Monday, December 19, 2011

Sweat, Sh*t and Stuffing Brown Paper Towels Down Your Armpits

So I've been taking 'Hollywood' meetings for my Calliope Reaper-Jones book series.  People that might (but probably don't) want to turn my prose into a TV show. It's been a real learning experience...mostly I've learned that no one wants a book author involved in the process of turning said book series into a movie and/or TV show.  They just want to take the books, give you a little cash (or the promise of a little cash) and then tell you to piss off. 

For me, the whole point of this hope exsanguinating process is to get my foot in the door of the TV show making machine (as a neophyte TVwriter/producer/someday Showrunner) and to keep a little of the original tone of the books intact...but even that (the tone part) is negotiable.  I really just want to make stuff and this seemed (at least in the beginning) like a good way to get myself in the game.

But the more I delve into this world, the odder I find it.  There are soooooooooooo many people making decisions about development.  Not just some big mucky-muck (like Orson Welles at the end of the original - and much better than The Muppets - Muppet Movie) sitting behind a giant desk, sucking on a cigar and pronouncing things like " it!" and "Get this girl a standard contract!"

Instead, there are small fish Development Executives (that give you notes which ultimately conflict completely with the notes their boss will eventually give you), Mid-Level Development Executives, Vice-Presidents in Charge of Development, Presidents in Charge of just seems like there is an endless supply of people and hoops you have to jump through in order to get anything done.

Of course, everyone is very nice during the process.  They offer you water, coffee, tea...Advil.  They direct you down movie poster-covered hallways to waiting offices and smile benignly when you ask for the ladies room.  It's a sterile and serene experience with no real interactions to speak of (except the one time I pitched the books to my friend, Stacey, which was a fun and much less stressful experience).

Everyone seems to like what you're saying - even if they really don't - and then you're done and dazedly heading to the parking lot with an hour long validation on your parking ticket.

Now I have to admit that the pitch process scares the crap out of me...I get nervous, start sweating profusely from every sweat gland on my body - I once sweat so badly I had to go to the bathroom and stuff scratchy, brown paper towels down into my armpits to soak up the salty sludge - and, finally, just before I go in and start talking, my stomach begins to cramp like a son-of-a-bitch.

So all of the above makes me predispositioned not to enjoy the whole thing anyway...but it's more than just the fight or flight body responses that make me dislike the pitch process.

What bugs me is the fact that everyone just wants a goddamned procedural...a body of the week to keep them satisfied and, frankly, they don't care how they get it.

My books...they're not procedurals...yes, there are some mystery aspects to the plotting, but no body of the week.  My books, if they were to be a TV show, would be like Ugly Betty crossed with Bewitched.  Silly, funny, New Girl-like, really. (And, yes, I am listening to She and Him as I write this, so bite me.)

Instead, everyone I meet in Hollyweird wants me to rehash Dead Like Me, a show that I loved and that Bryan Fuller already did - and did REALLY WELL.  They want my Death's Daughter chasing dead people all around Manhattan, parceling out wisdom and solving body issues...dead body issues.

And they don't want me involved in doing any of it...well, I can watch the show when it's out with the Nielsen numbers.



  1. Makes me kind of glad I just work in a call centre...

  2. I think there's a desperation in the suits to prove that they're creative too. And they aren't.

  3. You're talking about the American way of handling things right now...

    Did you ever think of trying to sell it to, for example British TV (heard good things about them) or even Dutch telly? (We do have quite a few channels that are always interested in something new and often end up selling it to many other countries) and unlike America, not everyone is JUST interested in a quick sell out of advertising space. (That's of course a main thing for every tv channel, but some markets actually require something more than the milionth remake of something to achieve that :p)

    Or else go the Felicia Day way... But that seems like a difficult thing to do :(

  4. Unfortunately I suck when it comes to the movie business and only have a vague understanding of what you said, but I'll pass on alittle grain of genius my grandmother gives to me everyday, "Tell them assholes I said don't play with my grandbaby." It makes me laugh and keep on trucking.

  5. Ok. Excuse my "French" Amber, but fuck them. It's not like you are some person randomly off the street that has zero experience in writing, acting, developing or directing. NOR is it like you have no experience in this particular genre. Yes, I would LOVE for Callie to hit the screen, however if some bozo made Callie into their own little playmate to fuck with I would be pretty pissed off.

    This is why I stopped going into media and went pre med. I used to direct and act but I said the hell with it because I would tell everyone to screw off.

    I know sometimes the pressure can be difficult, but please for the love of Cherries and bananas stick to your guns. Someone will appreciate you as a whole - as far as being a part of Callie's existence on screen IF that is where she is meant to be.

