And Now, Because It Might Be Useful to Everyone, Including Me, a Quick Reality Check

And here it is:

Yes, I have three TV shows in development at the moment, which is very cool and wonderful for me and which means I’m having a totally giggly moment over here.


Hey, remember that there was supposed to be an Old Man’s War movie? That was optioned for five years and never made it to the big screen. Same thing could happen with Old Man’s War, the TV series. Or Redshirts, the TV series. Or Lock In, the TV series. Lots of things are optioned and put into development, rather somewhat fewer of them get the greenlight to go to screen. Even shows that get greenlit can be pulled before they air. And then once a show gets on the air, it may not survive past the first season, or even the first few episodes. In film and television, nothing is ever assured.

So, it’s possible that everything I have in development makes it to series. On each of these potential series, I’m working with super smart people, all of whom have sold things in film and TV before, and each of whom has been successful in LA in a way I find tremendously encouraging — it’s why I decided to let them adapt what I’m writing. But is it probable that everything I have in development makes it onto the screen? Well. We will see. It is a long journey, full of detours, potholes and opportunities to run off the road and over a cliff. Not just for me but for anyone.

This is just my way of reminding everyone that the very good news I got for Lock In is the start of a process, not an assurance of a series and success. The same goes for OMW and Redshirts. Everyone involved, including me, are working hard to make it happen. And at the very least I personally am having a fair amount of fun as it goes along.

I’m enjoying the moment — I really am. But I’m aware it is a moment. Now the real work begins. Maybe we’ll get to screen and maybe we won’t. But just like I’m enjoying the moment now, I’m going to try to enjoy the journey, too, wherever it leads. No matter what, the books exist, and that will never change.

So let’s see what happens next.

(comments open for a couple of days)

45 Comments on “And Now, Because It Might Be Useful to Everyone, Including Me, a Quick Reality Check”

  1. Ego-enhancement aside (not that there’s anything wrong with that), I’ve heard from more than one writer that movie/TV options can be a fine income enhancement, even (or especially) if the book never actually gets to the production stage–as long as there’s enough interest in a property for options to keep getting renewed, the fees keep coming in. (Though business practices and option periods may have changed since I had those conversations years ago.) It’s a bit like being a Guild writer, working on screenplays and revisions and getting paid for every stage of the operation.

  2. So this raises a question I’ve never seen answered to my satisfaction: what’s the process like for negotiating an adaptation? I know about options, which I’ve heard described as “Hollywood gives you free money” because they’re pretty low-commitment, but from there to a greenlight is pretty fuzzy. How much control does the creator have, and at what point do they start putting their foot down if they’re not liking the direction it’s being taken?

    I also wonder what the process is like getting an agent if you don’t really have any connections to Hollywood – like the occasional person who gets an option based on internet-specific work – but from what I gather that’s not really a common problem.

  3. That depends, Russell Letson – options are usually a pretty small amount of money (like we’re talking $1,500 – $5,000 every 12-18 months), especially if they try and option a several-book universe for that amount!

  4. I think the good news about these options is that, at the very least, they expose more keen readers to your body of work. I thoroughly enjoyed both the OMW stories and Redshirts, and I’m looking forward to reading Lock-In. Seeing *any* of these on TV will be really cool.

    As the kids say, It’s All Good.

  5. Yeah, but you still got paid.

    Them going into production means getting paid more, both on creator rights and by expanding readership (“Hey, this show is pretty good, I should try his books”) but you still already hit the key part:

    You got paid

  6. I really appreciate your attitude about this. I’m reminded of the Jewish proverb, “This too shall pass.” That goes for the bad and the good, and regardless, life is ahead. I hope it all comes together for you…all three series. OMW on the big screen would be awesome.

  7. I’ve been following Whatever for a good long time now. It brought me to your books and it brought me to a bookstore with my daughter. I’m thrilled Lock In is doing well and that you’ve got three series optioned. This is just my little note to say best wishes in everything you do, and I look forward to whatever comes next.

    It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

  8. I think of all the unproduced movies of great SF: Bester’s The Demolished Man, Asimov’s I, Robot (not the abortion of the same name that made it to the screen), Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (supposedly in development by the Coen brothers, but who knows?) and I could weep. Good luck, John, and may those option checks keep rolling in.

  9. I look at this as a numbers game. The probability that at least one Scalzi tv production makes it on the air just went up. That makes my day. Good luck!

  10. Good luck! Hopefully they are not optioned by Fox. If they are then Fox will make an outstanding program, promote it poorly, air it out of order, then cancel it in the middle of the 1st season!

  11. I feel proprietary about you (John S. that is, not my predecessor in the comment thread, no offense) as many readers do about their favorite writers, and particularly since I got to meet you once, and so I feel a sort of proprietary pride in all the Good Things in the hopper. I will feel an equivalent proprietary outrage if any of the projects fall apart, and will be a squealing fangirl when any of them actually show up on a screen.

  12. I am reminded of watching Babylon 5 work its way through option to conclusion, back in the olden days of Usenet–and Straczynski’s similar warning of its chimerical nature all the way down the line.

  13. So excited to see you tonight in concord. Love your tweets, now I am going to string all your tweets together, or maybe I just read your new book!!!

  14. Who knows, at some stage you may even reach those terrific heights where you have strangers screaming at you to write faster so you finish the series before you die – cf the good Mr Martin and the intrusive comments about his health from people who don’t really care…

    Wait – “Redshirts the Series”? A self-contained mini-series, sure, but wasn’t the point of the story to actually resolve the character’s existential crisis?

  15. How much control does the creator have, and at what point do they start putting their foot down if they’re not liking the direction it’s being taken?


