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. 

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. 


Anonymous said...

If any book series is ready for Masterpiece Mystery, it is Dandy Gilver. PLEASE, British people, make it happen. Thick Scots accents too.

Dietrich Kalteis said...

You got me laughing, Catriona. "The new people can paint it purple and put garden gnomes out front". And you got me hating the telly people.

Ann said...

Catriona, you always make me laugh.

James W. Ziskin said...

If they buy it, it’s theirs. Let go and spend the money.

Nice post, Catriona!


Susan C Shea said...

Dandy has always seemed to me a natural for Masterpiece Theatre. Don't give up. Of course, she may become single, with a dog but no kids, and in heavy flirtation mode with her partner, but worse could happen.

Paul D. Marks said...

That's a good and funny way to look at it, Catriona. :-)