    I thoroughly apologize for the narrow minded ppl in the media business and I hope that you can find a path that will allow you to maintain control over this amazing woman and her journey.

    Also- you think pitching is bad? Try talking to medical school admissions representatives. I almost pass out every time!!!!!

  6. What about the kickstarter way? That's how they are doing Lust for Love. Do the painful math and get people to pony up for 2,4 or 6 episodes. We are no longer required to play the my way or the highway game. You have options.

    Fan and believer,
    Brandi Collins

  7. Since my creativity is limited to two unpublished novels and all I know about Hollywood is where the Chinese theater was. I have no advice but I have confidence in your judgement and wisdom. Producing three films should have given you training for this.

  8. I reckon you should come over the the UK and try the BBC. Us Brits make some good tv shows :D And more willing to step away from the 'body of the week' style of show :)

  9. The Good News: Over your dead body will you not be involved in things, by the sound of it.

    The Bad News: Aside from the obvious Dead-Like-Amber jokes, Zooey Deschanel's got The New Girl and can't be Calliope! I'll still imagine her as Death's daughter singing her own theme song. "It's Jess!" I mean... "It's Callie!"

  10. " Everyone seems to like what you're saying - even if they really don't - and then you're done and dazedly heading to the parking lot with an hour long validation on your parking ticket."

    That and they sometimes even promise you that they´ll call and then you hear... nothing. Makes you want to bang your head against the wall. So you see its not that different here in Germany and so far I´m only living from being an assistent on TV Shows (sadly only non fiction ones) yet still dreaming. And so I´ll keep my fingers crossed for you and hope you´ll go on as well even when this business sometimes wants to make you scream. The right time will come I´m sure ;-) Dont let these people get to you.. they mostly have no idea what they are doing anyway!

    Good luck!

  11. When I get really nervous while talking, very noticeable spit bubbles form on my front teeth and then I have to remove them with my tongue so I don’t start spitting on the other person. It’s super hot.

  12. Hang in there. Have you considered going it alone? Hit up Kickstarter and see if you can create a hit like Dr. Horrible did. If you build it... someone will likely tear it down, but at least you enjoyed it before the end. :-)

  13. This is where you start your own webcast and go with Kickstarter or Indie GoGo for budgeting. Ya know, 30 minutes of footage here and there :o) I say show the Hollywood one trick ponies what they're missing. You've got good stuff that should be televised, but sometimes starting small is a must to smack mainstream Hollywood in the face.
    I say start your own, an intelligent Hollywood Exec will pick it up, and I've got your back and will help out however I can! :o)

  14. There's a reason I stopped peddling my brain to Hollywood. In a word: Hollywood. So I switched to writing prose...which is a PITA because I'm a screenwriter much more than I am an author. But that's my own salt pool.

    There's a saying about H'wood that pretty much sums it up: "In Hollywood, you're going to get screwed; the time to get out is when you stop enjoying it." Still, people do find their bliss in the city of dreams. Not a ton of them, true, but whether due to luck or persistence, it does happen.

    And I realize that was no help at all. At least you aren't at square one. You are smart, have talent, and have a following. Like Odysseus, you now have to navigate treacherous seas. Just remember: when you are staring-down a lion, don't try to distract it by munching on a hamburger. It never ends well for the hamburger.

  15. May or may not be useful to you, Ms. Benson, but my friend Matt Bird has a fun series of blog posts about pitching a screenplay idea over here.

    Sounds like you're running into a lot of the same BS.

  16. What an utterly depressing read. This is why the second Dollhouse pilot was a lot less interesting than the first. What a shame that the powers that be want US TV to be so bland and predictable.

    Also, what's with the obsession with murder, America? *sigh*

  17. Joe aka AmberAddictDecember 19, 2011 at 4:10 PM

    When I read the first couple of lines I was so excited about the possibility of Calliope-Reaper TV Series/Movie I almost dropped my iPhone! I don’t understand why on earth they wouldn’t want you to be involved? After all without your wonderful source material there could be no film or TV series at all. Surely the best person to help retain the character drama, humour of the novels and help translate it to the big and or small screen is you. After all that’s what has made your books such a success and the reason why they were interested in talking to you in the first place.

    I also really enjoyed Dead Like Me however I’d hate a Callie show to be a simple rehash. As it doesn’t give your novels or Dead Like Me the respect they deserve.

    I’m delighted you are trying get into the TV industry as producer, director, creator as US TV needs someone as passionate and intelligent as you.

