Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Comfort Zone

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With the Writers Guild strike about to come to an end, I'm wondering what new and fabulous scripts are soon going to be dropping like bricks off the end of the Hollywood Conveyor belt again.

I'm referring to those movie remakes of old TV shows that have been appearing regularly on celluloid. Who can forget "The Brady Bunch", "Beverly Hillbillies" and "Scooby-Doo"? All provided wonderful cinematic moments for the entire family to cherish...not. (This list could be much, much longer.)

We should also not fail to include all the sequels to successful movies that have been unceremoniously dumped on our heads. Case in point: The Matrix is one of my all time favourite movies. I think it was absolutely brilliant. What the heck happened in its two sequels? I can't bear to watch them. The Wachowski Brothers got lost in the Hollywood wilderness, giving us interminably long fight scene after fight scene, a plot that I still can't completely make heads or tails of and characters I lost interest in. Why was this allowed to happen? Did they suddenly become stupid? I think they may have run out of artistic vision and no one bothered to point it out because they'd been so successful. The series degenerated into just another "bang, bang, shoot 'em up".

A big part of the answer to both TV remakes and movie sequels (or when they -- shudder -- combine both) is monetary. Producers and movie moguls want to be as certain as they can that their very high-priced productions make back the investment money and then some. This discourages experimentation and encourages going with ideas that have a quantifiable audience.

But I think another part of the mix is that audiences want/desire things with which they're familiar.

In crime fiction, this probably means going with a series character, someone who readers will hopefully want to live with for 250-300 pages at a time, once a year. It's a seductive way for an author to make his/her mark and sell lots of books. One of the first things out of an editor's or publisher's mouth when presented with a new manuscript is, "Is this the first of a projected series?"

Series are way easier to sell than one-offs (as they're called) in the same way that a movie based on a TV show is going to be guaranteed a certain-size crowd.

Apparently, books and movies are classified as art --whether high or low isn't the point. Is this any way to create art? I'm not saying that all crime fiction series are bad, same as all movie remakes of TV shows or movie sequels are bad. Sometimes lightning can be caught in a bottle several times. Too frequently, though, it isn't.

In our present culture, one thing you can be sure of: if a book or a movie is a great success, there WILL be a sequel, whether the story warrants it or not. If they'd stopped after The Matrix, I for one would have been much happier. In our present situation, that wasn't going to be possible.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Rick Blechta

Rick Blechta is the author of the novels Knock On Wood, The Lark Ascending, Shooting Straight in the Dark, Cemetery of the Nameless, and When Hell Freezes Over. A Case of You, his latest novel, will be published in the spring of 2008 with Rendezvous Press.

Go to Rick Blechta’s Author Page