I would imagine that any author who has an opportunity to have his or her book made into a movie would jump at the chance. I know I would! But Christine DeMaio-Rice has a different view of this topic. She shares with us the good, the bad, and the ugly side of the Hollywood industry, an industry in which many unfamiliar with it have fallen to prey to some of the unscrupulous tactics SOME industry professionals practice. I said some, not all. But for authors considering this, take heed! Buyers beware! Caveat emptor!
Christine speaks her truth!
Things are heating up, no?
Some of us have bestsellers on our hands. Some are making a living. I know of at least five writers eyeballing Hollywood contracts, God bless them.
By golly, it’s like a dream come true isn’t it?
Except, what I really want to do, right now, is make a comparison you might not have made.
Anything trad publishing knows about screwing writers over was invented in Hollywood.
How do I know? My credentials are on the bottom of the page. So skip down and come on back.
Welcome back. You have entered Debbie Downer land. If you’re looking for glitter and sunshine regarding your upcoming Hollywood experience, you may now click the little X to close the tab, or hit a bookmark to memebase or wherever else you go to procrastinate.
I am writing this post assuming you would like to continue being involved in your story. If you just want to cash a check and walk away, well, you’re smart, and I’ll write a post for you later.
But if you’d like to take a crack at writing the script, check out the different hierarchy stacks.
The Creative Executive
The Studio Executive
The Studio Head
The Lead Actor
The Lead Actress
Now, between you and the viewer/reader, all these people want a rewrite, none of which you will be paid a dime for. And I neglected to mention all the assistants in between these people, who have the real power in Hollywood, and who all will give you 30 pages of notes to prove their worth to some dingbat who’s going to squeeze the life out of you if it’s the last thing she does.
So I ask you, why would you want to jump through these hoops when you could be writing your next novel?
One: Nobody wants you on the project. Trust me. If they could write you a check and make you disappear into thin air, they would. But they have to be nice to you and tell you that you’ll be writing the script. You won’t be. Dollars to donuts, unless you’re with a really small producer and the film is budgeted under 100K, they’re champing at the bit to get rid of you.
Two: You could be spending that time writing another novel. But really, if you insist, go ahead.
Three: At the end of it, you will not own one word of what you’ve written. Not a stitch of dialog. Not a phrase of description. You have no copyright to anything. You cannot sell it elsewhere. You cannot shoot your own movie. One might even argue that you cannot even use what you’ve done as a sample.
Now you can go on about your separated rights. And yes, you have them and they cannot be signed away (don’t think the studio won’t ask you to anyway), but that script is not yours and separated rights or no, they can take it from you at any point without so much as a how-do-you-do, and pay Richard LaGravanese a million and a half to rewrite it without even calling you to tell you they stole your work. Literally. And legally.
And they’ll sit there, over lunch on the Warner’s lot and talk about how the novelist wrote a flat draft. I’ve had those conversations (being nowhere near Richard LaGravenese’s stature or talent, FYI) and they’re icky.
And they can fire you from your won story any time, because you don’t have the copyright to the script (you do keep it for the novel, however). Screenwriters traded their copyright for residuals long ago, and the studios never looked back. You are their hangdog lackey, bub. You need them and they have twenty more like you.
In this way, Hollywood is much the same as trad publishing. They may love you as a writer. They may respect you as a writer. But they do not love and respect you as a human being. You are a gold mine, and they are going to dig until there is no gold left, leaving a dry hole in the ground.
Okay, I sound bitter and guess what? I’ve simply seen enough. Despite this, I don’t want to dissuade you entirely. What I want you to do is take the stars out of your eyes. Talk to people. Read the books below. You must learn the culture and do not, under any circumstances, let your lawyer tell you what’s in the contract. Because of the way Hollywood is set up, your lawyer is likely juggling what, in any other industry, would be a conflict of interest big enough to get them disbarred.
Few Indie writers I know would just take any old trad publishing deal, in all its beautiful simplicity.
Hollywood is ten times more complex. Learn it. Understand it. And if you need to go through an acceptance phase, do so.
But keep on writing your novels. Never forget where your bread is buttered.
Books to read if some Hollywood scumbag calls you.
Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View of Hollywood and Screenwriting – William Goldman
Which Lie Did I Tell?: More Adventures in the Screen Trade – William Goldman
Monster: Living Off the Big Screen – John Gregory Dunne
The Hollywood Assistants Handbook: 86 Rules for Aspiring Power Players – Hillary Stamm
Contracts for the Film & Television Industry – Mark Litwak
Who the hell am I?
I optioned a script in, Lordamighty, I won’t even say what year. I went to USC film school and got an MFA in screenwriting. I worked at a film management company, a production company and tooled around the Paramount lot in a little buggie. I directed an event called First Pitch, where the graduating class pitched to 30 industry executives. I won a Chesterfield Fellowship, semifinaled for a Nichol, and won some other stuff that’s boring. I pitched my script all over town and have been mentored by some of the best writers in the business. Then I had to get a real job and the whole thing collapsed like a jenga tower. I was bitter and overeducated way before that.