The Big (or Little) Screen

Based on my experience, when a collection of writers gather around drinks or the figurative campfire talking about books, current projects, and other authors, the conversation eventually gets around to movies.

Last August, I briefly touched on movie deals in my discussion titled, Those Little (and Big) Disappointments. When I was a green as grass author, my first novel attracted enough attention for a producer to reach out and offer a movie deal. The production company wrapped up filming Winter’s Bone liked The Rock Hole, and called me direct to offer a movie deal. However, my starter agent (which I fired not long after that offer) started playing games with the company and they quickly threw up their hands and backed away from the project.

At that time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was for movie people to consider my work, and for that, I’m honored. Other writer friends have movie deals, have seen their works turned into movies, and even have television series. Like books, film is another form of entertainment and all of us who write would like to see our projects on the big, or little, screen. Some are lucky and occasionally, lightning strikes twice and they get both.

Good for them!

Other friends receive option money each year, and it’s significant in most cases. These books are in the chrylaslis process of evolving into screenplays, or are under discussion. As I watch these colleagues twist on the hook I’ve come to understand this part is tedious and frustrating to most of those involved.

As my old man said a thousand times, “Almost, but not quite.” He also said, “Well, dog my cats,” when he was perplexed or frustration, which I’ve used on occasion to my daughters’ consternation.

A few years ago I wrote the screenplay for The Rock Hole, and that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Distilling 90,000 to 100,000 words down into 120 formatted pages that are mostly dialogue almost made my head explode as I worked to preserve the tension, character arcs, sense of place, and relevant dialogue that made the book successful.

I read William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade and it was fascinating. Full of advice and anecdotes, it helped me get over the hump of finishing my own project because it has the complete screenplay of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. In addition, a friend gave me a copy of the Lonesome Dove script back in 1990, and I spent a considerable amount of time comparing what was included, and excluded, from the novel.

With those guides in place, I hammered out the screenplay, and finished with the understanding that if it ever reaches filming, it’ll likely have someone else’s name on it, but at least I can see the characters I created moving and talking (hopefully) as I see in my mind.

At this writing, The Rock Hole is under consideration of an indie producer and we’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about the mechanics and funding for this future project. Am I excited. Nope. I don’t waste time on what if, but I continue to hope something will happen. Will it ever happen? I’m not holding my breath.

I ‘magine all authors would love to see their books on the screen. It would expand their exposure a thousand-fold and sell more books. But we can’t spend too much time on that possibility. We need to write instead and dream at night. It’s today’s project that requires the majority of our attention, not those finished titles on the shelf.

But good lord, be proud of them!

But back to writers’ conversations, we always express frustration that so many good books out there that could make excellent movies, yet Hollywood (an all inclusive term for movies filmed everywhere) continues to concentrate for the most part on superheroes.

Maybe it’s my bias against movies in which these characters just fight all the time, destroying cities and buildings, but not harming each other in any appreciable way. I’d like to see a bloody nose from time to time, at least, but I am of a certain age and grew up loving movies full of well-developed characters and believable plots. I doubt in my lifetime I’ll ever meet someone impervious to bullets, or can fly, or swing from spider webs, or ride on surfboards…

I don’t get it, but don’t get me wrong. I cut my teeth on comics and superheroes, and a few movies in that vein, but I’d dearly love to see original ideas.

I want great characters, interesting plots, and sweeping camerawork with inspiring music written specifically for the movie. Maybe like Last of the Mohicans, A River Runs Through It, Legends of the Fall, all based on books or novellas. Good lord, even thrillers like the original Indiana Jones movie, Alien (Aliens), Star Wars, or any others too numerous to list make me want to watch them over and over again.

But others pull me in again and again. Grosse Point Blank, because I just love that one. Tombstone, which might be an all-time favorite because it was one of the first movies the Bride and I ever saw on a postage-stamp-size screen in Arkansas, or Junior Bonner, which changed my life. They have something that hooks me every time, and this is the crux of our discussion over drinks. What is it that strikes a chord with us.

On the opposite side of the coin, Hollywood Reporter has an article I’ve pasted below that outlines the dangers of original content. Am I missing something here? When you’re hitching onto the train, maybe trying to recreate a series like Lord of the Rings (which of course was a novel) with another title including Rings, then you’re simply not getting it. Maybe if we had executives and producers who aren’t twelve-years-old, we might find adventurous souls who would like to branch out and produce movies with finite beginnings and endings, we might find something new.

