No, I’m Not Dying For My Books to Become Hollywood Movies

But I would sell my soul for any one of my books to be turned into a Hollywood TV show.

US TV is in a golden age. How many shows are there on right now that I enjoy? Let me see: Legend of Korra, Scandal, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Revenge, Louis, Bunheads, Justified, Nurse Jackie, Community and I’m sure there are others I’m not thinking of. Do I think they are all perfect? As diverse as I would like them to be? Not hardly. But they are a million times better than any recent Hollywood movie. Frankly, even formulaic TV like Drop Dead Diva1 is way smarter and more thoughtful and just plain better than 99% of the movies that come out of Hollywood.

Here’s the thing. Many of my friends have had their books optioned and have had meetings with Hollywood movie types and their overwhelming reaction walking away from those meetings is hysterical laughter and/or despair. “So they love my book—you know, the one that reworks the little mermaid—but they’re wondering if it wouldn’t be better if they were secretly robots controlled by a master villian on a secret island hideout. They worried there wasn’t enough conflict.” Or, “So they say they love my book but they’d prefer my teen black female protagonist was white and male and thirty-five. But he could have a teen daughter who’s best friend was black.” Etc.

Hollywood has their rule book of how movies should be. They will take your book and cram it into those set of rules and spew out their sausage movie product. They will raise the stakes until the fate of the world is at the movie’s centre. You know just like every other summer blockbuster. They will make almost everyone white. They will reduce complexity and make the ending unambiguously happy: the boy and the girl will kiss! Even if in the original book it was a girl and a girl.

It’s no surprise that the YA adaptations that have been the most successful are the ones that are most faithful to the books they’re based on. The ones that have been turned into Ye Olde Hollywood Sausage Movie die on their arses. It amazes me that no one in Hollywood has noticed that. Yet they keep optioning hugely successful books, oops, I mean, “properties” and trying to turn them into Ye Olde Hollywood Sausage Movies. Gah!

Meanwhile every year there are several wonderful new TV shows. Most of which aren’t like anything else that is on TV.

So, yes, given a choice between the two you betcha I’d prefer to have a TV show. At this point I should reveal my dread shame: only one of my books has ever been optioned and that was for the huge amount of ZERO dollars. I know it can seem like all YA books ever are instantly optioned but sadly this is not true. Also of all those books that are optioned the vast majority never makes it to the screen. I have a friend, well, husband really, who has had all of his books optioned multiple times. Nope they have never made it on to the big or small screens. Might happen. One day.

Though should Hollywood people offer me buckets of money to adapt a book of mine for the big screen I would not say no. Fabulous ballgowns don’t buy themselves, you know! Besides, as mentioned, the vast majority of optioned books never get made into movies. Especially right now when the DVD stream of revenue has completely dried up. So I could safely say yes with little fear of seeing my book desecrated on the big screen.

  1. My secret vice or it would be if I kept it secret. What? I love Margaret Cho. Shut up. []

7 comments

  1. Little Willow on #

    Indeed, the odds of getting a development deal AND having the adaptation be faithful AND getting to the screen are as slim as a piece of paper. When done properly, a book-to-screen adaptation can be brilliant. When done not-so-properly, everyone gets disappointed.

    For what it’s worth, I would give my right eyeteeth to develop your (or Scott’s) books into a TV series or mini-series. I’d stay faithful to the original text, cast them to match the character descriptions, and only act in them myself if I matched the look of a character as she was originally described on the page. :)

  2. Kaye M. on #

    Oh goodness yes. Thanks for putting my own feelings to paper – or blog post, as it were. I’m not even published yet, and I have way too much time to think about these things. I definitely agree that in the long run, a TV series future for a book looks brighter than the big screen.

  3. Aimee on #

    I like Marcus Zusak’s take on this – when asked at reading Matters last year if he was worried about what Hollywood might do to The Book thief he said that he wasn’t because if the film was terrible people would say the book was much better than the movie, and if the film was great people would say it was based on a great book – win-win. (Of course, he said it much more eloquently, but you get the gist.)

  4. Justine on #

    Little Willow. Awww. Thank you!

    Kaye M: If it helps. Even when you’re published you probably won’t have to make these decisions. I meant most of the published writers I know haven’t had to. Including me.

    Aimee: That’s all very well for Zusak to say he has a monster hit book. But if you’ve having your book adapted and it’s not a monster a bad film adaptation can affect sales for the worse. Or at least not help at all. For instance the dreadful Susan Cooper adaptation which I was hoping would relaunch her books for a whole new generation? Twas so very bad that did not happen. :-(

  5. Liviania on #

    Often, television based on books isn’t much more faithful. In the case of The Vampire Diaries, Dexter, and Gossip Girl, I think most of those changes are for the better. A mini-series can be faithful, I think, but anything running indefinitely is going to be more the showrunner’s creation.

  6. Justine on #

    Liviania: Oh, sure. They have to, don’t they? Cause otherwise you’d run out of story.

    I have no problem with non-literal adaptations. As long as they hold to the spirit of the original. Which I think they absolutely do in all the examples you gave.

  7. Ronni on #

    Philip Pullman’s response to this has always struck me as the most sensible. When asked by an interviewer if he was anxious about the film of The Golden Compass ‘changing his book’, he pulled a copy of the book from the shelf and said, ‘What changes? The book is right here, and it’s still the same.’

    I’m someone who hates film adaptations of her favourite books, and I’ll only see adaptations if they’re of books that I only mildly like or haven’t read yet. I was so irritated as a child by the adaptation of A Little Princess (which was my favourite book at the time) that I just don’t put myself through it any more.

    TV adaptations are another story, however.

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