August 11, 2007

How to Become a Millionaire: Peddle Blood, Mayhem and Death

I write a great deal about murder, mayhem, destruction past, and destruction yet to come, including what its consequences will be. That is to say, I write about the real world, and about current events and foreign policy.

I now see that I am clearly going about all this in completely the wrong way:
Bloodthirsty New Book Incites a Bidding War

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 10 — The item up for bidding was, at first blush, unremarkable. It was an unfinished manuscript, 397 pages long, less than half of the planned book, as well as an outline detailing story arcs and plot points to come. The writer? Someone named Jordan Ainsley, whom no one had ever heard of — not readers, not book editors, certainly not anyone in Hollywood. Yet the biggest movie studios were being asked to pony up seven figures for the privilege of committing the book, sight half-unseen, to film.

And the studios promptly, and exuberantly, threw themselves into a bidding war.

For five days Sony Pictures, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures and 20th Century Fox battled over the film rights to Mr. Ainsley’s novel “The Passage,” the first book of a planned trilogy about vampires born not of bat bites, but of medical experiments gone awry. The winning bid, made last month by Fox 2000 and Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions, was $1.75 million.

The auction is just the latest indicator of the lengths that studios will go to in search of their next franchise, at a time when it seems that all the biggest projects have already been done or spoken for.


Unlike the three-book deal signed by Ballantine, the fee paid by Fox is only for the first book of the planned trilogy. “There were reports that there was a certain amount of money, and that was for three books, but that is not true,” said Ms. Levine, who is currently shopping the trilogy to foreign publishers. (She said she had already sealed deals in seven other countries.)

Yet paying nearly $2 million for an unfinished book that nobody will see for another couple of years is not all that odd, at least not in Hollywood. For the studios, big payouts for properties based on outlines and concepts rather than on finished books or fully formed screenplays is not uncommon; many of the superhero movies of late have been sold on little more than a few comic books and the broadest of plot ideas.
As the story notes, this kind of bidding war is nothing new. Hollywood has been engaged in this kind of activity for some time, and in connection with the same general type of material. So I wouldn't have mentioned this story at all, except for this reminder in the middle of it:
Recent fantasy book-to-film projects include "Stardust," the years-in-the-offing Paramount release based on a Neil Gaiman mini-series for DC Comics, which opened yesterday, and "The Golden Compass," a $150 million New Line film based on the first novel in Philip Pullman’s "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which opens in December.
I've written about Pullman's astonishing trilogy in this essay (which is the second part of my ongoing "Dominion Over the World" series); when I have time, I intend to discuss it in more detail. (Some readers told me they were reluctant to read that earlier piece, out of fear that it might contain spoilers. I assure you that, very intentionally, it does not.) Although Pullman wrote it in part for a young adult audience (and to some degree, as a refutation of C.S. Lewis's Narnia Chronicles and its numerous awful messages), His Dark Materials is wonderfully serious in ways that can be (and are) enjoyed by adults of any age. In fact, I'm about to read it for the second time.

I received a fair number of messages about His Dark Materials after that earlier essay, from people who read it on my recommendation. They were all extremely enthusiastic about it and very grateful that I had brought it to their attention. So if you're looking for books that are simultaneously entertaining, fabulously imaginative and inventive, suspenseful, crafted with enormous skill, and provocative, get hold of a copy as soon as you can.

I guarantee you that you won't be sorry. In the highly unlikely event you are, I offer you the only reward I can (assuming you consider it a reward, and not a punishment): I'll write an article just for you, on whatever topic you select. But no cheating!

In the meantime, I clearly need to consider seriously other kinds of writing. Let's see. Suppose there were two gangs of vampires, a group of terrorist-vampires with a secret cache of nukes, and some good vampires, who are so dedicated to the New American Way that they regularly use torture in their neverending efforts to save the world. (Did I say, "New"? Eh, not so much.) Kind of 24 meets Anne Rice. Lots of opportunities for all sorts of large-scale violence, spilling of blood, and nauseating scenes filled with screaming, gore and assorted detached body parts. You know, that might work! I'll think on it.

In a year or two, you can visit me in the Caymans.