Spreading the Lies

Okay, so I came across another blog this week, I won’t say which one because I don’t want to embarrass the poor woman, but it contained a post that really made me annoyed.

It talked about books being made into movies, and contained, I kid yee not, the immortal line:

“‘ I would recommend to all writers out there that they adapt a screenplay from every novel that they write.  Why?  If you are ever approached by filmmakers 

who want to option your story or buy the film rights, it is always a good idea for you to also be the screenwriter for the movie.”

Now, I shouldn’t have to begin to tell you all what is wrong with this statement. Firstly, writing fiction and scriptwriting are worlds apart and require very different skills. While writing a script can be a great learning exercise, it’s pretty pointless unless you want to be a script writer, or unless you are Raymond Chandler.

Secondly, this just isn’t how the movie world works.

So, for those who don’t know, here’s the skinny on movie adaptations:

1. A nice producer gets hold of your book, they like it and they make an offer.

2. You’re book is ‘optioned’ this is what it’s called when the movie rights are sold. However, they aren’t usually ‘sold’ think of it instead as a lease. You, as the writer, lease the movie rights to the production company, they then usually have a set period of time to make the movie.

3. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You as the writer have very little say after that, and the producers can change what they want, when they want. This is why you see so many bad adaptations of good books.

4. Scripts are not written by a single person, no matter what the credits tell you. In reality scripts are written by at least three people, often as many as ten. That first draft is passed from person to person, writing by committee, redrafting, updating, changing and altering things as filming goes along. A movie script is an ever changing beast, and that’s just how it is. The writer of the book has no real control over this.

5. Most writers don’t have the sway to be making any sort of demands. Even heavyweights like King, Meyer and Rowling have no real say over the movie, from the script to who gets cast. Often they are consulted as a matter of courtesy, but don’t ever think that they are somehow calling the shots.

But the following line also gave me concern:

“So if you have a screenplay written for each novel, you won’t have to deal with any of that when the movie is made.  You just make it a condition in your 

agreement with them that you will be the screenwriter and they can’t steal your story.  If they say no, then you know that they are people that you cannot trust and you walk away from the deal. “

Which is basically saying that unless the producer, who has infinte more experience in the industry than you do, bends over to accommodate the whims of a writer, that you should back away from the deal?

Production companies are not out to steal your ideas, as was also suggested in said blog. They won’t steal your story. Seriously. No matter how superawesomespeshul you think your idea is, it’s been done before. Trust me. Besides, you can’t copyright an idea.

So, I guess that’s the whole point of today’s post – MISINFORMATION.

The internet is full of it, so much so that it can be hard to tell sometimes what is true and what isn’t. I read a lot of posts like the one above, where the poster just doesn’t have a clue and is blindly reposting opinions and thoughts made by someone else, who also has no idea what they are talking about. It can get so that it’s hard to tell where the bad information originated from.

I don’t like ignorance, and often it’s not the result of an unwillingness to learn, but more a case of someone just not knowing any better, or listening to the wrong people. It’s often someone who speaks with authority, but doesn’t have the knowledge or experience to back it up,and so the cycle continues.

Sadly, you can’t teach people who refuse to learn. But for the rest of you, read, listen and research. Don’t make assumptions and check things out before you blindly pass them on as ‘fact’.



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2 responses to “Spreading the Lies

  1. RJES

    I can understand why so many writers would be reluctant to part with their screen rights as part of a publishing contract (as a writer you could keep these back to negotiate yourself), but to take the attitude that ‘nobody but me can write the screenplay’ shows a huge amount of naivety.

    The reality is, that writing a screenplay is as different from writing a prose novel as writing a prose novel is from writing an academic thesis. Most writers will find that they have particular styles/genres etc. that they excel in, but very few are adept enough to transcend all styles and formats. I know plenty of people that can write a cracking novel but cannot write scripts, and some excellent screenwriters who fall apart in prose form.

    You may be lucky enough in a deal to be allowed to write a draft screenplay as part of an option, and if you have any flair at all they may ask you to write further drafts. But if you have no previous experience of writing for screen, then it is very probably that your script will be redrafted and polished by one or more experienced writers. And it isn’t uncommon for experienced screenwriters to have their work redrafted by others either, so don’t take it to heart.

    Something else worth bearing in mind, is that many thousands of books are optioned every year. Very few of these ever make it to screen – just funding a feature film is a complex business. There are properties which are continually optioned for years (with the author being paid a considerable sum each time) before they make it to screen.

    Take for example Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, first published in 1954. Hammer Films developed a screenplay with Matheson writing (unlike many novelists he is an accomplished screenwriter) very soon after, but this fell foul of the censors and a film version wouldn’t be made until 1964 (as Last Man On Earth). This was also written largely by Matheson, but he wasn’t happy with the final product and took his name off the credits (once the producers have accepted your screenplay you have little more involvement in the actual production – any anyone that has worked in films will tell you, regardless of what is on the written page, a director, cameraman and actors can put completely different interpretations on your words, staying true to the text but moving away from the meaning). The book has been continuously optioned since, with each subsequent adaptation moving away from Matheson’s original in attempts to keep the story fresh (though the original is in fact strong enough), or to fit in with perceptions of the director/actor. These include The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007).

    Of course if you aren’t happy with whatever screen adaptation is made of your work, you could always do an Alan Moore and return the money you’ve been paid to the producers – though I doubt many would do that.

  2. It’s quite a poor attitude that won’t get any writer very far getting a novel adapted to film. It sounds somewhat akin to the type of writer who insists no one will ever edit his work and therefore ends up never being able to find a publisher. You’re right: Writing novels and writing screenplays are different worlds requiring different skills; even if you’ve written a brilliant novel, there’s nothing to guarantee you’d won’t make a total pig’s ear of adapting it.

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