A Locus Commentary by: Cory Doctorow
The science fiction film industry dwarfs its literary cousin, but as screens get sharper, its future is getting fuzzier.
Sell a novel and the first thing your friends will ask you is, “Are they going to make a movie out of it?” Tell someone you’re a novelist and the response is inevitably, “Has anyone made a movie out of any of your books?” The developer in central Oregon who’s building a Tolkien-themed housing estate has never read The Lord of the Rings, but he’s seen the Peter Jackson movies.
There’s a lot more money in Hollywood movies than there is in New York publishing. Sell a screenplay for a successful movie and you could earn sums that dwarf any advance you could hope to see for the book — even the option for the screenplay can come into big money.
The amazing thing is for all the money a writer on a big-budget SF movie can command, it’s still a tiny fraction of the incredible, farcical budgets for the overall motion picture. Spending a lot of money on a film is part of the marketing — I remember interviewing the publicist for the stink-o TV-to-film adaptation Lost in Space whose main boast for the picture was that New Line had spent $70 million on his screen-turd, making it the most expensive movie to come from the studio to date. Of course, by today’s standards, $70 million is chump-change.
These days, $200 million is a good round number to put on a bragsheet. What’s more, that kind of spending pays off. A blockbuster movie with blockbuster marketing will generate tremendous sums outside of the box office, through licensing deals and the vital “windowed” releases to foreign markets, DVD, video-on-demand, pay TV, broadcast TV, airplanes, and so on.
It’s that longevity that’s key to the payoff. A $200 million movie will have a hard time earning out in the box office — unless we’re talking about one of the rare smash-hits, the life-cycle of a wide release film is a brief moment of cinematic exhibition and then a fast shuffle into the after-market, clearing the way for the next $200 million movie.
But that longevity is now threatened by an unlikely menace: the high-definition screen. And no genre is more imperiled than science fiction/fantasy.
You can read Cory’s entire commentary at Locus Online.