Soon To Be a Major Motion Picture!
Those were the bold and thrilling words emblazoned across the top of the very first paperback edition of Florida Straits in 1993. The claim, it’s fair to say, was premature and over-optimistic, but you couldn’t call it fraudulent. The book, after all, had been optioned for film even before its publication in 1992. Everyone agreed it was a natural for the cinema. Studio execs were already talking about who would be the perfect Joey Goldman, the perfect Bert the Shirt. I somehow got myself hired to write the first draft of the screenplay. Things were going swimmingly, and as far as I could tell, this whole Hollywood business was really pretty easy.
Easy? Ha! What I’ve learned since is that getting a movie made is about as easy as tossing a full box of Scrabble tiles up in the air and having them all land face-up, making seven-letter words on triples. The odds are staggeringly high against. A thousand things need to go right; a single thing going wrong can stop the whole machine like a sand grain in a gas line.
And things do go wrong. I once had a movie about to be green-lighted, when the financier choked to death on a piece of steak in a Beverly Hills restaurant; if he’d gone with the vegetarian option, I might have an Oscar on the shelf today. Another time, a producer became born again and decided he could not make movies that included profane speech; can you imagine any of my characters saying Gosh darn it? On yet another occasion, our presumptive star bailed at the last moment to do a different film in which he played a robot; who knows, perhaps the robot role better suited his emotional range.
In any case, I’m not writing this post to piss and moan about an unjust Fate, because the truth is that the movie fates have treated me way better than I had any right to expect. There’s a lot of follow-the-leader in Hollywood, as there is in every business, and once Florida Straits had been optioned, I seem to have been placed into that fortunate category of Writers Whose Books Might Make Good Movies. So other producers and studios wanted in, and, one by one, succeeding titles were bought up. Scavenger Reef, Sunburn, Tropical Depression, Virgin Heat, The Naked Detective—all those were optioned for feature film, all of them more than once. Option payments became a sort of annuity that I would not otherwise have had the cash or the brains to buy. Sometimes I’d get hired to write a script, other times I was politely told to go away. I ended up with just barely enough paid gigs to qualify for a modest pension from the Writer’s Guild. Pretty damn lucky, considering that screenwriting was never more than a side hustle for me and that I never even pretended to really be in the movie business. So, as I say, I’m not complaining.
Cut to summer of 2019.
Florida Straits finally comes out of option. Deals for other titles have lapsed along the way. For the first time in twenty-eight years (!!!) I find myself with zero novels under consideration for feature film. None. Not any. Zilch. My first thought: Well, that’s it, the ride’s over. Finito. Kaput.
My second thought: But, boy, it was a fun ride, a terrific ride. Be thankful for it.
My third thought: Oh shit, it’s really over.
I moped for a week or so. Then the television people started showing up.
Well, okay, they didn’t just appear out of nowhere. I made some inquiries. What had happened is that, during that week of moping, my whole perspective changed. What I’d first seen as an ending now appeared a tremendous opportunity. Being free of the movie options, I once again owned every character and every story line I’d ever written. The whole shebang was mine to sell, no conflicts, no restrictions. And everyone kept telling me that the best visual storytelling these days is on TV and not in film. So I got in touch with some TV folks. My pitch was basically this: Fourteen novels, all set in blue-sky Key West, with interweaving plots and an ensemble of recurring characters, the whole thing anchored by a very eccentric and completely lovable ex-Mafioso who wears loud shirts and owns a chihuahua. Why couldn’t that work as the basis for one of those edgy limited series that Netflix and Amazon and Hulu are doing?
Well, I’m happy to report that some folks in the television business seem to think it could work quite well. Suffice it to say that discussions have begun.
Will the show actually happen? As this is hardly my first rodeo, I won’t make any rash predictions. But I’ll tell you why I hope it does.
It’s not about the money. Partly it is, sure. But not mainly. I mean, revenue is always nice but it wouldn’t be a life-changer at this stage of the game. And it’s not for the presumed thrill of seeing my stories come to life; I clearly see them playing out every time I sit down to write. No, the reason I would really love to see the TV thing happen is that a TV show is the most powerful tool there is for recruiting Millennials as readers. Game of Thrones, The Handmaid’s Tale, Big Little Lies—those are just a few of the shows that have brought waves of new readers to pre-existing books. The Millennial audience—trust me on this—is the most challenging to connect with, and that’s the new audience I’m hoping to reach.
So I hope you’ll wish me well on this television caper. I’ll keep you posted on its progress. In the meantime, please feel free to let your younger friends and colleagues and family members know it’s in the pipeline. They’ll thank you for the tip when they find themselves way ahead of the curve for having read a few of the novels even before the show breaks big…Thanks!