Friday, January 10, 2020

Many writers are too desperate for Hollywood love.

I recently finished Old Man's War by John Scalzi. I loved it. So I googled the series to see if there was any news regarding a made for television series, and I discovered Netflix has secured the rights to it, and that they are making it into a movie. John Scalzi (the author) wrote about it on his blog in an announcement that reassured fans that this adaptation of his work would be wonderful. Sure. Only in my opinion, it's going to fall far short. He really needed to tell Netflix, "No" and that it needed to be a ten episode mini-series.

In the book Old Man's War, the main character goes to enlist in an intergalactic army of humans from Earth who are engaged in an ongoing stellar war with various alien species. So in two hours time, we've got to see him enlist, take the space elevator into orbit where he meets several friends who become members of the "Old Fart's Club," bond with them, get transplanted into a new super human body (which he then has to grow comfortable in using), get training on various worlds, meet the Consu (a race of very religious super aliens), fight other species, meet his dead wife's body and have conversations with the personality inhabiting it, and then fight for control of Coral (an Eden-like world taken from them by aliens who eat humans for breakfast and are using Consu technology).

Every single one of the above events impacts the storyline. Even the fighting with other alien species who are not Consu and the alien Rraey (who attack the human colony on Coral) is important, because it not only serves to illustrate the main character's ingenuity in combat, but it also shows that the human race is using only one solution to interacting with the galaxy: going to war. This is an important and nuanced thing...that war is being over-used and that entire civilizations of intelligent aliens are being wiped out because humans need real estate and can't be bothered to use any kind of diplomacy.

It blows my mind that John Scalzi thinks that all of this can be done in a two-hour Netflix movie. And to cut any of that is going to change the story significantly. What we end up getting may be something similar to The Dark Tower movie adaptation (which didn't have the time to be faithful to anything).

And this happening to John Scalzi is not anything new. Look at Terry Brooks and the Shannara series. MTV made huge unnecessary changes to the storyline and shat out a tale that bore only fleeting similarities to the author's content. Yet Brooks went on record to defend the adaptation on his blog. Why? I think he was desperate for some kind of Hollywood love. I think Scalzi is too, which is why he gave a green light for a movie instead of bargaining for a Netflix series of at least 8 episodes.

Writers need to have more backbone and just stand up for their work with a big fat, "No! You can't do this to my work!" George R.R. Martin should have defended Game of Thrones against the showrunners, and said, "No, you cannot shorten the remaining seasons. We need time to show that Daenerys is transitioning to a mad queen or it will all go to hell!" But he didn't, probably because he was just overjoyed that HBO was doing such a good job (and spending so much money) on his work to make it look fantastic (which it did). He probably didn't want to rock the boat, which is understandable. Other writers are guilty of the same thing (of course). Anne Rice should have stood up for her works a couple of decades ago (especially with the awful Queen of the Damned adaptation).

I suppose if there are any writers out there who are reading my words, you might ask yourself what would happen if Hollywood came knocking to adapt your writing for the screen? Would you just let them do whatever they wanted as long as you got paid? Would you stand up for your work even if it meant saying, "No! You cannot do that to my story!" And I guess that some of this rant probably comes from a place of ignorance (on my part). I don't know what it's like to try and get a published work adapted for a screen (and I probably never will as I have no interest in that kind of thing at the moment). But even if this post falls on deaf ears, I want to say that I think many writers are too desperate for Hollywood love, and the world of entertainment would be a better place for all if they would grow a backbone and learn to say, "No!" But then, maybe we wouldn't get any adaptations at all. However, I think it's worth the risk.


  1. You're right, that's too much for just two hours. And yes, Brooks' Shannara series was a train wreck. (However, so far The Witcher has stayed very true to the books.)
    Trust me, Asylum Films comes calling from SyFy, I will say no.

    1. Hi Alex,

      As a huge fan of Sapkowski's works I must disagree on your comment regarding The Witcher adaptation by Netflix. I know the books by heart (both original and the English translation) and I personally don't like the way Netflix treated the original story.

      Now, I'm not saying Netflix's version is terrible! I saw a couple of films based on The Witcher series and so far Netflix is my favourite. However it is important to understand that they did not copy the Witcher's story, nor did they simply cut some corners. They rewrote it from scratch instead. Some important elements were cut out completely (like, Iola's and Melitele's characters and everything surrounding them). Some others - puffed up incredibly (for instance Yennefer's life before she became a mage was just a single paragraph in the book, and not a very long one). Many original events were mixed up with others to a point I could not actually recognize them at all.

      Long story short: it is a great watch (I've seen it twice already, and will probably see it again some time) but it is absolutely not in line with the books.

  2. I loved the first Old Man's War book. And the third. The 4th (which is largely a retelling of the 3rd from a different POV) is pretty good. The 3rd person ones (books 2, 5, 6) stink so I hope they don't get adapted.

    You're right that this would be much better as a series, like The Expanse. I don't think the Old Man's War books are quite as long but still not exactly short.

    Anyway, the primary reason writers love Hollywood? $$$$$ Cha-Ching! For instance, Michael Chabon was an award-winning, well-respected writer. But I doubt his books before 2000 really made that much money. Then Hollywood came a-calling with a million bucks for the rights to Wonder Boys, which eventually starred Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr, and Frances McDormand, and a then-unknown Alan Tudyk as the university janitor. I think it's an excellent adaptation, but it did cut a lot of stuff out, especially an entire Jewish seder dinner. I didn't think the stuff they cut really added a lot to the overall story, but I'm sure some people complained.

