Having the courage to miss

I have a lot of irons in the fire.

Finishing up what promises to be an amazing book for an incredible publisher (Eidolon Avenue for Crystal Lake Publishing in 2016). Digging into the script adaptation of Eidolon for a production company that’s shown interest in discussing the possibility of adapting it into a TV series. Still working to find a home for one screenplay (indie) while polishing a solid first draft of another script, this one the film adaptation of my first novel Martuk … the Holy (probably Studio).

Add to that the various TV specs I have floating around, the introductions I still reach out to make, and the relationships I’m happily building, and, yeah, there’s a lot going on.

And it’s terrifying. Sometimes. Because I aim high. I aim high and I miss. And then I restring the bow and aim high again. Maybe I’ll miss, but maybe not, you know? Either way, I’m still standing. But I always aim high because, hell, if you’re going to aim, it might as well be high, right?

But you have to have the courage to miss. Because aiming high leads to a mountain of No. An endless ocean of No. A flat-out, can’t get around it, frustrating road strewn with No, Nope, I don’t think so, and — the worst one — Silence. But is that enough of a reason to not try? Of course not. So I aim high, miss, aim again, make contact, get a No, restring the bow, and lather, rinse, repeat until I get that Yes. Or Maybe. Or, my favorite, Let’s Talk. Because if I do nothing then nothing happens.

Why am I talking about this? Because I’m following my gut and reaching out to someone, someone I greatly admire, for Martuk. Someone I think would

  • A) get the story and the complexities of the character
  • B) would recognize the opportunity inherent in being a huge part of a film franchise and, IMO, is perfectly suited to this project
  • C) has the courage to take this project on, wrestle it to the ground, and work with me to bring it to the screen in a way that accurately reflects, as much as possible, the book(s).

More importantly, I believe they would understand how much of a game-changer Martuk could be for their career.

Am I scared doing this? Yep. Will that stop me? Nope. Will I actually get a response or be lucky enough to have a conversation? Hell if I know. But I’m not going to let fear run me, I’m not going to let a potential No stop me, and I’m certainly not going to stop myself from even trying just because I’m afraid.

Because, at the end of the day, you gain nothing, absolutely nothing, by living afraid. So why do it?

Take aim, fire, and have the courage to miss.

Who knows? You just might land a bulls eye and get a Yes.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of EL James

If Variety is to be believed — and it’s usually more right than not — “author” EL James has decided to write the script for the second Fifty Shades of Grey movie. Let me attempt (and I can’t promise my head won’t explode while doing this, but I’ll give it a go) to count the ways this is so very, very wrong.

A) Screenwriting, especially the adaptation of a book to film, is more than recording in script-form what happened in the book. If Miss James’ fiction writing is any indication, her work as a screenwriter will almost certainly lack the finesse, sophistication, pace and, oh I’ll just say it, SKILL that a screenplay for a major Hollywood movie needs. As I’m learning with my own spec adaption of Martuk … the Holy, you need to have a ruthless eye for what’s essential and what can be consolidated or completely chopped. It’s a very delicate balancing act, one that Miss James, according to first hand accounts from production, steadfastly refuses to do.

Listen, if Kelly Marcel, a gifted screenwriter with some very good films under her belt, can beat her head against the wall for months trying to turn Miss James’ first person present tense narrative-free drivel into something – ANYTHING – that might work onscreen and still come up woefully short (due, in part, to Miss James’ constant intrusion and obvious need for control), how in the hell does Miss James think she can pull it off?

She can’t.

B) The success of a book adapted for film is found in the creative team that works WITH the author to successfully help the story make the transition. In other words, the author needs to surround themselves with the best team possible and then let go and allow those who know what they’re doing get busy and do what they need to do. The goal should be having the film be a success for everyone, and that’s damn hard to do if a newbie keeps inserting his or her busy-body into every frickin’ decision.

