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The dreaded Movie Question

marlinpoo (or rather, his aunt), jules4848, and lady_pamina raised the question of movies based on my books on the Ultimate Movie Cast thread, and rather than answer it there and have it buried, knowing it's a question that comes up often and often, I thought I should answer it here.

Though I confess, you just won't get the same effect of me wailing "All my friends have movie deals!" via lj as you would if you got me in person. Of course, as people keep asking me, you also run a smaller risk of me snapping at last and leaping for your throat if you get the answer here and now, rather than risk asking me about it in person.

Yes. I get asked this one a lot.

My film agent tells me that the largest barrier to my getting a film deal is one of the things my fans like best: the fact that, for 14 of my Tortall books, and 10 of my Circle books, there is a good chance the reader will encounter friends from the earlier books. Readers of the Kel series will encounter characters from the Alanna and Daine books; readers of THE WILL OF THE EMPRESS will encounter characters from The Circle of Magic.

The feeling among moviemakers is that if Company A makes a movie based upon the Alanna books, and Company B makes a movie based on the Kel books, Company B will be profiting from all the work Company A did, for free! (Gasp! Say it's not so!) The bottom line is that unless I get J.K. Rowling-hot, so that a film company will buy an entire universe, my chances of getting a film deal are Not Good. (My other alternative is to write a stand-alone book in a brand new universe, then not write any more in that universe. Where's the fun in that?) Of course, Beka's books may stand a chance, since they don't have any characters from the other Tortall books except Pounce.

When I'm not writhing with envy, I actually don't much mind. Unless I get as big as You-Know-Who, the likelihood that I will be given any degree of control or any advisory position on a movie is zilch. Have you ever heard the woefully incorrect joke: "How do you know who's the stupidest starlet? She's dating the writer"? (And that's the writer of the movie writer.) Hollywood filmmakers are notorious for taking books and turning them inside out. Think a moment: "Eragon." "Ella Enchanted." "The Dark Is Rising." "The Golden Compass." I rest my case.

If I did make a movie deal (I can be had--movie money is VERY good), I would warn my fans not to expect to see my books on the screen. As I said above, Hollywood is notorious for changing the book in their translations. Books take place in the reader's head. No one will capture what you imagine, which is what I love about books.

So there it is: welcome to my reality. I will keep creating my movies in books and audio, when I can get them the way I like them! And who knows? Maybe someday I'll catch up with my friends. I just won't hold my breath! ;-)

Edited to correct my assumption regarding marlinpoo's gender!


( 170 comments — Leave a comment )
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Mar. 26th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
As someone in the midst of film deal happenings, I feel your pain in regards to the whole "What if Company A makes profit for free? What if there's a character from the other book? What if? What if?"
Good grief, the only thing more weird and complex than the publishing world is the film world, it seems.
Mar. 26th, 2008 11:31 pm (UTC)
the only thing more weird and complex than the publishing world is the film world, it seems.

No "seems" about it. I spent some time on the fringes of film in the 80s and have my own experiences, plus those of friends and reading to back me up. Publishing is sane and stolid compared to film! Hell, mad dog fights are sane and stolid next to film!
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Mar. 26th, 2008 11:36 pm (UTC)
how could a movie do your books justice??

Think about it--a book happens entirely in your head. Now consider translating that to the screen, or even a play. It can't be done. Peter Jackson did his best with "The Fellowship of the Ring," hewing not only to the letter, but to the spirit, of the book, and people still complain about cuts he had to make to get a film length that people would watch. If he'd gone word for word, the movie would have been something like 40 hours long.

Books take us inside characters' minds as well as give us a view of all that's said and done. A movie just can't cover it all. For the most part, the best movies are the ones that aren't based on books, because they have the freedom to do what movies do best, without trying to work off a book.

There are good movies based on books--as you say, "The Lord of the Rings" is one. "To Kill a Mockingbird" is another. But the successes are far outnumbered by the failures.

thank you for taking the time out of your busy life to post!

It wasn't a matter of virtue on my part--I'm just trying to duck the question at appearances! ;-)
mind's eye - (Anonymous) - Sep. 4th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:25 pm (UTC)
I often thought the books would be great as a TV series, since there are plenty of books to provide a good amount of shows, or a couple of one-offs like they've been doing with Terry Prachett stuff over here. Is that anything you'd ever consider, instead of having them turned into movies?
Mar. 26th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
Is that anything you'd ever consider, instead of having them turned into movies?

With the same caveat I'd give to fans waiting for a movie based on my work, that what they see on the screen won't match the movie they made in their heads as they read the book. And I doubt TV people would be any more inclined to include me in their production than movie people!
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:28 pm (UTC)
I just couldn't bring myself to watch The Seeker. Ugh. Even with Eccleston in the cast.

What I don't understand is with the success of LOTR and Narnia before them, why do they have to change the books so much? Why?