Like 30 Days of Night. A vampire movie with an excellent twist.

What about you?

Why do you think authors are so interested in discussions as these when we get together?

Is it for the love of entertainment, or something else?

Or maybe we simply like quality movies and that’s all. Let’s talk about it at Bouchercon in San Diego. You’ll find me in the bar…


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About Reavis Wortham

Two time Spur Award winning author Reavis Z. Wortham pens the Texas Red River historical mystery series, and the high-octane Sonny Hawke contemporary western thrillers. His new Tucker Snow series begins in 2022. The Red River books are set in rural Northeast Texas in the 1960s. Kirkus Reviews listed his first novel in a Starred Review, The Rock Hole, as one of the “Top 12 Mysteries of 2011.” His Sonny Hawke series from Kensington Publishing features Texas Ranger Sonny Hawke and debuted in 2018 with Hawke’s Prey. Hawke’s War, the second in this series won the Spur Award from the Western Writers Association of America as the Best Mass Market Paperback of 2019. He also garnered a second Spur for Hawke’s Target in 2020. A frequent speaker at literary events across the country. Reavis also teaches seminars on mystery and thriller writing techniques at a wide variety of venues, from local libraries to writing conventions, to the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. He frequently speaks to smaller groups, encouraging future authors, and offers dozens of tips for them to avoid the writing pitfalls and hazards he has survived. His most popular talk is entitled, My Road to Publication, and Other Great Disasters. He has been a newspaper columnist and magazine writer since 1988, penning over 2,000 columns and articles, and has been the Humor Editor for Texas Fish and Game Magazine for the past 25 years. He and his wife, Shana, live in Northeast Texas. All his works are available at your favorite online bookstore or outlet, in all formats. Check out his website at “Burrows, Wortham’s outstanding sequel to The Rock Hole combines the gonzo sensibility of Joe R. Lansdale and the elegiac mood of To Kill a Mockingbird to strike just the right balance between childhood innocence and adult horror.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review) “The cinematic characters have substance and a pulse. They walk off the page and talk Texas.” —The Dallas Morning News On his most recent Red River novel, Laying Bones: “Captivating. Wortham adroitly balances richly nuanced human drama with two-fisted action, and displays a knack for the striking phrase (‘R.B. was the best drunk driver in the county, and I don’t believe he run off in here on his own’). This entry is sure to win the author new fans.” —Publishers Weekly “Well-drawn characters and clever blending of light and dark kept this reader thinking of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.” —Mystery Scene Magazine

14 thoughts on “The Big (or Little) Screen

  1. I love movies.

    Movies today are missing heart and something to believe in.

    Just make sure that you don’t let them pay you out of profits or you may never see a dime. That happened to a guy back home.

    Wishing you all the best.

    • Though I’m not far into this game, I’ve heard from experienced folks to have a good attorney read anything that appears before us. Many thanks!

  2. It’s a dream, for sure. What author wouldn’t want to see their work on a screen with lights, camera, and action?

    I’ve tasted the fruit with an option for my New York 1609 (which you First-Page-Critiqued right here!), but I—like Reavis—am not holding my breath. I’ll continue to create my stories and continue to watch my movies and TV shows. If those intersect, great. If not, there are many other paths through the woods.

    • These days I want a movie. Beginning, middle, and end in about ninety minutes or two hours. I love series, and have several favorites, ut I just want an intense experience and excellent dialogue. Oh, and good acting too.

      Congrats on the option!

  3. Movies are just one of those subjects where I seem to be out of kilter with everyone else. For 99.9999% of the population, regularly seeing movies (in theaters or on the small screen) is a big thing, but I just don’t go for movies very often.

    Have I seen some movies? Of course. I still remember bawling my eyes out watching one of the Benji movies as someone kicked the dog. Or the classic Wizard of Oz. But even westerns, which I love, I rarely watch in movie form (especially modern remakes–where it often feels Hollywood is just there to play up the violence, instead of truly telling a story).

    I DO have an all-time favorite movie–Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The most powerful movie I’ve ever seen.

    I’ve often wondered why it is that movies, unlike that other 99.9999% of the population, don’t attract me. The only thing I can come up with is that generally, movies are one-offs. The story is one and done. I seem to be drawn to the continuous lives of characters, like you get with watching a series. Hence why Star Trek II is a favorite–characters I’m invested in and love dearly.

