Writing Wednesday: On Art & Commerce
So last week I was writing about motivation and what fuels you to get through a story. Then a couple weeks before this entry posts, I was walking by the river and I thought to myself: You know what I want? I WANT TO GET PAID!!!
Typically we bash people who want to get paid, calling them sell-outs and worse. When Alex Rodriguez abandoned the Mariners to become the highest-paid player in baseball for the Texas Rangers, he was viewed negatively, especially when he couldn’t single-handedly (or both-handedly since you really need two hands to play baseball) get them into the playoffs. In the art world, various authors, directors, etc have been labeled as “sell outs” for doing something more commercial. Yours Truly has probably lobbed the sell out tag a few times, including in the “Must Be the Money” blog entry where I used it against Bret Easton Ellis and others who write sequels long after the fact.
But if the Tea Party has taught us anything, America is all about grabbing as much cash as you can, even if that means old people and kids die in the streets. Selling out is your patriotic duty as an American! (Unless you’re a government union employee; then you should just work for free.)
This isn’t about politics, though. This is about me justifying being a sell out. In my case I think I already wrote one damned fine “literary” book which didn’t make me a millionaire. Is it wrong then to want to do something more “commercial” and actually get paid enough to buy a tank of gas? I’m saying no.
Now the exception is if you’ve already made a bunch of money from your “literary” books then doing something commercial is just selling out. In my March Madness book/author tourneys I ragged the shit out of author Michael Chabon because after he won the Pulitzer he’s done nothing but write more commercial books (kids, thrillers, nonfiction, Spider-Man 2 movie) but he’s already made his bones not just with books but for instance selling the movie rights of books like “Wonder Boys” for a cool million or so. (How much of that he’s actually getting I don’t know.) Anyway, the point there is he’s making decent money so there’s no need to write commercial junk when you’re oh so good at doing “literary” stuff.
My situation I’d say is more like an indie film director who’s done some well-regarded films and then gets offered a big superhero or horror studio film. Should he turn it down because it’s not “art”? I’m saying no because he’s already done the art stuff so his “legacy” is probably secure even if this big studio movie completely sucks. Why not get paid?
It reminds me of when I was reading Ingrid Bergman’s biography years ago. The book mentioned in the ’60s or so she played a supporting role in “The Mixed Up Files of…[something or other]” and the book questioned why a highly-regarded actress, one of the best of her generation, would do that. The very candid answer was that the studio offered a shitload of money for a small amount of work. So, why not? Even if that movie sucked, it wouldn’t make people forget great films like “Casablanca,” “Notorious,” and “Anastasia.”
So there you go, sometimes it’s OK to sell out. Now the problem for me is figuring out just how to sell out. My problem has always been that even when I try to do more commercial ideas I screw it up somehow so that no one’s interested. Selling out and not getting paid for it really blows, I tell you whut.
And actually to refer back to Mr. Offutt’s post on James Frey and I Am Number Four, if he came along and offered me that deal, I’d probably do it. But I’d probably screw it up.
Anyway, if anyone has any great commercial ideas they need someone to write for them, I am available! I also do birthday parties and bar mitzvahs!
Friday is a sequel to an entry on sequels…