Gary Whitta has worked in Hollywood for 15 years, and if the experience has taught him anything, it’s that screenwriters don’t have much control over the final product.
“A lot of times when you’re working on a film, it’s all twisted and pushed and twisted by the different people in the film who are more powerful than you,” Whitta says in episode 164 of The The Galaxy Geek’s Guide Podcast. “Because everyone on a film is more powerful than the writer.”
New ideas face an uphill battle in Hollywood. At first, Warner Bros. was in love with the edginess of Whitta’s script for the book of eli, a post-apocalyptic thriller with religious overtones. But when things happened, the studio balked.
“When it comes time, a little later, to write a check for $80 million to do the movie, they look at the script again and say, ‘It’s kind of edgy and dangerous and controversial, and we don’t we’re not quite sure about this,” says Whitta.
Only the unlikely intervention of Alcon checked in the book of eli, but Whitta learned that such luck is rare in the film industry. Most projects languish indefinitely, especially if they are unconventional. When Whitta dreamed up a monster story set in ninth-century England, he was sure it was too offbeat for Hollywood.
“Chances are I could write this movie, spend six months pouring all my blood and sweat and tears into it, and the studios would just say no,” he says. “So you spent a lot of time writing this story that maybe 20 or 30 people would see one day, and for a writer, that’s very daunting.”
Instead, he decided to write the story as a novel, Abominationwhich he published via the crowdfunding platform Ink shares. The novel’s format allows him to explore all the ideas he wants and also means no one can tell him no – you can always self-publish. Writing a novel also allows him to deviate from the typical three-act structure of Hollywood films.
“The way I wanted to tell the story didn’t necessarily conform to the sometimes very rigid expectations of how a movie story should be structured,” he says. “I knew that with a novel, I would have the ability to tell the story with more flexibility and not have to worry about a lot of the perceived and mainstream wisdom about how a story is supposed to. function.”
Of course, most novels will never reach the wide audience that movies will, but for writers who value creative control, the trade-off may be worth it.
“May be [the book] takes off, maybe not, but at least I know the version I posted is the one I wanted to tell,” says Whitta.
Listen to our full interview with Gary Whitta in episode 164 of The Galaxy Geek’s Guide (above), and check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Gary Whitta on luck:
“Typically what happens when you submit a script – to anyone, really – is that it will never be read by the main person in the company or the decision maker. It usually goes through a whole phalanx of readers and people figuring out if it even deserves the attention of one of the main people in the business. …But by pure chance, my script was placed in the wrong stack. It was put in the pile that the company founder would take home – the cream of crop scripts – to read over the weekend and consider whether he wanted to represent these writers. … And this guy called me over the weekend and said, ‘I don’t even know why this script is in the pile… but I ended up reading half of it anyway, and I already know that I want to sign you.’
Gary Whitta on Glenn Beck:
“I read somewhere that Glenn Beck was a big fan of [The Book of Eli], and again it was very well received by people on the right – Christian conservatives and fundamentalist type people. And in the case of Glenn Beck, it was particularly interesting, because the Gary Oldman The character, Carnegie, was very much modeled after people like Glenn Beck, kind of the TV evangelists you see on late night or Sunday morning TV. I think a lot of these people are snake oil salesmen. They basically identified and exploited people’s genuine faith…as a way to make money. … So I just thought it was particularly ironic that Glenn Beck saw the movie and liked it, not acknowledging that the movie was supposed to criticize people like him.
Gary Whitta on Abomination:
“There’s a lot of fantasy fiction these days. It’s a very, very crowded market – I think more than ever in this post-game of thrones world we live in now – and everyone has their own version of Westeros or Middle-earth or Shannara, these great fantasy realms, and I thought it might be more interesting – or at least interesting in a different way – to tell a story with fantasy elements, with magic and monsters and all these cool stuff, but steeped in real history Place and time. … It all really happened. England was really split in two, with the Vikings basically occupying all of eastern England, and there was very little real English territory left, and there were these tremendous battles being fought. I think it’s as interesting as anything in game of thronesbut everything really happened.
Gary Whitta on strong female characters:
“A lot of people, when they talk about creating strong female characters, they often have a simplistic interpretation of that, which is, she’s someone who’s really tough, she’s someone who rips , he’s someone who basically has a lot of masculine characteristics, someone who can get out of a situation…. I don’t necessarily think a man who can get out of a situation is particularly strong, just because he’s good with his fists or a gun or something, I don’t think that necessarily makes him a strong character, so I don’t know why necessarily attribute those traits to a woman – other than the fact that we don’t necessarily attribute these traits as much to female characters – automatically makes her a strong or interesting character.
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