Cautionary Tales for New Screenwriter Salman Rushdie

Chandler, Fitzgerald and Amis should curb the author's enthusiasm about his TV project

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When we first heard back in March that Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie was developing a science fiction series called The Next People for Showtime, we assumed the author was making his screenwriting debut for financial reasons.

In an upcoming interview with the Observer, excerpts of which were published today in the Guardian, Rushdie doesn't dispute this notion (he says his agent was the ones who first suggested he consider for the screen), but also says that, compared with writing for the movies, television gives him the chance to be a "primary creative artist" in the mold of a Matthew Weiner, Aaron Sorkin, and David Chase, and affords the writer the kind of control "not at all unlike what you can do in a novel."

We're happy Rushdie's happy to be writing the pilot, which he described as "paranoid science-fiction...people disappearing and being replaced by other people." We'd also remind him that there's a long-tradition of novelists being beaten down by Hollywood. Some notable cautionary tales worth heeding:

Raymond Chandler

The Big Sleep author detailed the experience of writing for the screen in the November 1945 issue of The Atlantic. He was talking about writing for film, not television, but the lesson still holds:

"Making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion."

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Arthur Krystal detailed the Great Gatsby's author's three unsuccessful stints in Hollywood in a 2009 feature for The New Yorker. Fitzgerald wound up dying of a heart attack in Los Angeles in 1940, right after Shirley Temple's mother axed his script for Cosmopolitan. He described Hollywood as "a dump--in the human sense."

Martin Amis

Rushdie's friend and fellow British novelist tried to break into Hollywood in the early-1990s with limited success. His major project was an early script for Mars Attacks!. Tim Burton's made a version of the film in 1996, but didn't use Amis's script, which the author described in a 1992 interview as "an updated version of War of the Worlds." Amis's script made it into the final film. It didn't seem to bother him when the final-version discarded his ideas for a camp-heavy approach.  “I rather liked the film,” he said., “although it contained not a word I wrote.”

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