When I lived in Washington, DC, I remember there being a slew of excitement in the local newspapers and in local bookstores when a book like Primary Colors came out. Local interest is a big seller in books, especially when there’s scandal involved. Here in Los Angeles this means that books about Hollywood get top billing, and there are lots of them on the local bestseller lists at any given time. They come in a few different flavors. There’s the now-we-can-finally-make-all-those-juicy-stories-public, recent-history-of-Hollywood books. These books come out a generation or so after the action depicted in the book takes place. The main players have either died or they no longer wield any power so their stories are fair game for the reading public. Connie Bruck’s biography of Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman, When Hollywood Had a King and A. Scott Berg’s biography of Katherine Hepburn, Kate Remembered are two recent examples. Then there’s the down-in-the-trenches, you-have-to-be-there-to-really-get-it, borderline-inside-joke, behind-the-scenes-entertainment-industry-workplace-dramas. Take David Rensin’s book The Mailroom, which, as far as I can tell, you would only want to read for one of two reasons. You once worked in Hollywood mailroom and you want to reminisce about those high-energy, low-pay days back before you became a high-powered agent, or you desperately want to become a high-powered agent and you want to read up about what it’s like in the mailroom, your first step on the road to glitz and glamour. Finally there is the true story thinly disguised as fiction like producer Robert Cort’s recent novel, Action!. I got to thinking about all of this Hollywood literature because of a recent review by Caryn James in the New York Times that assesses the latest crop of Hollywood lit. (LINK). Wading through big-selling tell-alls like Peter Biskind’s Down and Dirty Pictures and Joe Eszterhas’ Hollywood Animal and all the rest, she finds a novel that transcends the Hollywood genre in The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters and also mentions that when it comes to books about Hollywood, The Day of the Locust by Nathaniel West is “unsurpassed.”
Rick writes in wanting to know how he can lay the groundwork for a big-screen version of a bestselling novel.Does anybody know if (or how to find out if) someone has the motion picture rights to Leon Uris' novel Trinity? Any help would be appreciated. ThanksI can't tell you all how pleased I was to see this question in my inbox. I was beginning to worry that the year I spent getting coffee and wearing a jaunty headset at a Hollywood agency had gone to waste. Luckily in between my important duties as a glorified (and grossly under-compensated) secretary, I was able to glean some actual knowledge about the entertainment industry. Even more luckily, I will most likely never work in said industry again. As I was saying, though, there are ways to find out if anyone owns the film rights to a particular book, and if so, who. It basically involves persistent phone calls in which each person you talk to tells you to call another person, who tells you to call another person, and so on. And while I am not, at the moment, inclined to do the leg work, (although Trinity would make a great movie), I can at least tell you who to call first. Begin with the Writers Guild, also known as the WGA. Typically you can call them with the name of a writer, and they can tell you which agent represents that writer (bear in mind, however, that if you give them more than one name they are liable to get very snotty very quickly.) You can then call the agent and begin fishing for the pertinent names and numbers, though it may take a week or two to get past his or her assistant. They are, as I once was, tenacious buggers. If this route fails, try calling the publisher, in this case Bantam or whichever conglomerate currently owns that imprint. Once you get someone on the phone who sounds helpful (and they will typically be more helpful than the Hollywood types), try to get the digits of whichever literary agent or lawyer handles Mr. Uris' estate. Which brings me to another point, since Mr. Uris passed away last year, you will be dealing with his estate, which may make things more complicated. Finally, be aware that figuring out who owns which rights to which book at what price can often be a laborious and Byzantine process, especially in the case of a book like Trinity, the rights to which, as a decades old bestseller, have probably changed hands a number of times. It's because of these complexities that many of the bigger Hollywood agencies have a full-time employee whose responsibility is sorting out these rights issues. Still, if you have a dream, a vision, and a little bit of dough, none of these impediments should hinder you. Good luck, and feel free to let us know how things turn out.