Miss James’ unwillingness to take her hands off the wheel — and Universal’s head scratching (and, in hindsight, no doubt desperate) decision to give her unprecedented control — has taken what could have been a fairly good film based on an infamously bad book series and turned it into a hilariously bad movie (one that had a great opening weekend, but has seen a 60% drop since then).

Allowing a hack writer to pen what will most certainly be an amateurish script is asking for trouble. It’s putting a hopefully respectable and respected Director in a position of having to work with something that might be impossible to shoot, forcing a production team to work for many months on something that reeks to high heaven from the get-go, and cornering a Studio — A STUDIO — into putting a successful franchise in the hands of a first time (say it again with me, kids) FAMOUSLY PISS POOR WRITER. After the reviews of the first film, they NEED the second to be better. Period. Full Stop. End of story. And for a non-screenwriter to demand she write the screenplay …

My god, a gamble of that magnitude makes even MY head spin. And the clueless arrogance and hubris of Miss James … I don’t even know where to begin.

C) The audience.

So, yes, let’s talk about the audience. The first movie had a smashing opening weekend. Driven by curiosity and, for fans, an almost knee-jerk need to defend something they like, people hit the theaters in droves. And if the reviews and audience feedback are any indication, the adaptation was a disappointing dud. One that made money, yes. But will it get repeat business, the cornerstone of every blockbuster franchise? Probably not. Will people be lining up as eagerly to see the sequel? That’s a big question mark.

Because if the sequel is as bad as the first one, the curious, having been sated with the first installment, may decide it’s not worth the price of a movie ticket and just catch it on PPV or Streaming. And the Fans Who Seek to Defend? Well, if they’re feeling disrespected — ANOTHER bad film of a book I love? Are they even TRYING? — they may reconsider.

Listen, the sequel NEEDS to be stronger. Period. And it needs a better script and less author intrusion. The chances of that happening if Miss James is in charge? Slim to none. And with her contractual control? Good luck getting her to do rewrites or agree to cuts that everyone agrees are necessary, but that she believes are fine.

Again, my head, it’s spinning, spinning, spinning with how off the rails this can go.

In conclusion, what remains is this: for writers like me who are just beginning their Hollywood journey into AdaptationVille, the willingness of a Studio to allow even the slightest bit of control in the future is hanging by a thread. What if so-and-so ends up being another EL James with his or her hand in everything? And they have no idea what they’re doing? And they’re bullshit slows down production and costs us money? Ack! They’d run for the hills.

You know, it kinda sucks that, as writers, we’ve had to work doubly hard to help readers see they deserve better than the stupefying pile of stinking shit that called itself Fifty Shades of Grey. And, as readers, we’ve had to sift through the mountains of atrociously written Fifty Shades wannabes that have spread through the publishing world like an unfortunately timed yeast infection.

Are we now, as screenwriters and moviegoers, going to have to pay yet another price for The Increasingly Poor Decisions of EL James?

God, let’s hope not.

Hollywood hearts Writers … No! REALLY!

Hollywood. Films. Remakes, sequels, franchises. Adaptations of books. And where are the “new ideas” from Hollywood?

Let’s talk about this.

What most of you — and I’m talking mainly about those in the States — don’t realize is that Hollywood isn’t making films for you anymore. The domestic box office is one of the smaller pieces of the pie when it comes to profits. These days, their money is being made in China, Russian, India. That’s their audience. That’s who they’re focused on when they decide what to put into development or what script/property to invest in.

So, when looking at what films to make and, more importantly, what films they can market effectively to the biggest audience while still ticking all their demographic boxes, they tend to go either for iconic properties (Superman, Dracula, Batman, other superheroes) or earlier films they hold the rights to that they can successfully reboot, remake, rework with a young cast and hot director into something that can be discovered by a new audience.

Why? MONEY!

Let’s face it. We can talk about art and beauty and films being an amazing thing, but, at the end of the day, Hollywood needs to make money. And, as mentioned before, it’s not being made in the States. It’s all overseas.

