Creating comics for the purpose of getting movies of them made is moronic.
Cobbling together comics because you think they have “what Hollywood wants,” that’s selling out. That kind of thing is what corrupts comics. Here’s why:
You don’t know what Hollywood wants. Hollywood doesn’t know what Hollywood wants. Until they see it. Because everything is commercial, and nothing is.
I realize people who’ve seen the trailer for “2 Guns” probably think it plays as a ridiculously commercial concept (especially with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg in it), and, y’know, I always thought so. But I didn’t write it for that reason. I wrote it because it was what I wanted to write. I wanted to do something light (or, rather, lighter than much of my material), fast and fun that still addressed some of my creative obsessions. I wrote it for me, without a venue, because I wanted to do that story. The fact that the one thing I’ve written just for myself is the one thing that broke that market hasn’t been lost on me. If you’re writing creator-owned books and you’re not doing the comics you want to do, the way you want to do them, when are you ever going to? When Marvel discovers you? Dream on. I’m not saying if you write what you want to write, Hollywood will swoop down and make it all worth your while. (In theory, just the writing it will make it worth your while on some level.) I’m saying it’s got no less a chance than anything someone manufactures imagining it’s exactly what Hollywood wants. Maybe it’s got more chance.
Maybe you think you should mold your idea to something Hollywood would like? If you think you know what they’d what because you’ve seen what they produce, guess what? You’re already behind the curve. Way behind. They don’t want what they can come up with themselves. They can already come up with that. They want something they haven’t thought of, something that’ll get their interest bubbling.
And don’t worry about making it Hollywood-friendly. The cold fact is they don’t need you to change your creation to suit them, and they don’t want it. They can do that all by themselves, to suit their exact needs in the moment. If they need your help, they’ll ask for it.
Leave that to the experts and just do the damn comic you want to do. You don’t know what’s going to happen with it. There was a long stretch when people (especially in comics) kept telling me “2 Guns” was totally uncommercial. Yet here we are, because the right circumstances came together. I didn’t a book called “Odysseus the Rebel” for Big Head Press a few years ago, a revisionist modernist retelling of “The Odyssey.” It was an idea I’d wanted to do since college, just something I wanted to do. I took potential Hollywood interest into consideration not one iota while writing it. I never expected there to be any. Yet I’ve had various producers ringing me up about it over the years. Nothing has ever come of it, but that’s pretty irrelevant. Nothing comes of most attempts to make movies. That’s beside the point. The lesson here is that there are a lot of producers in Hollywood, they’re all looking for material, and if even one of them find your book interesting and thinks they have some angle to get $tudio mu$cle behind a movie, they will come knocking.
If people would just do the books they want to do instead of modifying or concocting work to make it palatable to Hollywood, we’d probably still have people out there griping that Hollywood is corrupting comics, but then they’d be wrong. Though they’re wrong now, too. It’s not Hollywood that’s corrupting comics. It’s lust for Hollywood.
Screenplays are for suckers.
Don’t get me wrong. Writing screenplays is an art in itself, a very complex and specialized field that usually take a lot of practice to master. I’m not saying don’t make screenwriting your career, if that’s what you want. I’m saying there are reasons why a lot of screenwriters want to write comics now.
While there are star screenwriters (hi, Blake!), screenwriting is not commonly the glamor job of Hollywood. It’s a commonly held view among comics creators, operating off very antiquated notions of how the town works, that the way to sell and “protect” your creation is to write a screenplay. Unless you want the practice, spare yourself the aggravation. Odds are staggeringly high it’s never going to get made. Or read.
Even if you find a sympatico producer, you’re still not likely to be writing the screenplay. To get the money to make the film, unless they’re going the independent route and that’s a whole other passel of headaches, a producer deals with a studio. Studios don’t like to see ideas, they like to see packages, and the more elements involved the better: marketable actors, marketable director, marketable screenwriter, marketable story. There are only a handful of studios left in Hollywood, they all find it far easier to say no than anything else, and they have a short list of screenwriters they consider marketable. (It varies a little with each studio.) Employing those writers increases (but in no way guarantees) the odds of getting the film greenlit. Employing writers not on the lists decreases the odds. Producers who want to keep earning a living learn to play the odds.
