Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Writer and Hollywood

The recent strike by screenwriters in Hollywood resolved in time for this year’s Academy Awards ceremony has renewed my interest in the artistic or economic interactions between authors and the film industry. Author Alexander King once stated: “The films take our best ideas. We work like slaves, inventing, devising, changing to please the morons who run this game. We spend endless hours in search of novel ideas and, in the end, what do we get for it? A lousy fortune!” Film producer Sam Spiegel once quipped: “Fifty thousand dollars for your thoughts.”

That the relationship between writers and the leaders of the film industry has always been strained, at times antagonistic, and that in many cases the situation continues today, is almost a given fact in Hollywood. Nevertheless, when young untested novelists can collect a million dollars for screen rights to their unpublished manuscripts and even the average screenwriter can command hundreds of thousands of dollars just to polish a film script, the writers’ reluctance to work with Hollywood becomes difficult for most moviegoers to comprehend.

Perhaps this inability to understand the confrontational relationship between writers and film producers is the result of a failure to grasp the complexity of the conflicts at work in such a kinship. After all, any investigation of the history of the relationship between the writer and Hollywood may reveal as much about the impact the cinema has had on American literary art and American society as it does about the positions of the principal parties involved.

No one would deny that the art of filmmaking was altered forever when the narrative forms of literature were introduced to the cinema on those early days of the silent-film era. As has been noted, D.W. Griffith’s adaptation of Thomas Dixon’s novel, The Clansman, into a movie masterpiece with controversial content, Birth of a Nation, not only readjusted the expectations for fiction in film by the growing American audience, but also further defined the way in which future directors would view their own medium.

As Francois Truffaut stated: “When cinema was invented, it was initially used to record life, like an extension of photography. It became an art when it moved away from the documentary. It was at this point that it was acknowledged as no longer a means of mirroring life, but a medium by which to intensify it.” Thus, the dominant form for filmmakers became fictional storytelling on screen. Accompanying the acceptance of plays and novels as legitimate sources for narrative film, directors discovered they often had to make an effort to enter into an uneasy alliance with the playwrights and novelists who gave birth to those narratives.

During the silent-film era, difficulties between novelists and filmmakers did not occur on a large scale. Still, in the beginning, as the first books were adapted for the screen, film producers did attempt to reject any arguments that fees ought to be paid for screen rights, declaring that the publicity received by both the book and its author would be ample reimbursement for all rights. When the courts upheld the claims of authors for monetary compensation, the economic concerns of novelists and playwrights were protected; however, an additional regard for retention of authorial rights was forfeited. The writer relinquished any entitlement to power over the production process of the film when the business transaction took place, except in the rare occurrence that this aspect was otherwise covered in the contract.

The film studios acceded to the demands for payment of writers but held firm on contract concessions that would surrender any power or control over the final film product. Anyway, at the time such statements were considered unnecessary by most writers and, therefore, did not appear in the contracts. In the 1920s, the novel was a prominent art form, and American novelists—led by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway—were among the country’s noted celebrities. In addition, along with the literary critics and academics, most American fiction writers did not take cinema seriously as an art form or as a potential source of competition, a rival.

Even into the 1930s, Hollywood was merely a place for a novelist to make some quick cash between publications, as clearly illustrated in the biographical accounts of Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, both of whom despised working in Hollywood. Each detested the artificiality of its environment, mistrusted the motives of its inhabitants, and questioned the worth of its work, but neither could refuse the lucrative offers originating from the West Coast. Faulkner summed up his attitude toward working in film when he commented: “Hollywood is the only place in the world where a man can get stabbed in the back while climbing a ladder.”

Writers who in the 1920s viewed the movies as harmless diversions not worthy of serious consideration soon came to see films as a threat to their positions in society and to their art. The economic depression of the 1930s forced Americans to clutch more tightly to their income—that portion spent in nonessential areas, including entertainment, lessened—and the cost of a movie ticket was cheaper than the cover price of a novel. When fewer novels were bought, fewer were published, while the production of films flourished. With a few exceptions, novelists lost their position as celebrities, replaced by the larger-than-life figures of the silver screen. Perhaps most importantly, with the transition from silent films to all-talking features, filmmakers trespassed upon territory formerly the exclusive property of the playwrights and novelists—words.

Directors now had the ability to alter the language—perhaps to tailor the words used by the novel’s narrator or play’s characters—in order to suit the cinematography, and even Shakespeare's words were not immune to this. Many writers felt their work violated in the process. The attitude of screenwriters seemed no better. In 1933, James M. Cain wrote: “Of the three hundred or so writers actually employed in Hollywood, I suppose I know fifty, and I don’t know one who doesn’t dislike movie work, and wish he could afford to quit it.” Cain was one of the few novelists able to adjust to writing for film. Working in Hollywood for nearly two decades (1931-1948), he understood that cinema represented a separate medium, a separate art form, and to expect re-creation of another medium was unrealistic, perhaps even undesirable.

As Cain explained: “That thing up there isn’t primarily the record of a novel, a play, or a story. It is a series of photographed pictures.” The logical conclusion one could infer, therefore, was that those who control what pictures appear and in which order they are presented would possess the power, would be the medium’s true authors.

By the end of the twentieth century writers were beginning to take advantage of this knowledge. For decades American authors followed advice similar to that once rendered by John Updike when he suggested that the author ought “to take the money and run. And hide, ideally. For the author owes, at least, his Hollywood benefactors a tactful silence.” This recommendation was seconded by Nicholas Delbanco, a former student of Updike who has had his own negative reactions to seeing his novel transferred to film, when he counseled writers to “follow Woody Allen’s wisdom, to ‘take the money and run,’ and avoid dealing with film people.”


Daniel Pritchard said...

We (Black Sparrow Books) publish a great collection of short stories & memoir / essays by Daniel Fuchs on his time as a Hollywood contract writer in the 1930s, called 'The Golden West'.

Anonymous said...

From the research I've done, it doesn't look like the average Hollywood writer earns gobs of money. When you consider that many of the writers aren't employed for hit TV shows & that the actors/executives have always earned a whole heck of a lot more than the writers do, I have a soft spot for them. Also, the writers are often fighting for residuals & other aspects, which I think they are entitled to do. I'm a magazine writer, so I'm probably biased. However, I just don't see (with the current strike) that the writers were being particularly greedy or demanding. I'm sure it got on the nerves of some of the viewers though -- being that they were looking forward to new shows.

Edward Byrne said...


I appreciate the additional source.


Most of the post concerns novelists or playwrights receiving money for film rights or to work on scripts and their historically uneasy relationship with Hollywood. Additionally, I hope this post doesn't seem to suggest Hollywood screenwriters are greedy, just that most moviegoers are unsympathetic to their situation.

Nevertheless, any statistics about average scriptwriters salaries can be misleading. The unions like to include all unemployed who register as a scriptwriter, which naturally lowers the average salary substantially because the unemployed may register as no salary at all. The same would be true if we included all unemployed actors in an average of actors salaries.

However, the post above speaks of average working writers who receive money for the scripts they have been contracted to write or revise.

The New York Times in November stated: "The writer of a major studio release can expect a paycheck of at least $1 million, according to union members, while 'name' screenwriters might earn in the $4 million range per picture. The average working writer in Hollywood takes home about $200,000 a year, according to the studios and networks, which are represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers."

Finally, I believe in free enterprise and capitalism: as a writer, I'd love to see all of us who write get as much compensation as possible.

Thanks, Daniel and Mary, for your comments.