Wondering where your serious dramas went? They don’t play well in those foreign markets so Studios are a lot less likely to jump onboard and make ’em (unless they’re historical Oscar bait, like Selma, or have Meryl Streep in them). Romantic comedies? Nope. Again, it’s a cultural difference. What Americans find funny or romantic will confuse the heck out of those foreign markets. So, they don’t make ’em. And when they do, it’s usually a box office bomb. And, remember, they’re in this to make money, something box office bombs don’t do.

Now, when it comes to new ideas — and, yes, they do have them! — and especially adaptations of books (which need not be bestsellers, surprisingly), Studios tend to hope for a few things. Or at least that’s what I’ve discovered as Martuk … the Holy and Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche laboriously trudge their way to the silver screen.

1) Is it a franchise? Making one movie, and just one movie, isn’t in the cards. For marketing purposes, tie-ins, building an audience, etc., they’re really hoping you have a story that spans three books and can be told in six films. Having a reliable story they can tell over a decade or so is ideal.

2) IS THERE A STORY?????? Oh, and believable characters who actually talk like real people. Believe it or not, and this is something I hear time and again from friends of mine who are producers, a lot of the books suggested to them from agents and publishers HAVE NO STORY!!!!

Listen, Hollywood isn’t a big reading town. They read scripts and they read coverage (crib notes version of a script or book). But for those who DO read, they get downright giddy when it’s well-written (most books these days, even so-called bestsellers, aren’t) and feel like they hit the frickin’ jackpot when it has an actual story. Beginning, middle, end. Three acts. Pace. Intelligence. Something a screenwriter can actually work into a script because, MY GOD, that NEVER happens!

So, yeah, having a story in your book rather than a random series of events that just kinda happen helps.

3) A sense of mythology. And this one, to me, feels huge. Every successful book-to-film (talking about the tent-pole productions that anchor a Studio for the summer and are usually franchises) has come to the table with a world wrapped in mythology. And I’m not necessarily talking about an established mythology, Greek, Roman, etc. It can be one the author has created. Other worlds, ancient worlds. Gods, goddesses. Superhuman strength. Immortals and monsters. That gives a Studio so, so much to play with because, absent a very American story centered around love and life and drama, there’s now a narrative — one probably based on action, magic, struggle, and strong visuals – foreign markets will readily understand and enjoy.

I think that knowing all this will help you understand why Hollywood decides the way it sometimes does — it’s not about you anymore, sorry — and how you, if you’re a writer hoping to shift your work into film, can maybe hopefully perhaps possibly write something they might be more willing to maybe hopefully perhaps possibly consider.

Seriously, though, it’s a crapshoot. Whenever writers ask me how they can get a “Hollywood Deal”, I always tell them “Don’t. Just write your damn book, and then another, and another, and another, and another. Be a writer. And if you can be a good writer, a really good writer, maybe Hollywood will find you.”

At the end of the day, it’s one of the few things we writers can totally control. What we write and how well we write it. If Hollywood likes it, great! If not, then our Readers will still love us.

P.S. There are always exceptions to the rule, so the above thoughts aren’t written in stone. They’re just thoughts.

P.S.S. The opening weekend success of 50 Shades of Grey is an outlier when it comes to books-to-film (Americans living in a world lacking mythology). The success of the book IS the mythology. That’s what drove the Studios to adapt it to film. The fact that it had done so well as a book is what’s notable about that book series. It’s what they were counting on to get butts in the seat and post some strong opening week numbers. ‘Cause it sure as hell isn’t the laughably bad writing and bizarre lack of a story! And a huge kudos to screenwriter Kelly Marcel for doing what she could with piss poor source material.

Carpenter, Craven, Barker and me

I’ve been invited to join the TOC (Table of Contents) for the upcoming Horror 201: The Silver Scream. (2015)

I’ll be joining truly illustrious people like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Clive Barker, … well, check out the list. I don’t know how Joe Mynhardt, the editor – who’s brilliant, by the way — does it, but, dang, he always manages to get an awesome line-up.

