Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers2

Most film makers spend more time raising money than they do making films. Budget looms over their heads in development, pre-production, production and post-production. The less money they have to raise, the better chance of getting the film made. That’s one of the reasons that so many bad films are made. The producers who can raise the money get to produce films. Their ability to raise money isn’t necessarily connected to their ability to make good films.

From the writer’s perspective, none of this really matters. There’s a general rule that the writer of the book won’t be hired to adapt it for film. That comes from long experience in which writers were found to be too difficult to work with in adapting. They wanted to stay with the original purpose, the integrity of the story or novel. The film people just want to buy the “property” and use it to raise funds to make a film. They don’t necessarily care about the original work. In any case, film is a different medium and, to be successful, has other demands.

Sometimes, if the producer has some extra money and really wants the property, he’ll buy off the writer by agreeing to his/her writing the first draft. It’s usually a meaningless exercise. A film script may end up going through fifty drafts and six or seven writers. The one still standing at the end gets the credit. Or, the producer will include a clause saying the writer will be consulted on the artistic integrity of the adaptation. It’s nonsense, of course. “Here’s a thousand bucks so we can consult you. Take the money and get lost.”

The truth is that most fiction writers don’t have the training or experience to adapt their work to film. They also bring with them a lot of problems. However, hiring someone else is no guarantee that the film is going to be adapted by someone else who is competent. It’s not unknown for the script writer’s job to go to whomever the producer is currently sleeping with. Even if someone competent is hired, the adaptive process involves many people. It’s collaborative. That is completely unlike what the fiction writer is used to. The fiction writer works alone, perhaps  for years, on a novel, then gets a contract for a book and will work in an uneasy alliance with an editor. Script writing is a team effort and, often, the members of the team change during the process.

So, unless the writer of the original work has experience adapting scripts for film, it’s better to have an agent (yes, you have to have an agent in dealing with film makers, otherwise, they’ll skin you alive) get as big a payment as possible up front. Have her make sure that the writer’s name actually gets onto the screen credits. Film makers won’t just take all the money they can, they’ll take all the credit they can. It’s called building a career. Once the original work, “the property” is sold, the writer should go write another novel. When the film comes out, if it does, go to it just to see if your name is actually in the credits.


Gimli Film Festival: Bloodflowers

I’ve been asked to choose a story of mine to talk about at the Gimli Film Festival. I’m supposed to choose a story that I think would make a good movie and why I think so. I’m going to talk about my short story, “Bloodflowers.”

I’m choosing “Bloodflowers” because a large number of film makers have expressed interest in turning it into a film. I’ve turned them all down, not because I doubt their ability to make a decent movie from it but because they never have any money. It’s Canada, right? The role of writers and artists is to starve. Not me.

I’ve had a number of movies made from my short stories and novels. “The Pedlar” was made from “A Place of One’s Own”. Gentle Sinners was made from the novel of the same name. “God Is Not A Fish Inspector” was made from the same-named short story. Al Kroeker produced and directed it along with a documentary “Waiting for Morning” that featured my father and people around Gimli being interviewed. There are a couple of others. Gentle Sinners paid decently but only because of a legal battle over foreign rights that left me with 4% of the producer’s gross.

Gross is an important word in film making. People in the film business use “net” returns in contracts to rip off writers. There are never any net returns. It doesn’t matter how many multi-millions a film makes, so many expenses are charged against a film that it is impossible to ever “net” anything. You want a piece of the action, you’ve got to get a piece of the gross.

When I started out being involved with film, I was so naïve and so thrilled that I didn’t know enough to say, I own this property, you can’t have it to raise money with unless you cut me in for a slice of the gross. I also want a decent upfront payment that is finalized by the time production starts. The viewer in front of the screen is watching art or entertainment but behind the scenes, it’s all about money and everyone is out to grab as much as possible. No writer can afford to be naïve. The price is too high. Every writer has to ask one question when approached by a film maker or would be film maker, “What’s in it for me?”

When I had a meeting with a film maker who wanted to turn The Girl With The Botticelli Face into a movie, we were discussing appropriate payments for options for three years. We were disagreeing about the last payment when the would be producer said, “I’ll give you percentage of the net.” That was the end of the conversation. I walked out. I don’t like being insulted and I don’t like someone trying to rip me off.

(to be continued)