I dunno if every writer gets this or not, as I'm not every writer--I'm just me--but I've been both touched and a little surprised at the number of messages, both electronically and on this old thing we once called paper, telling me how much they'd love to turn Fractal Despondency into an indie film, or To Sleep Gently could be a blockbuster.
But wait, my first question is, "Who are you?" followed by "Have you ever made a movie before? Have you ever written a screenplay? Have you ever gotten coffee for Matt Damon's double?" This is then followed by my asking, "How much?"
"For the film option?"
The two most common responses:
1. Oh, well. we were hoping we could have a free option, and if it makes money, we'll share it with you.
2. The person laughing self-consciously with an otherwise vacant look in their eyes.
I try very hard to be a nice person. No, I do not always succeed, but I try. A lot of people can attest to that. But here's the thing. My sole income is from my writing, and clearly I'm not a best-seller or even generally in the mid-list. This should give one a little idea of how much money I make. And no, this is not entirely by choice. There are no jobs. If I could get a job, I would. And no, I'm not looking for sympathy on that. What I'm saying is, whether I like it or not, writing is how I make my living, and it is a very non-glamorous living. I work my ass off to receive sporadic checks that, on average, cover a tank of gas and some groceries. And just to get this, I work 25 hours a day, 8 days a week.
So you want some of the most valuable rights an author holds, and you won't pay them anything for them?
Oh, but we know this guy. He was a grip on an episode of Breaking Bad and he stood around and chatted with Bryan Cranston for ten minutes.
Good for this guy you know. And you clearly must be close if you can't even call him a friend.
I've worked in Hollywood. I've done work with NBC and with major big-time producers who, if you heard their names, your jaw would drop, then slowly detach from the rest of your face and plop on the floor.
I just really, really believe in the material.
Cool. So if you really, really believe in the material, and you think you have the talent and ability or connections to adapt and have this work made, then why aren't you willing to pay the creator anything?
A colleague, Weston Ochse, whom I've met but don't actually know, just had wonderful news. Metro Goldwyn Mayer just bought his new book SEAL Team 666.
First, Congrats to Weston! Okay, now, you never ask someone what they've been paid, but I guarantee you that they paid him for it (and I hope very well). Weston was in the U.S. Army and became an intelligence officer. He was stationed in the Republic of Korea, Fort Jackson, Fort Gordon, Fort Bragg, Fort Carson, Fort Huachuca, Presidio Monterey and Los Angeles Air Force Base. Hell, the dude has peed in the Danube. What does he do now for a living? He's a writer. I promise you when he wrote this book, which I'm very much looking forward to reading, he didn't say to himself, "This book will be awesome to give away. But you know what would be even cooler? If someone optioned the film rights and paid me no money."
Okay, enough of that. I just wanted to pitch Weston Ochse there because he's a great writer and, in our limited encounters, a hell of a nice guy.
One of my titles has some brew ha-ha going on in Hollywood as we speak. I'm not holding my breath even for a second. The point of all this is, this is what I do. As much as I'd love to be in a position like, say, Stephen King, who is kind enough to at times give indie filmmakers free options, I am not in that type of position. My bank account currently has $4.03 in it, and you love my work but you want it for free? You mean you won't even offer me $4.03? I'm not saying you need to have millions of dollars (unless you're looking to option my father's work, but that's a whole other story), but to offer nothing but false promises is insulting as well as ignorant. This goes for many writers, I'm sure. Weston, in this case, talented as he is, was blessed and fortunate and also lucky. It's the way the television and movie business works.
Back to Stephen King, you can take his hugely successful Dark Tower series, attach Brian Grazer to produce and Ron Howard to direct and, still, in the end, it goes down the toilet. It's what Hollywood does.
Okay, long rant that seems to now be going nowhere. Too late to make a long story short. It's flattering, but I/we need to eat.