May 19 – 25: “What happens when Hollywood calls?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5With the Hollywood summer blockbuster season right around the corner, the Big Thrill can’t help but ask: “What happens when Hollywood calls?” This week, ITW Members Johnny Shaw, Ralph Pezzullo, Neil Russell, Thomas M. Malafarina, Rex Burns, Ted Scofield, Lisa Von Biela and Alan Field will answer that call!


Ash and Bone by Lisa von BielaLisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, then left the field to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington. Lisa’s first short story appeared in The Edge in 2002. Her short works have appeared in various small press venues, including, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more. She is the author of the techno/medical thriller novels THE GENESIS CODE and THE JANUS LEGACY. Her noir/suspense novella, ASH AND BONE, is being released in May 2014, and her BigPharma thriller, BLOCKBUSTER, is scheduled for release in January 2015.

Hunt the Jackal by Don Mann and Ralph PezzulloRalph Pezzullo is a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning playwright and screenwriter. His books have been published in over twenty languages and include JAWBREAKER (with former CIA operative Gary Berntsen), INSIDE SEAL TEAM SIX (with Don Mann), THE WALK-IN, AT THE FALL OF SOMOZA, PLUNGING INTO HAITI (winner of the 2006 Douglas Dillon Prize for American Diplomacy), EVE MISSING, BLOOD OF MY BLOOD, MOST EVIL, and THE NAVY SEAL SURVIVAL HANDBOOK and the SEAL Team Six thrillers HUNT THE WOLF. HUNT THE SCORPION, HUNT THE FALCON, and the forthcoming HUNT THE JACKAL (also with Don Mann).

Eat What You Kill by Ted ScofieldTed Scofield is a novelist, non-fiction author, securities attorney and entrepreneur. St. Martin’s released his debut novel, EAT WHAT YOU KILL, on March 25, 2014. Edward R. Pressman, the famed producer of such films as Wall Street, American Psycho and The Crow franchise, has purchased the movie rights. Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Ted is a three-time graduate of Vanderbilt University. He and his wife, contemporary artist Christi Scofield, live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Dead Kill - Book 1 - The Ridge Of Death by Thomas M. MalafarinaThomas M. Malafarina has published five horror novels, five collections of horror short stories and a book of single panel cartoons; all through Sunbury Press. Thomas’s works have appeared in dozens of short story anthologies and e-magazines. Thomas is known for the twists and surprises in his stories as well as his descriptive often-gory passages. He has been given him the reputation of being one who paints with words.

Alan Field, new to the ITW, hopes to make a splash with his first urban thriller, The Chemist, that revolves around a weapon of mass destruction and the person who created it. Alan has written short stories starting from age 10, but this is the first work he wishes to publish. While practicing law for twenty years, Alan fathered four children. He is also an accomplished music composer and arranger who resides in New Jersey.

Body Slam by Rex BurnsRex Burns, author of numerous books, articles, reviews, and stories, won an Edgar for The Alvarez Journal. The Avenging Angel became a Charles Bronson film. His “Constable Leonard Smith” stories appear in Alfred Hitchcock Magazine. His novels, including the latest, Body Slam, are available from Mysterious Press/ Open Road Media.

beverly-hills-is-burningNeil Russell is founder and president of Site 85 Productions, an entertainment-focused intellectual property rights company based in Beverly Hills. He is a former senior executive with Paramount, Columbia, MGM, United Artists and Carolco—the company that produced the Rambo movies, Terminator 2, Total Recall and Basic Instinct. Site 85 has entered into rights agreements with numerous companies, including Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Columbia, Disney, Universal, Warners, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, F/X, Activision and many others.

Shaw_PlasterCityJohnny Shaw was born and raised on the Calexico/Mexicali border, the setting for his novels DOVE SEASON, BIG MARIA, and the upcoming PLASTER CITY. He has won both the Spotted Owl Award and the Anthony Award. His shorter work has appeared in Plots With Guns, Thuglit, Shotgun Honey, Crime Factory, and numerous anthologies. Johnny also acts as the editor-in-chief and is a frequent contributor for the online fiction quarterly BLOOD & TACOS, a loving homage to the men’s adventure paperbacks of the 1970′s & 1980′s. Johnny received his MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA and over the course of his writing career has seen his screenplays optioned, sold and produced.  As a playwright, his stage collaborations with actor Jaime Arze, NATURAL ACTS and A GOOD KIND OF CRAZY, have been performed throughout Los Angeles. For the last dozen years, Johnny has taught screenwriting.  He has lectured at both Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara. He is the owner of Johnny’s Used Books, formerly a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Los Angeles, now entirely online.

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  1. The first thing I would assume is they got the wrong number. I would expect them to say “Mala… who?”

    Although like most of us, I believe my stories would make great and horrifying movies. Still, I can’t imagine that call coming anytime soon. (But when it does I’m always willing to talk).

    You see, part of the reason I got into writing horror was because of the number of pathetic horror movies where were and still are being produced.

    I’m a life-long fan of the genre and truly enjoy sitting down and watching a well-done terrifying horror movie. However, after countless incidents of disappointing films (both new and unneeded remakes) I decided to be more selective in what I watch.

    I found that creating my own horror stories and watching them played out like a movie in my mind, was a thousand times more rewarding than wasting hours watching garbage. Having ‘watched’ my stories already, I have a real good idea what they should look like on film. I would love nothing better than to share these horrifying images with fellow fans of the genre. So when Hollywood finally does decide to call, I’ll be ready.

  2. When Hollywood comes a-calling, get the money up front and run like hell. Take everything with you except the very narrow slice of the work you’ve sold.

    If you sell your series protagonist, remember: you’ll have to rent him/her from the studio if you write another tale using that character.

