At the time, I was in the middle of a home renovation in order to sell our emptied nest. I thought I had too much wax in my ears to hear exactly what my literary agent was telling my over all the hammering that our psycho handyman was doing in the kitchen, so I laughed and said, “Yeah right sure. Call me when you have the paperwork in front of you.”
She did. Of course I said “I’m in.”
We put the house on the market the week the stock market hit its lowest figure in twenty years. The offers didn’t exactly flow in, despite the fact that we’d just dumped thirty thou of our savings sprucing up the joint.
As we twiddled our thumbs waiting on a buyer, my mind floated to what Jerry might be doing with my characters in order to pitch them to television networks.
I am blessed in that I have enough novelist pals who have had a call from Hollywood and share their experiences with me. In fact, options have already happened to a couple of my MSW co-bloggers. (I’m guessing that it will happen to a few more. We all write great stories, with fun characters.)
Hearing their experienceswas a great way to know what to expect–and not to expect–from this process. Here’s the consensus:
1. The producer owns the story, lock stock and barrel.
Unless you already a best-selling author like Charlaine Harris (True Blood) or Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games) chances are there are certain terms that are non-negotiable. For example, no murder takes place in Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives. However, the pilot script originally written by the showrunner (hands-on writer/producer, and writer/manager) chosen by Mr. Bruckheimer’s television division decided that adding a murder would bring a focal point to all the “dirty little secrets” exposed on the show. In one regard, I was disappointed that they felt a murder was needed. I mean, the book’s readers have let me know that they found enough in the plot to keep them loving and hating certain characters, so JB (the OTHER JB, since I’m JB, too) should be happy with how they feel….right?
Wrong. He wanted the right to pitch a story–yes, based on my characters–that he felt would sell to a network. A network–ABC–bought the concept. His concept of the story.
Which brings me to…
2. Your further participation happens at the producer’s invitation.
Some producers have teams of people who run whole divisions of their various media empires. Mr. Bruckheimer is a perfect example of this. He creates show and films that are financially successful for the studios and networks that invest in them. He has the last word on everything.
That said, yes, I’m available and willing to consult on characters and plot lines. And I have written scripts before, so the opportunity to write one for the characters I created would be awesome. But again, whether I will write one is up to his team, not me.
So is what they do to my characters–including killing one of them off.
So, how do a console myself? That brings me to…
3. Take the money and run.
Option money (for a non-best-seller, anyway) is five figures, maybe low sixes. Again, it was a good book, with normal (not blockbuster) sales. JK Rowling, I’m sure, was offered tens of millions. (She hasn’t called me to tell me, so, like who knows?)
So with a few sweeteners suggested by my pals who already had experiences La-La Land offers, I was able to ask for more in a way that was fair to me as well as to the production team….especially if it move beyond the option stage, to pilot, and then get on the air.
“What?” you say, “A big-time producer just optioned it, and a network bought the concept! Why wouldn’t it get on the air?”
For any number of reasons. One example: the purchasing network loves the concept, but is lukewarm to the pilot script. Or the pilot script gets greenlit (put in production) but doesn’t test well with audiences, or the network is still unhappy with it. Or perhaps the network optioned too many concepts for that year and has back-burnered a few for after some of the greenlit shows fail in the coming season…
In other words, it’s one big game of Chutes and Ladders.
My lit agent puts it this way: “Josie, you’ve gotten the first three numbers of a Lottery ticket. Let’s hope you pull the other three…”
Which brings us to the odds of doing so…
4. It can fall apart at any stage, so enjoy the notoriety while it lasts.
The first number on the lottery ticket is a producer hearing word of your book, and liking it enough to option it.
The second number is him/her selling it to one of the Big Four network (ABC, FOX, NBC, or CBS) or a cable network (like AMC, FX, TNT, Lifetime, etc.) or a premium Channel (HBO, Showtime, Starz, for example).
Each type of network sale its advantages. For example, The big four are likely to order more episodes. However, they are more likely to toss a show that doesn’t instantly find an audience, whereas the premiums and the cables will hang in there and allow the show to grow an audience, albeit not order as many episodes.
The third number: the pilot script is a hit with the network.
After ABC bought Secret Lives, a pilot script was written and sent to the network. Apparently it wasn’t exactly how the network execs envisioned the show, and they passed on the script. Or perhaps they had gone a shopping spree then sobered up and realized that they didn’t necessarily need Secret Lives, for the fall season, anyway.
At that point, according to Deadline Hollywood because it was a passion project for Mr. Bruckheimer and his head of TV, Jonathan Littman (makes my heart sing to read that) instead of letting the project die at that stage, they had the script enhanced. Then to play it safe, they also show it to a second network: NBC, which liked it so much that it was willing to pick up the option and greenlight the pilot, if ABC was willing to let it go.
I’m guessing it worked out for the best. Right now, NBC is not the Number One-rated network, but it was the home of such great shows as Seinfeld and Friends, and it is the home of two of my favorite shows, The Office and Grimm.
Since the pilot has been green-lit, casting is now taking place, and will shoot it in the coming month. I’ll let you know who’s playing whom as soon as they tell me. (And no, despite what my sister thinks, I can’t suggest actors, let alone have veto power, or get your cute-as-a-button wannabe actor nephew a role on the show.)
So now I’m now hoping to draw my fourth lottery number: the one in which the pilot is so great that test audiences love it;
The fifth number: the network loves it too, and orders a full season (12-19) of shows.
The final lottery number: the first season is a hit….and so is the second…and the third.
Which, finally brings me to the best advice my writer friends gave me:
5. Keep living your life.
My books are the cake. A call from Hollywood is the ice cream. It’s a satisfying dessert either way, right? I mean, I’ve already been blessed to have found editors and publishers who like my stories enough to publish them, and readers who love them enough to recommend them to others. If I’m lucky enough to pull of JK or a Charlaine or a Suzanne and have the joy of seeing my characters come alive on television or the movies, I will have won the author’s Lottery.
In the meantime, I’ll keep writing my books, and hope you enjoy reading them.
Hey I have a winner…
In my last post, I asked readers to mention a song they enjoyed from my Pride and Prejudice musical in order to win a copy of the demo CD. The winner is LSUReader. Please email me at MailFromJosie@gmail.com for the info on collecting your prize. Thanks!
I’ll announce it on Contest Winner Day, or in my next post.