On the day my book, Guyland, was published, my agent sold the film rights to Dreamworks.
I was speechless, a first for me. It was also pretty gratifying, because I had been fighting with my publisher for months over the title. They had wanted something like Almost Men, which I thought was a great title—if you happened to be writing a book for pre-operative FTMs. I’d been adamant. Guyland. When I spoke to the producer, they’d said they were captivated by the title. They hadn’t actually read the book. Score one for me.
I then had a 15-minute phone call with the super-senior-executive producer, the one who actually got to talk with the royal trio that ran the company. Literally 15 minutes—as in, you could have watched the second hand. He explained that the success of the Judd Apatow films, especially Knocked Up, had created a new genre of date movie.
Until now—he patiently explained to an academic who, he assumed, rightly, had virtually no understanding of how Hollywood worked—there were two types of movie experiences for guys: “chick flicks” (rom-coms like My Best Friend’s Wedding to which girlfriends and wives dragged their unwilling husbands) and “guy flicks” (in which—and this is the technical Hollywood term he used—they “blow shit up”).
But Apatow’s movies were basically chick flicks that guys didn’t mind going to, since one story line always centered around a group of slacker dudes whose antics were reminiscent of Animal House, while the other story line focused on one of them actually stepping up into manhood, which pleased the women.
He paused. My turn. “You do know my book is a work of nonfiction, right?” I asked.
There was a slight snicker on the other end of the phone. “This is Hollywood. We’ll find the story.”
He had me there. And so he set to work finding a screenwriter who might turn my study of 400 college-aged men into a feature film.
I, meanwhile, waited for the contract negotiations to begin. When, I wondered, would the company send its private jet to whisk me off to the Beverly Wilshire, where we would ink the deal poolside, as Brad and Angelina frolicked nearby?
It was not to be. Instead, I received an email with a PDF attached. A 77-page PDF, no less, and it was up to me to print out the four copies, sign, and return.
After a dozen books, I was familiar with the standard book contract. These typically allow for all possible contingencies, such as, well, the paperback version (after a specified amount of time or a certain sales threshold has been reached), and what happens after the book goes out of print.
But an option for a feature film is quite a different story. First, you have to sign away all control to the work. They take the name and the concept and can do virtually anything they want with it. Okay, not really “virtually.” Anything they want.
I imagined a pornographic film called Guyland. A musical. On ice. Or a film about alcohol-deranged frat guys who become predatory zombies. All based on the book by …
I proved a fierce negotiator. Here’s what I got: Were the film to be made, I would be hired as an unpaid consultant—but at least I would be able to be on the set. And my son, who is a budding actor and singer, would get to be in the movie, albeit in a nonspeaking role.
The royalty arrangements went on for 35 pages. What if the film is distributed overseas? Pages of possible countries, rights and proceeds. What if the film becomes a TV show? More possibilities. What if the TV show goes into syndication? On cable? Network? Overseas syndication? And what if there are action figures?
Stop right there. Action figures? “Forget the film,” I thought to myself, “I just want the action figures.”
In the end, Dreamworks was unable to find an acceptable script, or even a treatment they could use as the foundation for the feature film. The option expired. This is typical—only one out of a hundred optioned properties go into production, and, of those, less than 5 percent are ever made into films, and about a third to half of them are never released! But don’t feel too sorry for me. Remember that “option” is only buying the exclusive right to try. Having failed, I still got to keep the money—which is sort of like finding a suitcase full of twenties on the sidewalk in front of your house.
Two hip young writers are now trying to massage it into a pitch for a sitcom, set in a fraternity house at a large Midwestern campus.
Maybe. But I’m still disappointed about the action figures.
Author Bio: Michael Kimmel is a distinguished professor of sociology and gender studies at Stony Brook University. His most recent book, Angry White Men, is still available for option.