Not sellin' film rights, no way, no how...

OK, I know you're going to laugh until your side hurts, but I'm going to throw it out there anyway.....what if you'd really honestly rather not have a movie made of your story unless it's done to certain standards? Obviously, you'll be out some money, and your chances of actually having a movie made will go way, way, WAY down, but will anything else bad happen? If you were my agent, and that happened, would you drop me flat on my ass like the nitwit I am?

Robert Crais refuses to sell movie/tv rights to the Elvis Cole series. I don't think his agent has fired him for that. He did end up writing some stand alones and selling the film rights there, but Elvis remains off the table.

If I had a client who felt so strongly about it they refused to sell rights, I'd have to respect it. I can't sell film rights unless the client agrees....but Miss Snark is damn persuasive when she's wheeling in bales of cash.

What you CANNOT do is sell film rights only to "someone who will not make a hash of it". You can pick the person you sell to, but unless you have an awful lot of juice, you've got zero creative control. Zero. Once you cash the check, you're done.

If you're that worried about quality control, you're better off not selling. What I would can your ass for is selling and then bitching about the results. Whining as you cash the check is not allowed.


Anonymous said...

I saw Dean Koontz speak last year and he said even he couldn't prevent someone from messing up his concept. Not even with Martin Scorcese attached from the beginning! They both finally had to resort to quitting and then having their names removed from the project to avoid the tarnish.

Simon Haynes said...

Two choices: One, take the money and run. Two, make the book so famous and beloved that nobody dares mess with it.
Number one looks like the option for most.
I don't care what they do to the film version, what worries me is the novelisation of the film of a book. You pollute the original with that kind of money-grabbing nonsense.

Sylvia Hubbard said...

I've thought about the choice of (when the times comes) selling my film rights.

I'm terrified it'll end up like a Stephen King Novel when someone will say the book is better, but I'm hoping that I'll get someone justice like JR Tolkein with a director like Jackson, which will make people really go pick up the book for more.

Anonymous said...

Jasper Fforde won't sell Thursday Next either. Evidently he worked in the film industry for too long to trust the blackguards.

Stephen King has said more than once that the thing to remember with movies is that the book is still on the shelf - they don't change one word of it.

Little Mr Square Eyes said...

I like the idea of authors, if they feel strongly enough about this issue, simply not selling the film rights. Another suggestion: a novel’s one thing, film is another. Don’t confuse ‘em and expect a film/TV adaptation to be a celluloid recreation of the written word – it's rarely the case (and even then it's debatable whether it actually works).

PS Anonymous, read your post about Dean Koontz twice. Very funny stuff.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

Oh, assuming my book(s) ever see print, and they become wildly popular and rival Fuzzy Potter, and someone wants to make a movie out of them or it, and I'm not particularly cranky, frazzled by children, or whatever (don't go there with me buster!), I'll sell the rights.

My God, isn't that the longest sentence you've ever seen?

Stacy said...

I have on occasion been disappointed by a film adaptation, but I always keep the original work and the new one separate in my mind. Am I weird? I mean, I loved The Stand, and the miniseries thereof, but these are two separate experiences. This compartmentalization comes in handy when the movie is vile beyond all reason, because my enjoyment of the book is unaffected by my hatred of the film.

And sometimes, even a bad movie can give insight into motivation that the author may not have intended, but lifts the character off the page and makes them human. I always enjoy that.

Anonymous said...

Robert B. Parker's said similar things many times in the past -- I remember him calling it akin to selling your house and coming back a year later to complain about what color the new owners painted it. The books are the books; the movies are the movies, and the twain very, very rarely meet.


Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...


The book is almost always better. Readers and authors join their imaginations. When you read, you see the author's vision through your own eyes and experience. When you watch a movie, you only see the director's vision.

When I was 10 or so, I read Thrity-Nine Steps. I loved the book and read it twice. I've watched every Thirty-Nine Steps movie from Hitchcock's to that idiot made for TV movie. Not one of them does the book justice.

Will that keep me from selling film rights? No. Even a bad film advertises one's book.

Think in terms of this conversation:

"Did you see that movie, Pixie Warrior?"

"Oh, God, it was awful!"

"Wasn't it! You should have read the book. The book is great! I don't understand how they can mess up a great book."

Now, I've self-servingly stuck the title of my book in this, but I've heard similar conversations. It's advertising.

I want to sell my book. I want people to READ it and enjoy it. I will sell the rights, grit my teeth, and shake my head at hollywood if it goes badly.

Anonymous said...

The phrase, "I've read the book and its better" comes to mind.
Yes, it would be nice to have a movie that is as good as the book--but when it is not, I tend not to assoicate the movie with the book/the author. There are so many bad movies out there based on good books. Take the money I say. The proof is in the book YOU wrote.

