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.”

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Jacqueline Seewald said...


I have to admit I'd be delighted to option one of my mystery novels to Hollywood. However, I do know a well-known author who hated what they did with her series main character in film. So as you point out, it's a double-edged sword. It's difficult to know when to hold'em and when to fold'em. Wishing you much success with your latest novel. It sounds like a winner!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

Well said, Paul. I hope to read Broken Windows before the movie comes out.

catriona said...

I appreciate this insider's view, Paul. It only occurred to me reading yours today that, even though it says Hollywood right there in the question, I went straight to telly yesterday. Hey, at least I'm not aiming for radio.

Susan C Shea said...

You illustrate the process those of us who haven't experienced it hear about all the time. Writers? Who needs 'em? But if any of us gets that deal, I hope we'll remember that the contract should stipulate we get to write the first draft.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comment, Jacqueline. The problem is, except in very rare cases, once you sell your book to Hollywood you lose all control over what they do with it. So you can take the money and run, and don’t look back, or be like Sue Grafton and hold fast. It’s a tough choice.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Dieter. I’m waitin’ on that movie, too…

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Catriona. It’s pretty much the same with television. Once you sell the rights you lose control. But as you said in your post yesterday, maybe just look at the conservatory and try not to think too much about it. There’s other things one can do, you can try to retain the rights to the characters, but sell rights to specific book/s. The other thing is to try to write the first draft screenplay. They can still change it, but that does give you a little more input, plus most likey a written by screen credit, which helps with residuals. It can get very complicated.

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks, Susan. Definitely try to get to write the first draft. They may change it or throw it out, but it still helps you in the long run.

Anonymous said...

I see a younger James Cromwell as Jack. Mark Wahlberg is fine for Duke, but not Ryan Gosling (I love the guy, just don't see him as Duke). I must say, I've never heard of most of the actors you mention here!

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your thoughts on the casting, Maggie. That's interesting about Cromwell. I'll have to think about that. He's a far cry from Nick Nolte :-) .

GBPool said...

Oh my. If I sold a book that was going to be turned into a movie, I would have to see what the money was. Not that I have a price to sell my soul, but if the money for the movie rights was enough that I could go somewhere and hide because they screwed it up so much I couldn't stand being in the same state, maybe... at least once. As for a TV series, that would have to be closer to the original because seeing my work totally ruined week after week would be too hard to take.

Paul D. Marks said...

Movie or TV series, Gayle, make sure the money's enough :-) .

jake devlin said...

Thought-provoking, Paul; thank you.

Two comments.

"They" say don't judge a book by its cover (most people apparently do), but I say don't judge a book by its movie ... or the appearance of its author.

When I was mentally casting the movie of my first novel, about a billionaire who buys the US government, fires all the politicians and the Supreme Court, takes over and runs it efficiently, I was originally thinking of someone like Jeremy Irons or Liam Neeson, but finally settled on a short, balding nerdy guy, like Wallace Shawn or a non-neurotic Woody Allen, since he was more about policy than charisma. Went back and changed his description in is first appearance. (And no, I was NOT thinking of Trump; the book came out in 2012.)

Paul D. Marks said...

Thanks for your comments, Jake. I think people do judge books on all sorts of extraneous criteria. Not sure how to get around that. It might be fun to see Wallace Shawn running the government too :-) .