Saturday, September 5, 2009

Crying all the way to the bank

I've seen a lot (for me) of movies lately, the latest being Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I loved the series, the earlier books more so than the later ones, and the first movie just blew me away. Now, we all know that the sequels rarely live up to the original, but with this series, I'm willing to go with it.

Until this movie.

We all have that dream: that you get the call Spielberg (or Chris Columbus, or M. Knight Shamalyan, whomever...) wants to make your story into a movie. How cool would it be? Then, you find out they want to make your entire SERIES into movies. Look out, honey, I'm quitting the day job! Woo hoo!

So, we sign on the dotted line, in triplicate, and kiss our characters bon voyage on their big screen adventure.

But what if it doesn't live up to your expectations?

I have to think that, after seeing Half-Blood Prince, JK Rowling is crying all the way to the bank. She sold the rights, the movie's making money, but it's just not that good. I'm not going to give away any spoilers except to say that the Half-Blood Prince part is never explained. Oh, we find out who it is, but we get zero explanation. None. Just an off-hand, "Oh, yeah. I'm the half-blood prince." As for the action of the movie, I felt as if I were watching a collection of vignettes with teenage hormonal angst woven around it. It was not the Harry Potter I wanted to see. It wasn't the one JK Rowling wrote.

But this isn't a posting about that specific movie. Let's call it a What-If blog post. What if you did sell movie/tv rights? How would you, as the author, deal with the blown-to-smithereens expectations? What if the reviews were lousy, dragging down your great book's reputation? What if you still had more of the series to write?

Obviously you don't want to go around saying, "Oh, they made my movie a piece of junk," but do you nod and smile and say "thank you for making the movie, no matter what you did with it?" And I know that it really doesn't matter what you would like to do, if you want someone to buy your next film, you DO say "thank you for making the movie," and leave it at that.

But what would you really like to do?

Yes, I would love to have these problems. :) And JK Rowling probably isn't the best example since she's practically built her own genre and will have her followers no matter what. (And yes, even though I'm not a huge fan of the last book, nor the fact that they're making not one, but TWO movies out of it, I will go to both). Like me, people will go to see the end of the series just to visit the world.

But how would you feel if your vision became someone else's and it wasn't one you liked? Is crying all the way to the bank an even exchange?


  1. Hmm, well I would be thrilled to see all my hunky werewolves in the movies!! And if fans are reading the book, and not just seeing the movie, they'll know the film producer got it wrong. :) On the other hand, for those who only watched the movie...I'd be disappointed they didn't read the real story behind the film. But all in all, I've got my pen in hand, waiting to sign on the dotted line to see my characters in the movies!!!

  2. Probably not, but it might be interesting!

  3. Hi Judi,

    This one definitely falls under the category of I Should Have Such Problems! And which of us hasn't had the dream of our work on screen? (Mine involves Nora Ephron.)

    I think if writers want to see their work on the screen, they need to understand it will require relinquishing a certain amount of control over the material--but that also happens when we submit our work to agents and editors.

    Personally, I'd be thrilled to see my work adapted to film. (Nora, are you listening?)

  4. As our screenwriting friend, John, advises, you say "Thank you Mr. Producer for the wheelarrow full of cash," and walk away whistling. You also hope that it causes a bump in sales, and folks end up saying "The book was WAY better than the movie!" LOL!

  5. Oh, I know. The problems I'd love to have. But I, the viewer, was disappointed in the movie and if I hadn't loved the beginning so much I wouldn't go see the next 2 movies. I guess I'm an incurable romantic - I want the ending to be as good as the beginning.

  6. Once you sign on the dotted line, it's theirs to portray as they like unless you write it in otherwise. If you're skilled at writing screen adaptations, then you can write that into your contract.

    However, if it was like Harry Potter, I'd say thank you and bank the dollars.

    And go outside and kick rocks...

  7. Interesting to read this post straight after reading one asking how much you'd be willing to change in your story just to get it published. I suspect my answer would be the same. I'd give anything now, and probably much less if it ever happened.

    Ohh, a werewolf movie with footage of real wolves and their cubs. I'll go to that one Terry.

  8. In an ideal world their would never be bad adaptations. George Orwell stipulated that 1984 would never be made into a visual media. Otherwise, take the money, the free advertising and marketing, and leverage it for future sales on that books and subsequent books. This is why we like fiction Judi, it's so much more satisfying than real life at times.

  9. For me, I separate books and movies into different mediums and can "compartmentalize" two forms and either enjoy/ignore movie adaptations away from their original source material. ;)

    So (while this would be a great problem to have :P) I would probably see any movie adaptation as a spin off or new "take" on the story, not necessarily the story/my work/etc being... butchered in a movie version, if it was a bad adaptation. :P

    I don't know if that makes any sense... but yeah, I tend to see things as different. Thus, if I love a book and hate the movie, it doesn't necessarily spoil one or the other for me. ;)


  10. Thanks everyone for weighing in. I was thinking about this post last night and remembered when I saw The Firm in the theater. It was a great book - I couldn't put it down. The movie was just as good, imo. But why'd they have to change the ending? I guess I'm a purist - I want the experience I'd originally enjoyed. (Which would be why the first Harry Potter sticks out in my mind. When Harry walked into Olivanders... that moment was pure magic. No pun intended. But I felt as if they'd taken what was in my head and put it on the screen.)

  11. Hi Judi~

    Sorry I'm late. I agree with Merc about compartmentalizing books and movies separately. I'm also well aware that the only thing authors control are the words written in the book.

    What they do with the movies is out of our control and I for one can't worry about it. I would, however, gladly take the money and hope everyone said the book was better.

  12. I have wondered about this quite a bit over the years. Not in regards to me as I am thinking you-know-where would freeze over before Hollywood came aknockin'!

    But I have read that Stephen King was unhappy about some of the crazy things done to his stories. And I have seen enough book-to-movies that were messed up in some way. I imagine Robert Ludlum is rolling in his grave over the travesty that was The Bourne Identity! But at least he is dead so can't complain too loudly or smile while screaming inside.

    I guess I would like to think a writer had more control, but clearly not in some cases. Yet, in the end if you get paid enough and have the boost in popularity that comes with it, that will cover a great deal of pain!