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Why Fifty Shades of Grey is an inspiration to writers everywhere (except for the writing itself)

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If there’s anything Hollywood hates more than a writer, it’s a woman. And if you somehow combine the two… and then reveal that she’s over 50 and a foreigner… well, that inspires emails so nasty even North Korean hackers hesitate to leak them. That said, E.L. James (non-kinky name: Erika Leonard) saw her first book become a huge success, selling tens of millions of copies. So where normally writers enter meetings with Hollywood execs from a position of weakness — incidentally, this is the position in which most writers spend their entire lives — she said something to this effect:

“I’ve sold over 100 million copies of just three books.

“That means I average 33 million readers a book.

“If each of those readers spends 10 bucks for a movie ticket, that’s $330 million.

“You won’t need to hire big stars to make this a hit: just a man with nice abs and a woman capable of gazing upon those abs with awe.

“We’re going to make a lot of money… if you do exactly what I tell you.”

At no point does E.L. James say they’re going to make a good movie, but when has that ever been the goal? She told the studio that her book – hell, just the book’s title – is so valuable that if they wanted to work with her, she’d require veto power over many key decisions.

And Hollywood gave it to her.

And then everyone made a frightening amount of money. (Indeed, 50 Shades’ worldwide gross should clear that 330 million mark in, oh, 10 seconds from now or so.)

This would seem to be a happy ending except the success is largely due to the work of a writer with no previous experience in the film business who, once again, is a woman from a foreign country. (Okay, it’s England, but still…)

And so they put E.L. James back in her place the only way the film industry knows how: by giving anonymous quotes to random show biz articles.

Here’s one example, about how the author snobbishly insisted on keeping the ending to her book for the movie.

Imagine that: choosing to use her ending that tens of millions of people loved instead of something some random executives seemed to find pretty darned neat when they chatted about it during a meeting.

What a bitch, right?

But wait, there’s more! The article goes on to cite ”some sources with knowledge of the situation” — that’s right, knowledge — including an “insider” who said of one version of the screenplay:

“It ended on a really smart note and Erika wouldn’t allow it. It’s just a bummer.”

I don’t know about you, but I learn that someone who feels so strongly about a situation that they will do anything other than give their name or how they relate to any of this in the first place is bummed, I get angry.

But continue your waiting, as there’s even more! The article then quotes:

“Another person with ties to the project…”

That’s right, “ties” to the movie. (As in more than one tie!) This person notes the author “was given a lot of power and has used every opportunity to flex that power”, with the result that the world was denied something “smarter and cooler.”

(If you’re wondering, it was decided that the way to make the project “smarter and cooler” was to bring in a screenwriter to “tone down the sexual content”, because if you’re making a movie that actually has a reason for sexual content — in the sense it’s based on books that consist exclusively of sexual content — clearly the clever, edgy move is to minimize the sexual content. It just makes sense.)

In summary, an “insider” — who may or may not be the same insider quoted earlier — declared, “You can’t just put the book on the screen.”

So to recap, the film made everyone rich, but didn’t do it as intelligently as Hollywood would have left to its own devices, which is why when you watch a trailer for Johnny Depp’s Mortdecai or J. Lo’s The Boy Next Door, you think to yourself, “Smart!”

S&M may play in your sick world, E.L. James, but Hollywood is made of more tender stuff. May you think about that the next time you’re engaging in that activity about which every writer fantasizes: earning a decent living. (So naughty…)

Incidentally, I’m working on a male response to 50 Shades of Grey. It’s about a virginal college student who meets a super-attractive billionairess — that’s the scientific term for a billionaire with a vagina — who wants to convince him to give in to her world of kinky sex, even though she will never give him love or even romance.

It lasts two paragraphs.

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2 Responses to “Why Fifty Shades of Grey is an inspiration to writers everywhere (except for the writing itself)”

  1. Isn’t this a parallel to “The Bridges of Madison County” (author’s name temporarily unremembered)? I wonder whether there was a similar tug-of-war over the authorial involvement in the script writing?

    Actually, at first I thought “Fifty Shades of Gray” referred to my own generation, given the coloration of my beard.

  2. Good call, Don, as BRIDGES is kind of the exact reverse situation, with Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep swooping in and making it into their own thing. Also no sequel as I recall — even though I’m pretty sure the author wrote at least one more book — while 50 is clearly going the distance.

    I’ve also failed to remember author’s name, so will just assume it’s Jonathan Franzen (nice work again, Jonathan!)

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