    I’m sure there’s Whatevercans out there who can answer this with more authority, but it seems to me the answer usually is “not much.” I’m sure the sight of our host accessorizing the Mallet of Loving Correction with the Cha-Cha Heels of Energetic Dissent would be a sight to behold, but I have my doubts his agent has negotiated an option with a veto clause over anything. In the end, you just have to hope you’ve signed on the dotted line with people who won’t fuck it all up, while cashing the reality check that adaptation isn’t transcription.

  16. Phoenician in a time of Romans – I had the same thought about Redshirts the series. I don’t see how that works but then if I could I would not be just some clown posting comments on Whatever. As long as it isn’t the only one to make it & then it stinks up the joint (A couple of other favorite authors have been badly misused by Hollywood) driving fans away instead of drawing more in he’s OK. :) My hope is all the money rolling in will give JS more time to write more stuff, gotta be a couple more OMWs to add to the box set!

  17. @Frankly:

    driving fans away instead of drawing more

    Does that really happen? I think Steven King has the right idea. There’s been some really shit-tastic adaptations of his work (and as SK wryly observes, he should know — he directed one of them during his drug years) but he reminds himself that good, bad or indifferent the books are right there on the shelf where he left them.

  18. Yeah. My novel THE FALLEN has a script roaming around the world and occasional interactions with producers and studios, etc., and although it’s fun to think about the “might happen” it also gets a little bit old in terms of “the welcome to reality thing.”

  19. I fear what Hollywood could and probably would do to screw up Lock In the TV show. But if they don’t ruin it, it could really be great.

  20. Crap. Another good guy gets his just desserts. What’s that going to do to my well-honed cynicism?

  21. I could speculate, given previous (and ongoing) adaptations to popular book series, but really I just want to say: Go, Johnny! Go! At the very least what a delicious experience this must be. All the best.

  22. It’s nice to be in a good place but I have to agree with you: it can all fall apart in minutes.

    I am ‘on hold’ as a writer for a new TV show. Funding is at 95% and STILL, I dare not dream it’s going to happen because I know all too well that disappointment will suck that much harder if I do. Part and parcel of the writing life….

  23. “I’m sure the sight of our host accessorizing the Mallet of Loving Correction with the Cha-Cha Heels of Energetic Dissent would be a sight to behold…”

    OK folks we can all go home now, comments over. cranapia has said everything important that needs to be said today… :D

    (As a wise Whateveran I have long ago learned to finish my coffee before opening my browser!)

  24. Ever since reading the book, I have the final scene of the Redshirts movie stuck in my head. Wil Wheaton smiles and walks out. Shot of Chris Pine staring down at the table for a long moment, then glances up directly into the camera. Roll credits.

  25. Very sensible :). And it’s the kind of ‘sensible’ that allows you to enjoy the present moment even more, so well done.

  26. I had one of my short stories optioned for part of a proposed Twilight-Zone-for-High-Fantasy series quite a ways back, and renewed several times before the producer decided to shelve the series idea. Best advice I learned:

    Read the initial contract carefully; it will probably be sucktastic in several areas. (The dollar amount, length of option, subsidiary rights, renewal provisions, etc.)

    If you can, get advice from an agent and/or people with experience in writing for and contracts in television and film. (I knew a few people working in television at the time who were kind enough to give me good advice.)

    Yes, you can negotiate an option offer. You will probably need to.

    I ended up with a pretty decent option contract that brought in nice if not outstanding checks for a number of years. If the series proposal had actually been picked up, I’d have made a lot more, but it wasn’t. (The production company was a very small, not-based-in-Hollywood outfit trying to break into the business, so they were a lot like someone trying to sell their first script; there are a lot of -very- high walls to climb.)

    (The last option renewal expired a few years ago, so if anyone new wants to film “Death and the Ugly Woman”, get in touch with me.)

  27. I’m just hoping that all three make it so I can see rationalization fail in other locations (don’t worry, I showered before coming here):

    – Well, it’s only made due to showbiz contacts (as the pilots get made)
    – Well, it’s the first week, the producers bribed Nielson to pump up the numbers and it’s all a conspiracy – where is the manly men SF?
    – Well, it’ll never make it to a second series
    – Well, it’s appealing to the lowest common denominator and people only watch it as John is a favorite of the left wing media (as it gets picked up for second season)
    -Well, this season is worse than the first
    – Well, the Emmy voter bloc is all a bunch of homosexual left wing media types. And also my nappy is full
    – Well, it’ll make REAL SF easier to sell on TV. Producers, call me to talk about what REAL SF should be
    – Well, it’ll never make syndication
    – YES YES YES I told you it’d never make it more than 7 years

  28. Far more books are optioned than are turned into movies/tv series. Authors make considerable amounts of money by being paid an option and never having the books making it to screens. Then get paid again and the same thing happening. Not as much as if they make it to the screen. I expect alot more ‘Hey look at the crap I just bought’ posts from Scalzi. I fully expect more hideous shoe posts, posts about how he is hiring ‘highly skilled’ people in his hometown to remodel his house, and lots more devices.

    If Scalzi daughter is reading this: Perfect time to start nagging about a new car. Remind daddy that used cars can be dangerous and if he really loves you, he will get you a brand new car since that is safer.

    I also think its just a matter of time until Scalzi get an earing that has a chain hanging down to a diamond studded ‘JS’. He strikes me as the kind of guy who craves to be known by an acronym. He is also well with in the ‘midlife crisis range’.

  29. Here’s MY worry: once John Varley ‘went to Hollywood’, his stuff sucked. They apparently got his soul AND his muse.

    And I’d been a HUGE fan.

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