Why Movie Producers Don’t Read

Three weeks ago I was talking to a movie producer in Hollywood that is trying to set up a couple of movie and television deals for me. He was explaining how nobody in Hollywood will read a book. It’s a common complaint, and there are good reasons for it—or at least I’ve heard rumors that suggest the reasons behind it.

Then yesterday an old friend of mine sent me a letter. She’s an award-winning author who is struggling to get someone, anyone in Hollywood, to look at her novel. Since her son is one of the most prominent Hollywood attorneys in the business, she asked him if he might suggest some people who would help—perhaps an agent, some producers, studio execs, or financiers who might take an interest.

His response was quite disheartening. He said that even the agents will either throw away the book or send it back unopened, for fear of getting caught up in a copyright infringement suit. The same was true of the producers and the studios, though if you write a great letter, they might have a “low-level exec” assigned to read the book in order to give coverage, “coverage” being a simple one-page document that suggest why this would or wouldn’t make a great property.

Sigh. I’m afraid that he’s right. Nobody in Hollywood reads in part because they are afraid of frivolous lawsuits. If you send in a book or screenplay that features an evil clown and the studio makes a movie with an evil clown ten years down the line, the execs are afraid that you will sue.

They’re hit by frivolous lawsuits on a regular basis. In fact here in my home state of Utah, we have the queen of frivolous lawsuits, a woman who claims to have written every major science fiction movie ever. She sues the studios on a regular basis.

What is interesting is this: American copyright law suggests that an idea for a movie or book can’t be stolen. In other words, if you write a boy-meets-girl love story, that idea can’t be copyrighted. Tens of thousands of people a year will write similar stories.

So it is only the “expression” of the idea that can be copyrighted—your exact character, plot, and words. If indeed you rip off someone else’s book, you’re in trouble—unless, of course, you live in Hollywood!

If you make a major motion picture and it goes out and makes a few billion from merchandising, the crazies will come out of the woodwork and begin suing. Most of these people are of rather modest means, and when a jury sees them, it isn’t hard for the jury to side with the aggrieved writer. Forget the law, the argument that some rich execs stole an idea from a poor writer is easy for the jury to get behind.

Given this, how do you get someone in Hollywood to read your book?

Generally speaking, you can try a couple of things: Win a lot of literary awards and get some buzz. Become a bestseller and make more than five million verified sales.

Beyond that, you just have to keep hoping. Sending out huge print runs to independent producers, studios, and agents has worked before, but it’s usually a waste of time.

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In the distant future, genetically engineered mermen must swim up the Amazon in an effort strike a futile blow at the men who are destroying the seas, but as they travel into the heart of darkness, they find that they must strike a blow not just at mankind, but at greed, corruption, and human folly.


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