    Having been lucky to have met you I can’t imagine you so nervous because you are seem at ease with yourself and intelligent. I wouldn’t have thought be would nerves the but then again nerves aren’t a rational thing. I can understand at least a very small part of the situation in my old job I delivered presentations to companies on disability. I’ve been told I’m good at it and can engage people and feedback was pretty decent. As I write this I’m preparing a presentation for Wednesday I asked was to deliver a presentation for one organisation with might lead to more. I get so nervous before hand I’ll spend most of tomorrow hoping their office has to close on Wednesday at the last minute. I’m NOT trying to compare what I’m doing with your situation as your work is much more complex and you’re far more talented than I could ever be. Sorry I don’t why told you all that I started saying something about nerves I ended up rambling at you sorry.

    I’ll try and get back to the point I would love to see a Calliope Reaper-Jones TV Series/Movie however it’s going work it needs you to be on board to work. I want to get your foot in the door get make stuff. When do can have a job, I’m really good at ordering coffee think it over LOL

  18. A word of advice...

    Keep *every* note you have made during these meetings. If they give you so much as a Post-It with their "ideas" on it, keep it. Make copies of it. If you can, audio-record every meeting (take your MacBook in with you).

    That way, if a TV show comes out in a year or two with some mighty suspicious similarities to your books... you got ammo for a lawsuit. Yeah, you might not want to full-bore on all that court time... but the out-of-court settlement would be *sweet*

    Otherwise, there have to be plenty of independents out there who will happily let you indulge your vision.

  19. Disheartening news. But there has to be someone wiling to work with you on making the project closer to what you want to do.

    Distribution methods are changing, artists have more and more options. Perhaps Death's Daughter could be made into a web-series or comic.

    Good luck whatever you decide to do with it.

  20. The fact you can so eloquently describe underarm perspiration should be an indicator that you are going far!

  21. I would like to suggest that you come to the UK and see if the BBC would be interested. From what I gather they are much more hands off and get on with the business whilst the creative people get on with creating (this can be a bad thing, look at how Moffat has ruined Doctor Who), although budgets tend be in the 'nearly but not quite enough' range. Once you've got a success over here the show will cross the Atlantic to the US and get remade int he US with less BS than you're getting right now.

    Do bear in mind though that in Hollywood the writer generally has less control on the 'product' than the studio exec's pool boy's sister's pet tortoise.

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  23. I agree with Rainbow, we here in the UK are more open minded and can think long term on projects so you may find yourself getting a better deal here in good ol Blighty. Now by better it may be less in terms of cash but more in terms of overall creative control (we Brits dont have the deep pockets of our American cousins) but its a thought nonetheless.

  24. Good luck Amber, there seems to be lots of good advice in some of the comments here. Ultimately just know what you are willing to compromise on and what you aren't, and stay true to yourself at the end of the day. It's all a learning curve and I'm sure something good will come of it.

  25. Stick to your guns and trust your instincts, as I know you will. :) And tell me if you need any help. ;-)

  26. Your books are absolutely amazing, Amber. If they have any sense at all, they'll agree. You'll do fine, I promise, and remember that you have a very loyal fanbase backing you up!

  27. Sky TV in the UK comissioned several Terry Pratchett books, The Hogfather, The Colour of Magic, and Going Postal. Perhaps Sky would be interested in a Calliope Reaper-Jones film?

  28. As a fellow author I dream to one day have my work come alive but worry that if that ever happens I will not recognize my work in the end when it goes through the Hollywood treatment..Good luck with everything..

  29. It's no wonder so many writers aren't willing to sign their works over to Hollywood. I can only hope that I've sold enough novels to be independently wealthy by the time somebody wants to buy the rights ... I wonder which is most unlikely?

  30. I feel your pain... And that's the side of the industry I'm being "trained" by college to get into...

    We need more quirky shows that aren't procedurals. Maybe if you're lucky HBO or Starz or Showtime will give you a tv show. I get the feeling that they're a bit more open to having the writers of books their shows are based on being at least a little involved in the television-making process.

  31. I know it's not the exact same situation, but still close. JK Rowling was denied by a bunch of publishers at first. Think about how stupid they feel now...Don't give up

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  33. So what you're saying is that, they want to give you a little bit of money to sell them your blood sweat and tears so they can butcher it to make a shitload of money that you won't see any of!!

    Good luck with that - by the way if it doesn't feel right, tell them to hit the road. . . .

  34. Two anecdotes:

    When Dave Thomas (who had won Emmies as a writer on _SCTV_) was appearing in _Grace Under Fire_, and made soem plot suggetsions, he said the reaction was "Isn't it cute, the actor has an idea."

    And the advice of Ernest Hemingway (not sure how exact the quote is) "Go to the California state border, throw your book over it, take the money, and leave."

    You are not alone!