Ask a Book Question, Screening Room

Ask a Book Question: The Twenty-third in a Series (Bringing a Book to Hollywood)

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.
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Literary Hollywood

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."
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Do-Te-Do Do-Te-Do

I saw an incredible movie on Friday night, The Triplets of Belleville. It's a very odd French, animated film. Barely two words are spoken the entire film; instead it is all raucous song and a canvas that is blissfully full of movement and energy. It was a joy to watch. Here's the trailer.More WoodyAs was discussed in the comments of my recent "bookfinding" post, it turns out that all three of Woody Allen's humor collections are available in a single volume entitled Complete Prose of Woody Allen. Or they were available, anyway. This one appears to be out of print, although used copies are for sale. Meanwhile, Ms. Millions has been attempting to read Without Feathers and has been unable to get very far because she can't stop laughing. Every time I look over she's silently guffawing, too winded to hold the book in front of her face. It reminds me of that old Monty Python skit about the world's deadliest joke.