Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Recent reading: "Hollywood vs. the Author"

Hollywood vs. the Author edited by Stephen Jay Schwartz

Raymond Chandler once said, "If my books had been any worse I should not have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better I should not have come." Even more telling, Jack Warner bluntly referred to his writers as "Schmucks with Underwoods." Think about the films that came out of Warner Bros. during the golden age of the studio system and read that quote again. Seriously.

For some reason writers have always been surprisingly low on the Hollywood food chain, and that hasn't changed and apparently isn't going to any time soon if these terrific (and often infuriating) stories are anything to go by.

Schwartz has gathered a number of successful present day authors and given them free rein to share their experiences in Tinseltown and their tales of the unfairness of it all.

Many of the writers take their less than stellar experiences with a dash of resigned humor, understanding that it's just the way Hollywood works. Life isn't fair, and the entertainment industry even less so, but it's also highly unethical to boot. A few like Gregg Hurwitz and Michael Connelly have come through relatively unscathed mainly because their other writing endeavors don't leave them dependent on Hollywood.

And then there's Tess Gerritsen, who had to sue Warner Bros. for ripping off her 1999 novel Gravity, (when, without her knowledge, it became the 2013 feature film of the same name, supposedly based on an original script by director Alfonso Cuaron and his son Jonas) at the same time Warners was producing her hit show Rizzoli & Isles, which was also based on Gerritsen novels. What makes her story especially awful is that despite how obvious it was that the film was based on her novel, no matter what proof her lawyers produced - and they went above and beyond to prove their case - they were constantly rebuffed by both the studio and courts. That Cuaron had been attached to direct when the novel had first been optioned in 1999, then claimed original authorship years later, didn't seem to help Gerritsen's cause, but it is shocking and frustrating to read. Cuaron got Oscars for directing and editing, a Golden Globe, awards from BAFTA, DGA, PGA and AFI, and countless critics awards, while Gerritsen got royally and unfairly screwed.

I continued to waver between suing and not suing.

Then I came across an article about how the Cuarons had written their screenplay.
They regrouped in the elder Cuaron's London home one afternoon and began talking about the theme of adversity, about knowing when to fight and when to give up, and the theme of rebirth. And two images drove them: an astronaut spinning into the void and someone getting up and walking away. "Gravity was a metaphor, the force that keeps pulling us back to life," says Jonas Cuaron. 
A first draft was written in three weeks.
I thought about the two years of full-time research and writing I'd devoted to Gravity. I thought of my obsessive attention to details about ISS, the shuttle, EVAs, astronaut training, NASA lingo, aerospace medicine, and everyday life in orbit. I though about how hard I'd worked to describe a scenario so accurately that even a NASA engineer would not find fault. And here the clever Cuarons had gone from "image of astronaut spinning in space" to a finished screenplay in a mere three weeks.

That's when I got angry.

Updated 2/24/19: The Academy just awarded Cuaron two more Oscars for Roma. Warner was being kind. Guessing Tess Gerritsen doesn't have Oscar parties.

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