Ender’s Game, Profit Participation, Box Office

Folks are asking me whether I think this report that Orson Scott Card will see nothing from the box office gross of Ender’s Game is accurate, some of them, I suspect, hoping that his not making additional monies from the film means they can go see it without feeling guilty about tangentially supporting Mr. Card and his less-than-very nice positions regarding gays and lesbians.

Leaving aside the fact that the story is nicely timed to target die-hard SF fans on the fence about seeing the film, which is something one might wish to consider, and fully acknowledging that, regardless of my professional knowledge of the film industry, I have not seen Mr. Card’s film contract and am thus talking straight out of my own ass in terms of actual facts, some thoughts:

1. It wouldn’t surprise me if in fact Mr. Card sees no additional direct income from the film. Writers of a film’s source material (whose names are not JK Rowling or something similar) are often paid upfront and/or offered token “net” points (which will never be realized because no film in Hollywood ever gets out of the red, thanks to imaginative accounting) and/or have at best some clauses that offer an additional set payout if certain box office benchmarks are met. It’s entirely possible, and even probable, that Mr. Card’s contract is structured so that he’s been all paid up at this point.

(Alternately, it’s possible that he previously did have some profit participation and that it was determined by the powers that be that this would be bad PR for the film, so they bought out his profit participation. Be aware that a) possible here does not mean at all likely, b) I am going to reiterate my position of talking out of my ass here.)

2. Yes, but what about Mr. Card’s producer credit on the film? Isn’t that indicative of gross points? If he was an actively participating producer, i.e., engaged in the day-to-day production on the film, it might. On the other hand, if the producer credit was given as a courtesy and/or for Mr. Card’s shepherding of the film through its famously drawn-out development period, he might have simply gotten a check and some more net points. Not all producers on a film are equal.

3. Regardless, Mr. Card appears to have been paid very well for his participation in the film up to this point — the article suggests he’s earned more than a million dollars to date, a sum which strikes me as entirely likely. Even if he does not directly make another penny from the film, he already has more than enough in his pocket.

4. Likewise, the novel of Ender’s Game is doing exceedingly well at the moment — it’s number one on the New York Times paperback bestseller list, as I understand, and it’s likely to continue to do very well through the rest of the year regardless of how the film does. Mind you, the book does very well anyway; it sells hundreds of thousands of copies a year, year after year, and has done so for decades. Other books in the Ender series also sell very well perennially. Mr. Card does make money from the book sales, even if he does not benefit from the film.

5. Thus it should be noted that if one is planning to boycott the film Ender’s Game to punish Mr. Card financially, the boycott has already failed. Mr. Card is already benefiting from the massive exposure the film has afforded his book and his work. 2013 is likely to go down as one of Mr. Card’s best years, financially speaking, even if the film adaptation of his book tanks.  At the very best, solely from a financial point of view, a successful boycott of the film would be for Mr. Card the difference between a massively financially successful year and an absurdly massively financially successful year.

Likewise, unless Mr. Card has been exceptionally foolish with his money to this point, even if he never sold another book in his life from today, and no one ever made another movie from his work, it’s entirely possible he’s still financially secure for the rest of his life, given the totality of his sales to this point.

This is not to suggest people who are boycotting the film (or Mr. Card’s work in general) are wrong or foolish to do so; as I’ve noted before, people should follow their conscience with regard to what entertainments and which creators to support. Mr. Card, however, is likely not suffering financially for it.

6. Variety projects that Ender’s Game will finish out the weekend with $27 million in domestic box office. That seems about right to me, given the time of year and the reviews to date, which have been good-to-mixed. I think Variety’s guess is actually slightly high; I’d guess between $20 million and $25 million.

This also suggests that the film will probably end up somewhere between $60 million and $90 million in total domestic box office, which seems to me about right as well. I also suspect it will do about 2:1 business overseas, which means globally I suspect the film will make between $180 million and $300 million. It has the advantage of not having any strong direct competition this week (the only other major opener is the animated film Free Bird, which skews younger). It’s going to get hammered (sorry) by the new Thor film in its second week.

In short, I expect this film to be solid (and profitable in the long run) but not stratospheric in terms of box office. It’s likely to be a double, not a home run. If Ender’s Game ends up markedly south of $20 million for the weekend, then I think it would be reasonable to suggest that the controversies around the production and Mr. Card had had an effect. If the films clears $30 million for the weekend, that raises some interesting questions, too.

