Film Contacts by John A. A. Logan

At the beginning of this year, I read Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? for the first time.
I usually don’t feel drawn to read a book if I’m very familiar with the film based on it, but when I looked at reviews there seemed to be a consensus that the film, Blade Runner, was vastly different from the novel.
That turned out to be true. It’s almost as though Ridley Scott, the director of Blade Runner, excised 85 per cent of the content of the novel, perhaps all the best bits, and pared it all down to a short story, an action story. That might be what happens essentially with all film adaptations, of course…

I remember reading in one of Norman Mailer’s essay/non-fiction collections, long ago, an account of his sale of the rights for his first novel, The Naked and the Dead. Later, he saw the film and loathed it, thought it was an abomination. Then he described talking to writer friends who told him it always went that way, that the film adaptation of any novel always “broke the author’s heart”.

Robert M. Pirsig’s sequel to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, a second philosophical novel entitled, Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, ends with a very detailed chapter describing Pirsig’s meeting in a New York hotel room with Robert Redford, where Redford attempts to buy the film rights to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The novel, Lila, has opened with an analysis of Redford in a film scene. And here, near the end, Redford enters the novel as “himself”. Pirsig has turned up for the meeting having already decided that Redford can have the rights to the film of his book. He tells Redford this, which seems to disconcert Redford. At some point in the meeting Redford tells Pirsig that, whatever happens, whoever makes the film, that Pirsig will be disappointed in the film, that it “always goes that way”. The rest of the meeting goes so badly that Pirsig decides not to sell the film rights to Redford after all.

I was in a room once, myself, with one of Scotland’s most famous novelists, and he described going to the cinema to see the film that had been made of his book.
“I wept,” he said.

Five years ago, my literary agent phoned me from London, and told me he believed his colleague (who had discovered the unpublished manuscript for the multi-Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire when she was a book scout for Channel 4) would be interested in buying the film rights to The Survival of Thomas Ford. But my agent said he was determined to sell my book’s film rights for a higher sum than that would bring.
Not long afterwards, that film consultant who had discovered Slumdog Millionaire did take a strong interest in The Survival of Thomas Ford, working with me intensively for 8 weeks on a rewrite of the book. I was never sure why such a rewrite was necessary. The film consultant had consistently told my agent for 6 months that The Survival of Thomas Ford was the best book she had read in the last 4 years, in its original version. The rewrite was only suggested after all the London and Edinburgh publishers had rejected the book solidly over those six months. In any case, the film consultant and myself talked on the phone for 13 hours over those next 8 weeks of rewriting, often talking about films we both liked, but she never once suggested to me that she would want to buy the film rights to The Survival of Thomas Ford  herself.
Maybe that idea of a possible deal that could have been made, selling the film rights to her, was a possibility that only ever existed in the recesses of my literary agent's mind.
When I eventually came to self-publish The Survival of Thomas Ford on Amazon in early 2012, it was the original version I published, not the rewrite.

Four years ago, the literary agent contacted me again, wanting a book synopsis of The Survival of Thomas Ford to send out to film producers.
This was mid-2012, at the peak of the indie ebook selling phase, there was action everywhere, all around, and the job was to sell ebooks before the gold mine phase ended. One day I saw $500 of ebook sales in 5 hours. Not long after that, I made $1800 in ebook sales in one week, with no advertising, and was invited by Orna Ross to appear on the author panel at London Book Fair which launched the Alliance of Independent Authors, to describe how quickly those sales had come, after only 4 months of self-publishing.  
I was so busy selling, that I had to put the book synopsis for the literary agent on the back burner for 6 months…when I did finally send it to him in late 2012, he told me that he was determined to sell the film rights to The Survival of Thomas Ford, even if it was to a tv station in Japan…I’ve never heard from him again.

By late 2014, my own ebook-selling business was just about stone dead, I think a lot of people’s was by that point.
It was indeed a Winter of Discontent…

Then one day a Direct Message came in on Twitter:
“Hi John
Be keen to know if The Survival of Thomas Ford been optioned for film

I was a bit sceptical.
But the Twitter account turned out to be genuine, with a link to the film producer’s details.
His IMDb page was stuffed full of acting/writing/producing credits.
He’d worked with Jean Claude Van Damme (!), Emma Thompson, Penelope Wilton, Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson, Miranda Richardson, Danny Dyer…photos of him with a few of those actors appeared on the producer’s IMDb pages…
He’d just the month before finished production of a film shot at Pinewood which he wrote the screenplay adaptation for, and also acted in himself, along with another actor who had been in The Good Wife and Brideshead Revisited, and another actor who was the son of a very famous Hollywood director whose films I grew up watching.

Well well, I thought, looking at his Twitter message in late 2014, this might be worth getting really excited about, a bloke like this contacting me out of the blue. The book business has been terrible recently, but could this be my luck returning?
I sent him a short, cautious answer.

He wrote back:
"I loved the book and would love to chat to you about it. Are you around next week?"

I gave him my phone number via Twitter DM.
 He replied:
"Thanks. I'll be in touch next week at some point."

I never heard from him.
After a month of waiting, I sent him my literary agent’s contact details.

The film producer wrote back again, saying that he would be “in touch next week definitely to catch up”.

