I can’t think of a better way to end the summer than with this guest blog by Flipped author Wendelin Van Draanen. Hers is a true Hollywood tale of a novelist suddenly swept into the movie making machine, complete with a quite unexpected twist. So read and wait for it. It’s truly worth the read.—DR
When someone in Hollywood options your novel, it just means that they’ve got dibs on it. It doesn’t mean they will actually do anything with it but claim temporary ownership of the right to do something. For this they pay the author a fairly meager amount and then see if they can make something happen.
Usually options go nowhere. So many parts have to come together to produce a film that the number of optioned books that actually make it to the screen—any screen—is stunningly small. Things come together slowly and can fall apart fast.
My romantic comedy Flipped had been optioned for years. It felt like forever. I kept hearing that a new script was being written. And another two new hot stars were potentially onboard. And wait, now the Ephron sisters were writing a script! And…and…and!
I learned to take it all with a good dose of salt. It would sound so exciting and promising, and then it would fall apart.
Then I got a call from Rob Reiner and heard the story about what he’d gone through to get the rights to Flipped from the previous production company. I listened to his vision for the movie and how he and his writing partner were starting over with the script—how he was going to do it like the book. “I love the book! Why would I mess with the book?”
To an author, there are no more mellifluous words.
Angels were singing all around me.
Then he broached the subject of era. He saw the book as having an innocence that was representative of an earlier era. And in considering the events that transformed us as a nation, he felt that the assassination of John F. Kennedy was the point in more recent history where our country had lost its innocence. So although I wrote the book as a fairly contemporary story, he wanted to set the film between 1957 and 1963.
It seemed well-reasoned. And I was aware that he was being considerate; that he was under no legal obligation to discuss his vision or intentions.
And angels were still singing!
When the script arrived, I was thrilled. It was so different than the other scripts I’d seen for Flipped.
It was just like the book!
Why was this a problem? Well, I’d been getting fan mail for years about a sequel. Tons of fan mail, most of it demanding a sequel. And as much financial sense as it would have made to write one, I thought it was the wrong thing to do. I think Flipped ends with a lovely balance of romanticism and realism. Uplifting, but not tied up with too many bows.
In my replies to letters demanding a sequel, I used to try to soften the no-sequel blow by mentioned that “Hollywood” had optioned Flipped and that the movie would undoubtedly have a “Hollywood ending.”
“Just go to the movie,” I said. And knowing what they wanted to see, I added, “I promise you—Bryce and Juli will kiss.”
So yeah. Rob Reiner’s ending being just like the book was a problem.
I stewed about this for days, then arranged a meeting with Rob Reiner to discuss the movie’s ending in person.
Rob’s first comment upon meeting me in the Castle Rock hallway was, “You’re taller than I expected!” Then he led me into his office—an office filled with cowboy-style furniture. Whole tree trunks were used for armrests. I sank into a leather sofa, feeling like Alice in a Wild West Wonderland, soaking in all the movie posters framed and mounted on the walls, imagining one for Flipped in a slot beside The Princess Bride.
“Alan!” Rob called, motioning to someone passing by his doorway. “Alan, come in, meet Wendelin.”
So I wrestled out of the sofa to my feet and shook hands with Flipped’s executive producer, who, I kid you not, said, “You’re taller than I expected!”
(Authors beware: Your height is apparently assessed by the little photo of you on your book’s back flap.)
After some pleasantries, we got down to the purpose of my visit. “I’ve come as an emissary for readers across America,” I told him. Then I proceeded to describe the volume of mail, the demands for a sequel, and the passionate and persistent need my readers had to see Bryce and Juli kiss. “You could have the credits rolling by,” I suggested, “while Bryce and Juli are getting to know each other. You know—have them riding bikes, climbing a tree, feeding the chickens, talking and laughing—and then at the very end of the credits…they kiss!” I promised him that people would stay in the theater through all the credits; that this was a moment they’d been anticipating for years.
He listened very nicely.
He even rubbed his chin in thoughtful contemplation.
“I’ll give it some thought,” he promised me.
And then, in the end, he stuck to the book.
I have to laugh when I reflect on this. I mean, how many authors go to the director with a plea to make the movie different than the book? I’m the only one I know.
So the movie may not have delivered the Hollywood ending I’d promised, but I’m glad I summoned the courage to ask and that he had the courtesy to listen. He may have decided against my alternate ending, but that itself is a Hollywood ending of sorts—the man stood by the book.
In the end, that’s a “no” I’m honored to live with.
Check out the newly released 15-year anniversary edition of Flipped for more book-to-movie anecdotes, and explore “Movies & More” at www.WendelinVanD.com.
Social media connections: @WendelinVanD
Options are not the Holy Grail, the Promised Land, or even the droids we’re looking for. As I heard it, a naive Isaac Asimov optioned “I, Robot” with no expiration. Nothing happened. The story concept apparently had been optioned primarily to keep it out of the hands of other production companies.
Fifty-odd years after the book was published, a movie appeared called “I, Robot,” but it had little to do with Asimov’s book beyond the title and some characters’ names. Instead of “based on” credit, the titles stated, “suggested by the stories by Isaac Asimov.”
It’s good to hear about a book option that actually goes somewhere instead of gathering metaphorical dust for decades.
Agreed JG. Options. Development. These are closer to kisses than promises. To get your first or second option made into a picture is nothing less than a wonderful miracle… one to believe in.
Hollywood’s a muddling place. I know my experience with Flipped was a rare one, but it’s nice to know they do exist! Thanks for sharing with your readers, Doug!
No. ThankYOU for sharing it with me. xxooo
More and more, I see the truth behind Goldman’s dictum, “Nobody knows anything.” Muddling, yes: bewildering, confusing, bemusing, perplexing, puzzling, baffling, mystifying.
You’re at least 5′ 10″, Wendelin!
I can vouch that she’s closer to ten feet tall.
A true giant…
Perhaps you ought to make more promises.