The Swedish-language film adaption of Stieg Larsson's worldwide bestseller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo should be out on this side of the pond in the next few months, but Sony has also recently optioned rights for an American version. MTV's blog speculates on American actresses who might get a casting call to try for the role of Larsson's heroine, Lisbeth Salander. They don't mention the inevitable Kristen Stewart, but the Telegraph does. Oh, the cognitive dissonance of having Bella Swan play Salander. I'm with MTV: Shannyn Sossamon's the girl for the job. ray ban outlet cheap ray ban sunglasses ray ban sunglasses sale
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As many of you no doubt have read in the trades (Wait, you don't read the trades? What town do you live in, anyway?), Stephen Gaghan, the writer of such sprawling, multi-narrative films as Traffic and Syriana, is set to adapt Malcolm Gladwell's latest quasi-scientific non-fiction potboiler, Blink (IMDb). Anyone who's read the book can tell you, it ain't going to be easy. Blink follows no central character, takes place in a multitude of settings, and covers such diverse topics as law enforcement, ancient art, and advertising.On the surface, this seems like pure folly, destined to lead to a Charlie Kaufman-esque exercise in navel gazing and postmodern self-reference. This Variety article seems to support this claim (By the way, check out the gaudy sum of money Gladwell pockets in this deal). According to the article, Leonardo DiCaprio is set to star as a jury selection expert who has a sixth sense about people based on first impressions. If that ends up as the plot of the film, it would be the worst adaptation since The Lawnmower Man (IMDb).But the more I thought about it, the more Gaghan seemed like the right choice, maybe the only choice, to adapt the book; furthermore, the book seemed like the perfect project for him. His last time out, Gaghan took two or three paragraphs from Robert Baer's CIA memoir See No Evil and turned it into a two hour feature film that dealt with practically every aspect of the oil industry. The finished project looked so different from the book that it was nominated for the Academy Award in the best original screenplay category (The official credit says that the book "suggested" the movie, whatever that means). Putting his three major scripts in perspective, it would seem that Stephen Gaghan has hit upon a new and arguably better way to adapt non-fiction to the screen. He doesn't aim to duplicate every twist of plot, every detail of character, but rather to hone in on the theme, the mood, and the message of whatever material he's adapting and to riff on it. The result is a movie that works on the same level as the book, discussing the same subjects with a similar tone, but also functions as a work of art separate from its original source material. While this wouldn't have worked for, say, The Godfather ("What? Why is Sonny's character now combined with Fredo's?"), it seems like the only way to tackle a book like Blink. Maybe if Charlie Kaufman had taken this approach, there might actually have been a film version of The Orchid Thief.
This Reuters article describes how the British publishing house, Jonathan Cape, was forced to release Ian McEwan's new novel, Saturday, early because the Evening Standard broke a publicity embargo and ran an interview two weeks to soon. Naturally, other newspapers, not wanting to be scooped by the Standard, also ran stories about McEwan's book too early. Suddenly, Saturday was getting tons of press, but the books weren't in stores, and now Bertelsmann's Random House, which owns Jonathan Cape, wants the Standard to pay for the lost revenue that resulted from the runaway publicity chain reaction. The subtext to all of this, especially if you consider the story in light of the creation of the new made-for-tv Quill Awards, is that publishing companies, most of which are now owned by media conglomerates, are trying to market and sell books in the same way they might market and sell movies or music. In Hollywood, the financial success of many a film is determined by the opening weekend, or even the opening night, and all the marketing resources go towards getting people into the movie theatre on the opening weekend. The primary - though unstated - purpose of awards shows is to convince people to see the movies or buy the music that is being honored, not simply to honor it. My experience as a bookseller tells me that books don't work this way. The book is the ultimate "word of mouth" product. The desire to read a good book is many times more likely to be initiated by a recommendation from a trusted fellow reader (or bookseller) than by a piece of clever marketing or even a prominent review. It's my opinion that publishers shouldn't be pushing for the huge first week numbers - forcing a book to boom or bust - but they should give books a chance to survive and thrive on their own merits... the way McEwan's last book, Atonement, did.
