Hollywood…. I drove down to southern California last weekend, thinking that maybe, just maybe, I was on the brink of making it big. After all, The Art Lovers’ Mystery series seems like a natural for film: all those sumptuous visuals, quirky characters, and plenty of action. And if they paid me just, say, one-twentieth of what they paid the stars, I would be all set. In my mind I toyed with casting the roles…was Sandra Bullock too old for the part of Annie? Reese Witherspoon too blonde? Who in the world would play Michael? Someone suggested Jude Law, but was he too slick? And what about Frank…?
These Hollywood delusions did not develop out of thin air. The Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime was hosting “SinC Goes to the Movies,” a conference for published Sisters (and Brothers) in Crime to learn about the movie and television business. Starting with an in-depth tour of Sony Pictures Studios on Friday, we learned how to develop and deliver a “pitch” worthy of a second thought by studio execs. Later we were treated to panels on everything from screenwriters to TV writers to the realities of making deals in today’s competitive market. One favorite moment: listening to a panel of six TV writers (Lee Goldberg, Matt Witten, Javier Grillo-Marxuach, Jan Nash, Jeff Melvoin, and Paul Levine) talking over one another as they conveyed the live-wire, adrenaline-driven atmosphere of producing scripts –week after week-- for hit television shows.
Unfortunately, the screenwriters and agents panels painted a discouraging portrait of the likelihood of getting a project all the way through “development”. The consensus seemed to be that people in Hollywood don’t read, and if they do, they want the rights to the story and then for the writer to go away and stop bothering them. And apparently the best way to have one’s book bought by the studios is to have it ranked in the top 10 on the NY Times Bestseller list. Hmm. Not there yet.
If you manage to get noticed despite less-than-bestseller status, the first step is for your work to get “optioned”, which used to pay some real money. However, the recent trend is toward “free options” wherein authors are paid a symbolic amount, as low as $1. The real pay-off is when a novel is actually turned into a script by a screenwriter, adopted by a producer, and able to attach an actor or two…in which case the studios might be willing to take a look. A veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery long shot! So much for dreams of the Tuscan villa I was going to purchase (or at least rent!) with all those easy Hollywood dollars.
The weekend ended up with five minute pitch sessions with a number of producers and development folk. One nice thing about the previous discouraging news: it made the stakes pretty low when pitching to executives. I figured, what do I have to lose? I met with one independent producer who seemed intrigued with the premise of my series –at least enough to take the books—and a woman from Dreamworks who said she would read my novels. It’s worth a shot.
All in all, selling to Hollywood seems a lot like trying to get published: rather a quixotic effort, though a lucky few might make it. And, as in writing, if we’re not having fun in the process, it’s not worth it!