    If you’re tempted to trade up-front cash for a fat chunk of the movie’s profits, remember: Hollywood lore says the only movie that ever made a profit was “Star Wars” because the money came in so fast that the accountants could not hide it all (see: “rolling profit line”).

    Everything’s for sale in Hollywood, and the pricing schedule is designed to pay the most to the fewest number of people. If you can’t read a slippery contract, get an agent or lawyer who can.

  3. My first post is not visible to me. However, when I resubmitted, the site advises that it is already there. Can someone please advise6 if they can see it? Thanks. Neil Russell

  4. Sounds like Rex has been there/done that, and has some very wise words to heed. I would love to have the opportunity to heed them, in fact!

    I’m in the same boat as Thomas right now. I, too, see my stories quite vividly as I write them, and really wish the studios would go with some quality originality, rather than the lousy stuff (or sad remakes of classics that don’t deserve such treatment).

  5. It really depends on who calls. If some guy is on the other end of the phone is claiming to be “Hollywood,” best to just hang up the phone and get back to your day. That guy’s crazy. But if it sounds legit, there are plenty of film folk you could be talking to. Agents, managers, producers, production companies, development executives, studios, just to name a few. The position that the person holds will ultimately have an impact on what to do when that phone call comes in. And what happens next.

    The most likely scenario for a novelist would be for someone looking to option your book. At that point, it becomes a negotiation and it really depends on what you want from the relationship.

    Here’s my advice for what it’s worth.

    Don’t sign anything until a lawyer or agent has taken a look at it. This goes for publishing contracts, too.

    Be patient. Nothing happens fast in the film business. Each step to getting a film into production is a battle.

    Take everything with a grain of salt. It’s hard to get a movie made. If someone is trying to convince you that it’s a lock to get made, they’re being disingenuous. It’s fine to be optimistic, but realistically.

  6. Good advice, Johnny Shaw, especially about patience: patience in reading and analyzing an offer, patience in seeking advice from knowledgeable sources, patience in getting production money lined up. That last point, of course, is key. I’m sure we’ll hear from writers who have tied up their work on rosy promises (but no cash) as well as those who don’t want production and are quite content to take a few years of option payments.

  7. I’m having difficulty posting my comments, so I may have to postpone my first contribution until tomorrow. However, if this gets through, I’m one of those Hollywood guys that so far hasn’t garnered much admiration here. I hope I can bring something worthwhile to the discussion when I’m able. Thanks.

  8. I’ve been fortune enough to have a number of books optioned by Hollywood studios, and I can report that the experience had been unpredictable and different every time. In some cases – ¬ Jawbreaker, The Walk-in, and Eve Missing – I was hired to write the screenplay based on my book. Jawbreaker was interesting because the book was optioned by Paramount for Oliver Stone. I liked Oliver personally and admired some of his movies, but found him a very erratic creative partner – insightful and focused one week, and completely out of it and barely making sense the next. After numerous drafts, Paramount grew impatient with Oliver and put the script in turnaround, where it’s remained since.

    Walk-In was a go project at Warner Brothers one week, only to be dropped like a hot potato the next because another thriller (about a very different subject) didn’t perform well at the box office.

    I had another experience where the producer and director couldn’t agree on a lead actor. In all these cases, as a screenwriter (of writer or the optioned book), you end up going to meetings (often at the Four Seasons or Beverly Hills Hotel), rubbing shoulders with some interesting characters, doing the work you’re hired to do, then sitting on the sidelines while nameless people decide the fate of the project.

    My advice is that when Hollywood comes calling, bank the money, expect the unexpected, and understand that only a very small percentage of optioned books and story stories ever become finished films.

  9. Hi folks,

    I’m ITW’s website administrator, and just want to let everyone know we are experiencing some intermittent technical issues this morning. I am in contact with ITW’s webhosting company and they are working on the issue.

    My suggestion is to give them a few hours to fix the problem and then we should be back up and running without any problems a little later today.

    Thank you for your patience!

    Christopher Graham
    Website Administrator
    International Thriller Writers

  10. I recently optioned my debut thriller, Eat What You Kill, to Edward R. Pressman, the famed producer of such films as American Psycho, Wall Street, The Crow franchise and many more. We are now talking to screenwriters about the adaptation.

    My advice is to not wait for Hollywood to call you. Chances are, if you wait, the phone will never ring. If you think your story would make a good feature film, go after it!

    The obvious question is, How?

    Well, my suggestion is to identify lower-level producers who have been involved with films relevant to your story. Figure out a way to contact them. Get your book to them. Sell them on you and your story.

    Eat What You Kill has been described as “American Psycho meets Wall Street.” Mr. Pressman produced both of those movies, so I found the perfect match for my thriller.

    You can, too.

    1. Ted, you’re advocating going directly to potential producers, rather than finding an agent who “knows” the players in Hollywood? I was presuming (perhaps incorrectly) that, since I don’t know folks in Hollywood, that the best way to go would be to start with an agent, though I don’t have an agent for my fiction. I just figured film is such a different world…

      1. There are agents that specifically concentrate on book to film. Often times literary agents have relationships with these people and partner on finding film rights.

        But I agree that there isn’t one single approach. I find that in some cases, producers or production companies are easier to contact directly.

        Ted’s story is telling. As it’s easy to see the fit between the book and the producer. Know who you’re approaching. What have they made? There’s no bigger waste of time than pitching a gritty crime novel to a company that only makes family-friendly kids movies.

        1. Absolutely, Johnny! As with agents, research is necessary to ensure a good fit. Mr. Pressman produced both American Psycho and Wall Street — it was an obvious match.

  11. Lisa:
    Unless you know people in Hollywood, you’re going to need an agent or manager to help you. They might not be all you expect, but they can your book to producers who will read it.

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