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Thursday, May 12, 2005

Beagles, girls, movies

It's raining.

I first discovered Tolkien through an article by Peter S. Beagle (called, I think, Tolkien's Magic Ring, in the Tolkien Reader) when I was about 9. When I was in my early teens I found Beagle's I-wish-I'd-written-that first novel A Fine and Private Place (why has no-one ever made a beautiful film of it, I sometimes wonder), and soon after I obtained The Last Unicorn. I loved The Last Unicorn, although I loved it less because I wanted something else again just like A Fine and Private Place. (I was young and hadn't realised that it was better to have unique things that were good, rather than a sequence of diminishing returns to the well.) Beagle's written some wonderful short stories since, and several fine novels, and now, over forty years after The Last Unicorn, he's written a sequel novella, Two Hearts. This is cool. What's just as cool, for those of us fascinated by alternate methods of distribution, is how it's for sale. There are 3,000 of them, signed and autographed. And they aren't for sale. Instead, they come free if you buy (as CD, MP3 or download) the audiobook of Peter Beagle reading The Last Unicorn.

Speaking as someone who loves audiobooks, and loves audiobooks read by the author (if the author's someone who can read) I think this is a fascinating method of marketing.

If you're interested, you should potter around the www.conlanpress.com website -- http://www.conlanpress.com/html/audiobooks.html is the audiobook page, http://www.conlanpress.com/html/books.html is the books page. I hope it works for them.

...

Brief conversation with small daughter. "Dad, can I go to the movies with my friends?"
"Sure. What are you going to see?"
"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
"Ah. You know, I really want to see that too."
A sage nod. "Okay. Well, if it's good, I'll go and see it again with you."

I thought about offering to sit way at the back somewhere and pretend I didn't know them, and promise not to do anything specifically embarrassing but they're ten year old girls and they know that somehow it just wouldn't be the same.

...

Mr. Gaiman,

After a few back and forth e-mails with Ginger at Writers House about turning your short "We Can Get Them For You Wholesale" into a student film, it has become clear that, though they will (and have) provided rights for a production and private showings, we will never be able to show the thing at festivals. No director is willing to take up such a project.

What would it take to be able to get around this? Is such a thing possible without heaps of money?

The project as it sits would be a very faithful adaptation, though L.A. would have to figure into it instead of London. But, without festivals it does no one any good except to have a film that will never get anyone a job anywhere, which is the point.

Any help, advice, or commentary on the situation would be greatly appreciated.

-Derek Johnson
Graduate Film Student, Chapman University, Orange California


Well, it's a trade-off really, and one forced on us by bitter experience. (There was someone who made a student film of one of my stories, without getting proper permission, and saying it was only to be done as a student film, and then put it in for lots of festivals and it started showing up in a number of places, including being shown on planes, and it got rather awkward, especially as someone actually had bought the rights to the story in question.)

If you want free rights to adapt a short story as a student project, with the understanding that it doesn't get shown in any commercial context including film festivals, you go and talk to Ginger at Writer's House and if the rights are free and unencumbered and you don't irritate her, she'll send you a contract granting you the right to do it.

On the other hand, if you want to make a film that you can show at festivals, release commercially, control the rights on, and so on, you can go and talk to Jon Levin at CAA, and pay the going rate for one of my short stories (they aren't cheap, I'm afraid).

At least once, someone given a "you can make a free student film" agreement, wrote a script and started shopping it around Hollywood studios, trying to put together a major commercial film, and got rather upset when it was pointed out that he didn't have those rights. (At which point Merrilee, my agent, did what she normally does in similar circumstances, which is ask me to just say no to everyone, and I did what I do, which is say no, I'm willing to let students make non-commercial films, and I know it's a headache, and we'll see what happens in the future.)

(I do sometimes think that someone should round up all the different student films that have been made of WE CAN GET THEM FOR YOU WHOLESALE. They range from the brilliantly accomplished to the charmingly inept, from dogme to twilight zone, literal and out there. There are male protagonists, female protagonists. An astonishing range of stories told from that one tale. It'd make an amazing DVD or website, and I'd probably allow it over the massed protests of those who look out for my interests because it would be so utterly cool -- like a series of filmic remixes. I have no idea how one would get it to happen though.)
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