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Hollywood vs. The Author
Hollywood vs. The Author
Hollywood vs. The Author
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Hollywood vs. The Author

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It’s no secret that authors have a love-hate relationship with Hollywood. The oft-repeated cliché that “the book was better than the movie” holds true for more reasons than the average reader will ever know. When asked about selling their book rights to Hollywood authors like to joke that they drive their manuscripts to the border of Arizona and California and toss them over the fence, driving back the way they came at breakneck speed. This is probably because Hollywood just doesn’t “get it.” Its vision for the film or TV series rarely seems to match the vision of the author. And for those rare individuals who’ve had the fortune of sitting across the desk from one of the myriad, interchangeable development execs praising the brilliance of their work while ticking off a never-ending list of notes for the rewrite, the pros of pitching their work to Hollywood rarely outweigh the cons.

Stephen Jay Schwartz has sat on both sides of that desk—first as the Director of Development for film director Wolfgang Petersen, then as a screenwriter and author pitching his work to the film and television industry. He’s seen all sides of what is known in this small community as “Development Hell.” The process is both amusing and heartbreaking. Most authors whose work contains a modicum of commercial potential eventually find themselves in “the room” taking a shot at seeing their creations re-visualized by agents, producers or development executives. What they often discover is that their audience is younger and less worldly as themselves. What passes for “story notes” is often a mishmash of vaguely connected ideas intended to put the producer’s personal stamp on the project.

Hollywood Versus The Author is a collection of non-fiction anecdotes by authors who’ve had the pleasure of experiencing the development room firsthand—some who have successfully managed to straddle the two worlds, seeing their works morph into the kinds of feature films and TV shows that make them proud, and others who stepped blindsided into that room after selling their first or second novels. All the stories in this collection illustrate the great divide between the world of literature and the big or small screen. They underscore the insanity of every crazy thing you’ve ever heard about Hollywood. For insiders and outsiders alike, Hollywood Versus The Author delivers the goods.
Дата выпуска13 нояб. 2018 г.
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Michael Connelly

Michael Connelly is an American author of detective novels and other crime fiction, notably those featuring LAPD Detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch and criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. His books have been translated into 36 languages and have won many awards. He lives with his family in Florida.

Читать больше произведений Michael Connelly

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    Hollywood vs. The Author - Michael Connelly


    A Genuine Barnacle Book

    A Barnacle Book | Rare Bird Books

    453 South Spring Street, Suite 302

    Los Angeles, CA 90013


    Copyright © 2018 by Stephen Jay Schwartz

    All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever, including but not limited to print, audio, and electronic. For more information, address:

    A Barnacle Book | Rare Bird Books Subsidiary Rights Department,

    453 South Spring Street, Suite 302,

    Los Angeles, CA 90013.

    Set in Dante

    epub isbn: 9781644280225

    Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication data

    Names: Schwartz, Stephen Jay, editor.

    Title: Hollywood vs. The Author / edited by Stephen Jay Schwartz.

    Description: Includes bibliographical references. | First Trade Paperback Original Edition | A Barnacle Book | New York, NY; Los Angeles, CA:

    Rare Bird Books, 2018.

    Identifiers: ISBN: 9781945572869

    Subjects: LCSH Motion picture authorship. | Motion pictures—Plots, themes, etc. | Fiction—Film and video adaptations. | Motion pictures and literature. | Film adaptations. | BISAC LANGUAGE ARTS & DISCIPLINES / Authorship | PERFORMING ARTS / Film / Screenwriting

    Classifications: LCC PN1997.85 .H65 2018 | DDC 791.43/6—dc23

    For the authors who have published and

    for the authors who have yet to publish.

    For the authors who have sold their screen rights and

    for the authors who have yet to sell their screen rights.

    Hold your heads high, for you are the storytellers.

    Stand strong, and prepare for battle.



    by Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Betting on Bosch

    by Michael Connelly

    The Burglar on the Screen

    by Lawrence Block

    This Time it’s Personal

    by Max Allan Collins

    The Seductress

    by Alan Jacobson

    Writing Homeland or How Living with Bipolar in Hollywood is Redundant

    by Andrew Kaplan

    Suing Hollywood

    by Tess Gerritsen

    On Selling a Novel to HollywoodFrom his Memoir The Los Angeles Diaries

    by James Brown

    Tales of Woe in Glittertown

    by Stephen Jay Schwartz

    An Interview with Jonathan Kellerman

    Where the Author Fits in the Movie Food Chain

    by Peter James

    What Not to do to Make it in Hollywood

    by Rob Roberge

    Does it Have to be an Earthquake?

