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About Writing Right: The Blog


Someone asked the other day why it is that Hollywood only makes films based upon books. I can see where he might reach that conclusion. Still, it ain't necessarily so. here's what I told him.

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For starters, your assumption is wrong because your premise is incorrect. Hollywood doesn't necessarily want to make films based upon books. It wants ideas that are financially lucrative. Correction: It needs ideas that are financially lucrative. Creating a film today starts out in the lower millions of dollars and spirals upward from there; so, you can understand a producer's motivation. Whether or not the next brilliant idea comes from a book or an original screenplay (or even a magazine article, short story, or popular video game for that matter) is subjugated by potential sales.


With that said, many producers/directors understand that a well-selling book, particularly one by a big-name author (take your pick here), has already generated a lot of buzz in the story-loving world. Major publishers have invested big bucks to see that their star authors and their novels hit it big. And, every dollar Penguin invests in marketing and promoting a book is one dollar less than Pixar will have to spend on pitching the corresponding film.


Strangely enough, many people who read the book will still go to see a film based upon it, even though they already know the plot and the ending, subject to creative license taken during filming. I guess it's the voyeur effect. People want to see how their favorite stars play out in their various characters' roles as opposed to how the reader pictures them in his mind. Or, perhaps they simply want to tell their friends that they read the book and saw the film and then offer their comparison of the two.


Unfortunately, when it comes to Hollywood predicting a box-office winner, there's no such thing as a "sure thing," and even flicks made from the most popular novels occasionally end up bombing at the box office.


The bottom line: Producers, directors, and angels want to be as sure as possible that the time, money, and energy they invest in a property is going to pay off in the end. If they're wrong, they stand to lose a lot of money. But, if they're right … Well, have you ever heard of the films, Avatar, Titanic, and Star Wars? If not, perhaps you need to do a search on IMDB or a quick scan of Roku. The highest grossing films from all sources frequently top $2 billion and climb from there. Perhaps surprisingly, the highest grossing film of all time, adjusted for inflation, has nothing to do with superheroes. (Or, on second thought, maybe it does!) It's Gone with the Wind with adjusted earnings topping $3.7 billion. You just can't beat the classics, can you?


This whole Hollywood Rainbow-Chasing thing is what I call Reflections from Corporate America where all good things are subjugated to the almighty bottom line. If it shows a profit, it's a valuable, beloved, and cherished film classic. If not, it's a dog.


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available in eBook, paperback, and hardcover formats at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack

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