    If Chabon had raised a ruckus about cutting his book, maybe he doesn't get the gig to co-write Spider-Man 2 and other writing/producing gigs like the new Picard series. Gigs that I'm sure are better paying than writing. Plus the intangible benefits like being able to hang out with celebrities, walk down red carpets for premieres and all that stuff.

    Speaking of Chabon, someone said one of these streaming services is going to do his Pulitzer-winning book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay as a miniseries, sort of like Hulu did with Catch-22. That is a great idea because the book is over 600 pages and skips to 3 different eras.

    But also what's interesting is sometimes it's the author himself who cuts down his own work for Hollywood. Like John Irving's Oscar-winning adaptation of his book, The Cider House Rules, which also starred Tobey Maguire--and so did Spider-Man 2. What a weird coincidence.

    Anyway, it took Irving a long time and more than a few drafts to cut down the book enough to fit into the 2-hour-plus runtime. It mostly involved deleting a 15-year jump and Homer Wells's son. Which I don't mind, but some people probably do. Still, the point is that I think he really learned what it took to make a book like that into a movie through that experience.

    Which probably explains why he was so receptive when someone asked to adapt only the first third of his novel A Widow From Year into The Door in the Floor, starring Jeff Bridges and Kim Basinger--and not Tobey Maguire. Plus also $$$$.

    Another aspect of this is that a lot of the time when an author sells the rights, it doesn't mean anything will actually happen. Another of my favorite authors, Lawrence Block, has had a few books optioned but really I think only 2 or 3 have ever been made into movies: 8 Million Ways to Die starring Jeff Bridges and A Walk Among the Tombstones starring Liam Neeson, both as detective Matthew Scudder. Some of his other series like the burglar Bernie Rhodenbarr have been languishing in "development hell" for a while. But I'm pretty sure he still gets money for it. So if you're an author you might just say yes and take the money and hope if they're not going to really knock it out of the park, maybe they won't do anything at all.

    That being said, and I've essentially written a whole blog post now, if anyone wants to give me a check for any of my properties, hell yeah I'm taking the money. $$$$$ Cha-Ching!

    1. So you think that fear of missed opportunities with Hollywood is why so many writers always say, "Yes." FOMO (or fear of missing out) on an opportunity to get to work and thence "network" with people who can make your other works shine like they should. So why not sacrifice a project or two to get that ball rolling?

      The way business is done, and by extension the phrase "This is how the sausage gets made" seems to point out paths where one's integrity appears to be the thing that always gets cast aside. It's less obvious outside of the "Me Too" movement, but makes my brain draw parallels to Megan Kelly confessing that she had to do "the spin" in Roger Ailes office even after all she accomplished. Writers (if what you say is correct) also have to do "the spin." Man, the more you get to know about "the biz" the more you realize just how shady it is to get stuff in front of an audience in order for a person to realize their dream.

    2. Mostly I think writers, like most of us, like money. Guys like William Faulkner and Raymond Chandler worked in Hollywood in the 40s to make money, though that was a little different as they wrote projects for the studios.

      Also I think writers, like most of us, like to rub elbows with movie stars. Not even for creative reasons, but for the same reasons as the rest of us.

      Though some probably do whore themselves a little so they can keep making money and stay involved with that scene. I can't really blame them.

      BTW, my book Casting Change is mostly set in motion because a writer somehow got creative control and insists on a certain actress for the lead role. I doubt such a thing has really happened.

  3. I think in many cases it's a money thing. And a visual medium is way different than a written one. I don't think we can know that decision process until it's our decision to make.

  4. So cool that you got written about by Scalzi himself. I love Old Man's War and agree that it would be better as a show than a movie, but I hope I enjoy it anyway. I think an unknown like me would have a much harder time standing up to producers that were trying to do something with one of my works.

    1. Oh my. I wasn't expecting him to write about it on his Whatever blog. I'm reminded that blasting my words out into the space of the internet can sometimes attract attention :). For what it's worth, I think his book is brilliant and the reason I used the word desperate is simply because I want the adaptation to be amazing.

    2. SCalzi is big on checking what's being said about him on social media. He's been to my blog, too, and twittered at me, though he didn't write about me on his blog.

    3. Holy crap is that blog entry condescending.

    4. Eh? I'm not offended. His tone doesn't strike me as any different than say a college professor's who is busy educating someone while at the same time having his feathers ruffled a bit due to a kind of surprise attack on my part, which I actually didn't intend. I think I'm on the "autism spectrum" somewhat, and it shows up in my blog posts (undiagnosed that is). I cut to the chase, sometimes very bluntly, with my opinions (which unfortunately I seem to be cursed with in great abundance). Another example of this was on Friday, my co-workers were setting up a meeting at a "school" here in Utah that another co-worker gently described as having a very "holistic" approach, so we needed to be careful. In the silence of the other people on the team obviously puzzling out what this meant, I blurted out, "So...witchraft, crystals, anti-vaxxers, and incense? Got it. I know exactly what kinds of people these are." Another person started laughing and said, "Oh Mike, it's really hard for you to hide your contempt sometimes, isn't it?"

  5. I think what you're talking about is difficult and not always about money. Not exactly. I think screen writing is just a way different process than novel writing, an some writers don't want to deal with it. They get offered a deal and are told some things -- specifically, about how faithful the producers will be to the story -- and they decide, sure, why not. But that's not how it turns out.
    Plenty of authors have expressed real regret over their choice to allow an adaptation, but that's usually because they trusted the producers only to learn too late that they shouldn't have.