Does Hollywood Hate Authors?

I’m hoping Neil Gaiman‘s Newbery Medal win will soon be reflected in the advertising for the new Coraline movie.  The book was creepy and cool, chock full of idea hooks, fun characters, and plot surprises–just what we’ve come to expect from Gaiman’s work. But for some reason the studio’s marketing department thought more viewers would be drawn to “a film directed by Henry Selick” than “a story written by Neil Gaiman.”

Attention Hollywood: If an author of Neil Gaiman’s caliber is in any way connected to your movie, you will sell more tickets by including his name in your ads!

Not that I have anything against Mr. Selick, the screenwriter/director. If I needed someone to helm a stop motion animated feature, he’d be my go-to guy. The Nightmare Before Christmas was brilliant. James and Giant Peach was very well done. And Monkeybone– Okay, let’s all try to pretend Monkeybone never happened. But still, having two hits out of three feature-length attempts over the course of 15 years shows directorial competence. So yeah, having Selick’s name attached to a new film might slightly raise moviegoers’ expectations if a commercial prods them to look him up on IMDB.

Gaiman, on the other hand, is well known for his prolific career in comics and graphic novels (The Sandman and Books of Magic, among others), traditional novels for adults (American Gods and Anansi Boys, among others), books for children (Coraline and The Graveyard Book, among others), song writing (for Alice Cooper and The Flash Girls, among others), and screenwriting (Neverwhere and MirrorMask, among others). He has won numerous genre and media awards including multiple Hugos, Eisners, Nebulas, Bram Stoker Awards and now a Newbery Medal. Some of his works have been solo efforts, others have been adaptations or collaborations, but together they make up an intelligent and mind-blowing body of work. Gaiman has earned the right to be acknowledged by name.

Studeo execs show disrespect for authors when their input is ignored or trivialized, and disrespect as well for the audience, who should be prodded to explore a story in a variety of media for a deeper understanding and better appreciation. This is especially true for movies aimed at children or teens, who need every possible encouragement to read.

Inkheart is another current book-adapted movie for children with frequent ads that don’t mention the creative contribution of author Cornelia Funke. The movie maker does acknowledge that the story is “from a best-selling book,” which might be good enough for most best-selling books, except that this is Inkheart, a story about books, the power of printed words, and the magic that comes from pairing skilled writing with the imagination of a dedicated reader. This is a movie for book-lovers, and omitting the author’s name should be a criminal offense.

Movie-making is a difficult and expensive process and we should honor the efforts of the screenwriter, director, actors, cinematographers, camera crew, special effects crew, lighting crew, sound crew, costume designers, makeup artists, set designers, and others who bring a singular vision to the screen. But even with all the money and effort poured into them, most book-based movies fall short of the books they are based on.

Each year, some really terrific books are turned into movies that totally reek. The Inkheart film currently has a 36% rating from Rotten Tomatoes, which puts it deep into the rotten end of the spectrum.  Also rotten at 44% is Hotel for Dogs, based on a 1971 book by Lois Duncan. Twilight, based on the book by Stephenie Meyer, is at 50%. The Tale of Despereaux, based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, is just a bit rotten at 55%. (The fresh/rotten cutoff is at 60%, which students and former students should recognize as the dividing line between an F and a D-minus.)

Will Coraline buck the trend? Is the omission of Gaiman’s name from the commercial a studio oversight or an authorial request? We’ll find out on February 6th. And if most book-based movies are going to be graded with a big red F by the critics anyway, maybe it’s better for an author’s name to be disassociated from them after all.

What do you all think? Should authors insist on more credit for movies based on their original characters and plots, or should they withhold judgment until they see a finished product?

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14 Comments

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14 responses to “Does Hollywood Hate Authors?

  1. Parker Peevyhouse

    I think sometimes authors see what has happened to their book during the translation to film and wish not to be associated with it. Richard Matheson became so distanced from the adaptation of his novella I Am Legend into the movie Omega Man that he decided only to take screenwriting credit under a pseudonym because he wasn’t too happy with the way things were going.

    But I do think it would be nice if Hollywood acknowledged authors other than Stephen King and Michael Chrichton. I’m sure a lot of authors would be happy to see their names onscreen.

  2. True enough. Did you see the rant Ursula LeGuin went on over the Sci-Fi Channel’s version of Earthsea? I haven’t received any option offers for The Penguins of Doom but if I ever do, it really gives me pause seeing how Hollywood has butchered other books I like from authors I admire.

  3. Ditto what Parker said.
    But also, the writing world we all live in gives us all a totally biased micro view. The general population would not have Neil Gaimon as a household name. But a movie like Nightmare before Christmas they would remember. How many people saw the movie NBC? How many people read Coraline.
    I volunteer in our school library, and when I mentioned the new Newbery winner, the one librarian who was there (who also works in a Borders on the weekend, BTW) had to think and be coaxed before she remembered who neil Gaimon was. I had to finally say “he wrote Coraline – you know, it’s coming out as a movie” before she said “oh, yeah”.
    Sad, but true.

  4. It saddens me that the film adaptation of a book becomes the “definitive version” in our culture, even if the film is a bad version of a great book. What, if anything, can we as authors do about this?

  5. Enjoy the cash when all our books are made into movies? Buy the collectibles from The Noble Collection? Get the movie poster and hang it in the house?
    But year, I guess this is just one of those things authors deal with.

  6. Parker Peevyhouse

    Poor Ursula. I didn’t see that movie but I liked the book. I guess that’s a risk you take when you hand over film rights. But let me tell you, if it gets my name out there and food on the table, they can butcher my book any day.

  7. Worse than merely butchering her story, the filmmakers used made-up quotes from the author in their promotional materials, making it seem that she approved of all the changes they’d made as well as an ideology diametrically opposed to her own.

  8. Parker Peevyhouse

    Okay, that’s a serious crime.

  9. This is not really an issue of anyone thinking or not thinking the author is a marketing draw. It’s almost wholly related to the power of the Director’s Guild and the PGA vs. the Writers Guild of America (and any other writers’ lobbying organization). Preview credits, and who gets them, and in what order, and even details like how large the fonts must be and how long they must appear onscreen are contract specifics virtually mandated by the powerful guilds…. and way beyond the negotiating power of the WGA, which is the weakest guild in Hwood by a considerable margin. Since the writers keep having to strike to even get a decent share of the profits, they don’t have time to fuss with smaller details like the preview credits. Unfortunately.

  10. Parker Peevyhouse

    Joni, that sounds like the plot of a fantasy novel. The guilds are warring…

  11. Parker Peevyhouse

    Hey Greg, looks like Gaiman got some love from Hollywood after all. Colbert dissed his Newberry… in a very funny way.
    Check it out.

  12. Back to the question (and late to the party), I don’t think crediting authors will increase sales among most American moviegoers, and studios know that.

  13. You’re probably right but apart from boosting ticket sales there’s an issue of respect. When I lived in Japan, most of the TV commercials would identify the title and artist of any background music being played. It didn’t sell any more of the product in the commercial but it was nice if you wanted to find that song in the music store. They’d already paid a licensing fee to the artists but a little credit where credit is due goes a long way toward showing respect for people’s creative inputs.

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