Monday, 9 November 2009

Hooray for Hollywood ... or not ...

I woke up on Saturday morning to find an email from my agent in LA waiting on my iPhone ...

OK, all right, he's not MY agent, exactly: he's the sub-agent hired by my real agent who works in a small office just off the North End Road in West London, which isn't quite so glamorous ... but anyway ...

The two scriptwriters who have spent the past few months, in between their other projects, honing The Accident Man into a potential high-concept movie franchise had, the message said, concluded their negotiations with A Major Studio and been given a deal. So now all I have to do is wait to see what I'm offered for the movie rights to my actual book, sign on the dotted line and then the whole project can enter the strange half-life of 'development', in which a script is written (and re-written, and re-re ... etc), a director and stars are sought and the producer does his level best to create a package that will persuade the Major Studio to shell out the mega-money required to go ahead and make a thriller like The Accident Man.

Assuming it's still called The Accident Man ... or has a hero called Samuel Carver ... or bears any resemblance at all to anything I ever wrote. Because I, as the author, am by far the least important person involved in the project and my opinion counts for less than Jack Shit.

This is something that the average punter - quite reasonably - does not understand. People assume that having spent years creating my characters and writing stories about them, I might have some idea about who would be good to play them. They imagine that I would have a say in how they would be portrayed. Above all they think that I have just become very, very rich.

All these presumptions are 100% wrong for any author who does not happen to be Stephen King, Dan Brown or JK Rowling. The major casting will be determined by which actor likes the script, is available, seems marketable to the studio and is prepared to work for the fee they have in the budget. The story will be far, far more influenced by the lowliest, dumbest 'creative' executive at the studio, making notes on the fourteenth draft of the script, than it ever will be me, or what I wrote. And as for the money, forget it. You hear about mega-deals for authors and sometimes the stories are true. More often they're grossly inflated inventions, dreamed-up by agents and PRs. Studios are cutting back savagely on all non-essential spending, and book-rights certainly come into that category, especially when the book isn't already a massive global bestseller. Plus, all you get when the book is first picked up is the 'option' payment: i.e. the studio acquires an option on the right to buy the book outright at some point in the next 18 months. The full value of the contract is only payable on the first day of production, and 99% of all film projects never get to that point. So I expect to get an option in the low tens of thousands of pounds. If the film gets made, I'll get (very) low six figures. Nothing remotely wrong with that, of course: but I won't be retiring on the proceeds just yet.

I know this because I've done a deal for Accident Man before, the last time it was in development at Another Major Studio. Back then I took a look at the contract, observed how cheaply I was selling my soul and started moaning to my agent (the real one, just off the North End Road) that I was being ripped-off. He pointed out that would only be true IF the film got made and IF it was a huge hit. In that case, yes, the amount I'd be getting was absurdly low. BUT ... if my book had just been the basis of a global mega-movie, then I'd immediately start selling a load more copies, and get a ton of massively-improved publishing deals, and be in with a chance of a far better price when the studio made the sequel. So I'd be laughing.

Plus, I'd get the words TOM CAIN, all by themselves, in big capital letters on the screen smack-bang in the middle of the opening credits, So I'd essentially be giving away my most cherished artistic creation, just so I could sit at my local multiplex and gaze at my (false) name.

Is that a deal worth making? Oh, come on, what do you think? Of course it bloody is!!

PS: It's not always a bad idea for studios to change books, irrespective of the author's wishes or intentions. The only elements of The Bourne Identity that survived from the Ludlum book to the Doug Liman film were the title, the name Jason Bourne and the opening sequence that set up the character and his predicament ... oh, and the idea that Bourne picks up a girl along the way. But since they're the only good - even great - things about the book, that was an entirely sensible decision. The Accident Man, of course, is brilliant from beginning to end, so any deviation from the original would be an aesthetic abomination ... ;)


  1. Congratulations, False Tom Cain!

    Despite you're dismissive jocularity, it's a pretty big deal - even if it's already happened once before...

  2. One day, I'm going to write a small book called 'Annoying Things People Say To Writers'. Number 8 on the list is - 'So all you need to do now is get the movie made'. As if I'm going to say, 'Oh, thanks, never thought of that. I'll get it sorted'. This is a process over which writers have no control....

  3. Congratulations! And will the real Tom Cain please stand up ...

    I have to agree with Matt, though - people do make such comments about film and/or TV deals like it might not have occurred to you.

    Still, we can live in hope, can't we?

  4. Just as I've finally met the elusive Tom Cain (whoever he is) it seems you might be swept away into the stratosphere (wherever that is) . . . Well, all I can say is good for you! I hope this turns into a huge deal. I want to be there grinning when your name appears on my local cinema screen. I might even smuggle in a bottle of champagne and drink to your success. In fact, I might do that right now . . . (well, a glass of red plonk anyway).