Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #896: The Adaptation Corporation

Recently I wrote about how bestselling crime writer Walter Mosley has added the title of producer to his resume in order to maintain more control over screen adaptations of his work and ensure they don't get lost in "development hell." In another literary development author Elmore Leonard, buoyed by the critical/commercial success of the series Justified, based on his short story "Fire In The Hole" has signed on with United Talent Agency to represent his works in the film and video realms, the first time he's actually had a Hollywood agent in his 60+ year professional career.

Now there was something telling in the Elmore Leonard story, it was that despite success as a screenwriter, and a naturally cinematic style he had dropped out of writing for the movies because he got sick and tired of having to please studio executives who knew next to nothing about storytelling.

Which got me thinking.

One of the biggest problems with making movies is the development process. It's slow, it's inefficient, and it's expensive as hell.  When it comes to adapting popular novels to the screen everything becomes exponentially worse.

The author hard at work at his latest masterpiece.
The big problem with Hollywood is that the people running it have forgotten the fundamental reason for the existence of their business. They think it's all about selling "brands" and "images" and "lifestyles" but that's essentially Ivy league business school baffle-gab.

Hollywood exists to tell stories.

Stories is what made Hollywood the premiere entertainment center of the Western World. People like to see stories acted before their eyes with excitement and passion. People need stories.  What's the first thing a child asks for that doesn't involve food or a clean diaper? They say: "Tell me a story."

It's hardwired into our brains, stories help us understand the world, morality, and other people.

But Hollywood seems to have forgotten that, wasting millions on the snake oil panaceas of special effects and passing fads.

Why is The Avengers such a monster hit?

Because it's an exciting story with interesting characters that is well told. It gives the audience excitement, fantasy, and the sort of fundamental good versus evil story they really want.

Of course Hollywood only sees the surface, and thinks the answer will be more superheroes and more special effects.  But there's a way around it.

One way is for authors of popular books to take a more active role in the adaptation of their works to the screen.

You see Hollywood's executive class counts on two things to help them maintain control of the adaptation of books into movies.

1. Money.

2. Complication & Confusion.

The executive hope that throwing relatively large amounts of money at a writer will salve any doubts, and that if the process is complicated and confusing enough the writer of the original material will just give up trying to preserve the integrity of their "baby" and go away.

Face it, most writers are not business people, and most are not lawyers. They look at the hassle, and the confusion, figure it's just easier to cash the check and go write something else. 

It's time for writers to do something about that.

I think Mosley is on the right track, however, a lot of writers don't have the expertise, time, connections, and resources that Mosley has.

Which is why I think some sort of cooperative effort is needed. Not a union, writers don't need activists, they need something a corporation can respect, another corporation.

Agents and managers have their place in the industry, and it's an essential role. However, their part usually ends once the sale is made. If the studio turns your epic retelling of the saga of King Arthur into a all rap musical set in Fort Lauderdale during spring break and starring Justin Bieber they really can't afford to care. They have other clients, relationships with studios, and their own overheads to worry about. They need to make the deal for their clients, collect their commissions and move on to the next deal to stay afloat.

Which is why I'm thinking writers need to band together and form some sort of production company, and "Adaptation Corporation," that will handle the development and adaptation process efficiently, and inexpensively, with the best interests of the author and the work at heart. 

Something that can go to a studio or TV channel and say: "If you want to make something from this best-seller, then here is a package of a script, star, director for you to accept as a fait accompli, all you have to do is make and market the completed product."

Now this could be a tempting prospect for studios to save money on one the worst stages of putting together a movie. 

However it might be also be an impossible dream.

You see the development process is as bad as it is because it's prime property for the executives, producers, and stars with clout to engage in territorial pissing contests. To get them to give up something they consider so important you would need something on a Hunger Games / Harry Potter scale to possibly tempt them into going along, and even then they may pass because they can't stand giving up that kind of power.


  1. It doesn't even have to be authors; Marvel started this string of successes when they took out a massive loan and started making their film themselves. We can ONLY hope that Disney is wise enough to keep their mitts off the golden goose, although history doesn't give us much solace in that regard.

    But yes, the problem is the same. With comic book movies, it's that comic books are dumb, and Hollywood suits and 'talent' are all super-geniuses and incredible artists, so how can they resist improving the material? Imagine how bad Jonah Hex would have been if they had just stuck to the comics and forewent the utterly awesome CGI Gatling guns strapped onto horses? Or how poorly Green Lantern might have done if they had, like Marvel is all hung up on, cast an 'appropriate' actor for the lead role?

  2. Blast Hardcheese9/5/12 2:30 pm

    I don't know if the corporation that D posits would solve all of the headaches. You would still have to deal with the studios trying to screw everyone out of their share of the profits.

  3. It won't solve all the headaches, but it beats the totally dysfunctional system in place now.