    by Lee Goldberg

    Independent Will

    by Naomi Hirahara

    Jeff Parker Goes to Hollywood

    by T. Jefferson Parker

    Detour Takes a Detour

    by Diana Gould

    Goliath Beats David (Often)

    by Joshua Corin

    An Interview with Gregg Hurwitz

    A Woman Wouldn’t do That

    by Alexandra Sokoloff



    by Stephen Jay Schwartz

    In the beginning there was story. Told around the campfire, passed down from one generation to the next. At times the story was spoken; at times it was sung. But voices alone weren’t enough, so the stories became drawings on the walls of caves or woven into the fabric of ceremonial shawls or etched onto the surfaces of clay pots. Eventually the stories became words written on parchment, then typed onto paper, then immortalized onto the pages of the modern novel.

    In another beginning there was a pinprick of light shown through a piece of paper. The light captured an upside-down image onto a silver plate. A lens was invented to upright the image, and a shutter was installed to separate the image into individual frames that created a sense of seamless motion onto a silver screen.

    Two brothers named Lumiere got to work and, using something they called the Cinematographe, recorded common-day images of families and trains and friends playing cards. The images shocked an audience who had never seen photographs in motion. While these early films were revolutionary, they didn’t seem capable of replacing the experience people had reading novels or watching plays. Movies were still a fad, a gimmick, incapable of telling stories in an intellectually satisfying way.

    Early filmmakers sensed that the power of film rested in its ability to tell a story in ways never before imagined. Instead of observing a static play from the center of a theater, the camera allowed the audience to enter the story. The first close-up shots produced a sense of unease for moviegoers—the audience simply wasn’t used to the sight of giant disembodied body parts. One early film financier is said to have exclaimed, I paid for the whole person, I want to see the whole person! But an audience eager to be entertained adapted to the language of film, and soon close-ups, medium and long shots, and zoom and tracking shots became the expected way of telling stories on film. Add to that the invention of film editing and the experience of watching movies rivaled anything that could be experienced in the theater or in a novel.

    If stories were to be told using this new medium of film, then a new kind of writer would be needed. The writer’s job would be to describe images that would be seen on the screen, with sparse dialogue written on placards placed intermittingly between the pictures. The writer’s skill set required him or her to turn words into images, dialogue, and camera shots. Not a novelist or playwright, but a screenwriter.

    Except for a handful of early directors, most notably F. W. Murnau and Abel Gance, films were not seen as art. In America, in particular, they were considered escapist entertainment for the masses, like vaudeville. The physical humor of Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd kept the world laughing, bringing nickels into the movie houses and financing the growth of the industry. Charlie Chaplin combined comedy with pathos by inventing his famed character the Tramp. This initiated a trend toward heartwarming, empathetic stories revealing the kind of character development more commonly seen in plays or novels.

    Despite classic silent era films such as Pandora’s Box, Sunrise, The Last Laugh, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary, motion pictures really came of age with the advent of the Talkies. No longer was dialogue relegated to the occasional placard inserted between dramatic action shots. The medium had found its voice and was suddenly capable of transmitting complex, dramatic messages to a large, mainstream audience.

    And yet the film industry, now centered in the fantastical land of Hollywood, California, was viewed with contempt by East Coast critics who held theater and literature as truer forms of art. The new West Coast movie moguls—Adolf Zukor (created Paramount Pictures), Samuel Goldwyn and Louis B. Mayer (Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer), David O. Selznick (who would produce Gone with the Wind), Walt Disney, Harry and Jack Cohn (Columbia Pictures), Jack Warner (Warner Bros.), Daryl F. Zanuck (20th Century Fox), and Carl Laemmle (Universal Pictures) wanted the kind of prestige bestowed upon Broadway plays and Pulitzer Prize–winning novels. They felt that the motion picture industry deserved similar accolades. Baiting their hooks with the prospect of fortune and fame, they set out to woo the greatest novelists and playwrights of their day.

