Note: We have previously discussed this author in regard to content and themes. That is not the subject of this post; if you wish to discuss her writing, please comment here. The topic of this post is the arrogance of the Hollywood establishment coupled with its superstition about success – not the content of the particular movie/book in question. Thanks!
I recently caught the BBC World Book Club broadcast on satellite radio while travelling. The author who was being interviewed is massively successful with a devoted fan base and the book that was being discussed had been made into a movie, although I had not heard of her, her books, or the movie (apparently I’ve been living under a rock, also known as living my own life). Still the author spoke well and being the BBC, the questions were engaging. The author was Jodi Picoult and the book My Sister’s Keeper. The question that made the interview cross over from filling time while driving through rural Arkansas to making a post on Hathor had to do with the way the movie version of the book changed the ending of a book that was both controversial and, to fans, imperative. The author was asked if she took this experience in a cautionary way and was now going to be more careful what contracts she signed or what she approved for future film versions, and gave, to the uninitiated, a surprising response:
It’s not quite that simple. Most people do not realize how little control an author has when you sign the rights away to Hollywood…Most of the time, if you sell the rights to Hollywood, you have zero control over what happens, you are not consulted, nobody cares what you think. Hollywood believes really strongly that they know better, and that readers do not matter, really. They think that they can tell a better story and that you are only source material.1
This attitude is easy to see. We have talked about the arrogance of the Hollywood establishment many times on Hathor and we’ve talked about how superstitious belief in whatever the hell they want to believe in keeps eyes closed to obvious facts.
In this case, with this author and this book, the author had a lot of access to powerful people who refused her advice summarily and condescendingly:
And then, one day I got an email from a fan at a casting agency in Hollywood and she said “We just got the script in for My Sister’s Keeper, did you know they changed the ending?” So I called Nick at home and he wouldn’t talk to me. So I went to the movie set in LA and he threw me off the movie set. So I went to go talk to the head of New Line Cinema, and I said “I think you’re making a really big mistake. The target demographic for your film are the millions of people who read this book and they’re waiting for that moment.” And he said, “No no, we know what we are doing.”2
Even with all of that access and influence, she was still persona non grata when her opinion was no longer wanted. So that’s the arrogance. We know better, you are stupid, go away now. Now comes the supersition:
Well, they lost a lot of money on that film. And, the interesting thing, is that I now look like a genius in Hollywood because I predicted this. Even more ironic, is that, because I was able to predict this, I have more control now, than I ever did the first time around, when it comes to saying I need to have the ability to look at the script before it goes into production that is something they never would have given me as an author when I was signing the contract to My Sister’s Keeper.3
What did the Hollywood Establishment learn from this experience? Humility? Listen to authors more? Keep book endings when the intended audience is the fans of the book? Or even stick to your guns if you think you are making a better story? Nope. They learned that this particular person is a genius and a psychic and you should listen to her. That’s probably the same reason why success in Hollywood is so convoluted, and success gives you power. In fact, that’s probably why the whole damn culture is like that – failure in one respect means nothing you have to say is worth listening to, and a big success means you are to be listened to about things that aren’t related, which is a really bad way to run a company or a country.
1As I could not find a transcript of the interview on the BBC website, I did a transcript myself of the section involving the question about the film, which was about 5 minutes in length. This quotation is from timestamp 35:57-36:05 and 36:30-36:47. The entire interview is available currently at the link provided above and I have the transcript I did on my computer.