Towing the Line

“If one — and only one — of your stories would be adapted for the silver screen, which one would you select? Would you prefer to write the screenplay… or just watch from the sidelines while the studio uses whoever they use for such projects?”

Well, all of you have heard this before from me: an author is almost never allowed to work on a piece optioned by a studio. It is very rare; it is simply no longer done that an author gets to adapt their work alone. If the studio hires an author to work on the adaptation, it would be someone with a big publishing or even screenwriting background, they usually have at least one other screenwriter calling the shots, and the author is lucky if they don’t get bumped off their own story.

It happens all the time; they fire the author, or even the original screenplay writer.

[Once again, I will recommend reading the book, “Writing Movies for Fun and Profit”, by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant.]

The author with the most input into her movies was JK Rowling, only in the case that she had the clout because they wanted to make money off of Harry Potter movies so desperately.  They gave in to many of her demands, but not all, and she really didn’t write the screenplays. She gave input and they acquiesced to most, but not all of it, and she had to give in to many changes and omissions which she was not thrilled about.

This was only matched by the clout and input by Pamela Lyndon Travers to her works’ adaptation, but Walt Disney only put up with her incessant complaints and demands, (demands which he over-rode in many cases anyway), because he had promised his daughters many years before that he would make the Mary Poppins books into a movie, otherwise, she would never have gotten away with her bossiness and interference. As it was, she hated the movie, and they could not do a sequel until after she died, when they found that her heirs were more reasonable.

If you saw “Saving Mr. Banks”, despite how boorish Travers was shown to be, the movie actually portrayed her in a much better light than  woman behaved in real life to Disney  and his employees. In fact, in reality, Walt took off and left the staff to deal with her. She never danced with the writers, she hated all the songs, except the morose-sounding one about feeding the birds.  She was constantly abusive and rude to the writers. Only Disney wanted to do the movie no matter what it took.

Who would do that now? No one. Absolutely no one. No one but Disney would have done it then.

Thirty-some years ago friend of mine had a brother who was an up-and-coming football star, but he died of cancer. A studio wanted to do a “Brian’s Song”-type movie of his life. Every time his mother got wind of any piece of artistic liberty the writers wanted to add, she complained, (and we aren’t talking about sensationalism, added sensuality or vulgarity). By the third complaint, the studio had enough and dropped the option. No one would touch it afterward  and  not one part of the courageous and good man’s life was told.

When a studio is interested in a property, it is ‘optioned’ by them. They give you money so that they can hold onto your work to see IF they want to pursue  production. You sign away most your rights as to what they wish to do with the story and characters. It happens to everyone.

One NYT best-selling author that I know kept saying “No” to the Disney Family Channel every time they offered her money to option one of her fantasy series, knowing that they could never produce the story as it was,(adult in humor), but finally, they made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. She has money, but this was BIG money. She finally signed it over, and when they offered her more to continue the option, she figured what the heck? As expected, Disney has never produced any movie or shows with her characters or storyline; it was simply to keep others from doing so.  I told her that I thought Disney wanted to keep merpeople to themselves.  I wonder how many other mermaid-related stories are bought and buried by Disney? (Or others types of stories, for that matter?)

An upcoming guest of mine is part of a Hollywood production company and when she adapted one of her own books into a movie for Netflix, she had co-screenwriters, and much of her original story was changed or omitted. (How much input she used or had, we will find out when I get the interview back and posted.)

 To (finally) answer today’s question pertaining to myself, I have a couple of irons in the fire that might make  feel-good TV movies, or one  that could be an animation for kids, there is a piece that I must rework because I haven’t gotten it published for the  opposite reason:

I wanted to make it a short movie, but now need to make it readable.

Seriously, based on an evening fraught with mishaps and sinister happenings to my niece and myself, and taking just a couple of ‘artistic liberties’, (mostly omissions), to make it heavier, it is all true.

I needed just a little disposable money in order to get two more people involved, (one an actor, another who could handle a camera), and I would have made it right away. I am sure it would have picked up views on YouTube and may very well have led to a reel (!) movie.

I even contacted a friend who is an actor in California about flying him out to play the male lead;
I was that serious.