7. Let me note, as I have before, that I am not an entirely disinterested observer in the box office success of Ender’s Game. My book Old Man’s War is currently set up at Paramount. If Ender does really well, then that’s likely to be a positive for any eventual green light on my book; if it flops massively, then, well, that’s probably not the best thing for me. Mr. Card (whom I have met and had a pleasant time speaking to) and I have diametrically opposing views on a number of political subjects, most notably same-sex marriage. I fully support the choice of any person not to see Ender’s Game based on their feelings about Mr. Card. I also, and for entirely selfish reasons, hope the film does not flop.

Update 11/3/13: Ender’s Game ended up as the #1 film for the weekend, with an estimated weekend gross of $28 million, slightly higher than Variety’s estimate (and somewhat higher than my estimate). It did not flop.

Halloween, 2013

The costume is derived from this manga/anime character. I think Athena pulls it off pretty well; she’s got the brooding thing down. Also, this looks like the cover to a steampunk fantasy novel, if you ask me.

The Big Idea: Max Gladstone

Sometimes reality reads like fiction. And then that reality can inspire fiction. Just ask Max Gladstone about this, and how recent yet almost unbelievable events gave him the the impetus for at least two books, including his newest, Two Serpents Rise.


Do you remember the day the gods died?

You must.  I mean, five years or so back this grand cataclysm tore through an immaterial plane of existence adjacent to our own.  Every few days, it seemed, another ostensibly immortal being that took sustenance from the faith and work of its followers and priests died.  Those that survived starved themselves lean.  Afterward, as the world sunk into recession, the surviving immortals withdrew to Olympus, hoarding the remnants of their power and licking their wounds.  To this day we fault them for their retreat from Earth.

Oh, and let’s not forget the part where a bunch of hardworking folks who communicate in arcane jargon derived from ancient languages spent thousands of billable hours raising fallen deities from the dead.

At least that’s how the 2008 recession and its aftermath looked to yours truly, a half-crazed fantasy novelist recently back in the US from a few years teaching in the Chinese countryside.  That bit of extra distance meant that on returning I read America like a genre book—trying to make sense of the world from clues I was given as I went along.

And the world’s pretty strange, when you think about it for a second.  What’s the Kool-Aid Man but a totemic representation of a vast, inscrutable, and horrifying reality?  What is an org chart but a mandala made with PowerPoint?  Mickey Mouse’s many tentacles spread from Hong Kong to Provo, Utah, and His castles rise over foreign lands.  Don’t even get me started on Collateralized Debt Offerings and Special Purpose Entities.

I couldn’t think of another book dealing with the weird magic of the modern economy, so I decided to write one.  Well.  More than one.  I like telling complete stories in independent books—but as I fleshed out the idea I realized that what I really needed was a mosaic, a number of books showing different angles on a complex reality.

The fact that this approach let me live out my huge writer-crush on Terry Pratchett was a pleasant coincidence.

The first book in the Craft Sequence, Three Parts Dead, came out last year—the story of a junior associate at an international necromancy firm who’s trying to resurrect a dead god.  The main character in that book, Tara, is a fledgling necromancer, which gives her status and power in the world of the books, so long as she’s willing to bill crazy hours and steer clear of certain moral judgments about her less savory clients.

I wanted to change things up a bit with my next book, Two Serpents Rise. I decided for starters to show the world through the eyes of a character with less power.  Caleb is a risk manager for a water utility run by an undead god-killing wizard.  Caleb has skills of his own, and he’s good at his job, but he can’t raise zombies, throw fireballs, or peel off peoples’ faces when needs must.  He’s stuck with his wits, his fists, and some limited ability to manipulate the magic around him.  Where the world looks more like a fantasy setting for Tara, for Caleb it’s a horror setting—he’s a small guy trying to chart his course through a world full of forces that could crush him if they noticed him.

Unfortunately, some of those forces have him in their sights.

I also wanted to show a city living with its past.  In Three Parts Dead, the main characters wanted to raise a dead god before His death affected his city. Stopping crisis was the point.  Two Serpents Rise takes place in a city where the gods have been dead for a while—kicked out, in fact. And their world went on.  The sacred ball game became a spectator sport.  Real estate speculators converted temples to art galleries and office space.  The physical world became an object of exploitation and manipulation, rather than the subject of a relationship with the divine.  Most people like it that way.


But even though the gods of Caleb’s city died a long time ago, their followers remain, and the dead have a nasty habit of sneaking up on you.

So that’s the Big Idea—an interpretation more than a ‘what if,’ an attempt to make sense of confusion by recasting it, and to do so in a way that let me play with zombies, lich kings, feathered serpents, and deep magic from before the dawn of time.  Because it’s good to have a point, and it’s good to have fun, but it’s better to have fun and a point at once.


Two Serpents Rise: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.