by J.T. Ellison
I was watching Richard Roper on Jay Leno the other night. The teaser before the segment’s commercial break was, "When we return, we’ll talk about the worst movies of the year." They came back and had a very interesting discussion about bad movies. Leno asked if there are times when the director knows the movie is going south during filming and moves forward anyway, or do they truly believe that they are making a great movie.
Roper replied, "Well, no one sets out to make a bad movie."
Of course they don’t. No one in their right mind wants to produce crap, be it a movie, television show, or even a book. We’ve all read a book or two that’s a complete stinker. I’ve had a few moments when I look back to see who the editor is, who the house is, and find brand names in the acknowledgments. How does that happen???
Yes, criticism is subjective at best. What I love, another will hate, and vice versa. And it is sooooo easy to read a book, or watch a film, and say man, that sucked. But can we explain why? And if it’s so terrible, how did it make it into our hands and onto our screens???
I need to limit this to discussing books, because I’m hopelessly lost when it comes to movie production. I’d love it if a few of our movie folks would chime in from that side of the fence.
As authors, we strive to make each book better than our last. We struggle and soar, we research and express, we do everything in our power to give good quality entertainment to our readers. Sometimes we have a deeper message. Sometimes there’s a lesson to be learned. Sometimes, it’s just plain escapist fiction, fun for the writer to write and the reader to read.
So how do we produce clunkers? Because I have to tell you, there isn’t an author on the planet who hasn’t written a book they believe in, given it to their editor, who is enthusiastic, gone through the process of being sold-in to booksellers, who are also enthusiastic, then gotten slammed with a crappy review. Does that mean a book is bad? No. A review is a review is a review. Nothing more, nothing less.
What about the books that get brilliant reviews, but the readers hate? What causes the disparity in opinion?
And how does a book that everyone, and I mean everyone, agrees is terrible, make it through the process? The books only a mother could love. How does the editor let it through? How does the publisher get behind it? How does it make it into stores???
Again, no one sets out to write a bad book. No one sets out to produce a terrible movie. But they do exist. So where’s the quality control? Where are the editors and publishers and agents who need to red light the process, send the book back to the author and say, "You need to rewrite this puppy."
I can understand how much more difficult that might be in a movie. Our Toni is producing an indie film right now, and she shared some of her duties with me. I was flabbergasted. Imagine that on a George Lucas scale, with millions upon millions of dollars invested into a film. Have you even really read the credits at the end of a movie? Thousands of people are involved. Scrapping it to start over isn’t exactly feasible.
But if a novel isn’t up to snuff, what can we do? We’re one person, working with one editor, one agent, etc. There aren’t a million people on the payroll. Why can’t we full stop and start over?
As strange as it may seem, authors are people. Which means that they are experiencing this little thing called life, which has a tendency to get in the way. Say, God forbid, a loved-one passes away mid-way through a book. Is that novel going to be the author’s best effort? Maybe, maybe not. But can you insert a disclaimer in the preface and apologize to the reader? Or should the book be pulled from the queue and the author given a pass until they feel ready to produce again?
I’m speculating here, and I’m curious about your opinion. How do the bad books/movies make into the hands of the consumer? Do we do ourselves a disservice by not having a system of checks and balances to make sure that bad work doesn’t make it out there? Does it matter???
Wine of the Week: Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Superiore Ornellaia 2004