Hollywood Warms to Novelists

Remember when becoming a writer was all about wanting to write the next great novel?

You do? Sorry to hear that, friend, cuz in that case you might as well hang up your film or TV writing aspirations right now. You’re old, y’know?

No, wait! Looks like we could, um, be wrong. Turns out you can have your novel (and your age) and eat film/TV cake too:

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by Rachel Deahl

Hollywood has long been seen as a place that is unfriendly to writers. Faulkner described it as a town where a man can get “stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder.” Hemingway advised authors: “Throw them your book, they throw you the money, then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came.” But thanks to a rise in demand for daring, long-form television, not only has there been a surge in options for literary material but producers and executives have become more open to original projects from novelists.

“We are selling more intellectual property to television than ever before,” said Rich Green, a veteran agent at ICM Partners who specializes in this area. Not only has there been an uptick in the number of literary properties being acquired but, as he noted, barriers that once prevented novelists from writing TV or film are beginning to break down. “What you’re finding in both television and film now is a recognition that a great storyteller is a great storyteller, regardless of the medium,” Green said. “Once upon a time there was a very high and thick wall that separated those who wrote for television and film from those who wrote novels…. That wall has come down.”

George Pelecanos, who had a well-established pedigree as a crime novelist when he began writing for the HBO seriesThe Wire (2002–2008), has experienced this firsthand. Pelecanos said that David Simon, who created the cable drama, had a different viewpoint than the average show runner. Simon, who began his career as a reporter for theBaltimore Sun, brought on a number of crime novelists to write for The Wire, including Dennis Lehane and Richard Price. (Pelecanos was hired after author Laura Lippman, Simon’s girlfriend at the time, urged him to read Pelecanos’s work.) Simon’s once-singular notion, that novelists are ideal writers for the kind of character-driven TV drama he was creating, is now more widely held by producers and studio executives.

Pelecanos continues to write for television—his post-Wirecredits include working as a writer and producer on the HBO series Treme (also created by Simon)—and he said that thanks to people like Simon, “the studios and cable companies are no longer afraid to hire novelists.” Now, he added, “there are lots of jobs out there for the taking.”

The success of Nic Pizzolatto, creator of HBO’s True Detective, points to just how much Hollywood’s view of novelists has changed. Pizzolatto’s 2010 book, Galveston, garnered critical acclaim but generated few sales. After he wrote a well-received screen adaptation of the novel, on spec, his representation paired him with a TV specialist in order to create a polished pilot. The pairing paid off when True Detective was picked up by HBO.

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