I never heard from him again, but, that next week, a very odd thing happened.
During one of the evenings when I was trying to distract myself from expecting his phone call, I turned on the TV and watched a film, a biopic of a famous British pop star.
About an hour into the film, the pop star is on the ground, getting a kicking from a cop. The cop looked very familiar.
I looked up IMDb film credits, and yes, the cop was played by the actor/writer/producer I was waiting for the phone call from that night, the call I’d been told to expect that would never come.
Synchronicity? Only if synchronicity is made in Hell.

In late 2015, I had one more point of contact from a film producer, but did not know I was having it at first.
A new review came in on Amazon for The Survival of Thomas Ford:

“Right from page one you fall into the lap of the writer…I loved the plot, the characters, the evil twists, and the truth written into the lines and beneath them. Jack is pure evil, while his son Jimmy has been one spark-plug short since birth. Jimmy's best friend Robert is big and weak of mind and Lanski is one lost soul drifting through life with vacant dreams. The story takes the reader on a journey never knowing which way to turn. You can guess, but you will be wrong. John A.A. Logan has written a wonderful book. It's a mystery, a thriller, and in a strange way a love story. I need to read more from Logan and look forward to his next book. I gave this book 5-stars and each one is well deserved.”

I was very happy to receive this review, obviously, and had a look at the other reviews this person had left on Amazon.
There was a photo of the reviewer but no other info.

A few days later, I did a Twitter search for any mentions of The Survival of Thomas Ford.
I found one: “Just read a great book, The Survival of Thomas Ford. I think it might make a great movie”
I looked at the Twitter account, and saw a link to a website.
On the website was a photo of a man, and it was the same photo that was on the recent Amazon reviewer’s page.
The website was the website of an American film producer.
I saw that he had once been an actor in the 1960s, appearing in Bewitched on TV, and his first film role had been in Ice Station Zebra (a film based on an Alistair MacLean novel, an author from the same part of the Scottish Highlands as myself). In Ice Station Zebra he had acted alongside Rock Hudson and Patrick McGoohan.
His IMDb entry describes him as having directed, produced and written “14 feature films, numerous tv commercials, and several music videos. He has sold 32 screen plays, of which over half have been produced. He has also developed 4 tv series, and directed 2 series pilots.”

That was the end of last year, and that film producer who left the Amazon review never contacted me directly in any way.
I never contacted him in any way.

Last Christmas, when a friend was visiting, Ice Station Zebra came on tv.
We missed the beginning, maybe even the middle, so I don’t think we saw the actor/producer, but we did see his name in the credits at the end.

This year, though, so far, no form of contact at all, from any film producers…
Which, of course, isn’t exactly true, as I wrote last month about the contact made to me by Werner Herzog, when I watched his 1974 film, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser.
Perhaps that’s the right kind of contact to have with film producers.
Not staring at the phone, waiting for it to ring.
Just staring at their films instead.  


Andrew Crofts said…
This all sounds very familiar. The world is full of fantasists and the film industry attracts more than most. Ninety nine per cent of the time it all comes to nothing but then every so often one of them pulls off something amazing. (Who would ever have believed Sylvester Stallone would pull off his Rocky coup?). The moral of the story - you have to kiss a lot of frogs in the hope that one of them will turn out to be your Prince Charming.
Anonymous said…
And there was one other contact by proxy. Remember when I went to see The Insider produced by Pieter Jan Brugge? I had read that he would be visiting the screening and available to answer questions, so I took a copy of Thomas Ford, and after the screening handed it to him, telling him it would make a terrific film, given the location and writing style. He smiled and said he would read it right away. But, as Andrew said above, no Prince Charming that time. These guys are missing a great opportunity because it would make a terrific film.
madwippitt said…
You know the tale of The Princess Bride of course? Author/screenwriter William Goldman tried to get it made as a film, everyone turned it down, so he wrote it as a book and then a bit later he of course did the screenplay when interest in it popped up ... Terrific book but even better film. Both by the same person :-)
madwippitt said…
PS If this is your first excursion into Philip K Dick, do go check out his short stories (many of which have been made into feature length films that bear little or no resemblance - including probably most famously, Minority Report and Total Recall) as they are superb. Like Ray Bradbury, both masters of the short story!
lynnann50 said…
Well...You know which book I would love to live in film version AND who I want to play the and peace. Keep on keepin' on John.
Lydia Bennet said…
Well John, they don't call it 'development hell' in the film biz for nothing! Effusive contacts leading nowhere, it's all fairly typical from what I've heard from friends in the film world. Also, I know of quite a few people who've 'sold the film rights' for books and similarly, heard nothing ever again, so it's not a done deal even then. You've done very well in the ebook line, and who knows, someone somewhere may still make that movie! or tv miniseries? btw I think Blade Runner (in all its versions) is utterly brilliant and has influenced movies ever since, and just uses PKD's book as a jumping off point. The visuals are Ridley Scott's strong point, and they are what a film delivers more than dialogue etc - films are 'based on' books, not faithful copies after all. often film and book differ but both are excellent (I'd put Silence of the Lambs in this category).
Umberto Tosi said…
Your film rights tale reads like a good mystery story in itself, with the ending pending. I fell down the movie rights rabbit hole with High Treason, a first-person cold war spy biography I coauthored about a real-life Soviet KGB double agent for the CIA in the Middle East. I had heady moments with several Hollywood producers and packagers, including a marquee-name actor - and even earned some healthy film option payments before the whole thing played itself out with no results. I've had a few feelers with Ophelia Rising, but I'm not holding my breath. Anyway, I enjoyed your post!

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