    As to screenplays–I wrote one and only one. I did not enjoy the format of a screenplay and vastly prefer writing books. But I’m sure, given the right offer, I could be sufficiently motivated to write one again. LOL! But screenplay writing isn’t what I consider fun or enjoyable. It’s like taking a beloved treasure and carving it to bits. Not to mention issues of loss of creative control that are involved. (No control freak issues here. 😎

    • We seldom go to the theater. I have a home system that’s great, but every now and then I need to see certain actors on the big screen. Maverick needed the space, and it was outstanding!

      Though it was a sequel, and I have nothing against sequels if they’re done well, I want to be impressed up there.

      On a side note, we see a lot of movies at home that cost little and aren’t interrupted by people in adjacent seats. The Cut is a theater not far from our house, but the smell of popcorn is missing. You can’t see it popped, I suspect it comes from a bag, and there’s a waiter who brings snacks right to your seat.

      Positive: I love the loungers they have these days.
      Negative: I want to buy my popcorn upon entering and when the movie wraps, I want to leave.
      Positive: Big sound!
      Negative: I have to tip the server.
      Positive: The overall experience of going out is something I look forward to.
      Negative: I have to tip the server.
      That’s enough for now.

  4. I’m with you, Rev, on wanting great characters and great plots on the screen, big or small. Stories with heart, stories that make us feel. I have a fondness for historical epics like the film Zulu, 300 Spartans (not to be confused with 300), and The Great Escape. One of my all time favorite films is The Big Lebowski, for its sensibilities and humor, and plunging our slacker hero into a Chandler-esque plot. Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, while dealing with world destroying challenges, had, at its heart, a woman who was just fighting to keep things going, and struggled to stay connected with her husband and daughter.

    Movies by their very visual nature, tend to have a more greater potential audience then books, and thus appeals both for the money involved, and the eyeballs. Many of us writers would love to see our fictions brought to life on the screen, and would love the money, too 🙂

    • I’d just love to see Ed Harris or Kurt Russel play my character, Ned Parker. Also, the climax to The Rock Hole would be outstanding on the big screen.

  5. I am one of three people in Iowa who does not have netflix but TCM and Eddie Muller’s Noir Alley have provided a very nice library of noir flicks when I have a couple hours to relax and watch the silver screen.
    Of course there are the tubs of popcorn with extra butter to be had as well.

    It’s the visuals that are the artistry, and the screenwriters. And the theme music.

    Lately I have been working on a short story and it occurred to me to visualize it as a flick, where I’m watching it in the movies or sitting in my car at the drive in. As I’m doing this, watching the scenes play out on the insides of my eyelids, I’m sketching out scenes on a note pad for writing later on.
    It seems to have some potential.

    • That way of writing does have potential. I watch my story unfold as if it’s my computer screen is a TV. The results are more than satisfactory, because both writer blurbs and professional reviews have called my books, cinematic.

      Keep it up!

  6. Who wouldn’t want a TV show or movie of our works? I wrote screenplays of several of my novels, more as a learning experience than under any illusion of selling it. Paring down a story to its essence and avoiding talking heads because it’s a visual medium that isn’t dialogue heavy is pretty dang hard. The best source material for a movie is a short story or novella for that reason.

  7. One of my favorite movies is Ladyhawke, which fulfills ‘I want great characters, interesting plots, and sweeping camerawork with inspiring music written specifically for the movie.’ beautifully, with Rutger Hauer as the knight in some cool medieval fight scenes, a young Michelle Pfeiffer as the lady, and a VERY young Matthew Broderick as ‘Mouse’.

    Even the original score is starting to be a big part of it. I watch it every year near my birthday – this past year the new daughter-in-law saw it for the first time with all of us, and proved she belongs in this family.

    There ARE movies you can watch over and over.

  8. That’s the dream, all right. Sadly, I’ve heard about a lot more abandoned option deals than authors who’ve successfully had their books adapted to the big (or little) screen.

    Hope it works out for you, Rev!

  9. Good luck with getting The Rock Hole to the big screen, Rev. I’ll be first in line to buy tickets when it gets there.

    I would love to see my books made into movies or TV series, but I don’t really have time to pursue that goal. (But just in case, please put in a good word for me with your producer. 🙂 )

    Have a great rest-of-the-weekend.

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