Of course, this is like asking the tides to stop.
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC)
What they did to Susan Cooper's books was disgusting and horrifying, almost as bad as what Sci-Fi did to Ursula K. Le Guin's novels. My only consolation is that the movie did horribly in the box office and hopefully ruled out any chance that they'd attempt to do the other books. Given that they ripped out all of the Athurian lore from the series, I don't even know how they could do a sequel.

Grr, that movie still pisses me off, especially since I love the books so much. If any of Tamora's books are picked up I'd pray like mad that she be the screenwriter so that she could at least keep it true to the feel of the story.
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Mar. 26th, 2008 04:29 pm (UTC)
Your point about "too big a universe" is well-made. And "JK Rowling-hot," well...surely series sustainability and fanbase must count for something...

I've wanted to see an Alanna movie since I was oh, about ten years old.

Relatedly (and in true zomg!fangirl! fashion), I wanted to play her.

::innocent look::

What? I'm 5' tall and kick ass! ;)
Mar. 26th, 2008 06:35 pm (UTC)
Ahahaha, so with you there. 5 foot as well. I'd just dye my hair, and we'd be set.
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:35 pm (UTC)
I am honestly glad your books haven't been made into movies. I am so, so so incredibly picky about books made into movies, and pretty much the only ones I can stand to see are ones I didn't like very much- hence why I have not seen a single Harry Potter movie.

Give me a good book and I'll make the movie in my head. =P
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I wouldn't mind seeing Terrier as a movie, but I can see how having the characters "cross over" in all you books would make movies more difficult.
And let's not mention those failed movie enterprises...
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:42 pm (UTC)
I actually don't want your books to be made into movies, because of those books that you mentioned. I could barely make it trough Eragon. I had to explain to the people sitting behind me why I was yelling at the screen at the end of The Golden Compass. Ella Enchanted was just ridiculous. And then there's also the disaster that is The Princess Diaries.

The truth is, Hollywood doesn't care about books. I'd much rather that a book doesn't get made into a movie, when the alternative is something like what happened with Eragon.
Apr. 4th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)
the ella enchanted movie bugged me while I watched it I kept whispering to my mom one of favorite parts in the books that they didn't have in the movie :/. alot of details It bugs me.
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
Even She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named having veto control over aspects of the films didn't stop the first two Harry Potter films from being horrible because the director was pandering and the screenwriter was slumming. Studio respect isn't enough- there has to be a core group of people who share the director's vision, like what happened with Lord of the Rings.

F'rinstance, my dream would be Terrier and sequels as a miniseries directed by Joss Whedon and co-written by you, Joss, and Jane Espenson. *sighs contentedly* It may happen one day!
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
Now THAT movie I would see!!
(no subject) - mundungus42 - Mar. 26th, 2008 07:57 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tehrussian - Mar. 26th, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
No movies based on your books is okay with me. I don't enjoy watching something I love butchered on screen (e.g. Golden Compass, V for Vendetta and most of the other comic book movies, including the up-coming Watchmen).
Mar. 26th, 2008 04:58 pm (UTC)
A butchered Tortall would wound me far more than the (sometimes) butchered HP adaptations.

I'll be pleased if it ever does come to fruition (kick ass girls are always fun to watch), but I'll be satisfied much longer with endless rereads!
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:07 pm (UTC)
Bring back the movie serial!
If I am ever tremendously wealthy, I swear I will figure out a way to fund a movie company that works directly with authors to turn their books into gorgeous movie serials. Like, why condense a 500-page book into a 90 minute (or 120 minute) movie, thereby leaving out all the good parts? I'd rather get to go to the theater every few weeks to see a book well-done in smaller pieces.

In the meanwhile, I'll keep listening to the FCA versions of your books with my eyes closed. It's not quite the same as getting a movie, but it's certainly better than having them butchered.

I find it disappointing that the only way for me to really enjoy a movie based on a book is not to have read the book before seeing the movie. (I figure this is why I liked the Spiderwick Chronicles, anyways. I doubt the movie did the books justice.)
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:11 pm (UTC)
If a movie ever DID get made out of your books (and if casting was up to you, which I know it likely wouldn't be but this is just a hypothetical), who would you want to see playing some of your MCs, just out of curiosity? I meant to ask this question for your "ideal cast" meme but forgot.
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:13 pm (UTC)
Suprisingly enough I never envisioned any of your books and live movies...

I always saw them as - dare I say it - Animated. I am not talking Disney or even Pixar here... and I am not necessarily talking MOVIE either... one of my biggest gripes with film is that it doesn't necessarily capture the whole book... I cite Harry Potter, Ergaon, Golden Compass etc... I like the depth... Fortunately your books don't fall into the catagory of a lot of internalising which is a bitch to translate to film. Personally I would LOVE to see a really decent animated series done encompassing all of the Tortall books from Alanna through Aly... or even a live TV series... okay, maybe not the money as movies, but hell there have been some pretty stunning series out there that have then spawned movies!