A Japanese movie based on the Haruki Murakami story "Tony Takitani" will get a US release this summer, according to this report. The film will have its North American debut at Sundance this Sunday. Meanwhile the Village Voice says Murakami's new book Kafka on the Shore "is so strange that even its chestnuts take on an air of mystery."An excerpt from Campo Santo, a travelogue of Corsica by the late WG Sebald, is up at the Guardian. The book will be out in the US in March.I'm still curious about the two novels coming out this year that will have illustrated or photographic components: Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. How will these illustrative elements be presented? Will they add to or take away from the reading experience? A blogger reading the German translation of Queen Loana describes the book as "over 500 densely printed pages sprinkled through with images, reproductions of art, old magazine covers, pictures of everyday household objects from the 30s and 40s, etc., etc. Basically, a sort of menagerie of Eco's childhood." For what it's worth, 137 pages in, she isn't very impressed with the book. I know that review copies of Extremely Loud are circulating, so maybe we'll hear more about that one soon.
As most readers of The Millions will undoubtedly be aware, Jack Kerouac's On The Road is not so much a book as a sociological event. One of the most polarising works in the whole of the American literary canon, its cultural resonance continues to endure, and for many -- the bohemian, the backpacker, the dropout, the hipster -- it remains a sacred text. However, as well as being a work of great literary and cultural import, On The Road holds the dubious distinction of having made a journey to the big screen as tortured and as fractured as any other book one might care to mention. It has taken a total of 55 years, and almost as many screenwriters, to finally convert Kerouac's vision of “an anywhere road for anybody anyhow” to film. A cinematic adaptation of On The Road has been in the works almost since the day it was published. In late 1957, a matter of weeks after the novel's appearance, Warner Brothers offered $110,000 for the motion-picture rights. At the news that Paramount and actor Marlon Brando were similarly interested, Kerouac's agent attempted to incite a bidding war, and Kerouac himself wrote a letter to Brando imploring him to purchase the rights and co-star in it with him: “I visualize the beautiful shots could be made with the camera on the front seat of the car showing the road (day and night) unwinding into the windshield, as Sal and Dean yak...You play Dean and I'll play Sal (Warner Bros. mentioned I play Sal) and I'll show you how Dean acts in real life.” Nothing came of Kerouac's request, with Brando supposedly believing On The Road to be too “loose” for a Hollywood makeover. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers refused to meet the agent's asking price of $150,000. A year later, a screenplay consultation with Twentieth-Century Fox was arranged, during which producer Jerry Wald insisted on the idea of Dean Moriarty perishing in a violent climax at the close of the movie. A somewhat cynical way of cashing in on the recent real life death of James Dean, this proposed ending was unacceptable to Kerouac, who terminated the consultation. In 1958, Kerouac agreed to sell On The Road's film rights to a small film studio for just $25,000, but not long later the studio went bankrupt. By 1960, the American media machine had grown tired with On The Road's slow progress towards the screen, and in October of that year, CBS began airing a new television series called Route 66. The show was a not-so-thinly-veiled capitalisation on Kerouac's hugely popular novel, featuring a pair of young American males (“Todd” and “Buzz”) roaming the interstate in search of adventure: In one episode, a dreamy 'Buzz' declared “...you live it the way you feel it. When it moves, you go with it...I been looking ever since I can remember.” After it aired, Kerouac tried to sue the producers of Route 66 for plagiarism, but was advised by lawyers that such a lawsuit was destined to fail. Towards the end of the '60s, the film rights to On The Road fell into the hands of independent film-maker D. A. Pennebaker, who had just found fame with his groundbreaking Bob Dylan documentary, Dont Look Back. However, Pennebaker quickly decided that -- beyond an opening scene featuring the various characters sitting in a parking lot -- he had no idea how to make the film. In 1969, following a long descent into isolation and alcoholism, Kerouac passed away. Interest in an On The Road adaptation waned. It wasn't until 1979, when the film rights were purchased by Francis Ford Coppola, that On The Road looked set for the screen again. However, what followed was 30 more years of frustration, confusion, and discarded scripts. Coppola's struggle to turn the novel