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.


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Great post, Terry.

James W. Ziskin said...

Nice post, Terry! I’d love to see Samuel Craddock on TV. And Lou Norton? Sign me up. I love Rachel Howzell Hall’s series.

As for Ellie Stone, I wouldn’t know where to begin in terms of casting. But what would I be willing to give up to see her on TV? Probably quite a bit. Once a book gets bought and produced, all bets are off. The production company can do pretty much what they want with the character. When I optioned the series a couple of years ago, I was amused to see that my agent retained theme park rights for me. Imagine that, an Ellie Stone theme park...


Terry said...

An Ellie Stone theme park! My imagination can't really wrap around that concept. I guess ponies on a merry-go-round, a pond for skinny-dipping, an ice cream parlor....

James W. Ziskin said...

And don’t forget the bowling alleys, bars, and abandoned carpet mills! What would go into a Jarrett Creek amusement park?


Susan C Shea said...

Okay, I'm stammering at the idea of an Ellie Stone theme park, too. I think if we've read the books, it's harder for us to embrace the on screen versions, although in some cases I have come around: Lou Phillips Diamond as Henry Standing Bear enhanced Craig Johnson's character. And I agree completely - Rachel Howzell Hall's Lou Norton is MADE for a TV series - c'mon, Hollywood!