Chapter Twenty Nine - Hollywood24 August 2010
Movies. TV Shows. Hollwood. Some fans hate to see their favourite books adapted, but most long for it to happen. For ten years I had fans pleading with me to make a movie of The Saga Of Darren Shan (as if it was something that I could just do by clicking my fingers). And I still have fans who long for an adaptation of The Demonata and The Thin Executioner. In truth, it’s not something any writer can control—movies or TV shows cost millions of pounds or dollars to make, and they are are product of dozens (sometimes hundreds) of creative minds and hands. As a writer, you usually have to wait for Hollywood to approach you—you don’t have the power or money to launch a movie project by yourself. If Hollywood does come calling, some writers refuse to sell their work—they hate the very idea of seeing their book subjected to the whims of the Hollywood monster. But most are open to the notion of selling their work. Of those who sell the film rights to their books, some try to deeply involve themselves in the adaptation process. I’m not one of them. I would rather focus my energy on the areas of my work which I can actively and positively control, i.e. the writing of my books. As far as I’m concerned, my only aim is to write the best books I can. My readers are the only people I worry about. I want to give them the best books that I can, to provide them with value for money. Movies and TV shows are nice bonuses when they come along, a way to hopefully attract the attention of new fans, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to sacrifice the quality and release schedule of my books just to go and play at being a Hollywood insider. As for why I agree to sell the movie rights in the first place, here’s what I had to say on the subject while the cast of the Cirque Du Freak movie was being put together a few years ago…
I’ve been following the reactions of fans to the Cirque Du Freak movie with much amusement over the last couple of months. Each new cast announcement is met with a mix of indignation—“How dare they even THINK of putting that person in the movie?!?”—and OTT delight—“That person is the best actor in the world—this is going to be brilliant!!!!” The truth, of course, is that only time will tell. The movie-making process is a long, complicated affair. Great books, with great casts, have sometimes turned out to be stinkers, while in other cases less well known books, with dubious cast or crew choices, have become classics. I’ve no idea which way this one will go. I’m happy with the cast choices—I can say that hand on heart. They might not be like how a lot of fans pictures the characters. Indeed, they’re not all like how I pictured the characters. But the important thing is, they’re how the movie-makers picture them. This is their baby now. The film will be a completely separate entity to the books. Different structure, different characters, different pace, different style. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. But I do think it’s good that they’re doing things THEIR way. I did everything that I wanted to do with the characters and stories when I wrote the books. What interests me now that I’m finished is what other people do with them. I love getting fan art, seeing how fans imagine Darren or Mr Crepsley or Harkat. I love the Japanese manga adaptation, seeing how they interpret the vampires and vampaneze. Nobody draws the characters exactly as I imagined them, but that’s what I love. I’ve shown the world what I see in the Cirque Du Freak and those who populate it—now it’s a chance for you lot to reinterpret what I’ve given you and entertain me in return!!! So Cormac Limbs becomes a woman—great!! I’ll get to see a different side of the character!!
The film WILL NOT be faithful to the books, and nor should it be. That doesn’t bother me, and it shouldn’t bother you lot either. It will stand or fall on its own terms, in its own way. If it succeeds and is good, we can all enjoy it as well as the books—we’ll have two different sources of entertainment to draw from. If it goes wrong and sucks, we can continue to draw comfort from the books—they won’t change, they’ll still be there, the same as they were a few years ago, the same as they are now, the same as they always will be.
I sometimes get asked why I sold my books to Hollywood, and why I let them change them so much. Well, as for the second question, I haven’t a choice—when you sell the movie rights to your books, you surrender all control over it. The movie-makers can do whatever they like with your stories. That’s just the way these things work. If you can’t accept that, don’t sell. If you do sell, you have to let them do as they please—there’s no point grumbling about it. I sold for a number of reasons. One, obviously, is money. I write because I love to write, but it’s also my job, and while I write with total integrity, telling the stories I want to tell, the way I want to tell them, I always look to make the most amount of money out of them as I can once I’m finished. That’s just commonsense—if you create something good, you deserve to profit from it. Money shouldn’t be a writer’s driving goal, but it shouldn’t be spurned either. As with any job else in life, money can bring freedom—an artist who has made a lot of money doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to; he doesn’t have to take a commission just to support himself; he’s free to follow his muse and create whatever he likes. (Of course, many lose themselves to the thrall of cold, hard cash and start to chase it, using their talents to try and make more money. But I haven’t hit that point yet, and I hope I never do.) The money I get from the movie if it’s successful will help ensure that I can continue to follow my dreams and write for myself, which is good news for all of YOU.
But I was also happy to sell the movie rights because movies are a great way of publicising your work. The worst thing about being a writer, especially a children’s writer, is that very few people in the world ever get to hear about you. A hit movie makes headlines. Popular bands make headlines. Models make headlines. Writers almost never do. Even avid readers often struggle to keep up with what’s hot in the world of books—it’s difficult to find out about new writers and novels. The internet has helped, more than anyone under the age of 20 can probably understand—there was NO way of learning about new books when I was a kid!! But it’s still a struggle to get your work noticed, to tempt readers to give your stories a try. Publishers have very limited funds to work with, and the opportunities to advertise books are also very limited. Films are one of the only tools we have to take our work to an even wider audience. Even if the movie sucks and doesn’t do much business, it will still probably get quite a lot of people interested in the books. New readers will hopefully pick up Cirque Du Freak and give it a try—then hopefully get hooked by it and join the rest of you in becoming true Shansters!!! The thing any writer wants more than anything else is for people to actually READ their work. That’s what I enjoy most about success—not the money, but knowing so many people are enjoying my stories, following me into the weird, freakish worlds that I’ve created, trusting me to lead them on a journey worth taking. The film will help set more people on the path that you guys reading this have already taken. It’s a path they probably wouldn’t ever have heard about if I hadn’t agreed to sell the rights and let a group of strangers do whatever they wanted with my stories. Some readers are snobs—they think that only those who actively seek out new writers are worthy of reading that writer’s books. There are many Harry Potter fans who sneer at those who saw the films first. “What—you only read the books because you liked the films? You’re not a REAL fan!!!”
As I hope I make clear in my books, I’ve no time for snobs. My vampire generals accepted anyone who came to them. They didn’t care how they turned to the creatures of the night—they only cared about what they did once they’d made that choice. It’s not how we come to a path that matters, but what we do once we’re on it. If the film brings even a handful of new fans to this world that you and I have shared for however many weeks, months or years you’ve been with me, it will have been worth the giving away of rights. Even if it’s a stinker, if it takes the books to just a few more people, it will be worth it. Obviously I hope it won’t suck, that it’ll rock righteously, that it will bring thousands of new fans our way. But even in the worse case scenario it can’t help but be a winner. It will bring new readers to the stories, and that’s what the stories crave more than anything else. It’s why Stephen King has always been happy to sell his work to Hollywood. And it’s why I’ll probably be always happy to do it too.