We have another Release Day coming up here at MW. My novelization of Robin Hood, Ridley Scott’s new treatment of the old legend, starring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, will be released tomorrow, April 27. The movie appears in theaters on May 14, after opening at Cannes on the 12th.
I’ve been asked many times about the experience of working on this book, and have already posted about it some. But I wanted to walk you through the process in the form of a Q and A, because I learned a lot from the experience, and perhaps some of you will find it interesting, too.
How did you get the gig? It was kismet, really. It certainly wasn’t anything my agent and I went after. Universal Studios was trying to sell the book license — often studios look to sell the book rights for a big movie that is based on an original screenplay. It’s another way of marketing the movie itself. Tor got the inside track on the auction for the book license, and my editor was involved in these discussions. He approached me and basically said: “This might happen, and I think you’d be the perfect person to write it. You interested?” I told him I was and then I spoke to my agent about it. A few days later, Tor reached an agreement with Universal, and I started work on the book.
How long did you have to write the book? All right, most people don’t ask this, but it’s my Q and A and the timeline was nuts. I found out that I’d be writing the book on November 30; I received the script on December 1. The book was due January 4. I handed it in a week late on January 11. It was 90,000 words long.
How did the writing work? As I say, I was given a script. A shooting script, so it was pretty much what was in the first version of the movie as shot. I had to follow the script to the letter. I couldn’t change a word of dialogue. I couldn’t delete lines. I was strongly discouraged from adding any dialogue, though the studio agreed to be a little bit flexible on this. I couldn’t add in any subplots or characters. I had to build a book around the dialogue, so I put in description of scenery and people and clothing. I added in internal monologue — the thoughts and emotions of my point of view characters. I could choose who those POV characters would be for every scene (though most of the time it was Robin, and when it wasn’t him, it was usually Marion). The POV choices could be tricky at times — you get reaction shots in movies, and some of these were scripted. Getting all of those in while maintaining consistent POV wasn’t always easy. In addition to following the scripted reactions, I could also add in gestures, facial expressions, and dialogue attribution when it wasn’t specified. And finally, I could divide the script into chapters as I saw fit, which also is trickier than it sounds. Some scenes were way too short to be chapters; sometimes, in battle scenes and such, scene shifts happen quickly. Fitting these into coherent chapters was sometimes a challenge.
So you only worked off the script? You never saw the movie? Nope. Still haven’t seen it, though I know what happens…. The studio sent me some still images from the shoot, so that I could see costumes and a few sets, and I got to see the first trailer a few weeks before the rest of the world did. That was actually surprisingly helpful, as were the stills. Even a single image of the interior of a castle or the lanes of a village allowed me to extrapolate for other scenes. In other words, those still images gave me a sense of the movie’s ambiance, and that, in turn, helped me set the right tone and visual cues for the book. But I never got to see most of what I described. That was a challenge as well. The thing you have to know about Hollywood is that studios are (rightfully) paranoid about having their work pirated, particularly when the movie in question is considered a potential blockbuster, as this one is. Piracy is a real problem, and though I could assure the studio that I would never do anything with an advance copy of the movie except use it for reference, they had no reason to believe me. How paranoid were they? Well, the script I was given was printed on red paper so that I couldn’t make copies, and it had “Tor Books” and my editor’s name watermarked on every page, just in case I tried. The stills they sent me had Crowe and Blanchett’s faces whited out, so that I couldn’t sell the images online or use them to make and market my own Robin Hood merchandise. That’s pretty paranoid.
So you finished the book in six weeks. Then what? Well, then the fun began. Because we had a shooting script that had been through a few drafts, there were a couple of inconsistencies. Conversations that happened twice; for instance, characters hearing that the king was dead, and then hearing again, and being surprised both times. That sort of thing. And of course, changes are made in the movie editing room that don’t show up in a script. Unfortunately, Hollywood works at its own pace. Now, so does publishing, so normally Hollywood’s slow pace wouldn’t be a problem. But this time, the book was on that tight timeline I mentioned, and Tor’s production department was getting antsy. We would up going through the copyedits without hearing back from the studio. THEN we received 11 pages of single-space typewritten notes from the studio clearing up some of those questions we had and informing us of shooting and editing changes — deleted scenes, altered scenes, scenes moved forward in the chronology or moved back, altered dialog. Huge changes. So we had to revise heavily a book that had already been copyedited. Not at all fun. What’s more, we got a second round of changes — many of them also quite significant — after the book was typeset and a third round just as the book was going to press for final printing. The four weeks leading up to the actual printing of the novel were as frenzied and frustrating and difficult as any I’ve experienced in my entire career. We were literally making big changes to the manuscript mere hours before the book was to be printed.
Well, but you were paid lots of money and you get to meet Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett and Ridley Scott, right? Well, no, and no. The pay was fine, and I get a small royalty on all book sales, plus a tiny percentage of all sub-rights sales. (The book is being translated into French, Portuguese, Indonesian, Hungarian, and lots of other languages. It’s being made into an audio book. I get a tiny bit from every one of those contracts. The amounts are counted as royalty money. So chances are I’ll see additional money, beyond my modest advance, down the road a bit.) And I don’t get to attend the Hollywood opening or Cannes or anything like that. I am, basically a tiny Remora clinging to the soft underbelly of the Great White Shark that is Robin Hood.
Well then, was it worth it? Absolutely. I learned a tremendous amount about dealing with the movie industry, about doing true “work for hire” writing, about turning someone else’s characters and story into my own creation. I learned how to write faster. Before I wrote Robin Hood, I considered 2,000 words a good day of writing. While working on this book, I routinely wrote 4,000-4,500 words a day. I don’t think I could sustain that pace all the time. I wouldn’t want to. As I said, it was crazy. But it’s nice to know that if I need to write that quickly again, I can. Also, Robin Hood will be distributed far more widely than any book I’ve written before. People who otherwise would never have heard of me or my work, will see this book in their local stores or in airports, supermarkets, and big retailers. This could significantly increase my visibility. And because I did a decent job on this book, I might be asked to do other novelizations in the future, which would allow me to broaden my readership even more. So yeah, it was definitely worth it.
What was the funniest thing that happened in the process? Well that would have to be an item that appeared in the notes from the studio. There were a series of scenes in the original script that I wrote into the book. But the studio then informed us that we could cut all those scenes (which were crucial to the plot development) because they were now being handled in the movie as a montage. We sent a note back saying that books don’t really have montages and so we recommended that the scenes remain in the book as they were….David B. Coe http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com http://www.DavidBCoe.com http://magicalwords.net