Friday, February 03, 2006

Hollywood Rant (Part Two)

Rant is late today. Too much wheelin’ and dealin’ going on at the agency to have time to Blog. Now New York is closed for the day so here I am.

And just so folks know, I don’t do weekends.

Back to Hollywood and that fifty-page contract from a major studio. Writers would definitely be in less of a hurry to sign on that dotted line if they’d actually seen some of the clauses that are contained in these contracts. It ain’t pretty. So let me do a little education.

The ugly reality of a movie deal is this. Unless you have an extreme amount of clout (and I mean JK Rowling level—okay that’s extreme but think high level of clout), an author will have very little say in the script or how a movie will be made. The studio can simply take the idea from the book, say it’s “based on the book” and pretty much tell whatever story the studio wants to.

This applies to sequels as well because guess what, if you want a movie deal with a major studio, they will insist on owning your characters in film. Forever. You get to own the characters in print.

The author gets to grin and bear it. Unless you don’t sell the film rights.

Feel like running right out there and signing on the dotted line now? Wait. There’s more.

Most authors will not see a dime beyond the option and the purchase price because most movies, depending on how much they cost to produce, the A-List salaries involved, and all other production expenses, would have to earn out a 100 million or more for an author to see any “contingent net proceeds” as contained in the contract.

Good heavens, you’re thinking. Why would anyone do a movie deal? This is awful.

In a lot of ways you’re right. But you’re also forgetting that having a book made into a film is a minor miracle. Very few movies are made in a year (and fewer book-to-film) and if yours is one of them…

And it’s magical to see your novel on the big screen—especially if it’s done right. And even it if it’s not, a movie will drive print sales like nobody’s business.

So many writers dream of writing full time and with a movie behind a book, that dream is likely to be a reality. If you didn’t hit the New York Times list before, you might now. Let’s say you pass on the movie deal. Your book may not become a hit and if it doesn’t, it’s unlikely a movie will ever be made of it period and that opportunity is lost.

Risks. This is why authors without clout often take the chance.

Now, as an agent, I do everything in my power to give my authors the opportunity to turn down a movie deal by getting one for them in the first place.

But the decision to sign on the dotted line ultimately has to be their own. I never push because it’s a lot to ask.

Robert Crais has not sold the film rights to his Elvis Cole series. I imagine he’s waiting to build enough clout needed to control the destiny of his character on the big screen. Or maybe he’ll never sell them. Maybe he’s smart. But his career is building to a level where those film rights are getting more and more attractive (and hence he has more and more clout in the negotiation).

But what if it didn’t? The truth is that most authors will never achieve that level of clout or that level of a writing career. For some folks, it doesn’t matter and they would never give up ownership of their characters or control of the material for film. They’ll turn down the movie offer no matter where they are in their career. I respect that.

So don’t be in a rush to sell your soul to Hollywood. It’s a high price and you need to know whether you’re willing to pay it.