Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Grumpy Bulldog + the Machine

Last month I got around to watching Trumbo, the biopic on screenwriter Dalton Trumbo.  During the "red scare" of the late 40s-early 50s he was jailed for refusing to answer questions from Congress.  After he got out of jail, he couldn't get a screenwriting job from any of the major studios, who were all too chickenshit to hire blacklisted writers or actors.

So Trumbo latched onto a way to get around the system.  He went to pretty much the shittiest non-porno studio in town and offered to bang out screenplays in a matter of days for about $1200 per.  After he impressed them with his initial efforts, he hit onto a way to make it pay even bigger:  he roped in all his friends who were also blacklisted and had them take on assignments for him.  Then he'd do any rewriting necessary.  The idea was even if he wasn't being paid as much, the volume could make up for it.

There was an obvious drop in quality in large part because the studio didn't have a lot of money and didn't really give a shit about making arty pictures.  At one point the John Goodman character says they bought a gorilla suit and they need to use it, so Trumbo assigns one of his writers to write a gorilla story.  The whole thing was basically what James Frey did years later according to one of Offutt's posts.  Kind of an assembly line writing machine.

At least according to the movie, Trumbo pretty much spent every waking hour on this.  He would often sit in the bathtub for hours outlining stories with a table and easel mounted over the tub.  (Which is something you might want to consider if you're not too fat to fit in a standard tub.)  He even had his kids helping to answer phones and drop scripts off with various directors.

Not all of his friends took to this new arrangement as well as he did.  One with cancer (played by Louis CK in the movie) got fed up and complained that he wanted to write something that wasn't shit.  Ultimately Trumbo felt the same way, which was when he wrote The Brave One, which won an Oscar--under an assumed name until 1975.

I could see some parallels to what I had been doing the last 18 months or so, only on a much, much smaller scale.  If I could have gotten $1200 for every book I wrote that would have been awesome.  Some of them I might have made $12 on.  It was the same principal though in cranking out one after another and only somewhat caring about the quality of it.  Even if each book didn't make a lot, the volume was more important.  Plus it was something to do.

When I was unemployed, usually I'd do some writing every day just to do something for a few hours.  After I started working again, even if it wasn't full-time, I stopped writing as much.  While before I might have had a new book done every week--or sometimes less--now it's more like two weeks or more for each novelette or whatever they would be called in the 10,000-40,000 range.  I honestly don't think it hurts the book sales all that much since there doesn't seem to be a correlation between releasing a new book and a rise in book sales.

Another thing is I have to almost make a conscious effort to throw a sex scene in the ones that are erotica.  I don't really care much about the sex and like with new books, there's no real correlation between the amount of sex and how it sells.  The ones that are more provocative like Transformed Into a Dominatrix lag behind other ones for whatever reason.  I've never really cared that much about the sex; like my frenemy John Oberon says, it pretty much stops a story dead.  Really I wish I could do like baseball or wrestling and bring someone else in like a relief pitcher or tag team to write the sex crap for me so I can just focus on stories.

Thinking about it, publishers like Solstice Publishing, who originally put out A Hero's Journey, kind of use the same method.  They gobble up a bunch of stories, put a minimum amount of effort into editing, covers, etc., and hope the volume of titles makes up for the lower number of units sold.  If you're the one making 60% it does work out a lot better.

Like Trumbo and his friend, sometimes I'd like to do something more literary.  But as in the past anytime I think that I wonder, "Who the hell would read it?"  Only if I gave it away for free.  In which case, what's the point?  I'm long past the point where I think The New Yorker or whatever other magazines that still publish stories would ever publish mine.  Or that I could ever win a Pulitzer or National Book Award or something--not that I ever really did seriously entertain such notions.

Last year I did like Trumbo with The Brave One and worked in some time to do some non-gender swap stories.  One has sold some copies--in the UK.  The other hasn't hardly sold anything, even though it's a zombie story.  Apparently people can't get enough of zombie stories--unless I write one.  That's not much motivation to deviate from the usual.

It does suck being typecast sometimes.  It'd be nice to have a little more creative freedom, though I've found the subject to be pretty fertile, so long as you're creative.  Or maybe I should just try to recruit a few other writers to do the rough drafts and I can do any rewrites and take a cut of the profits.  Then I get money without having to do as much work.  It is a genius idea.

1 comment:

  1. I had never heard of Trumbo. Thanks for telling me about him.

    ReplyDelete

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