Tuesday, August 13, 2013

YA Movies & More: Cassandra Clare, On Hollywood

Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series, is one of my favorite writers and since she knows a thing or two about having your book become a movie, I thought I would share her recent Tumbler post with you guys. I know, I'm cheating a little this week, but it's worth it to read what she had to say. Below I have pasted Cassandra's comments, which are based on a blog post by Ally Carter (also below), author of the best-selling Gallagher Girls series and Heist Society.


I have so much to say about this! So very much. Ally says many intelligent things here.
 it was a fluke made by and for teenage girls. If there is one group of people who are universally discounted it is teenage girls.”
As people who consume media? Absolutely. They are regarded as aliens. Nobody understands why they spend their money on movies or why they like what they like. I remember being handed a copy of the Twilight script by an exec before the movie ever came out and being told: “Who on earth is ever going to see that?” (Girls, you see, wouldn’t see it because girls hate vampires and werewolves. They are scary monsters. Grownups wouldn’t see it because it was about teens. And boys wouldn’t see it because it had love. That was the idea.)
There are studies and studies and studies about teenage boys and young men and what they want to see and what they like. There are no corresponding such studies about girls and women. Therefore literally just about everyone in Hollywood both has absolutely no idea why girls go to see anything and therefore no desire to make anything they might want to see, because it’s not a sure bet. Besides, if you make movies just for men, girls will have to see them anyway, because where else will they go on date night?
(These are all things Hollywood people have said to me.)
Hollywood even more than publishing is a place of received wisdom. Nobody really knows why movies fail or succeed, so they latch on to ideas and formulas they think will make their film bulletproof from failure. Often these ideas are stupid, and often they are disproved, but even though six action movies starring men in a row can flop and no one goes “Maybe people don’t like action movies starring men” — just one film like Beautiful Creatures can do badly and the rule is proved, everyone hates YA and especially YA about girls.
(Pointing out that Beautiful Creatures is actually a YA with a male main character and that The Host is not YA at all, but an adult book about adults, never even penetrates. Media people stare at you blankly. They also think both films are about vampires.)
"a movie where the lead character is a girl named “Katniss Everdeen” ?
That right there is the first sign of what a piece of sewer bilge this movie is.”
Yeaah. I don’t think it’s untrue to say that without the success of the Hunger Games there would be no City of Bones movie, no Divergent movie. (There might still be a Maze Runner movie. Maze Runner is about a boy.) And the media has come to an acceptance of and respect for the Hunger Games because it is so successful, and they respect success even where they don’t understand it.
But it does not stop the really dumb, really offensive questions and reactions — I’ve seen all you all flip out when City of Bones gets called the new Twilight or compared to Twilight or even THG. Sometimes the comparisons can be stupid and even offensive because the implication is that any story about a girl and the supernatural is exactly the same as every other story about a girl and the supernatural. Because, basically, there are a limited amount of stories about girls that could possibly be of any interest; these are people who are aware of the tiniest gradations of difference in stories about men, and would rip out your throat for suggesting that Iron Man and Batman are kind of similar because they are both white billionaires in their thirties with daddy issues who don’t have special powers but use their time, smarts and money to build themselves technologically superior toys that will allow them to become superheroes.
(I know this because I pointed it out to an interviewer at Comicon who stared at me and then said: “But Iron Man lives in California.” Yes. Well. Perhaps that answers your question, sir, about how Clary is different from Katniss and Bella. You see, Bella lives in Washington and Clary lives in New York. Glad we cleared that up.)
*Also just so as not to be yelled at, I like both Batman and Iron Man and think they are fun variations on an archetype and obviously not the same character. But women characters are not treated or talked about as though they could have the same range as men. I answered the question “How is Clary different from Katniss and Bella?” so many times at Comicon that I finally blew up at some poor guy and said “Andrew Garfield is right behind me on the carpet. Are you going to ask him how Spiderman is different from Harry Potter? I mean they both fight evil, right? So GO AHEAD AND ASK. Ask Robocop, too, while you’re at it.”
I am quite sure – that they didn’t. Because it would be an absurd question; of course one hero is not like another hero just because they fight evil! And of course one teenage girl is not the same as another teenage girl because they are both teenage girls. But to a media to whom teenage girls are a terrifying, amorphous and hated mass, they are pretty much the same.  (There are movies with female leads that are expected to appeal to men — the Underworld type movies — but that’s about men ogling sexy women with weapons and since you shouldn’t really do that with teenagers, and Katniss and Clary etc. are not presented in a sexualized way, it doesn’t compute in with that genre either.)
So first, when you see people comparing CoB to Twilight or whatever, I understand why the reaction is “But it’s totally different! I am bewildered.” What’s bewildering you is this: What Twilight, City of Bones, the Hunger Games, and Divergent have in common is that they are about teenage girls, and to people who know about YA, about fiction, even just about stories, that’s really not that much, or even a notable similarity. But to the media at large they are part of a great big unknowable mass of stuff “not aimed at straight white men between 15-35” and therefore totally inexplicable, and so they are treated as things in need of explanation to “normal people” who could not possibly understand what this movie is unless they are pointed at something that already exists and is popularCity of Bones is more like Constantine than it is particularly like Twilight or The Hunger Games, but because the incredible rarity and weirdness of a movie with a teen girl lead overcomes absolutely everything else, there are no questions about movies that are similar in plot, tone, look, even characters — just questions about girls, as if they are an alien species recently arrives from Mars.