into a workable screenplay -- involving aborted collaborations with around a dozen separate writers, as well as a brief flirtation with the idea of shooting the whole thing on black-and-white 16mm film -- is well-documented. Even Coppola himself had a try: “I tried to write a script,” he said in 2007, “but I never knew how to do it.” Fast-forward to 2012 then, and, finally, a cinematic adaptation of Jack Kerouac's On The Road has been written, shot, edited, and packaged, and is set for release towards the end of May. A trailer has even been released, and the film itself selected to compete for the coveted Palme d'Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. The team who have finally pulled off this once-seemingly-impossible artistic feat is an interesting one: Walter Salles, the director, was hired by Coppola after he saw Salles' 2004 Che Guevara biopic, The Motorcycle Diaries -- Salles, incidentally, calls On The Road “a book that's had a very deep impact on my life.” Meanwhile, screenwriter Jose Rivera -- who collaborated with Salles on The Motorcycle Diaries, receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay in the process -- started out as a playwright, and has studied under Gabriel García Márquez. So, after such a long and difficult journey to the big screen, what are the main existential challenges faced by Salles' film, its possible pitfalls? And, conversely, what opportunities can this adaptation grasp; what absences might it fill? Can On The Road still mean anything in 2012? If so, what? And how? 1. Pitfalls From Language To Image? A large part of On The Road's powerful and ongoing appeal undoubtedly stems from the lyricism of its language -- as opposed to its linearity, or even narrative coherence. Translating this to the screen could quite simply be impossible. Indeed, one suspects it is the reason that, up till now, so many screenwriters have failed in turning Kerouac's text into visual form. Influential film critic Robert Stam might lament the fact that many adaptations are judged strictly against the “fundamental narrative, thematic, and aesthetic features of [their] literary source[s],” but that is undoubtedly the way of things. And as seen in other adaptations of challenging texts, such as Mrs. Dalloway (1997) or Ulysses (1967), even when an idiosyncratic style is converted to the screen with great care and attention, the success is rarely total. To quote Regina Weinreich, in her essay “Can On The Road Go On The Screen?” (from What’s Your Road, Man?): ...many critiques of the novel cite its episodic structure as a failing. In terms of a film, the key scenes on the road in a moving American landscape, in a jazz club, at Old Bull Lee's, would have to be made visual in an extended narrative...The novel resolved those aesthetic issues in its language, in its use of repetition, of key phrases triggering verbal riffs, in Kerouac's expansion of language as a storytelling medium...Can the medium of film be stretched in the manner in which On The Road expanded narrative possibilities for literary fiction? Dead As History? It might seem like an odd point to make -- considering plenty of films set hundreds if not thousands of years ago are made every year -- but it is possible that, as far as cinema is concerned, On The Road is (uniquely) out of date. The novel made a splash in 1957 because it tapped into a generation's growing sense of restlessness and existential yearning -- not to mention because it rebelled against the stuffy, conformist atmosphere of the post-war era. Now, 55 years on, while the novel might still succeed on other levels, there's no denying that its content seems far less transgressive. As Kerouac scholar John Leland states in Why Kerouac Matters, “We're no longer shocked by the sex and drugs. The slang is passé and at times corny.” Is there a risk, then, that On The Road's reference points (not to mention mise-en-scène) will render its adaptation a dispatch from a cultural milieu long since past? Kerouac's text is intimately involved with its highly tangible present; its power lies in its immediacy, its urgency. But this is 55 years later, and half of America's 20-somethings have done a coast-to-coast road trip. On The Road is about the “now in this exact minute” -- but that now is now very much then. On the other hand, to utilise an atmosphere of glossy mid-century nostalgia -- such as that so effectively deployed by ABC's Mad Men -- would be highly disingenuous towards the text. Is a retrospective telling, therefore, perhaps destined to be a diminished one? 2. Opportunities Plot Found While On The Road is undoubtedly a frenetic, challenging story -- Kerouac himself assured Brando, in that 1957 letter, that he “[knew] to compress and re-arrange the plot a bit to give a perfectly acceptable movie-type structure” -- Salles and Rivera appear to have struck on what might be a way to tell it. Rivera says he has