Tinsel And Carbon Paper

Observatory, The Arts

It never gets any easier. I am now in the middle of my career, thirty five published books and an uncountable number of unmade film scripts in, and nothing changes; writers complain that the genre is disrespected, there are no great new stories, films are terrible, good novels fail to be published while trash sells millions, (have you tried reading ‘The Lost Symbol’? There are more intriguingly written boiler manuals), publishers are idiots and so on. I’ve never met a writer without some kind of complaint. I try not to do it too much.

However, there’s one area that still bugs me. Screenplays. I suppose in the last twenty years I’ve written about a hundred including rewrites – for mates, for first-time directors, for would-be and wannabe producers, and not one has been made into a film, mainly because of the insanely complex financial set-up of British productions, and the Machiavellian manoeuvering of Hollywood studios (and, to be fair, I probably don’t have the right mindset now).

Paramount produced about fifteen screenplays of my novel ‘Rune’ before binning it. The ‘Roofworld’s script passed through the hands of at least twenty different directors and exists in dozens of script versions, but remains in limbo. ‘Psychoville’ collapsed at the start of production. ‘Spanky’ folded when director Guillermo Del Toro pulled out. When it comes to a film version, each novel has its own peculiar history of mishap and heartbreak. Michael Marshall Smith, a writer I admire, entered his own personal hell when he sold his novel ‘Spares’ to Steven Spielberg’s production company. The film was never made, but it was ripped off (although not by Mr Spielberg).

Because, although it’s something nobody speaks about, Hollywood is very good at catching trends on the rebound. Remember ‘Fungus the Bogeyman’? Did you think of him when ‘Shrek’ appeared? How about Roger Dean’s ‘Yes’ album covers? Have you seen ‘Avatar’? How about ‘Adam Link’ and ‘I, Robot’?

Well, it’s probably not conscious copying and it probably doesn’t matter. Perhaps one should accept homages gracefully. All we can do as writers is try to be as original as possible – and wait for someone to pay tribute, even if they don’t pay cash.

Fungus The Bogeyman

Fungus The Bogeyman



Adam Link

Adam Link

I, Robot

I, Robot




13 comments on “Tinsel And Carbon Paper”

  1. I.A.M. says:

    When looking for visual story-telling techniques for the stage, I thought it wise to ‘steal’ from cinema, for the reasons that 1) the audience would recognize the ‘vocabulary’ and therefore understand what was happening; and 2) the movies ripped off the stage for all its techniques years ago, so why not carry out a sort-of karmic retribution?

    As you say: bet to think it the ‘sincerest form of flattery,’ else you’ll go spare.

  2. Avatar is a literal potboiler. It’s nothing but a soup of “influences”. The main story, for what it is, looks remarkably like Cailleteau and Vatine’s series of graphic novels Aquablue, its fauna is Roger Dean and thinly disguised Earth fauna. But then again, Cameron has never been very adept at scripts. Terminator looked so much like Harlan Ellison’s Soldier that money changed hands and a note of thank you was belatedly added to the end credits of the film. Titanic owed a lot to the event itself, but also to the previous films, especially A Night to remember.

    And most Hollywood films seem to have to conform to a preexistant set of rules which make it compulsory to have some scenes (the giant slide is one) and some “themes” (second chance, father/son issues and other such tripe). It’s illuminating and a little sickening, when Hollywood adapts some film previously made in other countries, to see the preposterous and bowdlerizing changes a perfectly decent script has to endure in order to be deemed fit for the Dream Factory…

  3. “Pre-existing”. I got mixed up between French and English. I’ll proceed to bed at once.

  4. Helen Martin says:

    Don’t stop, Patrick, you were just going strong. One remark, though, Chris, with regard to Shrek. That is adapted from a picture book of the same name from a generation ago. I don’t remember the author, but I have seen the book and Shrek there looks pretty much the way he does in the film. They added a lot to it, but it was definitely that book. I haven’t checked to see if there’s a credit for it in the film.

  5. Steve says:

    Whoa, that Yes cover – instant time machine. Hadn’t even thought about Yes in lo, these many years. I’d seen them with Patrick Moraz and Rick Wakeman both. Amazing shows for the time.

  6. Mike Cane says:

    Bah to Hollywood. Books are superior to film. There. I said it.

    Merry Christmas and a Happy 2010 to you and yours, Christopher!

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Of course books are superior. Where would the movies be without books to adapt and authors to corrupt?

  8. Steve says:

    Hear hear!

  9. I.A.M. says:

    Avatar may make Star Wars look like a Chaplin Film, but now Chaplin will make Avatar look like Star Wars: CBC Arts story “Chaplin’s Tramp to become 3-D cartoon” http://bit.ly/5vs3qX

  10. Like Shrek, great movies!

  11. Wilford Urtz says:

    also Like Shrek movies, super animation movie.

  12. Hi, I love the Shrek movies, super film!

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