Books, Movies, and Meatballs
Pretty much every published novelist I’ve met gets asked, “Do you have a movie deal yet?” I like to daydream about a goblin movie (animated) or a princess film, but as many of you know, authors usually have exactly zero control over whether or not a movie deal happens.
But would you really want one? Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to movie adaptations. Read Ursula K. LeGuin’s piece How the SciFi Channel Wrecked My Books. The Onion’s AV Club has a piece on 20 Good Books Made Into Bad Movies, and there are plenty more films that could be added to their list.
Even knowing there’s a decent chance of disaster, I’d have very little hesitation about signing a movie deal (assuming a good offer were put before me).
1. Movies Sell Books. No matter how brilliant or how awful the movie, the fact is, it would increase sales of my books. Maybe not a lot, if the movie truly sucked, but even a horrendous film would increase awareness of the books and lead to a bump in sales.
2. Movies Are Not Books. I’ve already told my stories. The movie is not, cannot be the same story. Similar, yes (at least most of the time … I’m looking at you, I, Robot!) But my books are my books. The movies won’t change that. The movies aren’t mine. They belong to the director, the scriptwriters, the producers, the actors … and yes, some part of that movie is mine, but the thing as a whole is not my story. Nor would I expect it to be.
3. I Like Money. Crass commercialism? Sure. I have two kids to put through college, a mortgage, etc. A really good movie deal might even put me in a position where I could consider going full time as a writer. So yes, I would be willing to take Hollywood’s money.
It’s point #2 that sticks with me. I don’t necessarily expect the movie to be completely true to the book, and sometimes straying from the book makes it a better movie. Ever compared Shrek to the book it came from?
Or take Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. This is one of the most fun and underappreciated films I’ve seen in ages. Whoever did the original advertising campaign should be fired. Into orbit. The commercials were awful, but I love this film. Mister T plays a cop whose chest hairs tingle to warn him of danger. Neil Patrick Harris plays a monkey named Steve whose battle against the Gummi Bears is one of the best fight scenes of all time. This film revels in its ridiculousness, and I love it.
It is quite different than the book. The cast and crew made this story their own, and it worked.
Sure, when they do this, there’s a chance they’ll fail. The risk of failure exists with every movie, every TV show. Would I be disappointed if they turned Goblin Quest into the next Smurfs? Definitely. Would I be pissed if The Stepsister Scheme movie whitewashed or straightened Talia’s character? I’d be furious.[1. If I knew for a fact that they were going to do this to Talia’s character, I wouldn’t take that deal.]
But that wouldn’t change my story. It wouldn’t affect the books I had written. And while there’s always risk, there’s also the chance my book could become the next Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, with Neil Patrick Harris playing the voice of Smudge.
September 8, 2011 @ 9:55 am
Surely you could try to pull a Martin and get some kind of leverage if you sold rights to your books, even if just for the casting?
Personally, Jim, I wouldn’t want to see your current books as live action. I think they’d work brilliantly as 2D or 3D animation, perhaps even a Laika-esque stop-motion film. I think your characters and books would work better as something by Dreamworks (Who I feel make very good animated films) rather than, I don’t know, a Paramount runaround with Nick Cage as the king in your Princess books.
… Yeah! Rapunzel w/ Frying Pan vs Talia. I’d pay to see that. A lot. Ahem.
Jim C. Hines
September 8, 2011 @ 9:57 am
I have nowhere near the influence or popularity of Martin, meaning I’m very doubtful I’d be able to get that kind of control or leverage. Maybe someday, but Martin is more the exception than the rule…
September 8, 2011 @ 12:01 pm
I understand that, Jim, but I’m sure that it might be possible. Maybe. I mean you have the 501st behind you 😉
That said, I think they’d be more likely to change Talia’s sexuality than her skin colour.
September 8, 2011 @ 5:21 pm
Steve may be my favorite NPH role of all time! My wife and I quote Steveisms all the time. “Helping. Helping!”
God, that was a good movie. 🙂
Michael Z. Williamson
September 8, 2011 @ 6:31 pm
Movies are different from books. Whom the author thinks might make a good character does not necessarily parse with the script, the other actors or the production. That is why there are casting directors.
You take the money. You run. Remember what a terrible job they did of The Forever War? No? That’s because Joe Haldeman took their money (I think it was a half mil), and they never completed the project within the optioned time. Win/win. He got paid, the bad movie never got made.
And if they do make it, you’re the author whose book was made into XX. It was bad? It made XXX million, so suck it, !@#$es.
September 9, 2011 @ 1:41 pm
Not that I know that much about this topic, but it seems to me that there is a lot of interest in fairytale retelling, both animated and live action. (Tangled, the Red Riding Hood one that’s supposed to be terrible, The Brothers Grimm, and a whole host of others.) So I guess what I’m saying is, I could see it happening, most likely as live-action of a Princess book.
As far as artistic control….yeah, it’d be great to be famous enough to keep control of the end-product, but that’s not in the cards at this point…you’d have to simply take the money, try as hard as you could to make it somewhat true to the original…and in the end, hope for the best. If I were you, I’d absolutely do it, hope that it sold more books, made you more famous, and then got to make another one with more control down the road….and if that didn’t happen, hey, you still got paid, right? I’m all for writers getting paid.
Jim C. Hines
September 9, 2011 @ 2:04 pm
No, you’re right — fairy tale retellings seem to be pretty hot right now.
I keep seeing these adaptations coming out, and I almost want to jump up and say, “Hey, over here!” and wave my hands at Hollywood…
“I’m all for writers getting paid.”
Hear, hear! 🙂
September 9, 2011 @ 6:18 pm
I just wish that the cover artist for the Princess books had gotten Talia’s skin color right. It took me a while to realize that her appearance didn’t match the cover.