Straightforward, with no special effects, we could have done it like “Driving Miss Daisy” is done onstage with just the three of us, but I needed to get my hands on a tow truck as well as a camera. If it had only happened  when I could have gotten my hands on a phone with a good video recorder, it would have been just the truck.

I wrote it all pretty quickly, never having done anything like it in my life. I used Celtx, the free version with the features available at the time, and it was a breeze.

I don’t know if Celtx has changed much, but I would use it in a heartbeat for any other play/screenplay. (I’ve had another in mind, but I have to get some of the other work ‘out there’ again.) There are features for authors with complex scenes while writing books, etc., but I found it not worth it for my own written work.

So, hands-down, “The Tow Truck” is what I would love to see as a movie; I am pretty sure that it would work. Now, to try again to make it readable. The attempts that I have made so far have not worked well.

I could conceivably leave some of the lighter parts in and keep the true ending, (which was quite funny, if only from relief), but the gravity of most of the evening is lost.

Everyone I told about the night over the following days said that I had to write the story, and many told me what should have happened, what could have happened, and so I went with that.

However, to leave you with a laugh, I will tell you that I had considered calling this work:

“The Tow Net”.


About Tonette Joyce

Tonette was a once-fledgling lyricists-bookkeeper, turned cook/baker/restaurateur and is now exploring different writing venues,(with a stage play recently completed). She has had poetry and nonfiction articles published in the last few years. Tonette has been married to her only serious boyfriend for more than thirty years and she is, as one person described her, family-oriented almost to a fault. Never mind how others have described her, she is,(shall we say), a sometime traditionalist of eclectic tastes.She has another blog : "Tonette Joyce:Food,Friends,Family" here at WordPress.She and guests share tips and recipes for easy entertaining and helps people to be ready for almost anything.
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8 Responses to Towing the Line

  1. jbrayweber says:

    I’ve actually had a screenwriter I know ask me to adapt one of his screenplays into a book. I read it, and oh-boy, I stepped away from the project. It would have been too time-consuming for me and would pull me away from my own writing end editing business. The screenwriter wasn’t entirely onboard with book adaptations. Without all the special effects to help tell the story, there had to be more substance added. I feel like it is far easier doing the reverse—write the book then adapt for film. Two different entities meant for two different audiences with very different mechanics of pulling the story together. So I understand what you mean by the difficulties of making your story readable. It is definitely a challenge.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It IS a whole different ballgame,Jenn. Rather like driving a car and flying a plane; they both GO, but you need different skills and mindset. I think most good writers could manage, but it truly is time-consuming. The skill of description is gone; you have to condense to get points across quickly and yet still be subtle, lest you give away all of the plot. I think that is why so many good books are ruined as movies. I like the WAY things are said more often than the story itself. Although I love movies it is, well, DIFFERENT.
      If you never think of having one of yours adapted but just enjoy movies, I still recommend the book that I mentioned.

      Thanks for coming in and staying to comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff Salter says:

    “Tow-Net” by Tonette. Cool.
    Yeah, the creative world is fraught with powerful forces that can stall a project for decades… or kill it altogether. I recall reading a LONG time ago that actress Karen Black had somehow acquired the rights to Walker Percy’s Moviegoer — a great first novel by my hometown author hero — but I’ve never seen a flicker of movement on that terrific story, in the 50 years since.
    I watched the Mr. Banks film and — even though I knew they’d taken considerable license with the actual events — I was quite startled at how stubborn and harsh that author was. I mean, it’s one thing to be protective of one’s creative work — we all feel that way — but to be such a B*TCH. Wow.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And Travers was even worse in real life.She was beyond protective.There is much speculation onher relationships withher adopted children, as well.
      Karen Black had/caused much trouble with her involvement with Scientology, (don’t get me started. I have first-hand experience with family involvement.. but she managed quite a few productions.


  3. Elaine Cantrell says:

    i doubt that any of this will ever be a problem for me, LOL.


  4. Patricia Kiyono says:

    I’m so glad Jeff spelled out your last joke for me, because I didn’t get it!
    I hope you’re able to get the project done to your satisfaction, so that we can read and see it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks,Patty. I was up with a full head of steam and here comes family piling back in! Well, I am going to make it a priority to get things out before time ticks any farther away.


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