Alice Sebold walks over Hollywood in big, King-Kong-sized shoes

In the LA Times today, via mediabistro‘s newsfeed email:

THIS is a tale of two scripts, one that sold for a ton of money, one that remains twisting in the wind. Both are beautifully written, but in Hollywood, while scripts are prized for great writing, they must also give a studio chief enough ammunition to comfortably answer the question: If I spend $100 million on this, will I be bankrolling a big hit, not a colossal failure? One script, an adaptation of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones” co-written by “Lord of the Rings” filmmaker Peter Jackson, sold after an intense bidding war to DreamWorks, which will spend close to $70 million for the Jackson-directed film.

The other script, a 1938-era Hollywood thriller written by John Logan (“The Aviator”) with Michael Mann attached to direct and Leonardo DiCaprio to star, made the rounds carrying a $120-million price tag. It has yet to sell, though one studio, New Line, remains interested, but only if the cost comes down considerably.

When both scripts turned up on my doorstep, I decided to give them a read in the hopes of answering the questions that have been floating around town the last few weeks: Why did “Lovely Bones” sell for so much money, even though it’s a very adult drama about a 14-year-old girl who is brutally raped and murdered? And why is Mann’s untitled thriller still unsold, even with a huge movie star in the package?

The real news here is that a literary novel with a great story beat a star vehicle at market, and that basically never happens. And it may never happen again. Also, the adaptation may make you want to stick a pen in your eyes so that you never have to see a movie again, but it might also become an amazing film. The last time I was at a big movie-house, the trailers looked like fake trailers, as if I was in a movie about going to the movies and the trailers were rigged by the production team for non-existent films. But they were real films and it was clear each one of them would be horrendous. This morning, though, I’m just going to say today was a victory for literary fiction. Soon maybe it won’t feel like living in the US is like camping at the tirefire of all cultures.

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