Oh, and me.

I’ll try not to embarrass myself. ;) 

help Martuk … the Film

Tomorrow. Sunday, the 24th of August. Mark the date. Tie a piece of string around your finger. Set your smartphone alarms. Do whatever you can to remember that date.

Why?

Because that’s when you’re buying my latest book Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche

Here’s the deal: I have a Studio circling the Martuk books, certain they’d transfer fantastically from book to film and, quite possibly, become a very successful tentpole franchise (i.e., a “tentpole” being a somewhat predictable summer moneymaker for the Studio). We’re talking marketing across different platforms: graphic novels, a possible TV series like Game of Thrones, and, of course, the films.

Problem is they need to see if there’s a market for what I do. If there’s an interest.

Now, before you say, Well, wouldn’t they look back at ALL the sales history to get a more accurate idea?, just let ME say that that’s what I thought, too. But I was wrong, or so I learned.

Listen, Studio Execs have enough on their plates without following my sales. They’ll look at THEIR calendars, see the conference call with that Martuk the Holy guy in, like, five minutes or something, and, out of curiosity more than anything, go over and see where the latest book is sitting in the rankings. That’s it.

Their focus is on story, character, who they can cast, who the potential audience is, etc and so on. Who I am and my sales are pretty far down on their list. Because they expect to build buzz around the book. A buzz they’ll orchestrate and control with their own goals and marketing in mind. So it doesn’t need to be a runaway bestseller to compete. It just needs to come to the table with some kind of respectable ranking the morning of our phone call.

And if the author can show he or she’s able to mobilize their social media strength into attention, support, interest and, perhaps, future ticket sales? Even better.

That’s where you come in —

On Sunday, August 24th, buy Proseuche. Head over to Amazon or B&N or what-have-you and One Click that puppy.

Please.

If I can go into this call on Monday the 25th armed with proof that there is, and could continue to be, interest, I could actually lock this deal down.

So, schedule your reminders, set your alarms, and tie those strings around your fingers. Sunday, August 24th.

of sitcoms and Saints

This is how it happens with me …

I’m bee-bopping along, quite enjoying myself as I fill page after electronic page with magic and blood, evil and Saints, everything wrapped in the suspicion-driven world of 5th Century Constantinople as the Church declares war on itself, Old Rome under attack from the upstart New Rome, Christianity splitting in two, all of it seen through the eyes of my tortured, trapped immortal Martuk.

And then I stop and slam out a Network-friendly sitcom pilot.

Wait, what?

Yeah, I know, right?  Even surprised myself with that one.  But there it was, a half-hour sitcom.  And a damn funny one at that.  Had the idea on a Thursday, wrote it on Saturday, rewrites on Sunday, Pitch Doc including future episodes and Season One Arc on Monday, in the hands of my attorney on Tuesday, a conference call with WME (William Morris Endeavor) coming up after the 4th.

It’s just, like, what?  How did I go from flesh being peeled from a screaming Priest to yukking it up with four friends in Austin, TX?

Hell, even I don’t know how my brain works sometimes.  (^~^)

 

Welcome to Suckyville, population You

If you’re familiar with this blog, you already know my thoughts on self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.

If you’re not, it’s boils down to my suspicion that for most writers walking the self-pub route hooking up with a traditional publisher doesn’t really make sense.

But what if I’m wrong?

I’m gonna do the Devil’s Advocate thing here and try to figure out why oh why I, a writer who still does a happy dance when he sells a book, would want to cuddle up NOW on that Publishing love seat with a Major. By the way, notice the singular “a” and the lack of an “s” on “book”? Yeah, Majors are knocking down my door, I tell ya.

Any-hoo, there are several reasons to consider a Major, some of which I might cover in future Posts.