And animation has the advantage that it doesn't matter if your actor gets old... Jodi Benson played a 15 year old Mermaid 19 years ago, and has just released Little Mermaid 3 and is still 15! Nancy Cartwright has kept Bart Simpson 10 for 19 years too!

It would save a hell of a lot on the CG too :D
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:16 pm (UTC)
The feeling among moviemakers is that if Company A makes a movie based upon the Alanna books, and Company B makes a movie based on the Kel books, Company B will be profiting from all the work Company A did, for free! (Gasp! Say it's not so!)

Bah! That's so stupid. Batman (with Michael Keaton) was definitely no help to Batman Begins. Are these filmakers that pansy or what? If a different filmaker does the Immortals than Alanna's series, chances are pretty good that the same person wouldn't play Alanna or Jon, or Thayet. So it shouldn't be a problem. That's just an excuse, and a poor one, at that! They're all profitting off of your work anyway. It is the price of having something original on the screen rather than the same ol', same ol'.

But please don't feel bad about no movie deal yet. If it takes longer, then maybe yours will be one of the few that doesn't turn the books inside out (think Lord of the Rings). I mean they weren't the same, but certainly not unrecognizeable. Eragon, as you mentioned, hardly seemed like the same book at all.

I'm a total fan. I admit it. You probably saw a quote on my sidebar from one of your books. And I have to tell you I'd be devastated to know that your very rich characters were turned into hollywoodized versions of themselves. I'm also a Harry Potter fan, but not of the movies. The first and second were decent, the rest have been travesties. Super-Hermoine made me want to scream, and watered-down, barely-there Ron made me want to yak. Your characters seem real to me, so if Alanna didn't lose her temper at the most inopportune moment or Kel failed to defend someone smaller than herself even once, I'd be furious. And Dude! They better not mess with Numair at all. He's perfect the way you wrote him -- absent-minded, talks like he swallowed a dictionary, and oh-so loyal and gentle to those he loves -- perfect.

It can't be all that great to pour your heart into creating something only to have it stuffed, stomped, and broken in order to fit a hollywood mold. Yes, the money would be great, and you've certainly earned it. As for the Harry Potter-esque popularity, I think you're getting there. I know a lot of people who prefer your books.
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
Seeing Numair on the screen would break my little shipper's heart!
(no subject) - queensjoy - Mar. 26th, 2008 06:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 26th, 2008 05:17 pm (UTC)
If I had the money, I'd option all your books and court the hell out of studios until they made them. And since I've been a die hard fan of yours since I was 14, I'd MAKE them stay true. Yeah. Or I'd sick a spidren on them.

And I'd cast myself as Alanna. Totally.
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:30 pm (UTC)
With the Alanna series you either have to do just the first book, or all four. If you do all four you have the issues of character aging which is very important to the book. If you do just the first book, I don't know if there is enough to the book for a Hollywood film. Hollywood films tend to be lots of action or comedy. I can just see Alanna turned into a comedic piece of tripe like other movies that have been out about a girl cross dressing as a guy. The books while complete in themselves, are also rather dependent on each other, which again makes it more difficult to make just one movie. And an agency is not going to risk a multi-movie deal unless you have a huge fan base already like JK.
Mar. 27th, 2008 04:24 am (UTC)
Actually, I suspect some companies would probably use books one and two to develop one movie, with a lot of cutting, and focusing on the action. Because you're absolutely right, there's not quite enough for development in book one if you're developing a Hollywood film.
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)
It's funny that you should post this today, as just last night my friend and I were complaining that we REALLY wish your books would be made into movies because we really wanted to make/watch fanvids. Our personal favorite wishes would be a Dove vid to Iron and Wine's "Woman King," Roger to Johnny Cash's cover of "Personal Jesus," or Kel to Presidents of the USA's "Lump."

I suppose we could do them with pictures of the pages, but it's lacking some sense of excitement.

On a totally unrelated note, I am exploding with joy and excitement and anticipation for your "Johnny Can't Read" panel at Penguicon.
Mar. 26th, 2008 05:40 pm (UTC)
I sympathize with most of the others who've posted here - as an avid fan of your books since age 11, it would break my heart to see them realized incorrectly on film. On the flip side, I'm also a filmmaker, and ever since I decided I wanted to make movies, when I was 14, I've lived in terror that they would turn your books into movies before I could. Same goes for Garth Nix's Sabriel, though somehow don't see that being in as great a danger. Totally broke my heart that I didn't get to do His Dark Materials, but I guess I'll get over it. ;-)

So, my question is, as a burgeoning filmmaker who really doesn't care about the stress of Hollywood (other people can indirectly make money off the work I do, so long as I get what's due from the direct work), how would I go about getting the rights to your movie? Admittedly, this would be a little in the future, when I have ANY money to speak of, as at the moment, I'm graduating from college and nigh broke, so the chances of me making the movies I write are still slim at this point.
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(no subject) - cardboard_elf - Mar. 27th, 2008 06:14 am (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 26th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
girls can see movies about boys but boys can't go see movies about girls. our culture is still hooked on the double-standard.