There’s plenty for boys and men in City of Bones. There’s plenty of action, and there’s plenty of male characters, like Jace, who have their own arcs and their own stories, if a boy’s story of growing up is what you want to see. It would be a shame if that got buried in the narrative of “all YA is for girls” or “any movie with a girl lead is for girls.” So fingers crossed, let’s hope that doesn’t happen — and let’s hope for a time where discussion about movies with young female leads who aren’t in bikinis is about the plot, the characters, the world-building — anything but the weirdness of the fact that the movie exists at all.
I love movies. Always have. Always will. The first things I ever tried to write were screenplays, and to this day I utilize screenwriting techniques for every single one of my books.
But there is a lesson that I had to learn very early on. And that’s simply that there is a difference between movies and the movie business.
A big one.
As many of you know, we recently announced two new movie options for my books.
Heist Society is now with Lionsgate where Max Handelman and Elizabeth Banks are producing. (They are the team behind my favorite movie of 2012, PITCH PERFECT.)
The Gallagher Girls are set up with Tonik Productions, run by two savvy women who have, between them, championed many YA and kidlit properties, and who are incredibly committed to bringing strong, diverse, and just plain awesome characters to the screen.
I cannot express how excited I am about both of these possibilities! Still, at the moment, they are just that…possibilities.
But we are in an interesting time, Hollywood-wise… And a part of me can’t help but allow myself a tiny, sliver of hope that this time might be different.
You see, for many years now, a lot of YA properties have been optioned for film. Remember in the Twilight heyday? It seemed like there was a new paranormal property getting optioned every other day. But none of those properties got made.
Well, I’m sure there were probably, technically, dozens of reasons (after all there were dozens of properties set up with dozens of companies), but I think the biggest reason is that this thing…this YA thing…it was unproven. Unreliable. A fluke.
And furthermore, it was a fluke made by and for teenage girls. If there is one group of people who are universally discounted it is teenage girls.
Now flash forward a little book called Hunger Games.
Finally there was a book series so successful that no one could ignore it. Something had to be made. There was just too much potential money on the table not to make something. But even then, the chatter on the Hollywood boards for weeks leading up to the release was…skeptical.
This is just one comment left on places like Deadline.com
a movie where the lead character is a girl named “Katniss Everdeen” ?
That right there is the first sign of what a piece of sewer bilge this movie is. female young adult fiction – dumbing down the average intelligence of girls on a daily basis.
Yep. There were comments like that. There were lots of comments like that.
Of course, some people believed in Katniss, and in the end we know what happened: Hunger Games not only succeeded, but it grew. And Lionsgate laughed all the way to the bank.
All of a sudden, YA was looking less like a fluke. Maybe it really was a thing? Maybe teenage girls might actually be worth making movies for after all.
And that’s when the tide seemed to turn. City of Bones began filming and two of the most successful dystopians, Divergent and The Maze Runner, got the green light. All of a sudden, there were casting announcements for Vampire Academy and goodness knows The Fault in Our Stars was gaining buzz.
Along the way there were a few other entries. Perks of Being a Wallflower, an indie passion project with the star power of Emma Watson, grossed $32 million world-wide on what was probably a fairly small budget.
But, in Hollywood in the tentpole era, people don’t seem to care that much about small profits. People want big profits.
So all eyes turned to Beautiful Creatures…
And Beautiful Creatures didn’t do well.
Follow that with The Host (which isn’t a YA book but everyone seems to forget that) under-performing, and all of a sudden we are back where we started.
Look! They’re flukes! We told you this YA thing wasn’t a thing! We were right! *fistpump*
That could have been the end of it (at least until the next Hunger Games-level book breakout). But we have one thing going for us this time: some movies are already too far down the pipeline to turn back now.
The Spectacular Now has already swept people off their feet at Sundance, and City of Bones is coming out August 21st. Divergent, Maze Runner, and Vampire Academy have already finished filming. There is no stopping the runaway train that is The Fault in Our Stars (at least I hope not.)
Those films are happening! It is too late to stop them.
But now it’s our turn to prove that YA fiction is too good to be stopped. That we are not just Twilight and Hunger Games and Harry Potter. That if Hollywood really wants to be in the story business then we can provide them those stories and then…
And then this is the big part…
And then we will turn out to support those stories.
This big, long post just to say this: if we want YA books to get made into movies, then we have to go see movies based on YA books.
And if we can’t go to the movies, then we have to blog and tweet and tumbl about them. We have to tell our friends and relatives. Because here’s the deal, folks: a lot of people are waiting for us to fail. A whole lot of people have been predicting that for a long time and we all know how people hate to be wrong.
And if this new crop of movies doesn’t do well then I am personally afraid there won’t be a next crop. Not for a long, long time.
Don’t get me wrong. We have advocates! Fans! Brave producers and directors and studio execs who are still optioning and green-lighting and championing YA properties. (I’ve been lucky enough to be in business with many of them.) And these people want to be right as well.
It’s up to us to help them.

I know I'll be helping since I'm a movie nut, but I never thought of it as also being supportive of the community of YA writers. Now that I do, I may have to see CoB at the theatre more than once!

1 comment:

  1. This is shit. Stop trying to shift the blame from creators to consumers. Stop trying to guilt trip us into watching movies we're not interested in. Do you even know how expensive movies are these days. A regular adult ticket can cost upto 14 frickin dollars. You really want us to shell out all that cash to watch a mediocre movie just to 'support the genre'? If you want us to watch your movies, hire good directors, good screenwriters and for the love of God - GOOD ACTORS! Maybe then the genre will stop being such a joke at the movies.