff, the middle-aged Americans who arrive in a small French village with high hopes and a degree of naivety? Emma Thompson and Jeff Bridges, please. 

Dani O’Rourke, San Francisco fundraiser to the rich, and her playboy ex-husband? Janelle Monae and Jesse Eisenberg. In my books, Dani isn’t black in the books, but there’s no reason she couldn’t be, and I like Janelle’s attitude. Jesse looks to me like a rich kid with no sense of boundaries and that’s Dickie to the core!

But to answer the question, I can’t answer the question. While I’d like to think I have the strength and total belief in my characters that Sue Graftonheld onto throughout Kinsey’s long career, I have a hunch I might babble on about it until someone actually offered me a deal. (So, if anyone listening…..)

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Creative Pursuits

Are you creative in other ways besides writing – i.e. photography, painting, music, widget making, any other creative pursuits that you might have? Tell us about them and why you pursued writing as a career instead of one of them.

From Jim

I’ve always felt I was a creative sort. From a young age I liked to draw and write. I also played piano (poorly) and guitar (poorly). I even wrote a couple of bad folksy songs in college. But soon enough, I decided that writing fiction was a better creative outlet for me. 

I continued to draw, though, throughout my studies, doodling in class instead of taking notes or paying attention. That went double in grad school. I even drew political cartoons for my college newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. (I’m moving right now and can’t get my hands on any of those at the moment. Maybe I’ll post them later.) 

I was a pencil-and-paper guy until I discovered Windows 3.0. I started drawing with the mouse in Paint. Just rough pixels. Think pointillism on a computer screen. 

Here’s an example, drawn entirely in Paint with a mouse.

And another (unfinished).

But the realism was lacking. I discovered Corel Draw and learned to blend the pixels and make more interesting drawings. 

The result wasn’t bad. 

But my favorite was Flash. (Rest In Peace.) More cartoonish pictures followed and they actually moved. Not here, because Flash is dead and no browsers support it today.  

My characters tended to be quite ghoulish. Like this basketball player.

Later, I drew all my business presentations in Flash and animated them. They provided a refreshing change from Death by PowerPoint, I can tell you that.

Writing proved to be the creative outlet I loved most, however, and my drawing these days is limited to maps for books. Here are two I did for HEART OF STONE and A STONE’S THROW, two recent books of mine. Nothing fancy, but a map is always a nice touch in a book. 

I also did one of Paris for Mark Pryor’s next book, THE BOOK ARTIST, due out in January 2019. I’m working on an ambitious one of Florence, Italy, for my next book, TURN TO STONE, coming June 4, 2019.