Lisa Hunter said...

Many screenwriters claim that short stories make better adaptations than novels (i.e. Brokeback Mountain, The Third Man, etc.) I think they're right.

A screenplay is 120 pages, tops (unless you're adapting a famous, beloved book like LOTR or HP, which audiences will go to even if the film is 3 hours-plus). A 500-page novel just can't be faithfully adapted in that amount of time.

Try it yourself. How would you tell your story in only 120 pages? Keep in mind that you can't expect viewers to have read the book, so you have to explain everything within the context of the screenplay. It's really hard.

That's why things get simplified or left out in films. Before you worry about whether a filmmaker will make "a hash" out of your book, consider whether your book is really adaptable as a film, given the constraints of that medium.

BTW, I think Pixie Warrior sounds like a great idea for a film. Would that I were a movie producer.

Stacy said...

Writers are an unreasonable lot. I think that has already been established elsewhere on this blog. So are readers. Of course they (you?) will want the movie to faithfully represent the novel. And if the main characters are a redhead with bad skin and a Jamaican vegetarian, any deviation from this will be unforgiveable. And if their favourite scene looks different from the way it played out in their mind's eye - well, the whole movie is crap.

The notion that a few words on paper can create a fixed reality is a myth. As a Jamaican woman with my particular racial makeup, experiences, relationships and education, I will have a highly individual experience with any novel I read. The writer puts their vision on the paper, but I bring myself to the table. The writer might have meant a raised voice to show understandable heightened emotion, but I read it as intimidation.

Once the words are on the paper, the author is no longer in control of them. They have been set free in the world.

I think my lit degrees and english teacher underwear are showing.

Anonymous said...

Show me the money and I wouldn't care if they cast Woody Allen clog dancing nekked as my hero with the ghost of Ed Wood Jr. directing.

I will weep, yes, weep big wet sloppy tears--all the way to Tahiti, yeah-sure-you-betcha!

Anonymous said...

Nobody said: "Jasper Fforde won't sell Thursday Next either. Evidently he worked in the film industry for too long to trust the blackguards."

No, Jasper Fforde is retaining the film rights for Thursday Next because he plans to create the film(s) himself.

Anonymous said...

More often than not a book is optioned in Hollywood but the film is never made.

Then the option expires and the production company can either renew (more $$ for the author) or release the option and the author/agent can try to sell it again.

Sometimes, an author publishes a book that happens to be similar to a film already coming out, in which case the author won't be able to sell the option at all--at least, not any time soon.

Anonymous said...

Originally, Dennis Lehane wouldn't sell any of his film rights. Clint Eastwood had to go to his house and pretty much beg to direct Mystic River. Once Lehane was convinced that Eastwood was going to 'do it right', he allowed him too.

Now he's sold the rights to two more books. One's going to be directed by Ben Affleck! (Who at least is a Bostonian, which I think is important to Lehane). But I think he largely has control over where they go.

Anonymous said...

"Stephen King has said more than once that the thing to remember with movies is that the book is still on the shelf - they don't change one word of it."

What they *can* do is make a film, use a different title on the film, and then hire someone to write a novelisation of the film, with the film title used for this new book, and the original version mentioned only in teenyweeny print on the copyright page. And yes, I've seen at least one example of this.

In the unlikely event that the success of Brokeback Mountain leads to an outbreak of Hollywood looking for existing gay love stories to option, I will cheerfully sell the film rights to my stories. But I will also want to negotiate a clause to stop that sort of thing happening. Or at least make sure I get my cut of the income from the new version. :->

Anonymous said...

There's been rather a big stink in the sf world recently because LeGuin did exactly that: took the money and then whined about the results (of the TV movie version of Earthsea). In her defense, though, she didn't bitch until the producer put words in her mouth by explaining what the Earthsea books were "really" about and "what Ursula meant when she wrote them was..."

The really interesting thing about the Earthsea blowup, though, is that it's not been so much about the murder of the plotline as the casting decisions. LeGuin's book was about a lot of brown people with one white girl thrown in. The movie people interpreted this as "two token ethnics and a blonde blue-eyed lead." A great many people who idolized Earthsea as being a fantasy that was FINALLY about people like them are understandably upset by this decision, and you can hardly blame LeGuin for distancing herself from a movie that activelt alienates her fan base.

Anonymous said...

as someone who's in the film biz and thus I can't really show my identity here, I can tell you that some superstar authors do maintain some control. Stephen King gets a dollar in option money for his recent books and then has absolute script approval rights. He doesn't get the script he wants the project is off.

Also, even a first time author can hold out for first draft screenplay. The moment they're courting you is the moment you have all the leverage.

Problem with film rights is that the money is liable to be so much more than you made for your advance or your royalties. Greed sucks you in.