based the screenplay on the novel's multi-layered theme of “finding a father.” While a departure from the novel, this at least sounds like something which might convert into a story arc, and give it some cinematic shape. It also ties into (one of) the true heart(s) of the novel, and would suggest, thankfully, that we are to receive a film that is about more than sex, drugs, and driving. Furthermore, Rivera has based much of the script on material collected by director Salles during his meticulous retracing of Kerouac's route across America, and his interviewing of Beat figures including Carolyn Cassidy, Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, and Diane di Prima. Both men, in other words, have done their research. Salles, meanwhile, is encouragingly bullish about the notion that the film is in any way out of date: This is the journey of a group of young men...who confronted a society that was very impermeable at the time...Those were the McCarthy years -- the Beats collided against a social and political reality that was defined by the culture of fear. It's not very different from what we live in now. At that time, you'd hear: "Don't do this! Don't do that! The Reds are coming. The Atomic bomb!" Now we hear, "The terrorists are coming. Don't do this! Don't do that!" It's the same state of terror. So the theme of On the Road is more contemporary today than it was 10 years ago. It gives you the possibility to understand today's America by jumping 50 years in the past. Cinema Loves a Road Movie An obvious one, but it's true. Cinema might not have a great record when it comes to adapting Kerouac movies for the screen -- witness not just On The Road's crooked journey, but the travesty that was The Subterraneans (1960) -- but it does have a great history of producing good road movies. Films such as Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and Easy Rider (1969) are hardwired into the psyche of cinema. The ideal of The Road -- with its connotations of exploration, pioneership, and personal freedom -- is such a generally appealing one that the term “road trip” is part of common usage. And while Kerouac's winding and delirious prose might be a challenge for the camera, sweeping shots of gleaming convertibles beneath a Midwest sunset aren't. Nor -- and it was one of the reasons Kerouac himself was so fond of cinema -- is the depiction of live music, including jazz. Indeed, images such as “Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety -- leaning into it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world,” seem almost made for the screen. Kerouac wanted it to be a film This might seem like something of a maudlin justification, but the fact is that Kerouac wanted On The Road made. Badly. Kerouac was a great lover of cinema -- his personal letters are filled with praise for various films -- and some of his writing spills over fully into cinematic-like writing. For example, in the “Joan Rawshanks In The Fog” section of his novel Visions of Cody (1972), the narrative focus explicitly takes on the role of a camera, and its rhythm that of a screenplay. Indeed, even in 1959, while his agent was wrangling over the rights to On The Road, Kerouac was adapting and providing a voiceover for the bizarre but surprisingly popular Beat film Pull My Daisy (1959). And in chapter 13 of On The Road, Sal and Dean actually go to Hollywood -- where Sal declares “Everybody had come to make the movies, even me.” Ultimately, some Kerouac fans might feel that -- even 55 years later, and despite the author's lifelong sensitivity regarding the nature of the adaptation -- On The Road is due for the screen. The Beat Renaissance You could debate whether this is a blessing or a curse, but 2012's On The Road adaptation would seem to tap into a recent (and ongoing) renaissance of Beat material. In 2007, the novel's 50th anniversary, Viking published the “original version” of the novel, as typed by Kerouac on a 120-foot-long scroll. Over the next two years, the scroll itself went on a lengthily intentional tour. Meanwhile, in 2010, Allen Ginsberg's Howl -- the other chief text of the Beat generation -- received an interesting and experimental cinematic makeover, with James Franco making an excellent Ginsberg. Further still, as you read this, an adaptation of Kerouac's last (and desperately sad) novel, Big Sur, is in the final stages of post-production. It won't ultimately affect the quality of the film -- and even the casual cynic could see this timing as less serendipity, and more hard-headed commercialism of the sort that Kerouac diehards detest -- but at least Salles' On The Road is appearing at a fitting moment, when it would appear it has a wave to ride, and some wider interest to tap into. After all, if On The Road is to continue to have a cultural legacy, then what it needs more than anything is exposure.
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