    And they hooked a few. William Faulkner. Nathanael West. James M. Cain. Raymond Chandler. F. Scott Fitzgerald. John Steinbeck. Bertolt Brecht. Anita Loos. Ben Hecht. More modern writers include Joan Didion, James Baldwin, Truman Capote, Ruth Prawer Jabvhala, and Patricia Highsmith. All were authors or playwrights of great esteem lured to Hollywood by promises of weekly salaries often rivaling the total payouts of their bestselling novels. Many of these authors soon learned that writing for the movies was vastly different from writing novels. Many, like Faulkner, admitted they were terrible adapters of novels. They did their time in Hollywood for the cash and retreated back to the comfort of writing books when their coffers were full. Others got the hang of it, realizing that novels and films were entirely different creatures. The ones who succeeded at writing both novels and screenplays understood that a four-hundred-page novel could never be faithfully translated into a one-hundred-twenty-page film. The film exchanged words for images. Three pages of description in a novel could be captured in a single image on film. Even dialogue became image, and the crafty screenwriter learned to take the content of a long soliloquy and turn it into a few choice bits of dialogue separated by images that reinforced the message of those words.

    Not all authors could make the switch, and not all authors wanted to. While working with film director Billy Wilder to adapt James M. Cain’s novel Double Indemnity, fellow author (then screenwriter) Raymond Chandler had this to say about what he considered an agonizing time in Hollywood: Too many people have too much to say about a writer’s work. It ceases to be his own. And after a while, he ceases to care about it. He has brief enthusiasms, but they are destroyed before they can flower, (Writers in Hollywood 1915–1951 by Ian Hamilton).

    In the world of novels, the author is king. In the world of film, the director is king. The screenplay is but an outline for the director to use to realize his or her vision. It exists only to support the production of the film, which is the final realization of the medium. If the screenplay is just the outline for the eventual film, then the novel remains further removed. The novel, short story, newspaper article, and even the New Yorker exposé are all considered source materials for a film. They are promoted to the studios as elements that add value to the project, as it’s easier to get financing and movie stars for a project that already has a built-in audience than it is for an original screenplay that no one has seen.

    The novel, however, exists in its final form upon publication. It is consumed as is, under the direction of its author, with the assistance of an editor who helps the author realize his or her vision. The author, however, serves as the novel’s director, cinematographer, writer, production designer, casting agent, and more. The novel doesn’t need the film in order to exist.

    The author, however, often wants to see his novel adapted into a film, for various reasons. Money is usually the primary factor. A successful film deal could mean the difference between starvation and financial independence for the author. Fame is another motivator. A third consideration is that a film version of one’s book can lead the consumer back to the book, increasing readership, book sales, and the opportunity for the author to write more books. It’s a win-win.

    Unless, of course, the movie misrepresents the book to the point that the author feels compelled to disassociate from the final product. This could be the result of a film adaptation gone wrong, turning a good story into a terrible film, or it could result from a good novel being reinterpreted to produce a good film, but one very different from the author’s original concept. This is what happened when Milos Foreman directed One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, adapted by Lawrence Hauben and Bo Goldman from Ken Kesey’s novel. While the Academy Award–winning film is regarded as a classic, Kesey was furious that the story’s protagonist was changed from the Chief (the novel’s Native American, first person protagonist) to McMurphy, the character played by Jack Nicholson and viewed by Kesey as a relatively unimportant stock character. As Milos Foreman said to me when I asked him about this at a Director’s Guild retrospective of his films, It didn’t stop Kesey from cashing the checks he received from the studio!

    Times have changed since the Golden Age of Hollywood. Whereas the earliest screenwriters were culled from the legions of East Coast authors and playwrights, many of today’s film and TV writers have grown up in a world of television and film exclusively. In the 1950s, the films we watched made reference to great novels or plays. Today’s films and television shows make reference to other films and television shows, or comic books, or video games. The author exists in an entirely different world from the screenwriter.

    The screenwriter knows that his story is malleable. He knows that it is his until he sells it, and then it’s a crapshoot. He has grown used to being replaced by the next more popular screenwriter in town in a process that encourages each new writer to change as much of the original story as possible in order to obtain primary or shared credit on the film. The screenwriter understands that the director, star, or studio is the ultimate author of the film.

    For most novelists this realization comes after they sell their book to Hollywood. Many authors like to quote what has become a familiar refrain: I drove to the border of Arizona and California, threw my novel over the wall, and then drove back east as fast as I could, or What do you mean Hollywood screwed up my novel? It’s right there on my shelf. They’re comfortable being authors and they don’t want anything to do with the film business.

    Yet there are also authors who want a piece of the action. Authors who want to write the screenplay adaptations of their books or get involved as producers to ensure they have a voice in the film or television versions of their works. Recently, Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay for her novel Gone Girl and Megan Abbott wrote the screenplay for her novel Dare Me. If the author has a good relationship with the producer, or if there’s a bidding war to purchase the rights to the novel, then the author might get the chance to adapt their own novel, if this is what he or she wants. Most times, however, the author doesn’t get this opportunity.