If you want to write screenplays these days, I’d recommend you write an independent film that can draw lots of attention at film festivals. Then get it made. All anyone knows if you write a screenplay is you want to write a screenplay, and that just makes you one among 40,000,000 other people. Get a movie produced, even an indie, and you’re suddenly elevated to the somewhat loftier heights of someone who wrote a screenplay that got made into a movie. Even better if the movie gets good press. Then they might come looking for you. That’s what they want, really: people they want to go looking for. What they don’t want is people who want to come looking for them. The streets of Los Angeles are already littered with those.
You don’t need a screenplay. You’ve already got a calling card. It’s your comic book or graphic novel, and the more interesting you can make it, both visually and textually, the more likely it is someone will want to pay you for it. But that’s true for the comics market too, not just for Hollywood. Difficult as it sometimes seems (&, face it, usually is; none of this is ever going to be easy, especially if you’ve never done it before) it’s possible to appease yourself creatively and make money, despite the great cultural myth that the two things are, and in the real world must be, eternally at odds.
There’s not as much money in Hollywood as everyone outside Hollywood thinks.
Hollywood has been the ultimate dream of many partly for the imagined fame and partly for the imagined money. Everyone wants to be rich and famous, and, at least in America (the rest of the world can let me know if it holds for them too), Hollywood has been viewed for more than a century as the fast track to wealth and fame. These days people see the box office results of things like “The Dark Knight” and “The Avengers,” hear about Robert Downey Jr. getting fabulous paydays, etc. and still think the streets in Los Angeles are paved with gold.
Unless you’re an upper echelon talent or creator, there’s money to be made — but there’s a good chance you won’t see much of it. Comics publishers like to run press releases bragging of options, but options mean nothing. The option price is the money you’ll get paid when the film starts shooting. Before that, you’ll maybe see 10%, to split between everyone involved on your end. Amortize that over the work you put into your graphic novel or series, & you’re lucky if it amounts to a decent page rate. Of course Robert Downey Jr. made a pile off “The Avengers,” but when you figure in percentages that slice off for agents, managers, lawyers and sundry other representatives, his percentage gets whittled down considerably. I’ve no idea of the size or makeup of Downey’s employees, but they have salaries that need paying, and you can roughly the bigger the star the bigger the payroll. I’ve no doubt Downey still made out great when the totals got tallied, just nowhere near the advertised amount.
And I’m not Robert Downey Jr., and neither are you. Unless the resulting project is phenomenally successful and you’ve managed to excellently protect your interests, you’re likely not going to wind up with a life-changing amount of money. But, considering the economically tenuous nature of comics freelancing, it might be a lifesaving amount. It might amount to a couple months’ mortgage. Your million dollar idea is only worth what someone’s willing to pay for it, and they’re not necessarily be cheap or trying to rob you if you think you’re being lowballed. Options don’t guarantee anything except the producer’s belief that somewhere, somehow there might potentially be a moneymaking movie in it. The riskier the proposition (by risky, I mean difficult to imagine as a film) the less you are likely to be offered for it upfront. Even if they’re convinced they still have to convince a lot of other people.
Whether a low front end offer is bad depends on the particular situation. In some ways it’s a test of your own faith in the long term potential of your property (though that’s only a single factor among many in deciding whether the deal’s any good). The important thing is what kind of payout you get when production starts, and that’s going to vary considerably depending on factors like the project’s overall budget. Unless your publisher has demonstrated considerable acumen at these things or you have access to a high power agent, you probably want a good entertainment lawyer (preferably with good recommendations and comics-to-media experience) to negotiate that for you.
Part 1 if you missed it.
Replies, mash notes, hate mail, etc. can be sent to email@example.com. Anyone who wants face time can find me at the San Diego Comic-Con, July 18-21 (try the Boom! Studios booth, 2743) & WizardWorld Chicago August 8-11 (I’ll have my own table). Stop by and say hi. (Tips are never refused either.)