It is a strange thing that money or power very often changes the way people label each other. For instance, if you act weird and are poor, you are crazy. But if you have money, you are eccentric...but you are just as weird. The difference is that folks will tolerate you because you have the dough or the influence. Their hope is that some of that gold will rub off in their direction.
Author Brian Keene is neither rich nor operates his own publishing house. So when he encounters a problem and is outspoken about it, people call him things – many things – and it comes from all areas of the horror world. Some people can be very vocal when they are rubbed the wrong way. Brian doesn't care, if he thinks the fight is just. He recently led the boycott of Dorchester Publishing when they appeared to be screwing their authors and won. When it comes to getting his books made into films he is even more unrelenting. I call him...independent, which according to Dictionary.com is:
(1) not influenced or controlled by others in matters of opinion, conduct, etc.; thinking or acting for oneself: an independent thinker.
(2) not subject to another's authority or jurisdiction; autonomous; free: an independent businessman.
(3) not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.
That's Brian. So I thought it would be interesting to get his take on the process of optioning books to film. Here are the answers from a renegade POV. Starting with running his own show...in terms of an agent, Brian is his own man.
"No. The only agent I have is a foreign rights agent, who sells editions of my books to foreign countries. I handle everything else--including US book sales and movie and other media sales. I've been pretty lucky in that I don't have to go out and beat the bushes and stir up contracts. For whatever reason, a lot of folks in the movie business seem to read and enjoy my books, so invariably, they seek me out."
His books Darkness on the Edge of Town, Dark Hollow and Castaways are currently in development. That means that a company has taken the next step beyond option and are moving forward to put the project together. But for each project that means something different.
"It varies for each one, and I'm limited on what I can say (those darn Non-Disclosure Agreements). Production wrapped on Ghoul back in July. It debuts on Chiller later this year, followed by release on DVD and Blu-Ray. In the case of Darkness on the Edge of Town, Scott Derrikson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose) and C. Robert Cargill are in the midst of finalizing the screenplay. In the case of Dark Hollow, the screenplay is finished and director Paul Campion is finishing up post-release press for The Devil's Rock, with Dark Hollow slated for him to tackle next. Castaways, optioned by Kasey Lansdale, is in early development, with several actors attached (including a few surprises)."
He never writes any of the scripts to his own books even though he has been asked. The honest fact is that the intimidator is intimidated.
"I've always had to turn it down -- usually because of preceding deadlines that wouldn't have allowed me to tackle a script on top of everything else. In truth, I also find the challenge of writing a screenplay to be more than a little daunting. I'm not sure why. I've never had a problem thinking visually, and obviously, I can write comic book scripts, but I'm still timid when it comes to screenplays for some reason."
Brian's breakout book was The Rising published by Leisure Books in 2004. Since that time there have been countless novels, novellas and short stories. There have also been many options. That might get another author to change the way they write in order to make it more palatable to Hollywood. But not in Brian's case.
"I don't think so. I've always written in a very visual, cinematic style. I think a lot of writers from my generation do the same. Look at our influences. Sure, we grew up reading novels by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Richard Laymon, and Clive Barker, but we also saw a lot of John Carpenter, Don Coscarelli, and George Romero movies, and read a lot of comic books (another visual medium)."
So if his writing style hasn't changed maybe his business acumen has grown as he deals with the Hollywood mindset.
"Oh, hell yes. Business is business. It's nice when a producer takes you out to dinner and says good things about your book, and tells you how much they loved it and that it would make a wonderful movie. That's all very well and good, and sometimes they even mean it (laughs). But when it comes time to talk contracts and money and terms, you've got to put your excitement and mutual goodwill aside, and approach the contract for what it is.
"Absolutely I understand the Hollywood system of options more than when I started. But I've also been fortunate enough to have a long list of mentors and veterans who I can go to for advice if I need it."
As I research more and more of these columns they reveal to me that a good ground level support systems is a must for any writer, even those as independent as Mr. Keene. The beauty of the horror writing field is that there are groups and people who understand that and are willing to help the writer get to their desired end point. But what is that desired end point? What does a writer really hope for when one of their projects is optioned? A blockbuster film? A long term writing contract? A thousand virgins in heaven for eternity? Brian Keene does not hesitate with what he hopes for each time.
"That the check doesn't bounce (laughs). And that the readers will be as supportive of the film as they were of the book."
Brian Keene can be found at his official website: http://www.briankeene.com
Del Howison is a journalist, writer and Bram Stoker Award-winning editor. He is also the co-founder and owner of Dark Delicacies "The Home of Horror" in Burbank, CA. He can be reached at Del@darkdel.com