The selling of film rights is my focus today.

I’m a screenwriter. I’m also lucky enough to have longtime friends who are neck deep in that world, be they actors, producers, directors, etc. I know the desperation Hollywood has for new source material and the lengths they’ll go to find it. And I also know what it’s like for writers who find their books being optioned into films.

In most cases, it really sucks.

Yeah. It sucks.

Once you’re past the initial excitement of a movie producer actually LOVING your work and being wined and dined by Big Names in LA and then signing a contract (!!!!!!!!) with Celebrity Superstars (OMG!) being bandied about as possible Leads and, of course, having to seriously consider those Oscar nods coming everyone’s way (deep breath), the process kinda goes downhill.

What?

Yep. Immediate hard left into Suckyville, population You.

Because the reality is it takes a … long … time … to … get … anything … done … in … Holly … wood.

Years.

Anne Rice’s book “Interview with a Vampire” was optioned by Paramount before it was published in 1976. They sat on it for ten years and did absolutely nothing. For ten years. Once the option expired, the Rights reverted back to her — smart move, Rice’s Attorney — and she took it to Lorimar Productions/Warner Bros. who scooped them up before flipping them to David Geffen a couple years later. Co-writing the script with the uncredited assistance of Neil Jordan, Rice finally got her film made in 1993/1994.

And it only took eighteen years. From the first selling of the Rights to Red Carpet Premiere, eighteen years.

You see? Forever.

But she’s a big fish. And, remember, she infamously had NO say on casting even if she is Anne f’ing Rice.

So, what’s it like for us?

Let me put it this way: make sure your contract gives you tickets to the Film Premiere.

Truth of the matter is, once you sign away the Rights, whoever’s brought in to adapt your work into a screenplay has license to change whatever they like at the Studio or Production Company’s behest. No longer OWNING the story or the characters as it pertains to the Film, all you, the Author, can do is sit back and watch. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be kept in the loop.

And it can get worse from there. I could write a thousand or more words about how Hollywood conveniently forgets you exist once you sign away your Rights with an excited flourish. Months and months going by without a word from anyone about anything as your new BFFs suddenly go all MIA.

Which brings me back to why oh why would we sign with a Major.

Their Legal Department could — COULD — walk you through this. Their lawyers might — MIGHT — have a good relationship with Studio A and perhaps you won’t get screwed too badly. And the Major has stood in this room a million times before (perhaps) whereas you, Newbie Author #54, are stuck doing the I-can’t-see-a-fucking-thing tango with a chair while searching for the light switch.

And let’s not forget the Major knows EVERYONE in Hollywood. You know where Julia Roberts lives, if this Map of Celebrity Homes is correct. (it’s not)

In other words, it’s still up to you to know what you can and can’t get and what you can and can’t ask for.

Reversion of Rights? Sole Separated Rights? Derivative Works and Passive Payments? How about Freezing your Reserve Rights? What Credit are you getting? Is there a Production Bonus? What’s the formula for Residuals? Will there be Box-Office Bonuses? Will you be attending screenings, festivals, premieres?

Granted, the above questions might be more from a screenwriter perspective. But that’s another question that should be on your mind: what access will you have to the screenwriting process? Will they even consider letting you anywhere near the script AT ALL to offer notes or thoughts or WTFs or you-gotta-be-kiddings?

You know, if you’re a screenwriter as well, try and negotiate the writing of a First Draft with two or three rewrites. I mean, hell, you’ll be one of many, many, many writers brought onboard to make this “perfect”, so you might as well stamp your stank on that puppy and hopefully line yourself up for a Written By credit.

Why the hell not?

What I’m trying to say is one of the pluses of signing with a Major is the hand-holding you might get should Hollywood come a’callin’.

But first you gotta write a book — preferably a series — Hollywood will want to buy and build a readership the Studios know without a doubt will put their butts in the seats in a movie theater.

And that’s a whole different kettle of fish.