*nods* I can't even get most of my male co-workers to read a book where there's a female protagonist for our book club. It doesn't matter if I'm trying to push Jane Eyre, Offred, Francie Nolan, or Thursday Next; as soon as they find out the hero is a shero, four of my five semi-regular guys say they won't be attending that discussion.


Like Tammy said, it could never match up to the way characters and locations have always looked in my mind. (I do, however, readily concede that they'd probably be much better.) Especially the characters, I'm afraid ... I have mentally cast actors in some of these parts, and if anyone else was cast -- even if s/he was Tammy's first choice -- I'd probably sulk (after paying the full-price admission to support Tammy, of course).
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Mar. 26th, 2008 06:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Mar. 26th, 2008 06:19 pm (UTC)
I vote for animation. Look at how well obscure and stilted japanese anime is accepted in the USA. Actual stories done for the US would have to do even better. And computer 2D animation is pretty simple and quick compared 3D and film.

I wouldn't expect any chance for theater distribution though, not at first. Best chance would be direct to DVD internet sales and possibly Cartoon Channel or Nickelodeon Cable TV showings. They need content, you need exposure.
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Mar. 26th, 2008 06:20 pm (UTC)
I would still get amazingly excited over a Tamora Pierce movie even though I know it would never match up to the characters and world that have been playing in my head since I was 10. Even listening to the full cast audio recordings can be quite jarring sometimes when their voices don't match up to my own, which, being from England, don't have American accents. :P

The last time I reread The Circle of Magic quartet it struck me that it would make a good film, but again film companies can massacre books. Even when Antony Horowitz tried to keep his Alex Rider books away from the whole Hollywood thing his book was warped into some cheap representation of the original.

In my opinion the best translations of books to films have been the ghibli versions of Howl's Moving Castle and Tales from Earthsea. They haven't stuck religiously to the books but they've made them to their style and made good, if different, stories out of them.
Mar. 26th, 2008 07:00 pm (UTC)
Unless you get lucky and get a director who will take your advice on everything... or lets you be the actual screenwriter. xP Not too likely though, is it?

Which is a shame. It would be amazing to see even one of your books pulled off on screen.

But yeah, books are always better than the movie. And in Eragon's case... *shudders*
Mar. 27th, 2008 09:43 pm (UTC)
Not too likely though, is it?

I ain't holdin' MY breath!
(no subject) - pearly_dreams - Mar. 28th, 2008 07:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 26th, 2008 07:01 pm (UTC)
I always want to see my favourite books on the big screen but then I remember how terribly they get butchered by Hollywood and realise that the way I see them in my head is much better.

Hollywood doesn't seem to realise that the thing that makes the books they buy to turn into movies so popular are the parts that they seem determined destroy - either by cutting them out completely or changing so much that it's no longer recognisable.

The only books that I can think of off the top of my head that have been turned into movies correctly are the Lord of the Rings series. And the only reason I think those work is because they were made by people who have been in love with the books for years. They knew how well loved the books were and didn't want to destroy them for other fans. The changes they did make, made sense because they were making a film, and yes there are things that are good for books that just don't work in a film, but every change Peter Jackson etc made was well thought out and a lot of care was taken over it.

Hollywood doesn't care about the books they are buying up. They just want the money. They don't seen to have noticed that the best film based on a book in recent history (and I am talking fantasy/sci-fi here) was made by people who lived and breathed Tolkien. The ones that have done badly are the ones that they have just thrown together.

I'd suggest that even the Harry Potter films have been butchered even with JKR's input. Those involved in those films seem to have taken the view that the films don't need to be coherent because pratically everyone has read the books. The best example being Prisoner of Azkaban, where they managed to remove pretty much the entire backstory surrounding Harry's dad and his friends (and enemies).

I'd only allow your books to be made if the screenwriter, director, producer, etc are all fans and would rather die than destroy the story you have created.
Mar. 26th, 2008 07:08 pm (UTC)
I have to agree with you Tammy, as much as I would love to see my favorite Tortall characters come to life on the big screen, it's hard to imagine film company wanting to get themselves into the complexitites (no matter how wonderful) of the whole series. But, like you said, maybe there's hope for Beka!
And, when you mentioned the disasters of "Ella Enchanted" and "Eragon", I definitely cringed, I would never want that to happen to your lovely Alanna, Daine, Kel, or Aly.
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