    Hollywood is a funny thing. Most everyone I know has a love/hate relationship with it. The truth is that there’s no such thing as Hollywood, as an entity, as in, Hollywood loves my story! or Hollywood wants to make my book into a movie! Hollywood is basically a mishmash collection of ambitious individuals and film companies intent upon making their mark in the industry by producing huge moneymakers or Academy Award–winning classics. These individuals rely on their passion, ambition, moxie, access to money, access to talent (stars, directors, screenwriters, studio heads), and a unique brand of salesmanship to get their films off the ground. More often than not, the stories they aim to tell are less important to them than the opportunity to see something, anything, make it to the screen. Hollywood is not like the theater, where a playwright’s words are sacrosanct. No one’s going to tell Eugene O’Neill to put a little humor into Long Day’s Journey Into Night. But it’s nothing for a film producer to change critical elements of a classic novel in order to attract a reluctant film star to play a role that presents him or her in a positive light. There often is a lack of respect for the novel except for its potential as the vehicle to launch the successful film or television series. I recall the weeks after the release of the movie Clueless, which is a modern day, teen cinema adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel Emma. I was a young development executive at the time, working for film director Wolfgang Petersen. The success of Clueless inspired his producing partner to ask me (Hey, Steve, you’re the book guy, come here for a second!) to find a classic novel to adapt for our company. I purchased a dozen Cliffsnotes for novels like Treasure Island, Lord of the Flies, Vanity Fair, and Steinbeck’s The Pearl. When I read the producer the synopsis for The Pearl she lit up with excitement. "Hey, how about we do The Pearl as a lottery ticket? Instead of a pearl it’s the lottery ticket that makes everyone greedy and ruins their lives? After a bit of hemming and hawing I said, I think maybe you should ask someone else to be the book guy." I remember another moment when Columbia Pictures released its film version of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. This was a tour de force for female talent in Hollywood, having been directed by Gillian Armstrong and produced by Denise Di Novi, with a screenplay by Robin Swicord. I was excited to see that, shortly after the film was released, a few dozen copies of the novel were prominently displayed at a major bookstore chain. The movie was steering sales of the novel and a new generation of readers would experience the pleasure of reading Alcott’s work. When I picked up the book (large print with lots of white space between the words) I realized it was a novelization of the film. Yes, a writer had been hired to write a novelization of the film to promote its release. Why wouldn’t they let Alcott’s work stand on its own? What crazy world exists that would allow this to occur? It’s no wonder there’s such a great divide between authors and the people who would turn their novels into films. It’s a wonder anyone survives the process.

    I’ve sat on both sides of the table, both as an author and as a develop-ment executive whose responsibilities included finding novels, short stories, and works of journalism for adaptation to film. One of the projects I developed was Isaac Asimov’s short story, Bicentennial Man, which was adapted for the screen by Academy Award–winning screenwriter Nick Kazan. Nick took the short story and expanded it to feature length, inventing new characters, set pieces, and story points along the way. He produced nearly a dozen rewrites based on the notes of our development team and the various studio executives involved. His script was somehow slipped to Robin Williams, who fell in the love with the project. He, in turn, slipped it to film director Chris Columbus, who committed to directing it with Robin attached to star. That was the last time Nick saw the script. Chris Columbus took over the rewrites and none of us knew what became of the story until the night we sat down to see the film unveiled at its premiere. The film is both similar and yet very different from the short story. We will never know if Asimov approved or disapproved of the resulting film, since he died long before the rights to make the film were acquired. As a development executive, I understood the reason for every change that was made. As an author, watching the transformation of my original story, I might have found the process traumatizing.

    I’ve often wondered how authors feel about seeing their novels made into films. I’ve imagined awkward meetings between veteran authors and neophyte development executives, the authors biting their tongues at the other’s suggestion that they change the sex of the book’s protagonist from a man to a woman because the producer is looking for a good vehicle to launch his new business relationship with Nicole Kidman. I imagine authors drowning in Development Hell, wishing to be released from their contracts so they could go back to their desks and write the novels their fans want to read. When I became a published author I started attending conferences with thousands of other authors and most everyone I met wanted to sell the TV or film rights to their novels. They saw the film business from afar, through rose-tinted glasses. They imagined Dexter and Game of Thrones legacies. From my years in the film industry I knew the collaborative nature of turning novels into films and I knew that many of these authors would travel the road of creative differences with the producers who bought their novels, and many would rue the day they signed their film deals. To this

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