Monday, December 7, 2009

Does Hollywood love novelists and hate screenwriters?

Hollywood's love affair with novelists is a well-known, long-time phenomenon. Back in the day, the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker were wooed to Los Angeles and paid vast sums of money to write scripts. Novels are also in constant demand for adaptation into screenplays. Not all novelists view this as good (Ernest Hemingway apparently advised novelists to drive to the California border, ''and let them throw the money over the line, then throw the book back.''). But it has to be said, writing a successful novel is a good step towards getting a movie made of your work. Or embarking on a screenwriting career.

When I was in Austin in 2008, I was at a talk given by Texan writer Shauna Cross, who had written a screenplay called Whip It! based on her teenage roller derby experiences. She was unable to raise interest in it until she adapted it into a novel called Derby Girl, and then "adapted" the published novel into a script! It was released in the States in October starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. 

So why the obsession with novels? Well, there's two theories. One is that Hollywood likes material that comes with a stamp of approval from someone else. If someone has published a novel that sold even moderately well, they have a publishing house and at least some readers behind them. If those readers buy tickets to see the accompanying movie, well then you may have a Da Vinci Code-sized hit on your hands. 

The other theory is that Hollywood execs are somewhat impressed and awed by novelists, whereas they regard screenwriters as being in the same category as bellybutton lint. I hope this isn't true, reflecting badly as it does on everyone involved...

I guess the way forward is obvious. Write a (bestselling) novel like Shauna Cross or Bring it On Writer Jessica Bendinger, whose novel The Seven Rays is the new Twilight. Then wait for the call from Hollywood....


Brett said...

I don't think they hate screenwriters as much as they hate that nagging sense of doubt that perhaps the material they are backing is not really as sharp and interesting as what they themselves believe.

There's a discussion elsewhere wherein the value of a "finished work" is described as superior to that of a "transitional work." In that regard, a book is a finished work -- it's done, completed. We can all look down and say with conviction "yes, this is a finished work."

A script, by contrast, is not a finished work -- it is a recipe rather than a table-ready dish, a blueprint rather than a usable structure. The nagging fear, I think, is that the script -- regardless of its actual 'objective" quality or degree of polish -- is never as "real" as the finished movie, or the finished book, leaving those dealing with that script to wonder if perhaps they are overlooking some key improvement that ought to be made.

A book comes pre-vetted: editors and publishers and reviewers and 500,000 clamoring fans who purchased the hard cover and pushed the thing to #1 on the best seller lists all provide bona fides to the finished-ness. A script... who can tell with absolute certainty?

And they hate the doubt, and it's always convenient to put a face on the hate, and who better than the wormy little screenwriter who already suspects deep down that everyone else on the production hates him?

Makes perfect sense. ;-)

Eilis Mernagh said...

It's a very good point. That's the tragedy of scripts in a way - they're never "finished" until they're actually made, and even then the writer at least will walk around saying "God, it could have been even better!"

Whereas novels sit there in all their published, printed glory. Sigh. At least we get to go to a premiere eventually and glug wine...