When Infidelity: a Memoir was first published in 2000, it was greeted with a starred review from PW, a paperback auction, sales in the UK and Australia, and a movie sale. As time went on, it went out of print. Dzanc Books decided to reprint it and a trade paperback is once again the shelves. I am thrilled about its rebirth.
The making of the movie is a story involving contracts and collaboration, complicated enough that this article is in two parts. This is Part One.
Lionsgate bought an option for the movie rights of Infidelity with a payment price should the movie be produced. The option buys time to pull together producer, director, financiers, script, and actors to assure a viable film while preventing another company from making a movie. The option period was for eighteen months but could be extended for additional time for additional money. I had some reluctance to sign the contract because I was signing away the rights to my characters for all eternity: i.e. the movie personnel could make any changes they wished, as well as sequels or a TV series.
This contract is the introduction to the world of film for the author. A movie based on your book does not necessarily reflect your book. It’s a collaboration between artists from many fields, i.e. scriptwriters, director, art director, actors, producers, marketers, film editors, cinematographers. Making a movie is a big-ticket item and the eye is on potential remuneration and box office success. In other words, marketing and sales inform every decision.
“So you sold your book to a movie studio. Take your option, rejoice, and hope the movie doesn’t get made,” another writer quipped.
The fantasy is you make a fortune if you sell a movie. That depends on the producers’ plans for the movie. Books have sold to movies for five hundred to five million. And, of course, your agent and publisher take their percentages.
I didn’t hear anything for well over a year. Then the option was extended for an additional period with additional funds.
Time went on. I assumed the movie was not going to be produced.
I went to Mexico madly working to complete a contract on my next book. At a tiny internet café, I received an email that Lionsgate was producing the movie. In fact, they planned to start shooting in three weeks. In New Orleans.
Three weeks? New Orleans? Infidelity is a memoir chronicling the infidelities of my grandfather, father, and husband. None of us ever lived in New Orleans.
“They forgot it was a memoir. And changed it quite a bit. Now, you can decide if you want it based on the book, inspired by the book, or not mentioned at all. Either way you get the money. I’m sending you the script,” my editor emailed.
But I couldn’t download it in Mexico. I’d have to wait until I return home.
Something else happened that’s important in Mexico. I met another author who had a bestseller for over a year that became a star-studded, Oscar-winning movie. She kindly shared her experience. Her book was also a memoir. In spite of being executive producer, the plot was changed in such a way that the movie affected her relationship with her child.
As soon as I arrived home, I read the script of my book. The plot had been flipped 180 degrees. Instead of my husband having a lover, I do. Well, my character. Instead of desperately wanting children, I don’t want to be a mother. Instead of my husband being black, he’s white. My lover is a Latino jazz musician. Ironically, the family history is the same. My character is also a marriage and family therapist. There had been enough movies about male adultery, this would be a movie of female adultery, the producer decided. And I, wearing my marriage and family therapist hat, knew that adultery rates on the part of wives approached husbands’.
“This movie will be so different, it is not about us at all,” my children said, relieved.
And now I got to decide if my name would even appear on the movie.
Take away suggestions: 1. If you’re lucky enough to sell a book, enjoy the option money.
2. Consider having your own lawyer read it. Don’t just rely on your agent and editor. Make sure you understand what you’re selling: your imagination, your characters, your ideas, your life, your writing will spark someone else’s project.
3. Consider insisting on being a consultant, an executive producer. Each will give you additional money and you’ll be in the loop. I suspect you’ll also accrue more hassles.
4. Your book is no longer just your baby, but is part of a collaborative art project.
Now, if you’re a traditionally published writer, you may feel you’ve already been a part of a team. After all, an agent, an editor, an art director, a publicity department helped determine the fate of your book. But as a writer, you were the central creator. With a movie, you completed your part when you sold your book. Now the producer and the director take the central roles. Even the scriptwriter is down on the list. Even an A-list actor follows the director’s bidding.
Meanwhile, celebrate your success. And celebrate having a WOW factor connected to your writing career.