Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Black Novels and the Silver Screen

This week’s business question comes from the state where big hats and belt buckles are fashionable. Marcus Bailey from Houston, Texas asks:

I have read several of your books and loved them. And I realize that you have 18 books total. I have also read several other African-American authors, including Eric Jerome Dickey, Sister Souljah, Carl Weber, Noire, and many others. But how come you all have not had movie deal developments like white American authors and their books?

Omar Tyree Answers:

WHOA! That is the question of the year, my friend! But I have actually answered this artistic/business question for YEARS now. Nevertheless, I have rarely had a chance to answer it for many of the large publications or major media outlets where a larger audience can hear me. Those outlets typically cover positive news. So they would rather cover the movie deals once you’re in the promotion stage for a release, ala Tyler Perry. So, here we are at my web site (www.OmarTyree.com) to answer this question for the behind-the-scene-details:

#1) AFRICAN-AMERICAN BOOKS ARE STILL NOT BEING READ by the power players in Hollywood, therefore black authors must continually explain their work. But how long does it take for a studio to read a book? Surely, someone at these major film companies can spend the time to read and determine if a story is worth a film. But I have been in meeting after meeting after meeting, where Hollywood folks know the names of the authors and the titles of their books, but they have not actually read the material to understand the content. And without them understanding the content, there will be no film. However, with white American books – THE FILM EXECUTIVES READ THE CONTENT!

#2) MONEY IS STILL AN ISSUE! That’s right, folks, we still have an issue getting black films financed, and there is no film to be made without the capital to shoot it. So a lot of the meetings with black authors actually ask the authors to basically give up the film rights for their books for practically nothing, and get paid on the back end of the film. Well, even if you were to be a “team player” and agree to this scenario, you still need money to shoot the film. So if there is not enough money to pay the author something for the rights, you have to ask yourself, “How much money do these guys have to shoot the film?” And the answer is, they usually don’t have the money. They want to acquire your book rights so they can SHOP for the money. But that rarely happens. So you end up with authors who negotiate their rights, with nothing moving forward for actual film production. However, with white American book authors – THE STUDIOS COUGH UP THE MONEY TO PAY THE AUTHORS FOR THEIR RIGHTS, AS WELL AS MONEY TO SHOOT THE FILM! They then go about attaching the right actors to the project, while hyping up the coming film to the audience in advance.

#3) AFRICAN-AMERICAN AUTHORS STILL DO NOT SELL THE AMOUNT OF BOOKS that white American authors sell. So if your Hollywood meeting starts off with a discussion about your book numbers, there are very few African-American authors who can match the books sales of major white authors. WHY? BECAUSE BLACK READERS STILL LIKE TO SHARE BOOKS INSTEAD OF BUY THEM! Furthermore, there are more white book readers in this country than black readers to begin with. So unless your book is picked up by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club, and it crosses over to a much larger group of white Americans, like popular hip hop music is able to do, it becomes harder to validate the economics of producing a black book for film.

Well, let’s pause for a minute. This answer is obviously too large for one week, so let’s finish it next week. But so far, The Equation of black books to film is this: we still don’t have enough Passionate Red from a Hollywood-based readership to understand the Artistic Gold value of our intellectual property that builds enough Attractive Green Support from the studios and investors that would create the steady Business Product of African-American books to film. However, for next week, I will discuss how to be proactive about the process. So PLEASE STAY TUNED! . . .


  1. Also, let's not forget the escalation in the viewing of "bootleg" DVDs. Is it really worth it to make the movie in the first place given the reluctance of people to spend their dollars at the theatre?

  2. I don't' agree with the argument that the studios are giving you OT. A good story is a good story; the truth is they want to bank your money and get glory for your work. "Scratch a lie, find a thief." The world loves EVERYTHING black and that includes America. YOU know this, they know more about us globally than we know about ourselves. They know what we are capable of - great marvelous talent and scorching evil! So what, you want your book to hit the silver screen go down to Houston and meet with the Chinese - get your stories made in China baby and when Hollywood calls make them PAY 500% for the privilege - it ain't personal, just business. Houston is all about business and making money. They make some and you make some and your name is there for everyone to know. Texans got a thing about property - believe that! Black people have always had to out think those that would keep us down so keep the tradition going. Black authors need to run their own game instead of trying to win playing someone else's game when they keep changing the rules. Writers are creative, and business just doesn't come easy but I KNOW there are some writers in schools all across the country who are talented at their craft and understanding the principals of business. Why? Because I KNOW that every story has a life of it's own and there are some stories that will not remain on the printed page but will DEMAND to be on the silver screen and they will be. The studios can try to do what they do and that's fine because the art will speak for itself. One way or another the stories we need to see WILL happen, it's just a matter of time and the studios know it too. That's why they want your rights to the story. They don't know which stories are going to be the breakthroughs so they want all they can get for nothing - that's all profit for them when the film is a hit. Why would they want rights to something that is worthless? Think about it...

  3. Spike, now here's something you can endeavor in?? It's enough love and support to go around to show our black brothers and sisters.