Research terms for writers' disputes with producers

Book to film is known to have disputes between the author and the director, as exemplified by Stephanie Meyer and Catherine Hardwicke. I would guess this is a common issue with screenwriting as well. As I’ve experienced in group work, some of our best ideas that we are so attached to get suppressed by our teammates. I’m sure writers feel overruled in the film industry. How would I put this into research terms?

Do you mean for web searches on the topics? Or do you mean research, as in surveying writers who have had books made into films?

The issue is that unlike with books, when you licence your work to Hollywood, you don’t maintain control of the content. It’s not unusual for writers to have absolutely ZERO input into what happens after they sign on the dotted line.

It’s contract driven. Some writers are able to negotiate some control, some input. Depends on how much Hollywood wants the property and how smart their advisors are.


Thank you, that clears some things up for me! Yeah I mean for web searches or in my college’s database for journal articles on it. How would I research the licensing?

The best book I read on writing is by David Morrell (“Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing”). The book not only goes into the craft of writing fiction, but agents, publishing, and Hollywood. His view of Hollywood in the book was very negative. When Hollywood bought his first novel (“First Blood”) they totally changed the concept which was about the struggle between two generations — a Korean War vet (the sheriff) and a Vietnam War vet (Rambo). In the book, no one wins; they both die. Thats what the book was really about.

In his opinion, as the author, Hollywood ruined the story by letting Rambo live (and the sheriff too). However, that made him tons of money. I think there were 5 or 6 Rambo movies made. So who was right?


That’s a great question! A less extreme version is the new version of Dumbo. It was sweet, heart warming, and I actually liked it better with his elephant mother not dying, but that was not the original plot. I don’t know the work you are referring to, but it sounds complicated. So both parties lived instead of both having died? It might have been interesting to leave it that way because if the viewers know the book, the movie kind of leaves off on a cliffhanger- showing them alive at the last scene could just be a moment in time. For example, the latest Judy Garland movie does not show her succumbing and dying- just struggling and ends (spoiler alert) with her bonding with her audience.

Did he say in the book that he had made a lot of money from the later movies? I checked IMDB, and the only credit I see is “characters by” for any movie other that the first. I expect the license he agreed to for the first movie took away his ownership of the characters, which means he probably got little from the later movies – unless he put something specific in the contract for the first.

I honestly don’t know. Maybe start with Kris Rusch’s book on the subject, though it deals with novels. I expect she mentions some of her experiences with Hollywood. I know she has mentioned it in her blog.

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The following is from an article I found googling it, not from Morrell’s book:

When David Morrell’s first novel was being sold to the movies, in 1972, his agent told Morrell he`d better hire a lawyer familiar with movie contracts.

‘‘I know a guy who can do it,’’ said the agent, ‘‘but he’s expensive. It’ll cost you $500.’’

That was a lot of money for an assistant professor of English at the University of Iowa. Besides, the lawyer insisted on clauses that Morrell thought were unnecessary, such as a percentage of the profits from any sequels and from merchandising.

''I told him, ‘What sequels? Everyone’s dead at the end of the novel.’

''He said, ‘You don’t understand Hollywood. They can change anything they want. They could make it into a musical.’ ‘’

It turned out to be the best $500 Morrell ever spent. The novel was ‘‘First Blood,’’ and it introduced Rambo to the world.

The full article is at: (way back in 1988)

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Smart, smart, smart lawyer!!!

Did you want similar examples to the ones you gave?

There is also the famous 50 Shades of Grey thing, where, E. L. James is famous for being difficult to work with and she decided to write the script herself for the sequels. She apparently hated how the first film was done and refused licensing for the subsequent films.

On the other hand, you have Diana Gabaldon who had her series Outlander done as a TV series. Because the costume designer is a huge fan of hers and married to the Head producer, it’s pretty faithful to the book. She got to consult on her books.

And then you have Neil Gaiman, who is already a screenwriter, and is known for it… so when people came to him for American Gods and tried to turn Anansi white, (for those who don’t know Anansi is a West African God–yes…) he outright refused, but a few years later, he was offered an HBO (I think) series and he took it. He wrote some of the episodes himself. He also had other things adapted. Good Omens, for example, he worked as a script writer and producer, but said he’d never produce again. He only was able to produce the show because of his previous credits.

Not sure if that helps your research endeavors at all. I tend to collect this kind of thing, maybe more than the books…

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And then there are the writers of Crazy, Rich Asians. They turned down HUGE offers because they wanted enough control to ensure it was done right. They took a smaller deal for that first movie, but they got the control they wanted, and they’ll likely make a killing with future projects since the first one did so well.

It’s ALL in the negotiation.